Extend Your Emergency Fund with Skills (and Friends)


The finished project.

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.


Most of the damaged wood removed. What’s holding up the second floor right now? Ants were pouring out of the old wood.

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.


New wall & support beam under deck.

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!


Exterior wall & deck restored.

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?

Tags: ,

18 Responses to “Extend Your Emergency Fund with Skills (and Friends)”

  1. Penny says :

    My husband re-did our deck last summer. It was a huge undertaking, but absolutely worth it. It’s a wonder that the old one didn’t collapse. Since we bought our home a few years back, it’s been one DIY after the next to fix the shoddy corner cutting of the original owner. Your photos are fantastic. What an accomplishment!

    • Kalie says :

      Previous owners’ corner cutting is frustrating, but at least you’re able to DIY your home repairs. Those are great skills to have.

  2. Hannah says :

    My son also likes to announce that he is going to “help” with our remodel. I am hoping that within 3-4 years he’ll be replacing me as the assistant to the DIY expert (as it is, my duties mostly involve cleaning and finding tools).

    Yours was a huge undertaking! Well done!

    • Kalie says :

      Finding tools often falls to me also, and it drives me a little crazy, but I can’t really complain when Neil did so much hard work!

  3. Paula says :

    Kali amazing job,way to go! Terry and I redid our master bathroom ,flooring toilet, countertops, vanities. We saved thousands. Like you said it is giving up some time however well worth it.

  4. DC YAM says :

    Gosh that’s such an unpleasant surprise. You’re lucky your brother is a contractor. I have a brother-in-law who is a contractor and it really helps to get his opinion (and help) with bigger projects.

    I spent most of the Summer removing and extending a retaining wall. It was a rotted out wood retaining wall that had two tiers. It was right next to our renter’s door so it had to be replaced. We went 13 feet to 40 feet, and it took forever! It was so worth it though because we now have a nice flat area in our backyard where before there was only hills.

    • Kalie says :

      We are incredibly blessed to have Neil’s brother’s help!

      Great job on your project. I’m sure you saved a ton & improved your property.

  5. MMD says :

    Wow, that looks like it was quite the project. Well done doing the whole thing DIY. I think there’s a certain amount of satisfaction and pride that comes along with doing home projects (like working on a deck) in addition to saving a boat load of cash!

  6. DC YAM says :

    Yeah I should have said, that even with an unexpected $500 cost (we unearthed a MASSIVE concrete block that even a heavy duty bobcat had issues moving), I would say we saved about $7k. It was about $2.5-$3k all-in (had to buy some new tools, rent machinery, then materials), and it would have been $10k+ to hire out.

  7. Holly says :

    Awesome job, guys! Water problems are THE WORST!
    We are pretty good at painting and basic home repairs. I’m not sure I would tackle a deck or rotting wood….but who knows?

  8. Jason Vitug says :

    Your post was conclusive so i don’t really have a comment except to praise. I loved the pics! Thank you!

  9. Luke Fitzgerald says :

    Whoa! Looks great! I haven’t had to tackle anything, knock on wood. And if I did, best believe I would be calling my father and father-in-law! In the twos years we lived together, I think the only thing we’ve “remodeled” was the nursary. And that was just…painting. Yeah that was about the extent of it 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *