Man cutting wood with a sawSome folks are handier than others. Where some see a screwdriver, some folks only see a thingamajig. And that’s just fine. Not everyone is as handy as those undercover craftsmen and women out there.

But let’s say you know your way around the house. Hanging pictures is no problem, but you don’t dare install a towel bar.

How do you know when to call in outside help for projects? With a few pointers, hopefully you’ll have a better idea of what you can handle and what’s better left for the pros.

Dads, Drywall and Darts. Best Friends.

Growing up, there was a sense of permanence to our house. My folks always yelled at me for using pushpins when tape would hang a poster just as well. Marking up the walls was a big no-no.

That attention to the well-being of our household walls gave me a sense of doom whenever anything bumped, scraped, punctured or punched our drywall, mostly because we’d get in trouble with dad.

It wasn’t until I lived in my first apartment that I learned that drywall damage isn’t always as permanent as I previously believed.

Let’s say you’re a college kid in your first apartment, and you decide your dartboard would look great in the family room. A mature person might take the time to buy a cabinet, or maybe hang some cork on the wall first. But remember, you’re a stupid college kid with friends coming over in a half hour and you want to be a good host with plenty of entertainment options. So you grab a hammer and a nail, and you hammer the nail into the wall and hang the board up.

Now, your friends come over. They’re stupid college kids too. So it’s almost inevitable that your stupid college friends miss the dartboard and sink dart after cursed dart into the drywall surrounding the board.

Time passes, friends throw darts and now it’s time to move. The wall, which has now become a running joke, is covered in pockmarks and pitted to oblivion. Your security deposit is in peril. You might call your dad (the same one who put the fear of God in you regarding drywall damage) in a panic.

If you could hear a shrug, it might sound like your dad saying, “Just get some spackle and some touch-up paint and patch the holes.”

So you do. You slap up the spackle, you sand the excess, you vacuum up the dust, paint it over and you can forgive your idiot friends knowing your security deposit is once again secure.

The point of this oddly specific hypothetical scenario is that, nine times out of ten, any damage you do can be repaired. Granted, there’s no do-over or Ctrl-Z when it comes to home repair, but even repairs can be repaired.

If It’s Basic, Brave It

Some repairs are simple enough to go about on your own. You’re the best judge of your capabilities, but if you don’t start small you’ll never know what you can do.

For some, tools and materials might as well be a foreign language. But if you’re out to learn Spanish, you’re not going to perfect it the second you set foot into a classroom. Things like pushpin holes are easy enough to fix. Why not move up to fixing a crooked towel rod? Try changing a burned-out headlight.

Those low-risk, low-consequence repairs can easily be undone if you mess them up, so starting small is no shame. And with each repair, the sense of accomplishment that comes with a job well done is huge. Before you know it, you’ll have the confidence to move on to something that might require a little more effort.

YouTube-It Yourself

We live in remarkable times. With the click of a mouse/touch pad/touch screen, we have the answer to every question we could ever ask. And when it comes to researching repairs, there’s no better place to start than YouTube.

There are tons of people out there who are willing to help people learn how to make repairs. Whether they’re hobbyists or companies putting their name out there as an industry resource, the how-to video has found its home online.

When I encounter something unfamiliar in a home improvement or repair project, my first stop is YouTube. You can be as broad or as granular as you like when it comes to your project too.

I recently replaced a light switch with a dimmer switch in my family room. I was able to find installation instructions for my specific model of dimmer on a two or three-way circuit, or instructions on how to remove the plate covering the switches on the wall. Who knows? Some people might need to know how to unscrew four screws.

For people who are visual learners like me, YouTube is a godsend. But it’s not without its setbacks. Some videos breeze over some important information, and you might have to do some digging to get the video you need. I found the switch plate removal video right below the model-specific instructions in my search results. And not all people take safety as seriously as others. You can’t rely on YouTube video uploaders to educate you on safety. That’s when a human buddy comes in handy.

How-To with a Helping Hand

No matter what you’re working on around the house, it’s always helpful to have an extra set of hands. If you have someone who’s more experienced at home repairs (and they don’t mind being paid in pizza) use him or her. Whether your friend takes control, or they let you make your own mistakes under their supervision, you’ll be learning. And that’s what it’s about.

Hopefully that friend of yours is more experienced than you are. If you prefer to bumble through a project with someone just as inexperienced as you, be sure you take all necessary safety precautions. For example, my dad is super handy. But no matter what, he always manages to hurt himself in the process. I know I can call on my dad to help me out when I need it. I also know to keep a first aid kit at the ready for the inevitable scrapes or scratches.

The problem with my dad (and one I’ve experienced myself) is that he tends to rush through a project. As a result, we work ourselves into a hurry and end up forcing something that can be loosened or detached fairly simply. That’s where my wife comes in. She is the levelheaded type. When we get to work on a project, she keeps her cool and calms me down when I start to blow my top. She’s also a great safety cop, reminding me when I forgot my goggles, hearing protection, etc. As a result, we’re both pretty handy, and we’re a great team.

Know Your Limits

One big mistake people make when it comes to home repairs and projects is the tendency to get in over their head. There’s one simple way to prevent starting something you can’t finish: Don’t start it in the first place.

There’s a big difference between being handy and biting off more than you can chew. For instance, there was a time just last month when I ran into a much-needed repair that I took on myself, much to my regret.

I came home late one night from work and closed the garage from inside. We’ve always had trouble with this garage from the time we bought the house.

This particular night, however, the garage didn’t close all the way. I tried the button; no luck. I detached the door from the overhead rail; no luck. There was a two-foot gap between the ground and the door.

Being the intrepid (overconfident) homeowner that I am, I tried to force the door down to the ground, which began the disaster. Three hours later, I had cable on the floor of the garage, a bent doorframe, panels falling from the overhead rails and a garage that was even farther from being closed than when I started.

The next day we called a company, who sent out a repair guy who was nice as could be about the whole thing. Bottom line (and hundreds of dollars later), we learned that my stupidity in forcing the garage cost us big. It could have cost us even more.

Garage doors, which I know nothing about, are under a lot of tension. When I pulled a cable off one of the end spools, I could have released that tension and caused serious injury to myself or anyone else around.

The point here is to call a professional when you’re dealing with anything that could seriously harm you or damage your home. I’ll replace a taillight, but you’ll never see me pulling my own transmission. It’s just not safe. I don’t know how to do it, and I don’t have the right tools. That combination of ignorance and lack of preparation can, very well, prove deadly.

So when do you call for outside help? It depends. If it’s something cosmetic, give it a shot. If worse comes to worst, you can call for outside help to fix your fix. If it’s something that’s not dangerous or hazardous, check out YouTube and enlist your friends or family. You’ll pick a few things up as you go, just make sure you all know how to stay safe while working it out. Finally, if there’s a chance for serious bodily harm, injury or death, or if you’re not sure you can tackle a project even with help, call a professional. It’s that simple.

How handy are you? When do you know it’s time to call in a professional? Share your stories and feedback in the comments below.

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