DIY Home Improvement: 10 Free Options for Training and Advice

By Elizabeth Lang on 27 July 2010 (Updated 25 July 2011) 4 comments
Photo: John Loo

Just over a year ago my spouse and I bought our first home — a foreclosure. There were a lot of repairs that needed to be made — an asbestos abatement to remove the original 1925 "octopus" furnace, refinishing hardwood floors, fixing locks, replacing electric outlets, and painting.

We hired professionals for the major projects — furnace replacement, plumbing updates, and hardwood floor refinishing. And the easiest issues we fixed ourselves.

But there were a lot of more difficult, but not impossible, projects that needed to be done. Replacing garage siding or installing lights in a ceiling fan were things that we had never done before and no one in our immediate family or group of friends knew how to do.

So we hired a handyman. He was great, and at first I didn't mind the reasonable $30/hr rate. But after we got all of the immediate household repair issues fixed I didn't want to keep paying someone to do work that it seemed plausible to do myself. But, I was terrified I would make some irreparable mistake that would cost to thousands of dollars to fix. And frankly, I had no idea where to begin.

A series of events helped me realize that home improvement was perhaps something I could tackle — all I needed was a little training. And, it turns out there are numerous ways to get home improvement advice and training. Now, a year and a good amount of training later, I enjoy spending a weekend working around the house. Here are 10 free options for DIY home improvement advice and training

1. Volunteer with Habitat for Humanity

Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity or a similar program is one of the best ways to get training in home construction and repair. I volunteered with a program with my church and learned everything I needed to know about how to use a crowbar. The next week I was tearing out hideous wooden paneling in my basement like a pro.

2. Help a Handy Neighbor

If you have a neighbor who is great at do-it-yourself work, agree to help with some projects. In return you get to learn how to install a skylight or replace a light fixture.

3. Get Free Training at a Big Box Store

Many home improvement stores like Home Depot, Lowes, and Menards all have free classes that give you the basic information about various projects. My spouse went to a tiling class at Home Depot and found the information to be good for beginners just starting new projects.

4. Inquire at Your Local Hardware Store

Big box home improvement stores have good prices and great variety. But no one knows more about the home repair challenges of old craftsman bungalow homes than the owner of my local hardware store. I always walk out of there with exactly what I need for my weekend project.

5. Visit a Home Fair

Many cities and communities have yearly home fairs. The city provides information about building permits. And professionals give free mini classes about plumbing or electric 101. Watch your local paper for news about these fairs.

6. Sign Up for Community Classes

For more in depth instruction than a home fair might provide, check out your community adult enrichment program. Ours has a 3 part course on home improvement for women or further instruction about dry walling or electrical work.

7. Check Out Books from the Library

While the internet has a wealth of information (see 9 and 10 below), books are still the best non-hands-on source of DIY home repair knowledge. If I'm looking for information about a particular project, I'll search Amazon.com for reviews of the best books related to that topic and then check them out from my library.

8. Watch Home Improvement TV Shows and Movies

Our library also has some great DVDs on various home improvement projects. And HGTV is always fun to watch for inspiration. (It also serves as a warning of what can go wrong if you don't know what you're doing.)

9. Watch Home Improvement YouTube Videos

The Expert Village and Bob Vila both offer great YouTube Videos channels with short DIY home improvement clips.

10. Read DIY Online Forums and Blogs

Luckily there are a huge number of online forums, websites, and blogs all available to help you with your DIY home improvement project. One of my favorites is DIYorNot which helps you decide, based on project difficulty and costs, whether or not to do it yourself. Following personal blogs of people with similar housing styles to your own is another great online source for advice, photos, and ideas.

What's your biggest obstacle to home improvement? Training, time, money, something else?

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Guest's picture

Additionally,

What I do is I always watch in great detail whenever I have a professional come to the house to repair anything. I ask him a ton of questions and more often than not, I gain enough knowledge to where I could do the repair myself if and when it occurs again.

Guest's picture
eddie m

Great ideas. I've used some of these myself so I know they work.

Guest's picture

Try subscribing to periodicals such as Family Handyman, or Fine Homebuilding. After a few years you'll have your own personal library of DIY info to refer back to. As you're building said library, you'll be inspired by all the possibilities for+ new projects and upgrades to make on your own house.

Guest's picture

Oops, I just realized that we're looking for "Free" methods...sorry. I still feel the small investment in DIY periodical subscriptions is well worth the price.