Bad Plumbing? Slow Drainage? Ant Invasion? Should You Hire a PRO or DIY?

Bad Plumbing? Slow Drainage? Ant Invasion? DIY or PRO?

Since we became homeowners, I have developed a higher sense of tolerance for stress. If I can’t convince you guys of that here then the rest of this home improvement series should demonstrate how much work owning a house can be compare to renting. So here’s comes the age old question: should you hire a pro or DIY?


{ This is the first installment of my “DIY or Pro” series. Check out the exact hit list below to see what we have done as frugal homeowners. }

We’re only a couple of years settled into being homeowners and I know this house better than I know my woman.

Lily laughs in background

PRO or DIY?

I wouldn’t say home ownership has been easy. There is always something that needs to be done. Like clockwork something breaks down and it ends up on my chores list for the weekend. Generally speaking, you have to look at the situation, your personal skill set and assess the possible cost of each outcome. Doing a risk vs cost assessment is a good way to determine if you should call a professional or DIY.

As the head of a fantastically frugal family, the first thing I ask myself is can this be a DIY or is this something that’s better left to the professionals? Over time, I have began to gain more confidence in my DIY abilities. I sat down and started making a list of home improvements I encountered. In my head I thought I would top the list out at 8. The list is now 22 items long and counting. Phew, we have only been homeowners for a few years. No wonder fellow millennials don’t have houseshouses are work!

The Hit List!

*items in black will be addressed in later chapters

Ant Invasion

Wasps invasion

Illegal Plumbing

Roof Vent Boot

Sink Slow to Drain

Doggie Gate

Caulking tub

Shower heads

Dry Wall Repair

Garbage disposal

Caulking counter

Sealing Counters

Shower Drains

Installing new locks

Rekeying locks

Broken dehydrator

Replace toilets

Vent cleaning

Wall scratches

Closet door

nest thermostat

leaking Sink

Leak in air conditioning line

Crack in siding

Broken Outlet

Light switch replacement

Curtain mounts

Fridge “Stuff”

 

Parameters!

My skill set

Not much really. I would say I’m just an average Joe and there’s nothing I’ve done here that another person can’t do. I had some introductory electrical engineering courses in college. The classes were theoretical with no real world applications. I changed my first light bulb as a 17 year old and that was as advance as I cared to get before becoming a homeowner.

Satisfaction level

Satisfaction level used below is what we use to measure how happy we were with the turn out of going with DIY project and/or experience with our professional.

Disclaimer

Everything here was a real account of what happened to us. None of which should be taken in exchange for personal circumstance and/or professional advice.

 


Start!

Ant Invasion

Problem

We had seen a few ants here and there in our entry way, but hasn’t thought much of it.  We just squished them and moved on (pro tip: don’t squish ants, it attracts more through the release of their scent).  Then one day I woke up and found hundreds of ants swarming some dog food that had fallen underneath furniture… on the second floor of the house.  Ants seemed to be coming out of the walls; it was not a fun time.  Thankfully, they never made it to the kitchen.

AirB&B guests prefer if the food you leave them is not swarming with ants…eek. We had a few ants crawling ON the breakfast items we left for our AirBnB guest. Oh was that a terrible thing to explain, thankfully those guests were understanding.

DIY or professional?

DIY first, then we hired a professional.

Result

I purchased these bait traps.  They worked wonders at first, and it seemed like the battle was won. But the ants lost interest in them (they’re learning!)

I tried to improvise other bait.  Since they loved Grace’s kibble, I got some of the liquid bait and added it to the line in varying amounts.  It took a few days for them to approach it, and I think by that time most of the ants had died out and the remaining ants were better about to avoid the poison, so it wasn’t really effective.

I also bought these bait traps, but the ants weren’t interested in them at all.

I then planned to purchased some boric acid to make bait with peanut butter, but before I got to doing that we inadvertently got a professional to get rid of them.

Cost

Around $15 (for DIY)

Satisfaction Level

Medium – We run an AirBnB full time. If we didn’t have any summertime guests staying in our home, we would have tried our DIY method a bit longer. Things were definitely getting better and it was sort of fun trying to the mentality of our ants. I learned some ants like savory and some liked sweet. It seems we killed the ants that liked sweet with the first bait but the remainder of the surviving ants seemed more into savory (hence peanut butter.)

