Extend Your Emergency Fund with Skills (and Friends)
I’ve alluded to a $10,000 home repair Neil accomplished this summer. Here’s his account of the project, why it was worth DIYing, and what he learned from the experience.
One early winter afternoon I was putting some items under my deck, where I store many outdoor items, such as my wheelbarrow and chicken tractor, when I noticed a bit of brown dust escaping the yellow siding of my house. That’s strange, I thought as I lifted the siding a bit to investigate. That’s funny the house should have sheathing on it, but it doesn’t. Hmmm, I should be able to see the insulation but I can’t. Let me just reach my hand here and feel around a bit. Here’s a stud, let’s just grab a hold of that and… a feeling of dread washed over me. The stud completely crumbled in my hand. I had a serious problem. A house-about-to-fall-down, crazy-expensive-to-fix type of problem.
Luckily, my brother is a remodeling contractor and he was willing to come check it out right away. Because Frugal Friends Don’t Let Friends… handle major home repairs alone. We decided that wall failure was not imminent, but should addressed as soon as the weather broke. Once spring was in full swing, my brother and I picked a weekend to get started. We first had to cut away the deck about 3 feet away from the wall. This included decking and joists, which is a bit of a job in itself. Then we had to get a good view of how bad the problem was. It was bad. Here’s a pic.
It appeared that the deck was built attached to the house with its wood penetrating the siding. Water collected on the deck and leaked into the house, moistening the sheathing and studs. Carpenter ants detected the weakened wood and took up residence in it. In retrospect, the room that this wall contained had more than a normal amount of ants. Growing up we always had ants so I didn’t think much of it. Well, those bastards ate an entire wall of my house! It was ugly. The header was gone. The studs were demolished. We even had to build an interior temporary safety wall to hold up the house while we removed all the bad wood. It’s hard to exaggerate how extensive the damage was.
We re-built the deck with a different design so that it is separate from the house, and put in a new supporting beam. I’d say with deck removal, temporary wall construction, demolition, reconstructing the new wall, re-insulating, re-sheathing, re-siding, re-painting, re-building the deck, and finally re-staining, this easily would have been $8k to $10k to hire out. I spent $1200, total. Sure, it took me a number of weekends during the spring and summer. I had to inconvenience myself, my family, and especially my brother to get the job done. But it was worth it. There wasn’t even a question that I would be tackling this job DIY.
The moral of the story is that one can extend their emergency fund a looooong way with a few friends, a few skills, and bit of bravado. It would have been easier to give in and hire a contractor. That would have been acceptable considering how extensive the project was. However, the job wouldn’t have been completed to my exact specifications and I wouldn’t have bonded with my brother over it. Since we DIY so much, my son doesn’t have a category for someone else working on the house. He was very excited to be involved with the work by watching and “helping.” As soon as I discovered the damage he grabbed his hard hat and announced excitedly to his mom that we had some construction to do!
Best of all, my emergency fund didn’t even know there was an emergency. Since it took a while to complete the job, I cash flowed the $1200. One could argue that my time would have been better spent elsewhere. I beg to differ. From a purely financial sense, let’s say I spent 80 hours of my own time and my brother 40. Even at the low end of the value estimate, that’s $66 dollars an hour. (If my brother is reading this, the check is in the mail ;)) I don’t know what kind of side hustle you got, but I bet it’s not pulling in $66 to $83 an hour. Plus, I have even more confidence to handle jobs on our house, and to handle a similar situation at a friend’s house if necessary.
I certainly increased my usefulness through the project, which is an unexpected advantage of frugal living. I learned new skills like sill sealing, high quality caulking, the intricacies of framing, and how to build decks that don’t rot (this free resource was extremely helpful). With only half a deck all summer, we practiced the principles that everything doesn’t have to be perfect and Life is Not About Your Preferences. It’s also a prime example of the hidden costs (and headaches) of home ownership.
So extend your emergency fund with friends, skills, and bravado. Good luck!
What’s the biggest DIY project you’ve tackled? What skills did you learn?