A practical look at DIY work.

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How much can you realistically achieve given other demands on your time? We take a practical look at DIY work.

Many people are capable of carrying out repairs and maintenance work on their homes, including redecorating, such as painting and wallpapering. Some people have the skills needed for more difficult renovations and alterations.

Most of the restrictions on how much you can do yourself come down to skill, time and energy. There may also be work you are not permitted to do because of legal restrictions.

Be realistic about what you can achieve – there are many tales about DIY projects that were never finished or became disasters in need of fixing by a qualified tradesperson.

On the other hand, doing work on your own home can be immensely satisfying and save you money. You can also attend courses to learn new skills. There are often night or weekend classes on DIY projects run by local colleges, or tertiary institutes. Hardware stores also run classes occasionally.

The drawbacks

You may believe after watching a television show about home makeovers that it looks easy enough. However, you don’t want to get involved in a DIY disaster.

You have to make a number of informed decisions before starting a project. For example, if you decide to paint the bathroom, think about these issues:

  • Do you have the patience and equipment to peel off the old wallpaper, plaster and sand the wallboard to a smooth enough finish for painting and apply a professional-looking coat of paint?
  • Do you know enough about the products, such as how to seal the walls before painting, and how to choose a paint that is water-resistant?
  • When you take off the wallpaper, will you be able to replace any wallboard that is rotten or damaged and, more importantly, can you find the source of any dampness and deal with it?
  • If you only have weekends to work, are you prepared to have a half-finished bathroom for a number of weeks? Drying times can stretch the process out.

Unless you can borrow or already have them, you’ll have to spend money on tools and equipment. Buying cheaply is not always economical. If you buy a power tool – for example, a circular saw – that you’ll only use once or twice a year, you can probably get away with the cheapest one on the shelf. But if you plan to build a whole deck, you’ll be better paying out for a more expensive but sturdier option.

DIYers often waste materials, for example, by miscutting the wallboard to patch holes. This adds to the cost and lowers the savings from doing it yourself.

Basic DIY renovation tips

There are some basic principles to keep in mind when you are doing home renovations, alterations or maintenance work. They may seem obvious, but if overlooked, these factors can disrupt work in progress:

  • Know what the legal restrictions are on doing things yourself. General redecorating, such as painting or paperhanging, shouldn’t be a problem, but there is certain work that can be done or signed off only by a qualified tradesperson.
  • Talk to your local council to find out if you need building consent. This needs to be done before you attempt projects.
  • Work in a logical sequence to avoid damaging work already undertaken, for example, painting the walls should come before sanding and polishing the floors or getting the carpetlayers in.
  • Make sure exposed surfaces are protected from the weather or other dangers while work is underway. For example, cover the bath and vanity while painting the walls to avoid splatter, or have some way of preventing rain coming in on newly painted window sills.
  • Work through the rooms in a systematic way, finishing each room before moving on to the next. This keeps the project manageable and means you can start reusing rooms as they are finished.


Don’t assume your insurance policy will automatically cover any accidents that occur while you are doing DIY work. Before starting, contact your insurance company, tell them what you are proposing to do and make sure your house and contents insurance covers that work.

Note that work done without a building consent may not be insured under your insurance policy. Check with your insurance company. At any rate, it is illegal to undertake building work that requires a consent without one. This is not only for your protection, but for that of future owners.

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