Author Topic: DIY projects vs mental load  (Read 2196 times)

mandelbrot

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DIY projects vs mental load
« on: December 29, 2017, 08:47:42 AM »
This is very much an opinion / philosophy question, but I'm curious for others' take on this. The class of "project" I will talk about here really concerns things like house projects and construction of that sort ... but I'm sure this question can be generalized to all manner of ambitions and distractions.

I will just open this thread with as concise a statement of the problem as I can manage: if we choose to go the DIY route for a big project, it likely involves a ton of research, learning, and planning. In order to do a GOOD job via DIY, we need a LOT of research and planning. This can snowball into a significant mental load, which actually ends up competing with the hobbies / jobs / activities that you wanted to stay focused on in the first place. So presumably, we don't want to be absolutist and do every project fully DIY. This leads to the question: what kinds of judgment / threshold / heuristics do YOU all use to figure out whether a project should be DIY, and to what extent? How much intrusion into your "regular" life and mental headspace is acceptable before such a project needs to be postponed / outsourced / re-scoped?

In the next post, I'll give a 'live' case study from my recent experience to give some illustration.

nessness

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Re: DIY projects vs mental load
« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2017, 09:17:10 AM »
I don't have exact criteria, but some things I take into consideration are:
- How much general stress am I under?
- How much money will I save?
- How much time will it take?
- Do I expect to derive any enjoyment from DIYing?
- Do I expect that I'll be able to do the job with adequate quality?
- Is it something that will need to be done repeatedly? (which lends more value to learning to DIY it)

mandelbrot

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Re: DIY projects vs mental load
« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2017, 09:24:37 AM »
Alright, an example. Forgive my verbosity. The DIYers among you will probably appreciate and/or recognize the details here:

Our house has a screened-in back porch that is roughly 12' x 20', which was haphazardly constructed by a previous homeowner. It's not particularly attractive, it leaks in a hard rain, and it obscures a lot of natural light that would otherwise get into the house. So we decided this winter, we'd like to tear it down.

Here are the "before" photos

The plan was to rebuild something in its place with a much higher ceiling, and use translucent roof panels to permit lots of natural light. We settled on a gable style design which matches the existing 3/12 pitch of the main roof behind it.

Here are some concept renders -- now, don't worry, the engineer-y and structural folks among you will recognize that these spans are way too long for such wimpy framing and we will probably need proper trusses on the front and rear gable walls. Don't worry, this is not a framing plan, just a concept drawing. We'll probably end up with glulam beams and slightly shorter spans. There's an architect in the family -- we'll handle this.

The demolition involved here also included pulling up some cruddy ceramic tile that the previous owner installed inside the porch, as well as some natural stone that was crudely cemented all around the left and right sides of the porch. And hey, while we had a demolition hammer rented ... we really ought to go ahead and break up all the cruddy stone-n-concrete that wraps around half of our house's perimeter.

^^This may sound like scope creep, but we knew we needed to do this for a while. Might as well get our money's-worth for the $65 to rent that demolition hammer from Home Depot.

So we did the demolition. It was a huge day of work, and then another day to get all the debris loaded into a dumpster. Luckily many of the above-ground materials (siding, dimensional lumber, sheet roofing) were able to be passed along via CraigsList >> Free Stuff. Yay for less waste!

We ALSO knew that our yard has some site-drainage issues that we need to correct sooner or later. Some of this stone and concrete that we broke up was helping hold back some surface water from draining toward our foundation -- so we needed to fix that now in a more complete way, e.g. by installing catch basins and rigid pipes, and/or french drain, and/or dry wells, etc.

And that ^^ has now become a whole project of its own. I've spent the last 2-3 weeks researching endlessly about how to do good drainage. The litany of considerations is long: which drainage situations suit a dry well vs a french drain vs rigid pipe; how to properly slope any sort of in-ground pipe; discovering that I don't have adequate hand tools for digging down 24 or 36", so now it's time to get a decent spade and mattock; and THEN, where to lay out our drain pipes and basins so as not to get in the way of the concrete footings that will eventually hold up our new porch roof!

Eventually I just went to Lowe's and over-bought a bunch of pipe, fittings, basins, and so on -- in the common approach where I will just make returns later. This week, finally with much of the research phase behind me, I dug a ~24' trench this past week, which utilized two catch basins, one length of rigid pipe, one length of pre-fab french drain, one DIY dry well made from a trash can, and a lot of landscape fabric, stone, and gravel. At this point, we still have a LOT of trenching and pipe-laying left to go. Although, some of that will be much easier, because we will be pulling up some existing flex-drain pipe (see prior photos) and replacing with rigid pipe that has proper slope. So there's an existing trench to utilize there. But it's still going to be a butt-load of work, with something like 80 or 100 more linear feet to get done.

