The joy and satisfaction of remodeling a space in your home is something avid do-it-yourselfers know well. Tackling DIY projects not only brings a sense of pride, but it can save a homeowner serious money. For many people, finding the right tools and materials for the task at hand can be daunting. At BestReviews, we understand the challenges that homeowners face in making solid purchasing decisions. Beth Allen, our DIY home expert, can help navigate those needs.
As a DIY expert and licensed contractor, Allen is the founder of DIY HIP Chicks, an educational resource based out of the Philadelphia area. Allen has spent over 10 years teaching homeowners the basics of home improvement and maintenance projects. She has developed online courses for DIYers to tackle everything from plumbing to tile. The YouTube channel she produces with her son has over three million views and more than 800 videos. Allen has been featured on the Rachael Ray Show, QVC, and dozens of other news outlets. In addition to her DIY prowess, Allen is also a wife, a mother to three grown sons, and an RN who teaches dementia caregiving classes.
BA: Growing up, my family did not have a lot of money. Hiring pros to do repairs or make improvements was not in the budget. We did it ourselves because we had to. I changed my first faucet at age 17 and was hanging wallpaper at 10. My mom had a stack of home repair manuals, and using tools was something I grew to love doing. It was just our way of life.
After leaving my nursing career to be a full-time mom, I reconnected with my passion for all things home. Friends and family said I needed to share my talents. I went to a local university for a certificate of interior design, then obtained a contractor license. I asked the local adult evening school if I could teach a home repair class for women. It was a huge success. That led to more local classes, media spotlights, and 10 years later, DIY HIP Chicks is still focused on teaching homeowners from all backgrounds how to save money, stress, and time.
BA: Read reviews! I always tell my students to read reviews on the product sales page. Hone in on items with a significant number of reviews and four or more stars. Look for the reviews that are less professionally written. The most genuine reviews are often short, misspelled, or blunt in nature. Cross-check reviews on several sites and/or on trade forums if possible. If I’m going to replace my garbage disposal, I want to hear a pro plumber’s thoughts on which one is best. That’s why I love being a part of BestReviews; real experts are weighing in on the product reviews.
BA: Good question. I don’t get caught up in the cheap gadget craze. Many homeowners see products and think, “Oh, I need that,” when they really don’t. When we first bought our home, I bought plenty of cheap gadgets to do this or that. Too often, they broke or I never used them. I learned over the last 25 years of homeownership and 10 years of teaching DIY that investing in quality gear that lasts is the way to go. I love a tool that will serve many purposes like my oscillating saw. It’s the MacGyver of tools. I actually have two: one cordless and one corded.
I have also learned that you don’t have to buy the $400 pro level tool for everything. The once-a-year tool can be a lesser grade, but don’t skimp on the powerhouse tools of homeownership: cordless drill, edge trimmer, screwdriver set, tape measure, and painting supplies. Poor-quality tools for frequent projects will cause you frustration, and I want people to love the DIY process, so invest in solid foundation tools.
BA: What I love about the BestReviews approach in reviewing products is that it takes into consideration both the experts in the fields and consumer experiences. Like I said before, there are some items you want to be top of the line, and others will be fine if on the low end. BestReviews offers reviews of things at all price points. This appeals to me because one of the reasons I teach DIY is so that people of all income levels can learn to have a safe, functional, and beautiful home, not just those who have homes featured in photoshoots.
BA: Start small. Your to-do list is likely long, whether you just bought a new home or a fixer-upper. Make lists of the projects you want to do, room by room. Review the list, and mark which ones you feel confident doing and which ones seem daunting. Break the list down further. Which tasks do you have the tools and time to do now versus later? If you look at this long list, you will be overwhelmed and struggle to accomplish much. Hone in on the ones you can get done well to build your confidence and skill set.
BA: The drill is such a versatile tool and definitely my favorite. Many think of it as a tool to just make holes, but it does so much more. It can drive screws, scrub tile, dig holes, stir paint, sharpen tools, and even peel potatoes. In recent years, I have developed fibromyalgia, and I don’t have the hand and arm strength I used to have. I don’t let that stop me from my DIY goals. I just let the drill do more of the work to spare my body any aches and pains.
The important part of buying the right drill for you and using it well is twofold. It’s all about power and weight. You want one that’s powerful enough for the serious drill/driving task but one that’s light enough for you to comfortably use. I actually have two of the exact same drills because I use them so often; I keep one in the garage and one in the house. Be sure to have a few batteries because you never want to be caught powerless.
BA: Well of course, you need a cordless drill/driver. To maximize your drill, you need a bit set with interchangeable bits for all types of screws and hardware. For measuring with accuracy, I recommend a Stanley 25-foot Tape Measure. Some other key hand tools are an adjustable wrench, needle-nose pliers, a set of stubby hand-held screwdrivers, a hammer, painter’s tape, a utility knife, safety glasses, and work gloves. These are the basics I think you need on move-in day. Building from there, I would add an oscillating saw for sure.
BA: Excellent question. I actually have three work spaces at home: a pretty one for filming YouTube videos, a messy one for doing real projects, and one that’s mainly storage. In the beginning, I had two toolboxes. For those with small spaces, I suggest a small parts organizer and a larger box for the tools themselves. I love my Keter box for screws, nails, and the like. For tool storage, a wheeled box is great if you need to be mobile or can’t carry a heavy box. I’m a fan of the bucket organizer so you can carry tools and easily see them. These items can be easily stored in a closet or utility room; you don’t need a fancy shop. I do suggest you store your tools near a power outlet so you can keep your cordless drill battery charged near the rest of your gear.
BA: Yes — do research ahead of time. If you try to wing it, you may be blindsided by the things you don’t know that you don’t know. I tell my students to do several things before tackling a new project: Watch at least three YouTube videos to see consistent tips in each, talk to a pro at the home center (make sure the person in the plumbing aisle is not the paint clerk), and read all instructions that come with your supplies. The more you know about the job getting started, the easier the project will be. Learning what to expect prepares you to avoid pitfalls and frustration, hence making you successful so you want to do more in the future. DIY is fun and so satisfying.
BA: Rome wasn’t built in a day! Start small. Understand that the DIY shows on TV are all staged and have a crew of 30-plus pros working in the background. You cannot flip a kitchen in a weekend — not even two weekends. Tackling small projects to start gives you wins and builds your confidence. Try light carpentry, hanging shelves, painting, and caulking, then move up to plumbing and electric. I remind my female students that if women can give birth to a human being, we can fix a toilet. We often focus on the “I can’t, I haven’t, and I don’t know how” mindset instead of remembering all we have accomplished in life.
BA: Educate yourself on how your home works. People have told me they don’t want to DIY because it takes too much time and they would rather call a pro. Finding a pro can take days if one even shows up. In the meantime, your garbage disposal is backed up, and the sink is filled with dirty dishes. If you knew about the reset button on the disposal motor, you could reset it, and get back to business in minutes, plus you would save yourself a $100 service call.
An educated homeowner understands the basics of their home so they can talk the talk with contractors, troubleshoot problems, and decide for themselves if it’s a pro-worthy repair or a quick fix they can DIY. Watch videos, take DIY classes, talk to the friend who has a garage full of tools, but learn as much as you can. Your home is the biggest investment of your life. Educated consumers are the happiest homeowners. That’s one more thing I love about working with BestReviews — we educate buyers!
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Beth Allen writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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