To Hire Or Not To Hire....That Is The Question.

Do It Yourself Home Maintenance - When Does It Make Sense

When I purchased my first home two years ago I couldn't have been more unprepared for the obligatory responsibility of maintaining my humble new abode. My house might as well have been the Starship Enterprise because I was no less familiar with its parts. I lived my entire life in apartments. And there was never a handyman in the family from which I could gain any "common sense" type of basic mechanical know-how. It sure as heck doesn't come natural to me either. 

That being said, here I am a two years after purchasing my home and I'm doing my yard work, my handyman work (limited) and my pool cleaning. And once again, it wasn't something that came naturally to me. After dealing with several different people who I hired to do different jobs, including pool cleaning, bug extermination, landscaping and a/c maintenance, I realized you can not blindly place your trust in so-called professionals. And it is true that if you want to get the job done right you do sometimes have to do it yourself. At least until you find someone competent enough to do it for you and you can afford to pay them. And even then you should still be a part of the process. Along the way I learned to not be afraid of the unknown. I learned how to find valuable advice and guidance. I also saved a few bucks in the process and I'd like to inspire you to do the same.

First we should discuss whether it actually makes sense to hire a professional to do the job or not. That depends on the complexity, size and cost of the job versus your skill level, your need to save a buck and the value you place on your spare time. Your ability to work with your hands and figure out the unknowns of home maintenance will undoubtedly increase with practice. The more time you devote to doing it yourself the faster you will learn. But you should start small. I wouldn't recommend you try to build a patio if you've never hung a shelf. And some jobs should absolutely be handled by a professional. And as they say, time is money. I'd actually argue that time is much more valuable than money. But if your budget is tight, like mine, than you might want to consider trading some time and elbow grease to save a greenback or two. If you are in the same boat as me there is one task that I'd say just about anyone can do well and save a little cash while doing it. That would be maintaining your pool.

Early on I hired a pool cleaner that charged me $100 a month to clean my pool. I thought that was a reasonable price to not have to do it myself and to make sure my family always has a clean pool to enjoy. I learned quickly that $100 a month doesn't quite cover everything. There were always little things that the pool cleaner recommended that cost more to "really" clean the pool. I eventually let this pool guy go and hired another. This next guy charged me $80 a month. A little better on the price and the pool seemed a little cleaner except for one little snag. And this snag was something I discussed with both of my pool cleaners before I let them go. There were 90 million little bugs living on the surface of the water. It was gross. I didn't care how "clean" the water was if I'm swallowing gobs of bugs every time I open my mouth. After talking to my pool guy several times about it his best suggestion to me was to overflow the pool so the bugs will spill out unto the pool deck therefore alleviating my bug problem, while at the same time flooding the entire pool deck and possibly parts of the first floor of my house.....NOT!!

I took it upon myself one day to visit the local pool supply store specifically to ask them about my bug dilemma. This is despite my irrational fear of the "unknown" that I normally have in the back of my head when I have to enter a strange establishment and ask for advice on something that I know nothing about. For some odd reason I always feel like I'm supposed to know this stuff already. Maybe it's a guy thing. They recommended a $20 bottle of EZ Skim which in two easy applications solved the problem in two days flat! All it does is make the bugs fall to the floor of the pool where it's easier for the vacuum to suck it all up. Why is it that two separate pool cleaners could not offer that advice or even offer that service? And why is it that we are so quick to put our trust in supposed "professionals" like they have superhuman knowledge. That was the day that I realized that I could actually know more than a pro! And that was the day I started to clean my pool and began to take things into my own hands. I'm now spending an average of $50 a month on needed chemicals for a much cleaner pool and relatively little effort. 

Here's a simple guideline to follow for keeping your pool clean for conventional, non-saltwater, in-ground pool with a standard pump filtration system:

  1. TREAT POOL EVERY WEEK!!!! (even if it's clean).
  2. Find your local discount pool supply place and get to know EVERYBODY there.
  3. It's recommended to have your water tested weekly. You just bring a small spring water bottle full of your pool water to the pool supply store and they test it for free. I bring one every time my chlorine runs out, which is every 2 to 3 weeks. In my opinion that's frequent enough. And it helps to not have to make unnecessary trips to the pool store.
  4.  Every time you have your water tested follow the instructions they give you to treat the water. If you're not clear on their instructions do not leave the store until you are. MAKE them explain it to you until you get it.
  5. Before you treat the water always take out the filter and rinse it off with a water hose.
  6. Treat the pool.
  7. It's recommended to keep you pump on for 24 hours while treating it. I'd say 12 hours after applying treatment is fine. I've been told by some professionals that 4 hours is enough. 
  8. In warm weather times of the year I'd recommend keeping the filtration system running at least 10 hours a day. The rest of the year could probably make do with 6 hours.
  9. If your pool is clean you do not need to keep the automatic vacuum in the pool everyday. It could add to the wear and tear of the pool floor and the vacuum itself. 4 days a week is plenty. And when you take it out of the pool try to lay the hose straight, not curled up.
  10. Pay attention to what works and what doesn't. Sometimes even the professionals are wrong. Use your best judgement.

Now this blog is not going to offer you extremely detailed advice on how to clean your pool. The truth is I couldn't. I still don't know all the science behind it and I can't speak the lingo like a pro could. But it doesn't matter because my pool is clean. Go to the pool supply place every other week like did and ask for advise. Bring them a sample of your water and let them test it for you. Let them tell you what your pool needs. Tell them every detail about your pool. Every time you're there ask them more questions about cleaning and maintaining your pool. There's more to know then just how to clean it and they can help keep you informed of things you need to keep up with and keep an eye on. Get to know them. They are professionals and they are willing to offer you help if you are willing to ask. And if at some point there is an issue that you can't resolve there is no reason you can't hire them  for the day to take a look at your pool and give you advice and an estimate to get the issue resolved.

Don't get discouraged but sometimes during the process their advice might not always work. And you might even find that different people working in the same store will give you slightly different advice. You might find that the SAME people will give you slightly different advice on the same topic at times! LOL. That's ok. It's part of the learning process. The goal is for YOU to figure out how to keep up your pool, not for them to always have the magic answer that will easily solve your problems without having to use the old noggin. Become educated enough that even when you are dealing with the professionals you have to ability to asses the information they are giving you and draw your own conclusions. In other words, allow yourself to learn through the age-old process of trial and error. Eventually, after you get a handle on the pool, you might just build enough confidence to start tackling other projects like pest control and other easy, and inexpensive, do it yourself maintenance.

I was paying a nationally known pest control company $30 dollars a month for a basic pest control plan. You guessed it..... They Sucked! After discussing my pest problems with some friends and a few workers at Home Depot, I spent $50 on enough pesticide to exterminate the bugs on my entire property, the border of my house and all the inside of my house. The description on the products I bought all said that results should last for 3 months. I didn't see another bug for 6 months. So $100 should take care of your entire property for the year. And don't get me started on the 3 different A/C repair guys I dealt with before I realized it made more sense to buy a whole new system. That was after spending several hundred dollars on parts that didn't fix the problem, of course.

I'm not trying to discourage you from using professionals. Like I said most jobs inside the home would be better off left to a professional. And if you are lucky enough to find competent people and your able to afford them than it might not make sense to follow my route. That wasn't and isn't my situation. I'm a working class guy that's selling his lunch to buy dinner so it makes sense to cut corners wherever I can. And there's no better place to cut a corner than on a service that I could do relatively easy in my spare time and save some much-needed moolah in the process.

Credit: John Conrad