Deck Repair/Rebuild, Part 2: To DIY or Not to DIY

Way back when we built the kids’ swing set, I wrapped things up with some philosophical musings about reasons for DIYing a project. I’m going to return to that topic in this deck rebuild post, because, as I’ve mentioned before, this project really pushed us to the very edge of our DIY comfort zone. Sometimes to DIY or not to DIY is an easy question: either because it’s something that you’re so comfortable doing yourself it doesn’t occur to you to hire it out or because you know right away that you don’t have the skills or the time or the confidence or whatever to do it yourself and of course you’re going to hire someone else to do it.

And then there are times when you go back and forth about the whole thing for years before you decide. Or maybe that’s just us.

At any rate, we finally decided to give it a try ourselves, for a few reasons. I’m going to try to sum up the sorts of questions we find ourselves asking when we’re trying to make this kind of decision….with deck rebuild specific answers and then some looking back at other projects we’ve done, but the idea is that they could apply to most projects where one might be torn on whether to DIY or not.

Can I do this well?

Dave and I bought our first house when we were twenty three. The house was 90 years old, and we didn’t know how to do anything. Dave didn’t grow up in a DIYing kind of family. My Dad knows how to fix or build most anything, but I didn’t pay much attention while all that was going on. We learned as we went, and it really took us all the way until our current house (i.e. our third house) to develop any level of anything resembling competence.

So I’m not saying don’t take risks or be afraid to give things a try. But do be aware of your limits and skills and strengths and weaknesses, and don’t take on a big project that’s outside of your comfort zone, because you’ll end up with a finished product that you’re unhappy with and it will haunt you for the rest of your days.

I felt fairly confident that we could do a decent job with the deck. It’s a fairly straightforward woodworking project, not much more complicated than something like our swing set from a few years ago:

We’re comfortable with simple woodworking projects like this, but probably wouldn’t attempt something that requires more precision.

Can I do this safely?

No one I’m married to is ever going to be walking around two to three stories up to do roof repairs or clean the gutters. Just isn’t going to happen. Dave climbs up on the roof of the travel trailer to check for places the caulk needs to be replaced, and that makes me nervous enough. So something like roof repairs or even something uncomplicated like gutter cleaning is always going to get hired out around here.

I think this is probably where we came the closest to hiring out the deck rebuild. I constantly felt like someone was right on the edge of getting hurt while it was going on. If it had been any higher up (or if Dave had been a few inches shorter) I think this would have been a deal breaker. As it was, though, it all worked out pretty well, with the exception of one very sore nose after a drill swung around and smacked Dave at one point.

You can also interpret this question as “will the finished project be safe?” and this was also a concern with the deck. Because, again, high off the ground. But we consulted with assorted knowledgable friends and family members, most frequently with our neighbor, Bruce, who loaned us tools and offered much advice. And, of course, there’s always google. So in the end we felt pretty good about it.

Will I save enough money to make it worthwhile?

The answer to this is going to vary based on your personal situation and from project to project, of course. The deck was a big, expensive project, even doing it ourselves. Doing it ourselves made the difference between being able to do it right now and maybe needing to put it off for yet another year. Don’t forget to factor in the hidden costs of doing a project yourself; we spent $300 paying to have the old deck wood hauled off, for example. I know in the past we’ve paid to have toilets installed rather than doing them ourselves just so we wouldn’t have to deal with getting rid of the old toilet.

Do I have time?

I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard this before, but time is money. This was another place that nearly stopped us from doing the deck ourselves. As I’ve mentioned, we wound up starting the deck just a few weeks before we left for our big road trip, and finishing it on time was….challenging. But I kind of felt like we’d been putting off big projects because we were too busy and didn’t have time for them for YEARS now (like ever since Dave started on his master’s), and I was tired of it. So we made the time, and it felt really good to be doing a big, ambitious house project again for the first time in awhile.

Will I be happier with the result if I do it myself?

This was a big factor for us back when we did the swing set. We probably could have bought a kit set for cheaper than what we wound up spending to build ours, but we had bigger kids and specific ideas about what we wanted, and there just really wasn’t a pre-built swing set available that was exactly what we wanted.

