Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why DIY? - Part 2 - Economics

Things are little slow right now on the tinkering front. So during this period of downtime I'm going to spend the next few posts exploring the "whys" and the "what fors" of tinkering around.

In my last post I stated that my primary drive for DIY is fun, I should correct that and clarify that it is my primary drive for tinkering. There are plenty of things I DIY (or would that be DMS - Do MySelf) that I don't really consider fun, primarily to save money. I pack a lunch to work, I mow the lawn, we clean the house hourselves, etc. I don't really consider these things to be real "DIY" though. They're more like things most people do, but some people pay someone else to do it.

The decision to DIY or not-DIY in order to save money comes down to how much we value our time over our money. I mow my own lawn because the time I spend each Saturday is worth less to me than the money I would spend on hiring the job out to someone else.

DIY isn't always cheaper though. There can be tool expenses that can sometimes be more than the cost of labor. If you're not careful and have to do things over, make a wrong cut, or cause more damage your costs could be much higher than if a pro had done it. Injuries can also cause the costs to go way up. I don't like to do anything on our roof just because I'm worried about falling. I had a pro install our fence because I value my back comfort over his costs. I've had trees removed by pros because the cost of a tree falling on a house when I didn't know what I was doing is much more expensive than the cost of the pro.

What about hidden costs or postponed expenses? A DIYer who patches up a leaky drain under a sink with caulk (true story) may save a few pennies now, but it's still going to need to be fixed right eventually. Might as well do it right the first time. Some fixes if not done properly can cause more damage or even harm someone. An improperly wired outlet. Painting over mold. Hiding water damage. While I think everyone should do what they can to do things themselves, it just isn't always appropriate. I fear the DIYer who doesn't really know what they're doing.

How does DIY effect the economy? I read a post on the Make: Blog the other day that referenced an article in the New York Times about the DIY ethic eroding service businesses. This article bugs me by the way it puts a negative spin on DIY. It states that when we come down on hard times and do things ourselves instead of paying someone else to do it then other businesses suffer, implying a spiral effect on the economy. Sure, service jobs will suffer. But things will ultimately balance out. If people stopped buying fish and went fishing themselves the fisherman might eventually be put out of work, but he can always adjust to the economic climate and start selling fishing equipment.

If I need the igniter replaced on my furnace and I opt to spend $55 on a replacement part and do it myself (this happened a couple weeks ago) instead of spending $300+ on a repairman, it is true that I have denied that repairman work. And if everyone did this he would eventually be out of a job. But a) not everyone will do this, b) I'm sure the repairman is resourceful enough to find other means of profitable gain, and c) the $250+ I saved doesn't fall in a hole and disappear - it gets spent on other things and continues to crank the economic engine.

But enough about the article. If you want to see more on this subject then I encourage you to read the comments in the Make: Blog post I linked to above. There are several very good comments.

In my next post I'll address another economic factor to DIY: "reduce, reuse, recycle." If you can think of anything else please feel free to say your bit in the comments.

Part 1 - Fun!
Part 3 - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Part 4 - Education
Part 5 - Making Connections

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