 

Wasps Invasion

Problem

Imagine walking into your bathroom and seeing a wasp more than an inch long right next to you. I did what I think any handsome man would do; I screamed, backed away, relieved myself in the bathroom downstairs before running to my wife and having her get rid of it.

But first, Lily tried to be mean and shove me into the bathroom. Nooooooo. Why. I do a lot of things but creepy crawlies larger than M&M is a nope from me.

When another one showed up the next day, we knew we had a problem. This happened around the same time as our ant invasion (ugh!) and these wasps were huge. Lily thought they were poisonous from how deadly they looked. We couldn’t identify them so we had to call in a professional. Again, this was during the ant episode and we were ready to fold in. Knock two birds with one stone.

DIY or professional?

Professional

Result

We got a professional to come out a few days later. They found the concrete ant colony outside and treated for them. They also advised on keeping vegetation from touching the house to reduce ways for insects to get in.  Great!

When we showed him the photos of the bug on our phone and he immediately identified it as a mud dauber wasp.  He poked his head in the attic briefly and looked around outside the house for a nest, but didn’t find anything.  He left just by telling us to keep an eye out for a nest and to destroy it if we found one. There was not very much he could do because he couldn’t find the wasp nest. For 20 minutes of work, this guy was expensive!

Thankfully, the wasps stopped coming in some time after that on their own. The whole ordeal started just about a year ago, so we’ll see if they come back this summer.

AirB&B guests also prefer if there are no gigantic wasps in the bathroom.

Cost

$246.38

Satisfaction Level

Low – That price tag was (what I believe) super steep for 20 minutes of general inspection. Our bug professional helped us locate the ant colony and destroy it using a generic chemical that probably cost $10 online to order. He identified the mud dauber wasp but was unable to locate the nest. The wasp issue was not resolved. The wasps just went away on their own.

If it wasn’t for AirBnB, we would have tried to get it taken care of ourselves. If the situation is not time or business sensitive, we wished we DIYed instead.

 

Incorrectly Installed Plumbing

Problem

When we purchased our investment property, there was some water damage on the cabinet under kitchen sink.  The home inspector had noted this and said the leak didn’t seem to be current.

“Okay,” I thought, “so there had been a problem and they fixed it, good! Now it’s just cosmetic damage.”

Wrong.

After we bought the place, I discovered that the leak was still active.  Not only that, but the more detailed look I took at it and the more I learned about plumbing, the more wrong the whole installation seemed.

For one thing, it did not have any sort of trap installed.  It occurred to me after learning about traps that this must be why the house had a faint smell of sewage the day after our inspection.  To make matters even worse, the sewage outlet was so low down that the high cabinet base didn’t leave room to install a standard P-trap.

bad-plumbing-seattle

Secondly, the pipes weren’t aligned.  I initially tried stop the leak by adjusting the slip joints, but I couldn’t get it right.  The first thing I noticed was that pipes weren’t long enough to make a proper connection in the slip joint, so it was just barely connected (about 1mm overlap), which is why it was leaking.  The second thing I noticed was that the vertical connection between two joints was going at an angle because they weren’t lined up with each other.  It would have been impossible to simply replace that piece with a longer one, since the connection had to be installed at an improper angle to connect at all!

This problem seemed completely out of my league, so I gave up and called in the professionals.

DIY or professional?

Professional

Result

We got someone to come out a week later to take a look.  The guy took a look and confirmed it was not correctly set up.  He then had to spend twenty minutes on the phone with his boss brainstorming ways to fix it without having to tear out our expensive custom cabinets.  Thankfully, they thought of something, and he was able to fix it in half an hour. It saved us thousands of dollars.

Cost

$178.35

Satisfaction Level

High – the plumber from the company we hired were great. If you’re in Seattle, I would recommend giving them a call.

 

Roof Vent

Problem

Also related to our investment property, the inspector noted a large hole gnawed through the plumbing vent boot (image).  This would let water into the attic and cause further damage if not repaired.

DIY or professional?

DIY

Result

I did a lot of research, bought a ladder, a new vent boot, roof cement, a caulk gun, utility knife, pry bar, and roofing nails, and I waited for a clear September/October weekend day in Seattle to devote to roofing.

