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AKST: Is DIY a lost art?

Published: Thursday, June 12, 2014 10:04 p.m. CST • Updated: Friday, June 13, 2014 12:08 a.m. CST

Whoever said “If you want something done right, ya gotta do it yourself” was either a) Leonardo da Vinci, or b) really confident, maybe to the point of egotism.

I love doing things myself and derive great satisfaction from doing so. But DIY opportunities seem to be diminishing.

In March, a water pipe broke in our basement and saturated the finished half. It was clean water, not sewage, but still, it ruined the carpet, some drywall, and some wood trim.

The flooding happened in a room we had wanted to remodel, and since insurance covered the most expensive stuff, we decided to overhaul the room.

Throughout the project, we employed a plumber, two restoration crews to remove damaged stuff and clean, a painter to strip wallpaper and paint, an interior decorating company to install new pad and carpeting, a highly skilled handyman to replace the ceiling tiles and florescent lights, and a construction contractor to fix the drywall and replace the wood trim. About 15 people had a hand in renovating our basement.

Everyone was local/regional, and we’re happy with the work most of them did. There was even a bonus: The wife of the plumber runs a dog grooming business in Sycamore, so our dog has a new groomer.

As I watched different phases, I kept asking myself if I could have or should have done the work myself.

I think I could probably have done about 60 percent of the work, maybe 70 percent. I would rate myself about a 6 on a “handy scale” of 1 to 10, with 1 being Homer Simpson and 10 being Bob Vila.

The question then became: Could I do the individual parts of the project as well as the guys we were paying? Could I do the work as fast as they did? Did I have the right tools? Could I do it with one attempt, or would I screw something up and have to start over?

Just before our son was born, we had a guy clean and restretch the carpet in the soon-to-be baby’s room. I asked him if it was possible to rent the tools he used. Oh yeah, he said, people try to restretch their own carpet all the time.

“They usually call me after the blood starts flowing,” he said.

My father taught me basic carpentry and automotive skills. He was extraordinarily mechanically skilled, but Dad was famous for doing work on the cheap. There is much duct tape and scrap wire in our family’s history.

We affectionately call my father-in-law “Mr. Fix-It.” He too, is extraordinarily skilled. Both men come from a time when doing it yourself wasn’t a choice. It was the way things were.

And as Father’s Day approaches, I worry what mechanical, carpentry, electrical and automotive skills I can pass on to my son. He’s a smart and capable boy, but he lives in a time of pervasive circuitry and planned obsolescence. I can perform nearly zero maintenance on the new hybrid car I wrote about last week. For all I know, even trying to do so might void the warranty. What can I teach him?

I wish we would design more things to be more easily fixable rather than easily replaceable.

• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. He also serves as a board member for the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association, www.ninaonline.org. You can reach him at jasondakst@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @JasonAkst.

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