When I was in financial sales, my mentor was a man named Jerry.

Jerry was a dapper man, always in a sports coat and slacks. His shoes were immaculate and shiny. He went through the carwash every time he filled his gas tank. His image and appearance were very important to Jerry.

We would have lunch every Friday, and on one particular Friday, he said he had to go to his mechanics when he left the restaurant because he had an appointment to get new windshield wipers put on his car.

I told him that was ridiculous – that he shouldn’t spend money on something like that, because it would be so easy to just do it himself.

“Hugh,” he said. “You don’t understand. I want to always make enough money that I never have to do it myself. It’s not just that I don’t know how to do it myself – but that I never want to know how to do it myself.“

That would bother me to no end. There is no way I would drive somewhere and then pay someone to do something I could do myself in literally 5 minutes without getting dirty or even inconvenienced.

But if there are two kinds of people when it comes to Doing-It-Yourself, Jerry was one kind of person, and I am the other.

It’s not even that I particularly enjoy putting on windshield wipers. I just can’t imagine paying someone else to do it. I can’t even imagine asking someone else to do it.

A few years ago, it was late on a Saturday and I was outside, measuring the spot for the new potting bench when I realized the faucet on the patio was leaking. Not a huge leak, but a pinhole of spray.

At first, I just thought the hose was loose, but then saw it was coming from behind the faucet. I got out my monkey wrench and when I turned the faucet to tighten it, the pipe broke off under the house. It was a 70-year-old galvanized pipe, and it had finally rusted through.

At the time I didn’t know where the water cut-off for the house was. Since it was gushing all over the patio and not in the house, I decided to let it spray while I figured out how to fix it.

I crawled under the house with a flashlight and saw the broken pipe was 1/2 inch galvanized pipe and what I needed was most likely a 10-inch nipple. Then I went to Home Depot – water still spraying all over the patio.

30 minutes later, I have a new faucet, a 12-inch nipple (just to be safe), and some plumbers tape, because while I own at least 10 rolls of plumber’s tape, I can never find it when I need it.

I crawl back under the house, holding a flashlight in my mouth, and disconnect the nipple, causing water to no longer spray all over the patio, but now to gush under the house and all over me.

It was then that I noticed the corner where the pipe is had, in the past, been some raccoon’s litter box, as now raccoon turds are floating in the water that is rising all around me.


I get the old pipe loose, and when I knock it out, loose mortar in the brick wall falls into the hole through the wall, keeping me from putting the new nipple in. Back out from under the house I go.

Back on the patio, I take a hammer and the old nipple and bust the offending mortar lose, and then crawl back into the raccoon-turd-filled swimming pool that is my crawlspace. This time I wrap the nipple with plumber’s tape, slide it through the wall, and with my monkey wrench, get it installed and tight. Water is no longer gushing under the house – it is now back to gushing all over the patio.

Then I crawl out of the raccoon septic tank, drenched to the bone and trying hard not to think about what germs are all over me, and then wrap the nipple that is jutting 2 and a half inches proud of the foundation wall (it turns out it WAS a 10-inch nipple after all, but I figured it was better to be proud than to be short) with pipe tape, and then put on the faucet, with water spraying everywhere, including all over me. Then it’s finished, and I turn off the faucet and everything is mercifully quiet again, except for the water dripping off everything, including me.

Elapsed time: 1 hour and 15 minutes. I paid less than $15 in materials. It was on a Saturday night, so it would have been an emergency plumber call at $175 an hour if I had been able to get one at all. 

I had never replaced a faucet before that day. I had a vague idea of how the plumbing works, and maybe $30 worth of tools. The biggest thing I had going for me was being willing to do it. Or, put another way, I had an orientation or a bent toward doing it myself. I honestly never considered calling a plumber.

On some days – like that one – it saves me a lot of money to do things myself. But sometimes, it really doesn’t.

Like right now, I’m in the middle of changing platforms for one of the newsletters I publish each week. I am not a coder. Or a programmer. I’m just a slightly above-average user of this sort of technology.

When I began blogging back in 2003, I taught myself HTML. And then rudimentary CSS, and learned how to do some basic work with databases and then PHP. Not because I really wanted to know how to do it, but because I couldn’t imagine having to ask someone else to change a picture for me on a website, or to tweak the font or increase the padding on an image. I couldn’t imagine asking for that sort of help even if I could have afforded it.

And along the way, I learned how to do lots of stuff, and for sure saved a lot of money.

But, as I said, right now I’m changing platforms. And the new CMS I’m using is one I’ve never used before. Like, it works entirely different than any CMS I had used before. But, I said, I can learn how to do this!

I then spent some 30 hours trying to figure out how to do it. I have been tied up for over a month – off and on – trying to work out a solution that was within my technical abilities. Have watched a dozen tutorials.

Yesterday I broke down and just paid someone to do it for me. They charged me $95, and now it’s done.

It frustrates me beyond belief that should it break, or I do something wrong and somehow screw up a setting, I will not be able to fix it, and will have to pay someone else to do it. I feel stupid because I couldn’t do it because I have all the tools to do it – just not the knowledge.

But sometimes, it just makes sense to pay someone else. It is hardly the best use of my time to learn a whole new type of niche tech that only does this one sort of thing that literally nobody else I know will ever use. That is very different from learning how, say, WordPress works, which powers ⅓ of the public websites on the internet.

It still bothered me more to spend that $95 than I care to admit. But that’s just the sort of person I am, I guess.

One thought on “DIY Guy”

  1. Hugh, you have learned where your shutoff for the house is, yes? If it’s not one that’s as easy as moving the lever from 12 to 3, I’d suggest switching it out because someday the water will be in the house. I’m glad it wasn’t this time though! I’m also a big believer in doing stuff myself especially if the skills learned will live on for more than just that one day (the Uni-tasker kitchen appliance Alton Brown hates).
    The image of the raccoon litter box you painted had me rolling!

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