###

And all this is happening before we can commence REAL design / build work on the new porch roof!

So, there are a few lessons and concerns in here, and I am happy to hear thoughts / corrections on any of them:
  • Scope creep is a real thing and all-too-easy for home projects. In this case, I was prepared for the enormity of this project and its multifarious nature. My wife was, I think, less prepared, and tends to have less tolerance for the jungle of variables that emerged here. But, we need to be wary of scope creep in the future, and accordingly plan MUCH longer timelines than we might initially expect.
     Expectation-setting is key.
  • More importantly, I am curious at which point (if any) you all might have decided to postpone, re-scope, or outsource part of this project. I will say, I have mostly enjoyed the work so far. But the PROBLEM is that I will not always have the bandwidth to allow a project like this take over all of my waking thoughts for multiple weeks at a time. At this point I feel like I've had drainage-on-the-brain for most of December! This is the issue with "mental load" that I brought up in the thread title. I am a knowledge worker and I will need to get back to work soon -- actually I'm going to code-school in the spring so I will be intensively using my brain for the foreseeable future. This creates an issue of capacity -- I want to do DIY projects like this, for all the Mustachian reasons we know,
     but at times there just won't be room in my head for such a thing.

^^ Of these, item #2 really is the heart of the concern for me.
What do you guys think?

mandelbrot

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Re: DIY projects vs mental load
« Reply #3 on: December 29, 2017, 09:26:52 AM »
I don't have exact criteria, but some things I take into consideration are:
- How much general stress am I under?
- How much money will I save?
- How much time will it take?
- Do I expect to derive any enjoyment from DIYing?
- Do I expect that I'll be able to do the job with adequate quality?
- Is it something that will need to be done repeatedly? (which lends more value to learning to DIY it)

^^ This is real good. Thanks!

And then, how do you make your judgment once you have *answers* to these questions?
What are your thresholds for these things, in other words. Feel free to use an example.

MayDay

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Re: DIY projects vs mental load
« Reply #4 on: December 29, 2017, 10:27:44 AM »
A lot of it for me is how long I can deal with the thing all torn up.

We have one shower. I know regrouting isn't that hard but I have little bandwidth and I need a functional shower. Well probably just hire it.

Kitchen, same.

Obscure electrical circuits that aren't dangerous but aren't quite right: H has been slowly putting his way though them in no rush. They'll get finished by spring, maybe,and in the meantime the house is functional.


RyanAtTanagra

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Re: DIY projects vs mental load
« Reply #5 on: December 29, 2017, 11:06:12 AM »
One thing I consider is how far outside my current skill level is it, which falls into your concerns on how much research I need to do and how likely is it for me to do a good job.  Any good DIY project will challenge you and make you learn and you'll come out better for it, but you don't want to go from 'never installed a dimmer switch' to 'completely rewire my 1920s house from the fuse box down'.  There are things Pete does that I'm not ready to tackle yet, but for him I imagine are challenging while not being overwhelming, because he's done similar or smaller-scale versions of it before.  Not to say I couldn't do it given enough time and effort, but it would be a lot more difficult and stressful.

So factor in what you have experience doing, and add X difficulty to that, where X has to be defined by you using the questions nessness posed.

nessness

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Re: DIY projects vs mental load
« Reply #6 on: December 29, 2017, 12:34:54 PM »
I don't have exact criteria, but some things I take into consideration are:
- How much general stress am I under?
- How much money will I save?
- How much time will it take?
- Do I expect to derive any enjoyment from DIYing?
- Do I expect that I'll be able to do the job with adequate quality?
- Is it something that will need to be done repeatedly? (which lends more value to learning to DIY it)

^^ This is real good. Thanks!

And then, how do you make your judgment once you have *answers* to these questions?
What are your thresholds for these things, in other words. Feel free to use an example.
This is a good question, and one I don't have a great answer for - usually once I've answered those questions the answer feels relatively clear, but I don't have a quantitative method for deciding.

At this stage in our lives, we have 2 young kids and relatively high incomes, so we're somewhat more inclined to hire things out.

