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Ask the Builder: Taking the leap into DIY

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You could build a dormer like this with some inspiration and over-the-phone help.

In this column I want to inspire you as dark financial storm clouds form on the horizon. Over the past few months, we’ve all been alarmed at the steep rise in the prices of food, gas and, well, everything. That, of course, includes building materials and the prices contractors charge — if you can even get them to bid your job.

That’s a perfect segue to Zoe.

Zoe is a young woman who lives in rural New Mexico. She decided over a year ago to build her own home but couldn’t get local plumbers to give her the time of day. She discovered me while searching on YouTube and found out I have been a master plumber since 1981.

She also discovered, much to her surprise, that I do phone coaching calls and also draw plumbing riser and isometric drawings. You need these drawings almost everywhere to pull a plumbing permit. She had me draw hers and then ordered up a phone call. Within a month, she and I were on the phone two more times.

Zoe texted me one day: “Tim, I just got my below-rough inspection done. Passed with flying colors. Inspector said it was the best DIY job he’d ever seen in his 30 years. Thanks.”

Suffice it to say, Zoe was thrilled and went on to finish all the plumbing in the house with my help saving herself probably $20,000.

Last fall, Angel reached out to me. It was a similar story. She lives in upstate New York and couldn’t get local contractors to give her quotes on building a large dormer. She wanted to transform unused attic space into a playroom for her kids.

The purpose of the first call was for me to interview her to see if I felt she had the mental and physical skills to tackle a project like this. I determined she absolutely could do it.

I then asked her email me all her questions, and we did two other phone calls to answer them. After these calls, Angel had all she needed to get started. I estimate she’ll save about $35,000 doing this dormer by herself. I reminded her that elephants are best eaten one bite at a time.

A week later, Greg reached out to me. Greg lives about an hour away from me, and five years ago he hired me to come look at his failing roof. Greg said, “You should figure out a way to record and transcribe the calls so people don’t have to take notes. Some people need to read what you say, not listen to complex instructions.”

Within a few days, I had discovered a way to do very accurate transcriptions of recorded calls. I could instantly see how this could help you save lots of money and reduce your anxiety.

Just last week, I did a fascinating call with Jean in Spokane, Washington. She had a bunch of projects to do and needed help sorting them out. She wanted to know which projects were most important and which ones should be done first, as she had to budget for things to be done over a period of years. Money was a major concern to her — as it is to just about everyone, myself included!

In less than 30 minutes, I was able to give her all the advice she needed to save at least $10,000. I talked her through which easy fixes she and her husband could tackle themselves and which ones would need an expert's help. I offered to talk them through learning to tackle some of the repairs themselves. I suggested brands and shopping sources for some of the items that they would need. I also suggested videos and articles on my website,, that could assist them.

Jean wrote to me the next day: "All I can say is WOW. To have you share your expert knowledge in such an approachable way was fantastic. My one call with you covered a multitude of projects. We have only owned our home for a little over a year and we needed to prioritize what projects to tackle first.

"You helped me organize and prioritize each repair. ... In today's expensive world, your advice is simply priceless. We will keep you in our contact list forever.”

This is the new reality in the age of inflation. If you want to get work done on your home on schedule and on a budget, you might have to do it yourself. That might sound daunting, but with the right guidance you can rise to the challenge!

If you need to eat an elephant at your house, maybe I can help set the table. I’d love to help you save huge money and get things done at your home. It would put a grin on my face to get a text from you similar to the one Zoe sent. Don’t underestimate what you can do, for goodness sake!

If you want me to coach you over the phone, go here to set up the call:

(Subscribe to Tim’s FREE newsletter at Tim now does livestreaming video M-F at 4 PM Eastern Time at


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