smart spending

DIY repairs can save you money

Hous plans, with a ruler and a stack of pennies
Highlights
  • Repairing a dishwasher can be simple.
  • Fixing a freezer may require a little more work.
  • Replacing a vanity can reinvigorate a bathroom.

With their household budgets stretched thin by job losses and the slowing economy, many consumers are looking for ways to save. To cut the cost of repair and improvement projects, more and more people are picking up a screwdriver and joining the ranks of do-it-yourselfers.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Web site RemodelOrMove.com says in its remodeling forecast for spring that 67 percent of homeowners who are considering home-improvement projects plan to do some of the work themselves. That's up from 60 percent in 2005.

Taking a DIY approach doesn't mean you're on your own. You can tap countless sources for step-by-step advice, from the pros conducting in-store workshops to sales representatives in parts stores to how-to guides on the Internet.

You also can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars by adopting a DIY mentality. All you need are the right tools and a problem-solving approach, and Bankrate can help. Read our tips box on where to go for help and our "difficulty rating" on each project before forging ahead (1 for easy to 5 for difficult).

Ready to get started? Here's a look at eight projects that have saved money for DIYers.

1. Repairing a dishwasher 
Bob Sisson's dishwasher stopped draining on a Saturday, leaving him with the prospect of going without one for several days. Instead of waiting, Sisson, a home inspector who lives in Gaithersburg, Md., decided to see if he could fix it himself.

After typing "dishwasher not emptying" into Google's search engine along with the brand name, he combed through a few pages of results and found a possible reason for the glitch on page four: a clogged drain line.

Sisson unscrewed the drain cover and felt around to check for an obstruction. He found a few chicken bone pieces lodged in the drain tube. Once he removed them, the dishwasher worked perfectly again.

Total cost: $0

Savings: $80-$140 diagnostic fee and labor

Difficulty rating: 1 out of 5

2. Fixing a freezer 
When his mother's freezer quit cooling, Herb Singleton of Springfield, Mass., stepped in to help. He searched various online appliance repair sites, like RepairClinic.com and FixItNow.com, to read about other freezers with the same problem and find the common causes.

Based on what he read, Singleton determined that the freezer's fan was probably broken, and he ordered a replacement part from the manufacturer. Once it arrived, Singleton removed the access panel and swapped out the freezer's fan, a 10-minute repair that solved the problem.

"If we'd actually called somebody to come and fix it and they had charged a couple hundred dollars to look at it plus $150 for the part, it may have been cheaper to just get a new freezer," Singleton says.

It also saved them the hassle of removing and disposing of the old freezer.

Total cost: $150 fan

Savings: $100-$150 diagnostic fee and labor

Difficulty rating: 2 out of 5

3. Repairing a washer and dryer 
Terri Jay of Washoe Valley, Nev., couldn't afford to replace her broken washer and dryer, and hiring someone to fix them would have stretched her limited budget. Jay decided to try the DIY approach and stopped by a local parts store for advice.

Based on her description, the salesman determined that the water in the washing machine wouldn't rise to the appropriate level because of a broken fill switch. Additionally, a faulty thermostat was the reason her clothes were still wet when she pulled them from the dryer.

Both are easy repairs. The salesman talked Jay through the process of removing the access panel on each machine and locating and replacing the parts. A couple of turns of a screwdriver later, Jay had both machines in working order again.

Total cost: $30 fill switch and $15 thermostat

Savings: $80-$100 diagnostic fee and labor for each repair

Difficulty rating: 3 out of 5

4. Replacing a faucet 
Anastasia Wylie loathed the kitchen faucet in her New York apartment. It was ugly. It leaked. And its hot and cold lines were reversed. Fed up with fiddling with it, Wylie bought a new faucet and called her roommate to let him know they'd be installing a faucet after he got home from work.

Too excited about her purchase to sit around, Wylie cleaned out the area underneath the sink, unpacked the new faucet and laid everything out on the counter.

Still restless, she turned off the water supply, unscrewed the nuts and hoses holding the faucet in place and pulled it out of the sink. Once done, she read the installation instructions and decided to see how far she could get without her roommate's help.

"By the time my roommate got home, I'd installed the faucet, cleaned up the old one and washed a load of dishes," Wylie says. "I one-stepped myself through the project. It was amazing how simple it was once I got past being afraid of doing it."

Keep in mind, however, that old or poor-quality plumbing leading into the faucet can make the process much more labor-intensive, so check the plumbing out before you begin.

Total cost: $45 faucet

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Savings: Guilt (and a $75 handyman fee)

Difficulty rating: 2 out of 5 with intact plumbing

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