A month later we finally got a sunny Saturday, so we went over to do the work.  I braved my fears to get on the roof again, then had Lily pass me up my tools.  Prying up the shingles wasn’t too bad, though I pried up some nails that I didn’t need to since I didn’t pay enough attention to where the edges of the shingles were at first.

roof-vent-boot-broken
Before
roof-vent-boot-fixed
After

The spot right behind the vent boot gave me trouble, though.  I realized that the vent boot that was there had been installed incorrectly as well (another red flag I wish our inspector had noticed).  The shingles weren’t properly cut around it, so they were pushing into the back and actually deforming the boot, which made it more difficult to remove.

I finally got it off and got the new one on, and It was at about that time I realized I had purchased the wrong size roofing nails.  One emergency trip to a hardware store later, I’m back on the roof ready to start putting shingles back on.

First, I had to cut the shingles around the boot with my trusty utility knife.  This was much more difficult that I’d been expecting.  At this point I was starting to feel weak and exhausted, but I pushed through.

By the time I was nailing down the shingles, I was having trouble moving my body correctly.  My work was starting to get sloppy, and I didn’t care anymore.  The sense of relief when I finished applying the roof cement to the shingles was incredible.  All-in-all, it was about 5 hours of work to complete.

My regrets on the project:

  • Not wearing gloves. My hands and arms had lots of small scrapes and cuts from the asphalt shingles.
  • Going cheap on the caulking gun.  Mine is one that needs to be manually released when you stop squeezing, or it will keep coming out for a while.  I understand there are some that stop the pressure on the tube immediately when you release it; that would have been a lot less messy.
  • Cutting too small of an opening in the roof cement tube.  It was hurting my already tired hands trying to squeeze enough out; I could have saved a lot of effort by cutting the opening larger.

Cost

A little over $100, most of which was for a ladder that’s useful to have for other projects. I think the true DIY cost was almost a wash. The actual cost was really $20.

Satisfaction Level

Low – Yes, I fixed it and saved some green. Yes, there is a mixture of pride that I feel…but the 5 hours on a roof (on my day off) digging at the roof shingles with my bare hands was incredibly stressful. There was a lot of ways it could have gone wrong too. What if I or Lily fell off the ladder? I’m a desk monkey. Google hires me to type code in a temperature controlled office space with handmade ice cream and good beer. If you have more experience with roofing (or even just getting on ladders) I’m sure this could have been a good DIY choice. But if I wasn’t so cheap I would have gone to a pro.

 

Slow Sink + Leaking Tailpiece

Problem

I was called into the kitchen one evening to find the kitchen sink was draining very slowly, and we also found that it had leaked under the sink.  The first thing I did was to clear everything out from under the sink and clean up the water that had leaked, then put a bucket under the pipes that were leaking.

For the leak, I was able to run the water and tell that when the sink was backed up, it started leaking from the tailpiece connection.  I unscrewed the connection to find that it didn’t have a flanged washer, so I guessed that was why it would leak.

For the slow drain, I checked the trap to make sure there wasn’t anything obstructing it, which there wasn’t.  My next suspects were either that the line was obstructed, or the plumbing vent had become obstructed.  Since it didn’t seem the nearby bathroom was affected, I guessed the sewage line from the sink was obstructed.

We left the bucket in place and decided to be careful about not running water too quickly for a few days so I could try to deal with it before we resorted to calling a plumber.

DIY or professional?

DIY

Result

I went to the hardware store on my way home from work to get a drain auger, also known as a drain snake.  I removed the trap below the sink so I could directly access the pipe in the wall and tried using a couple times, but it didn’t restore normal draining speed.  It occurs to me now that an auger is more for dislodging something that’s completely obstructing the pipe, rather than for a slow drain.  Oh well, at least now I have one if I need it.

I also picked up a flanged washer for the tailpiece and installed that, but it continued to leak even with it.  I decided since it only leaks when sink is backed up, fixing the backup is the priority.

Next I thought about plunging the sink.  I have toilet plungers, but they don’t really seem appropriate for a sink.  Instead I realized that running the garbage disposal when the water is backed up creates a very similar pressure through the pipes, so I tried it.

Big. Mistake.

