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7 Brilliant DIY Tips For Beginners

DIY tips, feature wall kit
(Image credit: Furniture Choice Ltd)

Having some DIY tips to hand when you're renovating a house for the first time can save you time and money.  

DIY is only scary in the way a rubbish horror film is scary: the anticipation can be nailbiting, but the actual event is never that bad. 

A can-do attitude may be your most important tool, but if you want to make sure you avoid the common mistakes, then a little bit of knowledge is a close second. Here are my DIY top tips for beginners.

(MORE: Renovating a House: The Ultimate Guide)

1. DIY vs a Specialist: How to Choose

Have a firm idea in mind of why the job needs doing and what outcome you want. This should help assess whether you’re up to the task or if you need a specialist.

There are many plumbing and electrical jobs that you should never attempt yourself, both for safety reasons and to comply with the Building Regulations.

If a wall is bumpy, do you need it to be just be a tad flatter so it looks better painted, or super perfect so you can put up expensive wallpaper?

In the first case, you can get away with gently sanding back the wall and filling in any cracks yourself. In the latter, skimming the wall is a job best left to a plasterer, especially if it’s not something you’ve done before.

DIY tips wallpapering

Non-woven Wallpaper iin LILI ROSE, £14.99 per roll, available from 4Murs UK  (Image credit: 4Murs UK)

Similarly, if you’re considering honing your bricklaying skills by constructing a small brick wall around a garden bed, could you settle for imperfect results, or does the wall need to be perfect as it’s right on view to any visitors?

Be realistic. Ask yourself how wrong could things actually go and what the impact would be if they did. The answer will tell you whether to go ahead.

If you are in doubt about whether you should attempt a job, you should always check first.

Another thing to consider is whether you (or your other half) are the sort of person who can cope with half-finished, abandoned jobs.

(MORE: DIY - What to Leave to the Professionals)

2. Search Online for DIY Tips

Get online and search out plenty of how-to videos explaining and demonstrating the task you’re thinking about taking on. 

Check out Homebuilding & Renovating's YouTube channel for some great tips and advice videos.

Watching DIY actually happening in a step-by-step way can foster the confidence you need to attempt the same job. I recommend watching several videos of the same task to see different methods and hear the advice offered. 

You could even ask a friendly builder what their best tips for the job are; people often really do love to help when you ask them nicely, so don’t be afraid to enlist their aid.

3. Think About Timescales

People often fail to ask themselves when a DIY task needs completing by. If a job needs to be done sharpish to allow other trades to continue on your build, then perhaps if you are new to the task, you are not the best person to do it. 

Rushing a task often means cutting corners, leading to a poorer end result. Sometimes, you might think you can live with that, but inexperienced DIYers can cause damage and shoddy finishes can affect your property’s resale value, so you might want to think twice. 

4. Invest in the Right Tools

Cordless drill for DIY

E-series 18V Cordless Drill Driver with 19 settings and 2 speed trigger, from Van Haus (Image credit: Van Haus)

Homeowners and renovators should have a selection of DIY tools, and the basics are usually inexpensive to pick up. Most of the small power tools you’ll need have modest price tags – some between £50 and £100 – and will quickly reward your investment. 

A decent drill and the associated drill bits, for instance, will help you with myriad tasks from hanging shelves, to mixing sand and cement with a paddle attachment, to building flat-pack. 

And it goes without saying that every DIYer needs a good quality spirit level and a decent tape measure. Measure twice, cut once.

(MORE: Best Cordless Drills)

5. DIY Tips for Decorators

Modern water-based paints have lots of plus points, with quick drying times at the top of the list, but there are downsides that need to be mitigated. 

Decent brushes are a must because, unlike traditional oil-based paints, water-based paint doesn’t carry on moving after you’ve lifted the brush. This means there’s far more likelihood of cheap brushes leaving behind drag marks and stray bristles in the paint. 

Also remember to use knot-block on fresh pine woodwork to avoid the knot sap bleeding through into fresh paint and causing spotty paintwork. If you’re painting exterior woodwork then always use aluminium primer on new wood in preference to water-based primer, which in my experience is a false economy, as it just does not last the distance. 

DIY decorating tips for painting

Annie Sloan Bedroom Wall Paint In Old Ochre, Chalk Paint In Honfleur And Scandinavian Pink Lifestyle Portrait (Image credit: Annie Sloan)

6. Tiling Tips

For years and years on client work and my own properties, I always paid a tiler. That was until I embarked upon a large renovation, and I wanted to spend all my money on amazing tiles instead of an amazing tiler. 

Tiling a small area like a fireplace hearth or splash back, for example, is relatively easy. If you are fairly meticulous and hands on, I’d say give it a go, but remain mindful. 

Ensure the substrate is level or flat before you start; “I can build up the levels with adhesive” is a sentence that never precedes a happy ending. Work out the pattern to minimise cuts and make sure the pattern balances. Lay out all the tiles on a surface near you so they are in order and easily to hand. Use a high-grab, slow-set adhesive, which is a forgiving choice for rookie tilers. My favourite is Kerakoll BioGel. 

Don’t attempt laying a large-format tile to a large area as your first job, this is the type of work usually done by a commercial tiler, and for good reason.

7. Wallpaper Like a Pro

A novice DIYer attempting wallpaper is probably better off sticking to paste-the-wall papers, which are far easier to hang than paste-the-paper or pre-pasted versions. 

Have a really good think about where you’re going to start and finish, and take the time to work out all the ‘drops’ with a tape measure and pencil marks on the wall — you’ll often find that there are ways of being clever with the pattern to reduce waste. 

Get yourself a good trimming blade to cut the edges. An excellent tip when hanging a dark paper is to run a dark felt tip or dark paint where the drops join, so you don’t see a white line of the paint below peeping through. In high traffic areas, consider using decorator’s varnish over the paper to protect it from hand marks and dirt.

(MORE: 10 Ways to Renovate on a Budget)