And sometimes we’ve wanted a piece of furniture to fit a very particular space in our house, and we’ve known that building it ourselves was the best way to get it. Like with the shelves in our den and in our basement:

With the deck? Well, on one hand we didn’t really know exactly what we wanted, so doing it ourselves gave us the flexibility to make and change decisions as we went along. On the other hand, we’re not professional deck builders, and I suspect we would have wound up with a more polished final product if we’d hired someone else to do the job.

Will I enjoy the process: This is important. Back when we redid our master bath, we did the tiling ourselves. It was our first (and only) tiling job, and what we learned as we went along was….we hate tiling. We saved a lot of money doing the tile ourselves. We also messed up in a lot of places and still have a floor that’s not as level and perfect as we’d like (this bothers Dave more than me. I am not a perfectionist). And we spent a lot of hours that we’ll never get back doing something that made us pretty miserable. I’m proud that we stuck with it and did it ourselves, but, at the same time, if we ever have another tiling project, we’ll hire someone to do it if there’s any way we can afford it. It’s okay not to like every kind of DIY work. Dave also hates dealing with plumbing and electricity, so we hire someone for all but the simplest of those kinds of jobs.

Working with wood, on the other hand, is something he really enjoys. There were frustrating moments when we were building the deck, but overall it wasn’t drudgery. It’s important, I think, to get some satisfaction from the process, not just from the finished result.

Painting is another thing we do ourselves and don’t have any desire to hire someone to do (except for our stairwell. But that’s more a fear of ladders issue). I don’t love painting, but I don’t mind it, and it’s not worth the money to me to pay someone else to do it.

I meant to have these posts coming at you a little faster this summer, but we’re on our big summer trip, visiting far flung places with terrible internet access, so…I’m a little slow. You can keep up with trip updates on Instagram and on my travel blog, if you’re so inclined.


Deck Repair/Rebuild, Part 2: To DIY or Not to DIY — 10 Comments

  1. Loved this post! We are being much less strict on our “DIY everything” these days, mostly due to time and lack of patience. We hired out getting the Holman house ready and while yes, it was all fairly simple stuff we could do ourselves, 1.) no time 2.) no joy in doing it and 3.) long periods away from our family. The deck looks fantastic by the way. Hope all is well on your trip. I’ve loved following along.

  2. These are fantastic questions to help make the decision to DIY or not! The most important ones to me are always #1 and #4 – I don’t want to DIY anything I won’t be able to do well, but on the other hand, I trust myself to take the time to make sure it’s being done correctly! Makes for a lot of stress during the project as I drive myself crazy with research, but I usually end up pretty happy with the end result!

    I love the view you guys have from your deck! Looks like such a great spot for relaxing!

    • Thanks, Brynne! Yes–I know that we’ll at least TRY our hardest and understand exactly what we want, even if our skills aren’t at professional levels…

  3. More and more things are just not getting done around here, as I can’t find either the time or the money or the pain-free body to do them with. Many things that I would once have done myself just don’t appeal to my bad shoulder these days: for the first time in my life I paid someone to paint my bedroom two years ago because it included painting the ceiling. (And working with power tools above my head on a stepladder in a bathtub? Not doing that again. Twenty years ago–four houses ago–I just hung the towel rack where I wanted it no matter how horribly inconvenient it was ducking under the shower curtain rod with every move.)

    • I’ve actually only painted a ceiling once….usually it sounds like such a pain that I just convince myself the ceiling doesn’t REALLY need to be painted at all 😉

      • Mostly I’m willing to ignore the ceiling totally. But the dark blue ceiling with black trim–matte black trim–had to go.

  4. I’m with you on the painting DIY. I couldn’t imagine contracting that task out. We are in the middle of redoing our backyard, and my partner is a little more excited about getting rid of or fixing the deck boards. Did you guys keep the base of the deck and redo the boards?

    • We wound up redoing most of it….the boards plus the support structure underneath; the only thing we kept was the outside frame and joists. I have a full post coming on it….umm, sometime soon :). But the more we looked at the supports, the more we realized they needed to be redone, too.

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