Dirty sink water started spraying out from under the sink all over the kitchen.  It turns out one of the slip joints under the sink hadn’t been connected very well.  The pressure caused it to come undone, which means there was now an opening through which all that water under high pressure could exit the pipe. Directly at me. I screamed like a girl in front of my father-in-law. Then I cleaned up the mess, put it back together, and called it quits for the night, embarrassed and defeated.

Lily laughs in background some more

I made one last trip to the hardware store, this time looking for a drain cleaner.  I settled on an enzymatic cleaner and used it for the next few nights.  It worked like a charm, no more slow drain. I might have overthought this one.

Cost

About $40

Satisfaction Level

Medium it’s nice to know that your wife will still kiss you even though you’ve just been sprayed by dirty sink water. The plumber we had scheduled would have cost around $100 dollars so for $40, DIY it wasn’t that miserable.

 

Wrapping Up!

I’ve just relived some terrible memories writing this up. I have a quite a ways to go on the hit list as you can see. I could write an entire article about most of these things (and I might) but for now me and Lily are hoarding too many secrets and not enough time. Similar to her AirBnB series, she advised me that it would be nice to set the parameters before we knock out the details later so that’s what I’m doing. Until then! Let’s hope the list doesn’t get longer before then.

P.S. y’all make the wife very happy, thanks for the support and visiting us today!

 

37 Replies to “Bad Plumbing? Slow Drainage? Ant Invasion? Should You Hire a PRO or DIY?

  1. Wow, I learned so much from this post! Me and Mr. NA are not yet homeowners, so so far our rental woes have been contained to a backed up dishwasher [that turned out to just be broken and not something we were doing wrong] and a lack of studs in the wall.

    As for bugs….we have this system where I’ll capture the bug using a clear container of some kind, and then I’ll weight said container with something heavy like a tape dispenser. Then, like the helpful wife I am, I wait for Mr. NA to come home and dispose of it [while I’m obviously in the bedroom with the door closed so I don’t have to hear the crunch]. Apparently, hornets don’t like being trapped for 5 hours- who knew?

    I had no idea that if you squish ants, then that attracts more through the release of their scent. Glad you guys got the ant situation taken care of!

    1. Wow, lack of studs in the wall? That sounds really bad! Glad it’s a rental so it doesn’t fall on you to fix it.

      I try to trap bugs in a container and take them outside to release them when I can. Though Grace has been catching flies for us lately!

    1. That’s a good policy! I tend to watch/read a lot of tutorials and see what they say to do (and how it varies) and what they say can go wrong, then decide if I’m comfortable trying.

      Electrical, plumbing, and roofing (anything with potential to burn down or rot my house, really) definitely make me nervous.

  2. I’m decent at DIY stuff but much slower than a professional. Instead of hours I can take days. So, depending on the situation, there are some things that make more sense for me to DIY than others. I definitely need to analyze situation a bit more though now that we’re early-retired. Every dollar spent needs to be considered for value.

    1. It really takes time to properly research and take on some of these projects. Despite lots of preparation, I usually find myself stopping to recheck instructions or looking up new information when I’m actually working on them.

      I think good candidates for DIY projects are those that can be done at your leisure, and aren’t going to cause major damage or take something you need (e.g. your only bathroom) out of commission if you mess up. Of course I also take on ones that don’t meet that criteria 🙂

  3. We’re dealing with house woes now. It’s difficult to DIY some areas, especially electrical and plumbing. We don’t know if our porch issue is structural or not – finding out the truth and even getting a contractor or a handy man to come to our home is a major project.

    We get outside wasps called the cicada killers. They dig holes to give birth in (and kill cicadas to feed on down there). The way to destroy them is to fog up the holes with harsh chemicals (the kind even the pros don a mask for). We just let them be since it’s a seasonal thing and they can fly right over your head with no interest in stinging you.

    1. Good luck with your porch issue. I hope it’s not structural!

      I remember as a kid my parents had an issue with wasps digging into the wooden structure of their patio overhang. You must be braver than I am, since I definitely didn’t want to be out there with them flying around above my head!

