Do it with friends

If you are doing household tasks, you may as well do them with friends.  It’s a simple concept of friends helping friends, so no need to make it too stressful or complicated.

Assembling shelves is better with friends (Sarah on right).

We have these friends, Mike and Sarah Wolff, who are DIY SuperStars. Not only do they build shelves and raised garden beds and pave their own front walk; they also do plaster repair, run plumbing and electrical, and even move walls (non-load-bearing, of course). If you need to borrow a tool, they have it.

When we first met them, a lot of the major projects in their sweat equity renovation had already been done, and the house looked great. We heard about how it was originally covered in wood paneling that concealed a lot of damaged plaster. It was hard to imagine the before. We marveled at their skill, courage and seemingly boundless energy. Then we heard about their DIY group.

Now don’t get me wrong, they had serious renovation skills and an unflappable attitude that they can tackle almost any project. But their secret weapon is this DIY group.

Bye, bye wood paneling.

Mike says no to pink tile.

The group – they call themselves Habitat for You-manity – started with one guy, Dan Levine (who, you can tell from his blog, is an industrious fellow). He had recently moved into his first single-family house and had a project wish list a mile long. He remembered an article he had seen a few years before about a barter group that shared household chores. Wheels turned, and he put two and two together. He recruited a few friends and coworkers who had similar lists and a can-do spirit. The group would rotate visits to each other’s houses, doing whatever tasks that homeowner needed.

Making a painted carpet on the porch.

They keep it pretty simple, rotating houses in a regular order. The whole group must approve before a new household is added. There is a sweet spot on group size – just big enough so that there is variety and you don’t run out of projects too fast – small enough that the rotation comes around to your house often enough to make it worthwhile. They have five households meeting monthly, although there were six for a while. I asked how they decided what work they would do (and what they wouldn’t). Dan said, “As for work that was off limits, it was just a question of what you could sucker people into–typically, we drew the line at crawl spaces.” It seems like they did a lot of demo (pulling down that wood paneling, swinging sledgehammers into yucky old tile), painting (every room you can think of), spreading mulch (“Five cubic yards of mulch disappears much more quickly with a big group working.” That’s a lot of mulch!).

These days the group is on a bit of a hiatus – most of the households now include little rugrats. They kept going for a while, with some spouses running daycare during the work sessions, but eventually the scales tipped and there were fewer child-free hands available for work. I think they hope to pick it up again once the kiddos get older and are easier to corral – or taught to wield a paintbrush!

Go, go, power tools!

Sometimes I find the tales of the group’s exploits overwhelming (now, I don’t think I would ever attempt to run plumbing to my garage…), but mostly I find them inspiring. They are the type of DIYers that I wish that we were.

If you too are inspired, Dan offers this advice: “Recruit at least one family with actual home improvement skills if you want to learn new techniques, though plain old menial labor is helpful too.” Sarah and Mike say, “It’s helpful to have a bunch of different tasks so you can break the group up into smaller work groups. We tried to work the group into our larger projects and use them when brute force was needed or when we needed to get things going (that we could then keep working on for a while). Another key component (of course!) was lunch and beer.”

Now get out there and do it!

Comments (2) Add yours ↓
  1. Andrew Edmonds

    Hey, that’s my neighbor Anna in the first picture! I have seen her work group several times helping her family with the landscaping. Fantastic idea.

    July 19, 2012 Reply
  2. April Johnson

    I love this story! What an creative idea! I’m so inspired dive into home ownership and become a DIYer…although as a former insurance agent I can’t help but think about risk management…”Hummm…these neighbors should consider increasing their homeowners liability limits!!…just in case.” 🙂

    July 24, 2012 Reply

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