The Do-It-Yourself Dilemma: When Things Go Wrong

For the most part, I prefer doing home maintenance tasks myself rather than hire someone to do the tasks for me. It saves on labor costs and I often learn a new thing or two during the process. But I also know that different projects require varying levels of home repair experience — when do you rely on yourself vs turning to the professionals?

Yesterday, I attempted to replace the leaky faucet on our kitchen sink. This is a process that’s pretty simple in theory – I watched my father change one in a jiffy before and the steps seemed simple. I even had the manual from the previous faucet, which made it pretty clear how to remove the old faucet.

So my wife and I selected our new faucet, took it home, and prepared to install it. I basically started going in reverse through the directions of installing the old faucet to remove it and at one point I broke a piece of it. No big deal, I thought as I kept going. The faucet is just going to the slag heap anyway.

Eventually, I crawled under the sink and started unscrewing bolts. Then I made a very foul discovery: the bolt attaching the faucet to the underside of the sink was on extremely tight – I had no leverage. So I headed to the hardware store to pick up a basin wrench to make things easier. I came back – still no budging. I finally began inspecting the bolt in detail and I realized that the original owners had mis-installed the faucet, making it very difficult to remove without either removing the entire sink or damaging things.

So, after burning an hour and a half and buying a basin wrench that I didn’t entirely need, I wound up on the phone with a plumber. The task had spiraled into something that was far beyond my comfort level for home repair, particularly considering it meant no kitchen sink in a house with a toddler and a newborn – not a good thing.

Net result: I wasted an hour and a half and potentially the cost of the basin wrench. I may be able to use the wrench in the future – my wife eventually wants a new faucet in one bathroom for aesthetic reasons – but it’s not useful for the purpose it was bought for.

This left me with a big question: did I make the right move in attempting at all? I’ve successfully completed lots of little home maintenance tasks like these, but I had never attempted a faucet before. Should I have called anyway?

Even though it was a failure, I think I made the right overall choice in not immediately calling for help. Self-sufficiency saves money – if I billed myself for that hour and a half at a plumber’s rate, that time was definitely worth my money. I did most of the work (and loud grumbling) while my wife and children were all napping, so it didn’t disrupt any family time, either.

This bad experience didn’t discourage me from trying other home maintenance tasks. I just need to keep a sense that if I get in over my head, I’m willing to call a professional, and that this type of thing is why I keep a home maintenance fund.

In fact, I’m already willing to tackle that bathroom faucet, even after this failure. With my wrenches in hand, I’ll get right under that sink.