  4. Haha, I was laughing through this post . . . sorry – I’m good now. Seriously though, I’ve done all the things on this list and more myself. I rarely call in a pro. I actually wrote an article or two in the early days of my blog about some diy problems, but they didn’t seem to be that popular, so I quit doing them.
    Good post though, and good job for doing most of it youself.
    Chris recently posted…An Aha Moment with Personal Finance BloggersMy Profile

  5. Nice. As I was reading through, I was thinking, man this is gonna be a long blog post if he’s going to list everything out. But it looks like you hit just a few and are planning on hitting the rest later (which is a good method – doesn’t always have to be all or nothing). But yeah, even with a brand new construction, I was surprised at how much stuff I had to do in the past 4 years of home ownership. Luckily most were stuff I could do on my own. I can’t imagine how much work an older house may need…

    1. Yeah, Lily wanted to give a preview of what’s to come, so we added my tentative list. I’m guessing they’ll turn into links to the corresponding post as they get written.

      I’ve been hearing more from people buying new construction that they find lots of little things done incorrectly in the inspection. I think they market here is so hot right now they’re just cutting corners corners trying to finish quickly. And the houses are usually sold by the time construction is finished anyway, so they don’t have much to lose!

  6. Oh man. Nice to see what I’m missing while I’m over here renting. Homeownership is not for the faint of heart!

    Thanks for sharing the nitty gritty with us- sorry that you had to dredge up bad experiences (getting sprayed in the face with dirty sink water! ahh!) for our benefit.

    1. Renting was so much easier; I definitely miss it sometimes, but I’m also oddly fond of learning new things and solving problems for myself.

      The dirty sink water was embarrassing for sure, but I think the roofing is what’s most useful to re-live. I’m definitely hiring someone when it comes time to replace that roof

  7. Ahhh, the DIY world. Kudos for tackling it – looks like you’ve already saved yourself a nice sum!

    Question – do most Seattle places have misquote nets? I thought they were the norm until I was in the West Coast for a while… never have I gotten out of a bedroom faster than when I heard that blasted buzzing come in through the window in the morning – and the dog beat me to the door too, desperately waiting for me to pick him up and save us!

    1. All our windows have screens. It seems pretty standards here these days, but maybe in older neighbors it isn’t. It bothers me because I still see large flies occasionally and wonder how they possible got inside…

  8. I wish I was more handy…I’m definitely not the DIY type. I’m lucky that I don’t deal with these issues much since I live in a co-op and there is a live-in super who deals with most issues. I would like to learn to be more handy though…and it’s a lot easier nowadays as everything can be learned on YouTube!

    1. Yep, YouTube makes it much easier, but you also have to do due diligence to make sure the person who made the video knows what they’re talking about and isn’t forgetting to include any important details.

  9. I am not a homeowner yet but when I become one, I will probably do the same procedure. Trying DIY is the more logical option financial wise. With so many resources like the interweb including YouTube, you are hopeful to find an article/video that can help you with your home improvements. But if your not confident to fixing it yourself, a pro should be the way to go

    1. Time constraints are a big factor for me too. I may be confident in my ability to get something fixed given enough time, but if I only have a few hours to work on it in between B&B guest stays I may not be so confident with those constraints

  10. Haha, sorry to laugh at your expense, but I am going to anyway (as I have been in these same situations before)

    I have done a lot of YouTube tutorials to fix problems myself over the years (and even DIY some of my own Cheap Ass Solutions) – I generally stay away from anything behind the wall (serious plumbing and electrical) but have fixed dryers, furnaces, and a few drainage issues.

    Good times!

    1. Go ahead and laugh; it sounds like you’ve earned it 😁

      Any Cheap Ass Solutions you’re proud of? It reminds me of our bathroom sink that rusted through the overflow drain. Duct tape and a bucket are now what’s keeping the cabinet from flooding.

      1. One in particular that borderlines on a bad idea, a slow water leak from before we owned the house rotted the wood below our toilet, instead of taking everything out (and re-tiling the entire bathroom) I chipped the bad wood away from underneath (unfinished basement) and screwed a new piece of wood in. Then drilled holes all the way through to line up with the bolt on the toilet above the floor. Some threaded rod and a few nuts and we were in business 🙂

        We don’t own this house anymore, but the inspector didn’t say anything about it
        Apathy Ends recently posted…Top Down Cost Cutting for the Average AmericanMy Profile

        1. That doesn’t sound too bad. And ahh, the perks of an unfinished basement.

          I’m a little afraid of what we’ll find if we redo our bathroom floor, since it’s clear water has at some point pooled up in the corner next to the tub.

