But HOW do I do it myself?
April 25, 2008 11:22 AM   Subscribe

What's the best home-repair / fixit manual for someone with little-to-no experience in such matters? Also, web sites and / or blogs in the same vein?

So I'm buying a house. It's an old house. I anticipate many things in it needing repair over the coming years-- some small, some large. I'm perfectly happy hiring a knowledgeable contractor to make major repairs, but if a doorknob falls off or a window pane cracks, I'd prefer to be able to make the repair myself.

The problem is, I've always been a renter. My version of do-it-yourself has involved calling the landlord or super and telling them something's come unstuck, or stuck, or fallen off, or busted, or whatever.

A brief perusal of the home repair section at Powell's has revealed to me that there are hundreds of books available for the novice home-fixit-person.

Some of these books probably suck. Others are probably OK. But some of them must be great, right? You might even say that some of them are indispensable? Which ones? How can I tell?

Also, any good / great / indispensable home-repair web sites or blogs you can suggest will be very useful to me as well.

Thanks in advance.
posted by dersins to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
How To Fix Damn Near Everything
posted by amyms at 11:28 AM on April 25, 2008

Zolton Cohen is a home-fix-it columnist for a paper in Michigan who contributes regularly to its online home repair forum. Lots of good archived stuff & timely responses to queries.

Also, for entertainment value & to learn what not to do, catch Mike Holmes's show on cable.

Have fun with your new-old house =)
posted by headnsouth at 11:38 AM on April 25, 2008

I subscribed to the "This Old House" newsletter by accident and I'm glad I did. It's once a week and had a ton of great stuff in there.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:39 AM on April 25, 2008

This book has stood the test of time, as well.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:50 AM on April 25, 2008

Big second for Thorzdad's recommendation.
posted by bricoleur at 11:54 AM on April 25, 2008

Nth-ing the Reader's Digest book suggestion by Thorzdad. When I was growing up, we knew something was wrong in the house when Dad had his "Big Yellow Book" out. When I bought my first house, the updated version of that book was in my dad's hands as a gift to me. It's a good resource on the basics.
posted by eafarris at 11:56 AM on April 25, 2008

Not a book but you must subscribe to Family Handyman. There is no better magazine for the DIY home repair person who needs lots of annotated step-by-step photos and patient, clear explanations. Home Depot sells single copies.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:58 AM on April 25, 2008

We are moving into our first house and as silly is it may seem the "Home Depot" Home Improvement 1-2-3 is great because the instructions are very visual and clearly indicate what skill level is required for every task. This has been helpful to figure what to tackle ourselves and when to bring in help! Have fun.
posted by saradarlin at 12:00 PM on April 25, 2008

I never learned about to do anything regarding home repair and I love the Black and Decker Complete Home Repair. Anyone can follow the directions, and there are photos for every step. It really is the only book you need. They have a Home Improvement book that is just as good.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:05 PM on April 25, 2008

The Readers Digest book recommended above is fantastic.
posted by selfmedicating at 12:26 PM on April 25, 2008

I also have the Readers Digest book, although mine is a UK edition and so is somewhat different. It is extremely good though.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:34 PM on April 25, 2008

I recommend looking for cheapy repair books at garage sales and the like. I've found quite a few that've been great with my own fixer-upper. I definitely advise maintaining a high level of confidence as you delve into home repair. I've done things in my first year of home ownership that I never expected I'd be able to do. A lot is actually much easier than you'd think.
posted by sciurus at 12:37 PM on April 25, 2008

Lowe's also has the most amazing how-tos on its website. It's a little hard to navigate and search, but if you can buy it at Lowe's they have a tutorial. We put in a fish pond and built a wall using their excellent site.
posted by nax at 12:46 PM on April 25, 2008

Link didn't work: http://www.lowes.com/lowes/lkn?action=home

posted by nax at 12:47 PM on April 25, 2008

I am a fan of the big orange book from Home Depot:
posted by Overzealous at 12:51 PM on April 25, 2008

Seconding the Black and Decker book. I'm guessing it has saved me about 5000 bucks in home repair costs by letting me do them myself. The photos are excellent and the index is very helpful. It's one deficiency, though, is that it doesn't really cover most appliances, and those repairs get costly pretty fast as well.
posted by zeugitai_guy at 1:18 PM on April 25, 2008

This is kind of old school, but I learned with the Reader's Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual. Also, I've found this to be a good forum for plumbing.
posted by Doohickie at 2:01 PM on April 25, 2008

Best answer: Is it a very, very old house? If so, it will have things specific to very old houses...like balloon framing. If so, Renovating Old Houses by George Nash is the bible of old houses.

If you want to know how to replace a faucet or work on drywall, the Home Depot and Reader's Digest Books are terrific. But if you want to know how to repair plaster, tune up a radiator, or work with knob and tube electrical wires, they won't be able to help you, unfortunately.

Anything by Taunton Press is going to have fantastic instructional design with clear and concise instructions and helpful illustrations/photos. As an instructional designer who works on old houses, they are my favorite publisher for How To. They have a great magazine and a fantastic DVD of their "greatest hits" articles over the years. If you look up Fine Homebuilding on eBay, you'll realize that people collect their issues, sell and trade them. Yes, they are that good.

Here are more of my favorite resources for the components of an old house:

Working Windows for wood windows
Heating Help for radiator heat
J Bridge Tile Forums for tile
Hearth.com for fireplaces and heating stoves
Van Dykes for old house parts
Rejuvenation and Schoolhouse Electric for lighting

You've got several excellent housebloggers near to you (if you are in Portland still). They will be able to commiserate with you and potentially give advice/lend tools/share beers. (Full disclosure, I help run Houseblogs.net.)

Finally, the DIY videos at Video Jug crack me up AND they're good.
posted by jeanmari at 5:38 PM on April 25, 2008 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: These answers are all great. Thanks to all of you.
posted by dersins at 1:08 AM on May 3, 2008

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