How to cut the cost of DIY - and avoid disasters

18 January 2010

DIY is one of the UK's leading pastimes and the credit crunch has encouraged more people to pick up their tools and embark on a little home improvement.

An estimated 30 million British adults have performed DIY tasks such as painting, plumbing or tiling in the last year rather than pay for professional help, according to Sainsbury's Home Insurance. These people claim to have saved over £49 billion in the last 12 months by doing so.

However, If you like to spend your weekends, evenings or holidays doing up your house, make sure you avoid costly tools and mistakes.

Invest wisely

Don’t be afraid to invest in those tools you use frequently - a good hammer should last for years. Look for one with a flat head at one end and a curved claw at the other, and a rubber-sleeved handle for a better grip; this type is best for general DIY.

Another essential you shouldn’t scrimp on is a stepladder. Even if you only use it to store boxes in the loft or hang the Christmas decorations, you need to be able to rely on its stability. Looks can be deceiving, so make safety your primary concern, and try before you buy wherever possible.

Think about renting

For one-off or irregular jobs, it’s probably not worth forking out for specialist appliances. If you want to sand wooden floors, for example, an industrial sander could knock you back anything from a few hundred to a few thousand pounds. 

They are also difficult to buy in the UK if you’re not a professional. Renting a sander over the weekend is a great alternative. With prices starting from around £46.25 plus VAT (excluding delivery) for two days, is a good place to start looking.

Share the cost

There may be some bigger appliances you would prefer to own. If so, consider clubbing together with family or friends to buy them. The chances of more than one of you needing to use a tool at the same time are pretty slim, so there’s little point in cluttering up more than one garage and duplicating the cost of these items by buying one each.

Shop around

If you do decide to take the plunge and buy your own tools or appliances, make sure you’re a savvy shopper. Hardware stores are similar to other shops and have seasonal sales, but they will also have special offers throughout the year, so keep your eyes open. 
is a great comparison site for power tools. Don’t write off smaller, 
local providers either – they are 
not necessarily more expensive, and the storekeeper can often offer expert advice to help you find the right product.

Safe storage

It’s important to store items properly if you want them to last. With paint, a top tip is to seal the can tightly and then store it upside down – this will create a vacuum and prevent air from getting in and spoiling it.

Also make sure to coil and tape the cables of electrical appliances to stop knots or kinks forming which can cause breaks in the inner wire. Store wallpaper in a secure plastic box in a dry cupboard to keep mice and mildew at bay.

Tools such as drills, chisels and saws should be in good condition and sharp before you use them.

Are you covered?

According to AXA, one-in-five DIY enthusiasts admit to having had an accident. Of these, almost 20% caused water damage to their homes, while 14% started a fire.

Contact your home insurer before carrying out any DIY work in your home to check whether you are covered for accidental damage. If not, consider taking this out as an add-on, as spilling paint on the carpet or drilling through a pipe could end up costing you a fortune.

Over 40% of homeowners will be forced to splash out an average of £900 for repairs, as their home insurance does not cover accidental damage.

Also, undertaking structural changes such as a loft conversion or rear extension without first informing your insurer could also invalidate your insurance.

Top DIY tips

*Get advice before you start  - most DIY centres offer helpful leaflets on common projects
*Get expert help if you are planning changes to wiring or plumbing; it is illegal for an unqualified person to undertake work on electrical wiring or gas installations
*Check for hidden pipe or wire runs behind walls - DIY shops sell inexpensive detectors to identify where they are
*Check and re-check your measurements before committing yourself with saw or drill
*When fitting shelves or other items to walls, use the proper screw plugs if it is plasterboard as conventional screw plugs will come out as soon as weight is put on them
*Avoid breathing in dust or damaging your eyes - wear a mask and goggles
*Ensure you move or cover furniture and carpets when painting, and ensure there is good ventilation

Source: AXA Home Insurance

When to call in the experts

Everyone has a limit when it comes to DIY, and knowing when to put down the hammer and contact a professional is crucial: 
the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents says each year 200,000 people visit hospital following a doomed DIY attempt.

Electrical or gas jobs must be carried out by qualified professionals, as well as anything involving serious restructuring. Make sure you shop around; ask friends, family and neighbours for recommendations first, and call several firms to get a rough idea of how much your job will cost - beware of people offering VAT free deals or up-front cash discounts.

Make sure you ask tradesmen if they are a member of a professional body and look for the government trustmark. Once the work is agreed on, put it in writing and both sign the document, and ask for an itemised bill so you know exactly what you have been charged for.

If you fall foul to an untrustworthy tradesman call consumer direct on 08454 04 05 06 for advice on your rights and what to do.

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