Things that generally seem worthwhile to DIY:
Routine cleaning and yard work
Interior painting
Changing light fixtures and outlets
Cleaning gutters
Putting furniture together
Simple plumbing issues
Moving

Some things that we have DIYed (or are planning to DIY) only because we have knowledgeable friends willing to help:
Tiling bathroom
Replacing a toilet and vanity
Building a fence

Some things we hired out:
Drywall repair
Most electrical work
Tiling shower
Kitchen remodel - we didn't have the time or skill to do it all ourselves, and trying to do pieces of it ourselves would have added a lot of time and complexity for minimal cost savings

Another factor that I meant to include in my original list was risk - either of personal injury or of significantly damaging my house.

Sibley

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Re: DIY projects vs mental load
« Reply #7 on: December 29, 2017, 05:30:03 PM »
I think the calculation is different for everyone, depending on the project, house (big difference between a new house and 100 yr old house), skills, time constraints, money. And it'll change as circumstances change.

There are things that I will do on this house that I maybe wouldn't do on a different house, and vice versa. Like electric. I'm NOT touching it in this house, there's too much at stake with extremely old wiring. In a newer house? Different calculation.

spokey doke

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Re: DIY projects vs mental load
« Reply #8 on: December 30, 2017, 01:07:37 AM »
An interesting question for myself...but also for my DW.

She is very optimistic about what might come of a DIY project, in part due to a lack of experience.  I grew up in a very DIY household (and not insignificantly, have some high standards), and have a good sense of what I can and cannot do well.  DW has a number of times taken on DIY projects that I knew I couldn't complete and do a satisfactory job.

So one take away is that a primary factor for me is how well I can meet my own standards of performance...I don't like going through all the research, effort, etc. just to have to live with something that just reminds me of my own mistakes and/or insufficiencies.  That is one category of project I'd rather hire out (others include pure efficiency, where folks who have the right tools and experience can knock something out and do it better, at a reasonable cost (like roofing...crazy bastards)).

dilinger

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Re: DIY projects vs mental load
« Reply #9 on: December 30, 2017, 02:26:16 AM »
I personally enjoy doing research and learning, so I don't necessarily view the mental load on that as a bad thing.  Also, in the past I've had issues with really shitty contractors doing substandard work, and I wasn't educated enough about the system to know better.  So I like doing the research and planning, and it's something that can be done late at night when the kids are asleep.

Doing the actual project depends on the cost, hassle, and timing of hiring out.  Electrical work?  I'll do it myself, as there's usually no real rush to get it done.  Window replacement?  Relatively quick and easy, and you save TONS of money doing it yourself.  Installing a mini split?  We tried to hire out, but the quotes were obnoxious ($6k for a single 12k unit?!).  Instead, we went the diy route ($1.5k per 12k unit), which only took a couple of hours and saved us about $13k.  Renovating our attic rooms?  I did the demo (removing old drywall, wood paneling, and fiberglass), I'm doing the drywall (mostly because of timing issues), and I did some of the insulating.. but the insulation and air sealing was time consuming, so I hired someone to do the rest of it.  Framing up new kneewalls with cubbies is part of it; I could do that, but it's not particularly interesting, a contractor could do it much more quickly, and it'll be obvious if they cut corners.  Also, we want to use the space ASAP, so hiring is needed to get it done quicker.

And of course we had scope creep on that project.  While we had the attic walls opened up, it made sense to replace knob & tube circuits thoughout the house.  That ended up delaying the project (and my wife was not excited about the holes in the walls on the main floor), but it's worth it.  Had I paid someone to just get the renovation done, it would've been a missed opportunity to get rid of some old (uninsulated in many places) wires.  They probably would've ignored the bare k&t wires that went to the main floor lights and receptacles, as they'd be focused on the attic.  And now that that's done, we can (hire someone- I don't have the necessary equipment) get the main floor walls insulated with dense-packed cellulose.

If it's something monotonous or dangerous, I'll hire out.  When it's time for a new roof, I'll hire out for that after doing the research.  Cutting out concrete, I'll hire someone.
« Last Edit: December 30, 2017, 02:31:37 AM by dilinger »

Sibley

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Re: DIY projects vs mental load
« Reply #10 on: December 31, 2017, 07:33:36 PM »
I personally enjoy doing research and learning, so I don't necessarily view the mental load on that as a bad thing.  Also, in the past I've had issues with really shitty contractors doing substandard work, and I wasn't educated enough about the system to know better.  So I like doing the research and planning, and it's something that can be done late at night when the kids are asleep.

