IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Tool tips: To do or not to do-it-yourself?

Debating whether or not to fix something yourself? Lou Manfredini shares practical advice on when it's worth using your tools and when you should just call a professional.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

OK I will admit it: I am handy. In more than 20 years of building and renovating, I have learned quite a bit and made my share of mistakes. But even I know when a project is over my head or at least will take me too much time to complete and have time left for a little thing called “my family.” 

I have seen it time and time again, folks wanting to do projects around their homes and then biting off a little more than they can chew. Now don’t get me wrong; I am your home- improvement Daddy, and I think there is so much you can do yourself. You just need to be realistic toward the whole project. Before you start any job around your home, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I have any idea what I am about to do?
  • Do I have the motivation to learn and make mistakes and see it through?
  • Will I hurt myself or anyone around me?
  • Do I have more time or money for this endeavor?

These are all questions you need to answer positively so that you set your expectations up front. Here are three common improvements that people all over the country are doing, and my opinion on whether you should hire someone or do it yourself.

Bath and tub surroundFifteen years ago, if you'd asked me about acrylic tub and wall surrounds, I would have told you “No way.” But what is now available as a liner system is clean, quick and virtually maintenance free.

If your tub-shower area needs a face-lift, here’s what you can do yourself to try to update it. First, make sure that the walls are sound; if you push on the tile and the wall is spongy, you have to take that all down and expose the framing. The last thing you want to do is cover up a potential mold problem. Now, if the tub is worn, there is not much available, in my opinion, that looks good and will last as a do-it-yourself product.  

You can have the tub professionally painted, and that will last about five years and cost about $500-$700. And then you can install an acrylic surround, but what is available to you is not as attractive and durable as the professionally installed products. So if you try this project yourself, you can plan on the total cost being approximately $1,200-$1,700 to paint the tub and put up some acrylic walls — assuming the sub-walls you have are OK.

Professional bath refinishers, like Re-Bath,, will come in and make sure all the stuff I mentioned above is intact and ready to go. 

But the difference is, they use a tub liner and they have more than 1,000 molds that fit over your existing tub. The marriage between the new tub liner and the new heavier-duty walls is terrific, and with all the different styles you can create a look that is your own. The work is typically done in about a day and costs between $3,000-$4,000. So in my opinion, having your tub and walls updated professionally is the best overall long-term value.

Building a deckOutdoor living is the best way to utilize space you already own, and industry studies have shown that more than 6 million outdoor decks get built every year in the U.S. Some things to consider: To build a deck in most communities, you will need a plan or sketch, as most cities and villages will require a building permit. Many times your local lumberyard will do these sketches for free as they want you to buy the materials from them.

Locating your deck on your home and choosing the right materials come next. Treated lumber makes a great choice for the actual framing of the deck and as the decking itself, it is your least expensive material. 

From there you can upgrade to cedar or redwood; remember that wood is a renewable resource and trees used to create this material are harvested every 30 years or so, just like a crop of corn.

One of the bigger trends these days is synthetic decking materials. Timbertech,, and Azek,, are two choices that offer great-looking appearance and little or no maintenance. 

Building a deck requires a fair amount of carpentry skill and patience. You need to lay out the deck, dig holes for a footing and attach the deck correctly to your home so that you do not promote water leaking in.

You’ll need a full complement of tools; circular saw, jigsaw, sander, reciprocating saw,,, as well as hand tools, fasteners and layout devices.

Your cost, on average, to do it yourself for a deck is about $10-$25 a square foot. By having a deck built professionally, you will be able to have a more detailed finished product. Insight and design can be richer because the contractor has had a lot of experience. The cost to professionally build a deck is between $40-$70 a square foot, depending on what kind of deck and how big it is. 

To find a quality contractor in your area, go to So should you do it yourself? I give you a resounding “maybe.” If you think you have the skills and the time, then go for it; you will feel great when it’s all done, except for that strain in your back from all the digging.

PaintingThis is all you; it is the best project to try on your own. The worst thing that can happen is that you choose the wrong color, make a huge mess, not apply it correctly or, worse, get fed up and never finish. 

Let's start with the basics: It is all about the prep work. Ninety percent of a good paint job is in what you do before you apply the paint, but using good tools and good paint is also important. Since you are doing it yourself, make sure you buy the best tools and paint. Cheap brushes and rollers make for sloppy application, and cheap paint means thin coverage that you can see through. Your local hardware store will get you set up with the right tools; just ask them for the best they sell. For paint, look for lines like Benjamin Moore Regal Matte or Sherwin-Williams Duration interior paints. These will offer you basically unlimited colors (which you get to choose) and some of the best finishes on the market.

The tools and paint for a few rooms in your home will run you about $250 and the time to do it. If you hire a painter, those same rooms could cost you about $1,000 or more. So this weekend is a painting weekend. And remember: Always be smarter than the material you’re working with, and never hold a nail for someone else.

If you have any more questions, please feel free to send me an e-mail via my Web site. For more information visit: