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DIY. Do It Yourself

Despite the current financial uncertainty, homeowners are still choosing to make improvements. But many are now turning to DIY rather than hiring professional tradesmen, writes Carissa Casey

IT'S that time of year when thoughts turn to garden decking, freshly-painted walls and perhaps a new conservatory out back.Ah yes, it's home-improvement season and the current financial uncertainty hasn't dampened our enthusiasm. i a poll last month by the Financial Regulator, more than half the respondents said they still planned to make home improvements. 

The problem is that this year there aren't too many bonuses, SSIA (special savings incentive accounts) windfalls or even easy credit sources to fund our domestic creativity.So why not do it yourself?

Interest in DIY is, not surprisingly, on the up. There's been a huge increase in traffic to the home improvement website diy in recent months. It was set up by a builder  in 2005 to provide punters with information on how to plan projects, choose tradesmen and figure out a budget. Now the focus is on DIY tips.

"About September or October last year we noticed a change in interest among visitors," says Mr Farrelly. "It used to be more about dealing with tradesmen and overall planning. Now they're trying to figure out how they can do jobs themselves."


Home insulation and heating control projects have been the most popular topics in recent months."Everyone wants to cut their heating bills the way energy prices have gone up. Getting your attic insulated properly can save about 30pc of energy use about the home." Mr Farrelly estimates that for an average-sized house attic, a tradesman will charge about €500 for the insulation work. The materials cost about €200 so it looks like €300 could be saved by doing the work yourself.

But by using a registered contractor, a home owner qualifies for a €250 grant under the Government's Home Energy Saving scheme.Slapping a few rolls of insulation material around the attic floor might seem easy enough but it can be tricky, according to Mr Farrelly.

"You really have to look at the safety aspects of your attic. Is there adequate lighting? How are you going to move around?"You could end up falling through the ceiling if you're not careful. Also you need to be sure to wear a mask. The very first thing before you take on a job like that is to do your research."

The same rule applies to just about any DIY project about the house.Would-be DIY-ers also need to be honest about their skills. A survey carried out last year by a UK DIY chain showed that a worrying 7pc of men under the age of 40 don't know how to change a light bulb and 20pc can't rewire a plug. "It all depends on your competence level," says Mr Farrelly.

"Some people have a few skills to start with but really it's a process of trial and error. You shouldn't be afraid to make mistakes because that's how you learn, but you do have to do your research." is a website that connects accredited tradesmen with punters needing work done. It's a good starting point for researching a home improvement project, according to founder Ted Laverty. "You can post details of the project and then get quotes on it. You'll normally get more than the recommended three quotes," he says.Payment rates for tradesmen have fallen between 30-50pc over the last year.

In the Dublin area, a painter now charges on average €250 a day, while outside of Dublin the rate can drop to €150 a day. A standard plumbing job, such as fixing an airlock in a tap, now costs about €40 an hour compared with €80 an hour two years ago.Mr Laverty recommends that for any home improvement project, whether it's DIY or paying for skilled labour, the key is to set a realistic budget and stick to it.

"Set limits on what you're going to do. The most common mistake is to start adding extras and that's when stress levels -- both financial and emotional -- start to rise." The easiest DIY project for beginners is to paint a room.A large living room of about 26sqm will require about six litres of paint. Two five-litre tins of a popular brand of paint costs €32. Basic painting kits which include rollers and brushes are available for about €11. So if you have the time and patience, you can revamp a living room for less than €50.

And what about decking for the garden? Many DIY centres sell easy-install decking. The design is pretty basic but it is possible for a reasonably-skilled punter to lay it. Four square metres of basic decking, without handrails or fancy designs, costs between €250 and €300.A similar-sized project carried out by a skilled professional will cost around €900, although it is important to bear in mind that this will also include a tailored design and additional carpentry.

Traffic to OnlineTradesmen has risen 67pc this year so it would seem Irish people are still doing up their houses. But there is one key difference, according to Mr Laverty.

"They're not doing the big extension jobs or major renovations. It's mostly smaller jobs now, particularly insulation projects, and a lot of the work is self-funded." In fact, the Financial Regulator is warning people to be careful about getting into debt to fund home improvements. Personal loans, mortgage top-ups and equity release schemes are all options but in these days of financial uncertainty they each require careful consideration.

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