Doing the actual project depends on the cost, hassle, and timing of hiring out.  Electrical work?  I'll do it myself, as there's usually no real rush to get it done.  Window replacement?  Relatively quick and easy, and you save TONS of money doing it yourself.  Installing a mini split?  We tried to hire out, but the quotes were obnoxious ($6k for a single 12k unit?!).  Instead, we went the diy route ($1.5k per 12k unit), which only took a couple of hours and saved us about $13k.  Renovating our attic rooms?  I did the demo (removing old drywall, wood paneling, and fiberglass), I'm doing the drywall (mostly because of timing issues), and I did some of the insulating.. but the insulation and air sealing was time consuming, so I hired someone to do the rest of it.  Framing up new kneewalls with cubbies is part of it; I could do that, but it's not particularly interesting, a contractor could do it much more quickly, and it'll be obvious if they cut corners.  Also, we want to use the space ASAP, so hiring is needed to get it done quicker.

And of course we had scope creep on that project.  While we had the attic walls opened up, it made sense to replace knob & tube circuits thoughout the house.  That ended up delaying the project (and my wife was not excited about the holes in the walls on the main floor), but it's worth it.  Had I paid someone to just get the renovation done, it would've been a missed opportunity to get rid of some old (uninsulated in many places) wires.  They probably would've ignored the bare k&t wires that went to the main floor lights and receptacles, as they'd be focused on the attic.  And now that that's done, we can (hire someone- I don't have the necessary equipment) get the main floor walls insulated with dense-packed cellulose.

If it's something monotonous or dangerous, I'll hire out.  When it's time for a new roof, I'll hire out for that after doing the research.  Cutting out concrete, I'll hire someone.

I've got old wiring too. Planning on hiring a guy to rewire the house, including new box, and add various plugs, etc. Getting the buddy discount too, which is helpful. Will do wall insulation later. My biggest insulation problem right now seems to be the crawl space, and that's making the 1st floor pretty cold this winter.

crimwell

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Re: DIY projects vs mental load
« Reply #11 on: January 01, 2018, 11:51:22 AM »
I've been just considering a similar question because I've been really complaining about all the home projects we "have" to do, and yet I haven't wanted to hire out any of them except replacing the roof.

 It takes me forever to get stuff done, mainly because I have just myself for labor ( with three very young kids someone has to be on kid duty) and only a couple hours at a time in which to work, and I'm not very handy (not even close to Mr. 1500 level skill or stamina on getting stuff done with kids in the house). I've gotten myself pretty tired out getting a new fence installed and it has taken me an absurd length of time (easy skill wise but a good lot of fairly hard labor to dig out old fence posts and concrete and install new ones in my extremely hard ground). I'm going to be very tempted to take the easy/expensive way out on redoing kitchen/bathroom floors and shower insert that we have next on the list.

I haven't found a good balance here, basically.


Laura33

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Re: DIY projects vs mental load
« Reply #12 on: January 01, 2018, 11:52:58 AM »
Largely downside risk for me, i.e., the delta between my abilities (or what I can reasonably learn) and the potential for significant harm if I fuck it up.  So for ex., I would be outsourcing ďfiguring out how to do proper drainageĒ and the structural support Qs.  We also have to consider the potential for personal damage (when DH dug the footers for the patio we installed, he threw out his back and was laid up for several days and limited for several weeks, so we now outsource any heavy back work like that).  OTOH, things like basic demo, or boring/mindless stuff are no problem.

But honestly, my equation has changed a lot over time.  Not quite 20 years ago when we built a house, we laid the floors, did the trim carpentry, did much of the electric, and many other things Iím sure Iíve forgotten.  A few years later when I was massively pregnant with DD, DH finished the basement completely by himself, except where local codes required a licensed contractor.  But that was when we were DINKs and in jobs that gave us a lot of free time (and didnít really reward overachieving).  Now we have two kids and much better/more demanding jobs that pay a lot more and provide more bonus incentive for going above and beyond.  So we both have much less free time, which leads us to be much pickier in how we spend it.  As a result, projects that provide some enjoyment are still DIY (DH loves woodworking; I spent months designing the new kitchen, including scale drawings and figuring out the cabinet order), but boring scutwork, or stuff with a huge learning curve, gets outsourced ó or put off for years until we have more free time to tackle it (like, say, our guest bath, which is straight out of 1982).  ;-)