Ask the Builder: Save Big on Exterior Home Projects by Doing It Yourself

The volume of incoming orders I receive from DIYers on the Ask Tim page on is rising faster than the Fed’s ability to raise interest rates to tame rampant inflation. Since the prices of necessities like fuel and food take up larger chunks of family budgets, there is often little money left to hire contractors to do the work.

If you can’t afford to hire a contractor, you may be wondering if you can handle a larger project on your own. I know it can be intimidating, but it hasn’t been easy to do some big projects. Years ago, you couldn’t learn from videos on the internet about how to do the repair job. Now many manufacturers have excellent tutorial videos that can give you the confidence to do the job just as well or better than some subcontractor sent to work on your most valuable asset – your home!

You will also be amazed at the wide range of tools that you can hire for tasks that require you to be in the air. Years ago, man lifts didn’t even exist. You can now have motorized lifts with giant articulated arms that allow you to safely paint the end of a long gable in your home or reach a difficult sidewall over a steep roof. It has never been easier and safer to do outside work in your home.

For example, imagine that you want to install gutter guards. I’ve tested a lot and found the best ones. (You should go to and read my Gutter Guard test results column.) Some companies charge astronomical prices to install these simple products. If a man elevator can drive around your house, you might complete the job in less than a day. It is possible to save upwards of $1,000.

Two months ago, a friend rented one of these guys’ elevators to do the exterior painting. He’s OK with using the stairs to work 15 feet in the air, but he’s afraid to go up more. Only on weekends did he not only get all of his high-drawing done, but he also used the elevator to install a heavy light rod above his bocce ball court.

An often overlooked tool that you may not be familiar with is simple pipe scaffolding. I’ve owned four sets for 40 years. These scaffolding are traditionally used by construction workers, which are strong, safe and stable. Once the pieces are assembled together, install the cross clamps, adjust the aluminum pallets and then the guard rails, as if you were standing on the ground. Scaffolding allows you to take anxiety and fear off the sidewalk while you work hard 20 or 25 feet in the air.

Where I live in central New Hampshire, I can rent six sets of these scaffolding, including aluminum work platforms, for just $300 a month. This will allow you to build a single tower that will raise the bottom of your feet 30 feet into the air. There are plenty of scaffolding that can be placed around a farmhouse so you can walk across the top of the six groups next to each other and travel about 50 feet down one side of your house. Don’t underestimate what you can do with these sturdy steel tube scaffolding.

Angel, a young woman living in upstate New York, uses these scaffolding to help her build a dormer window in her home. I’ve been coaching her over the phone as she walks this hard project. She tried to get contractors to bid for the job, but no one called her. You’ve got the three elements: diligence, determination, and discipline. It will not only perform dormer; You’ll also save tens of thousands of dollars in the process.

Let’s say you want to install new vinyl on your house, but you haven’t done the job before. What would you say if I told you that it is very easy to do, and modern pieces have made it even easier. Add to that the huge amount of how-to videos that you can watch for free online, many of them produced by actual vinyl siding manufacturers.

There are some aspects of installing vinyl siding that require some expertise, but odds are that your home may not have these challenges. I visited the Vinyl Siding Institute website and they have a huge section showing you how to install vinyl siding including a great free interactive installation guide. There are great videos out there, too.

When you see how easy it is to install vinyl siding, I think you’ll get motivated just like Angel. Its dormant job is much more difficult than simply installing vinyl siding and it should inspire you.

I’ll leave you with this. My father-in-law had a great saying you should think: “Success begets success.” It simply means that your confidence builds up as you tackle tougher and more challenging projects, achieving great results every time. If you have a garden shed, cover it with vinyl sides first. Once you complete that, you’ll say, “Heck, that wasn’t too bad. I’m sure I can do home now with some of those tube scaffolding!”

Please send me before and after pictures of the difficult project you completed.

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