smart spending

DIY repairs can save you money

5. Updating a bathroom

After successfully replacing her faucet and boosting her confidence, Wylie decided to help with a few improvements when her parents decided to sell her childhood home. One of her projects, changing out the bathroom vanity, would spruce up the look of a room that is always important to resale value.

Since contractors were already working in the room to rebuild a rotted floor, Wylie asked for an estimate to renovate the room. The price tag: more than $7,000.

Instead, Wylie picked out a kit -- complete with cabinet, sink and faucet -- and took on the replacement herself. Since the sink basin, faucet and vanity came preassembled, Wylie only needed to bolt the unit into place and connect the plumbing lines. Twenty minutes later, the bathroom looked like new.

As with replacing a faucet, the difficulty of updating a bathroom can quickly escalate if bad plumbing, mold or other unexpected problems are discovered in the area of the house you're working on. If you get in over your head, swallow your pride and call a professional.

Total cost: $250 vanity set

Savings: a $7,000 renovation

Difficulty rating: 4 out of 5

6. Installing a new floor

Although Mike Musall of Fishers, Ind., hired a contractor to build an addition onto an existing family room, he tackled the carpet removal and laminate floor installation on his own. Musall opted for snap-joint laminate flooring, and after asking the salesperson and other DIYers for installation tips, he got to work.

The family worked together to pull out the old carpet and remove the staples. After the space was prepped, Musall planned out every detail of the new floor. To make it look realistic, Musall laid out the pieces carefully, taking care to stagger the seams, vary the hardwood images and eliminate short pieces from the design.

"Cutting the planks was very time consuming," Musall says. "It has to be so precise, and the blade has to be sharp. You really do have to use the measure-twice, cut-once philosophy. It took several days after work, but it went great."

Hint: To protect the finish and minimize chipping, use a fine-tooth blade and cut the flooring finish-side up with a handsaw or finish-side down with a circular saw or jigsaw.

Total cost: $3,000 flooring and padding

Savings: $3,000 installation

Difficulty rating: 5 out of 5

7. Fixing a computer

When Mark Firehammer's computer died, he activated the diagnostic tool for the disk operating system, or DOS, that runs the computer. He confirmed that his hard drive, where all his data is stored, had failed, and he bought a new one.

After discharging any static electricity, which is held naturally in the human body and can be potentially damaging to computer circuitry, he popped out the old hard drive and reversed the steps to put in the new one.

Since Firehammer, who lives in East Canton, Mass., already had his hard drive backed up, he simply transferred the saved data he stored on an external hard drive to the computer's new internal hard drive, and the machine was up and running again 20 minutes later.

Firehammer, who holds a job in tech support, says changing out computer components is easier than it seems. He learned long ago that "a computer was a collection of pieces that snap together like a child's toy."

"The only thing you need to do is buy the right piece and snap it in. It's literally that simple," Firehammer says.

Hint: If your computer slows to a crawl, it may not have enough memory, which helps the system run multiple software applications at once or browse graphics-intensive Web sites. For around $50, you can buy more memory and install it yourself, an easy fix that's often all you need to speed up your computer. After discharging any static electricity, unscrew the case, release the flaps holding the existing memory card in place, pop out the old one and snap in the new one.

Total cost: $75 hard drive

Savings: $100-160/hour. The process can take several hours, especially if the user didn't back up the data prior to the crash or save the system-restore disk.

Difficulty rating: 2 out of 5 with a recently backed-up drive, 4 out of 5 without

8. Repairing a laser printer

For Singleton, who's self-employed, fixing his laser printer was a necessity when he was just starting out. Given the choice between buying a part and investing some time in a repair or writing a check for $1,000 for a new laser printer, the cheaper route won out.

When a black mess spilled from his printer instead of a printed page, Singleton researched the problem online at and discovered that the fuser, which bonds the dry ink onto the paper, had died.

After ordering a new part, Singleton logged onto Apple's Web site and downloaded the official instructions. Using the illustrations as a guide, Singleton located the fuser, unscrewed and removed the broken part. Then, he replaced it with a refurbished one, bringing the machine back to life for a few more years.

Total cost: $50 fuser

Savings: $100-$160/hour for diagnostics and repair

Difficulty rating: 1 out of 5


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