  11. OMG this is such an awesome series! We are also homeowners, and I can’t count how many times we have been so stressed out and even fought about home repairs. Mr. FAF is not a handyman and is not interested in DIY, so I’m sad to report that I’m the handywoman in the family.

    I literally loled at the wasp story. One time there was a fly in our kitchen. I told Mr. FAF to kill it, and he said he didn’t know what to do (?!). I terminated that fly in 2 seconds.

    1. I’m glad you like it!

      I enjoy doing some of the repairs because there’s a great sense of satisfaction in figuring it out and fixing it myself. It does take a lot of effort, though, and I don’t always get to things as quickly as Lily would like.

      And when it comes to bugs or spiders…
      😱

  12. YouTube all the way for DIY things. I agree with a com mentor however, that I’m not comfortable with electrical stuff (AKA – I want to live, lol). But I’ve dabbed into a few DIY things thanks to YouTube. You save and you learn, but you do need to have patience which can be tough.

    1. Yeah, never rush it. I say always consult more than one source, and make sure you understand and differences between your sources.

      I don’t think I’ll operate on any major electrical systems either. I did accidentally shock myself while repairing a small appliance, but I’ll save that story for another post

  13. Great post, definitely relatable.

    We bought a house that was previously a foreclosure, and I believe more and more every day that our inspector was borderline blind. I did have to laugh as well because of the similar issues I have had with certain problems…..ants will be the death of me….I can’t stand the sight of even 1 in our house…

    Finding time is the biggest issue and usually a deciding factor for if I hire someone. Luckily my dad bought his first house (4000 square feet for $5,000) gutted it, and basically rebuilt it. He passed down a lot of this knowledge to me and I am more thankful every year we are homeowners.

    We had to replace doors, fix siding, and replace every outlet in our house. Saved a lot of money but definitely took a while!

    I think people really need to add this to their budget and regularly overlook it. Even a new house may get unwanted drywall holes, or a myriad of other issues.

    1. Wow, that’s impressive! I didn’t learn much home maintainence from my parents, so without the internet is probably be out of luck (or trying things without instructions and making problems worse).

      We budget a certain amount towards home maintainence each month, and anything that’s not used accumulates for larger expenses that will eventually come up.

  14. Trying to figure out DIY vs professional is a constant battle at our house. Living essentially in the forest, in the Pacific Northwest and in a 30 year old house means there constantly little projects to take care of. I’m pretty confident in my skills but have drawn the line a few times and called in the pros. Mice showing up in the house. Pros. Installing a new kitchen island. DIY. Leaking metal roof in December. Definitely pros. Gutter repair. DIY. Drywall repair from the leaks. Pro.

    There have been a few very expensive lessons along the way like calling a plumber for a clog. Tip: buy a drain snake and save the $150. At least in these situations you can learn by watching them work.

    It’s all a balance on time, tools required and whether or not I might die when attempting to do the work myself.

    1. Rodents are definitely something I’d call in the pros for. I’m thinking of getting routine treatment for them on our investment property, since we’re not there all the time to notice if there any actively.

      I already got a drain snake, but not one that’s appropriate for use in a toilet, so I’m just hoping never to have a clog in one that a plunger can’t resolve.

  15. I love DIYing for my apartments, but I would NOT have been up for that wasp invasion unless I had a suit! Even then I’d probably be way too freaked out @__@

    I did build my own closet with closet brackets from Home Depot when the room I was renting didn’t have one, but that thing fell down so many times I probably should have hired a professional. But finally like…20 drilled holes in the wall later…it worked!
    Jing recently posted…Money Diaries: July Week 1My Profile

    1. Oh cool. I’ve been wanting to replace some bifold closet doors that drag on the carpet, but I’m thinking about trying to cut them to fit instead

  16. My wife and I try to utilize Youtube as much as possible to fix things around our house. We figure if we break it that’s ok the professional can fix it. We’ve been fortunate enough to fix everything over the years so it hasn’t been a problem so far and we’ve clearly saved a ton of money 🙂
    Mustard Seed Money recently posted…MY 2017 GOALS: RECAP #2 (Mid-Year)My Profile

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