There’s an old saying that around every corner there’s an opportunity to learn. I may be paraphrasing that, and it’s entirely possible I just completely made it up, but that doesn’t make the sentiment any less true. The best time to learn is when you’re young, and if you seek out the opportunities hiding around every corner of your home, then your whole family will be miles ahead of everyone else on the block.
Kids can learn great skills that they’ll use for the rest of their lives, and parents can save boatloads of money by cutting out the cost of labor. I was lucky enough to start learning how to build and fix things around the house when I was just a kid, and now I don’t have to hire a professional every time I need to get something done. That’s why I’ve come up with this guide to do-it-yourself projects for the whole family, so the next time you have a project to do, you’ll think twice about picking up the phone.
The best way to introduce a new skill to your family is by starting with something simple. If you bite off more than you can chew, then you could end up with a half-finished project and a house filled with frustrated people, so it’s important to choose your projects accordingly. I recommend starting with a kit from your local hardware store.
Swing sets, playhouses, sandboxes, garden beds, picnic tables, bunk beds, desks, bureaus, and even some smaller above-ground pools, are all great options for beginner family-friendly projects. They usually go together in an hour or two, with the exception of some of the larger items, and only require a couple of tools (hammer, screwdriver, electric drill, etc). Also, most kits come with clear and simple instructions (despite the negative perception that they’re always incomprehensible), so as long as they’re followed, everything should go together with no problem.
These types of kits are a great way to give younger kids a basic understanding of the building/assembly process, which eliminates the disconnect between a finished product and the work that goes into making it. Painting is also a good option for beginners, just as long as everyone is prepared and understands the importance of good technique.
This category is also a good one to cover general household maintenance. Changing light bulbs, replacing or cleaning air conditioner filters, changing out the batteries in a smoke detector or thermostat, and cleaning out the gutters are all good options for beginners.
Here’s a list of simple starter projects for the whole family:
- Build a swing set, playhouse, sandbox, or jungle gym
- Build a shed or storage building from a kit
- Get a raised garden bed kit and plant some vegetables
- Assemble a picnic table, bunk bed, bureau, or other furniture
- Learn/teach general household maintenance
- Paint the interior or exterior of your home
Raise the Bar
Once you have a few kits under your belt and the whole family is familiar with the general process of putting something together, it’s time to raise the bar. Try choosing more challenging projects that will bring some new skills into the mix, or even just ones that will help hone ones you’ve already gained. This includes building some things from scratch, which often requires the use of saws.
The age someone is ready to learn how to use saws is obviously at the discretion of the parents, but I will say that it’s never too early to learn about the safety of them and other power tools. Teaching everyone to be aware of where the blade is at all times, knowing whether or not it’s plugged in, not putting it down while the blade is still spinning, not putting your hands near the blade when it’s plugged in, and not wearing long sleeves (which can get caught in the mechanism) are all important lessons to learn up front.
As far as which projects are suitable for this category, there are many. Building a raised garden bed from scratch, replacing a bathroom or kitchen faucet, replacing a shower head, installing new gutters, replacing the treads on a staircase, and even some flooring projects (vinyl tile, carpet, laminate tongue and groove, etc) are all good options for the intermediate category.
Many of these projects don’t come with instructions like the kits do, which is why it’s so important to do your research and prepare as much as possible ahead of time. You can find great resources on The Home Depot’s website, especially their how-to guides, as well as many of the home guides we offer here at Pro Referral.
- Building a raised garden bed
- Replacing a faucet or showerhead
- Installing new gutters
- Replacing interior or exterior staircase treads
- Removing and install a new floor
- Build a flower box
- Install boards in the attic to maximize storage space
Kick It Up a Notch
After you’ve mastered the art of following instructions to assemble something from a kit, and have conquered the mountain top of building something from scratch, it’s time to take it to the next level. You’d be surprised at the number of home improvement projects you can handle once you and your family have refined your hands-on skills. I’ll list a few possible projects below, but the truth is the sky’s really the limit once you get the ball rolling.
You can buy blueprints for some of the larger projects, or even come up with some designs of your own. I recommend structural framing and general home building books as a good way to familiarize yourself with the principles of construction (load-bearing walls, airflow, where to put flashing, etc). Building something is easy once you have the necessary skills, but being able to make it last for decades (or even centuries) takes great care, knowledge, preparation, and patience.
It’s something that’s always a work in progress, and there will be plenty of mistakes along the way, but as long you stick with it the reward can be priceless. Just make sure you keep your skills sharp by finding one project, big or small, every month or two for your family to complete together. As long as you remain diligent, these skills will stay with you and your family for a lifetime.
- Build a deck
- Finish a basement
- Build a shed or storage building from scratch
- Create a brick/paver walkway or patio
- Build an outdoor fireplace/firepit (check local codes)
- Install new cabinets and countertops
- Build a dormer or install a skylight