Start Here: A Beginner’s Guide to DIY

Updated: Mar. 20, 2024

New to DIY? We've got you covered!

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Owning your own home opens up a world of do-it-yourself (DIY) possibilities. No more landlord or parents to worry about. You’re free to hammer, nail and sand to your heart’s content.

Starting that first project can be intimidating, though. What should I do? How do I start? What if I screw it up?

For your first DIY project, make it simple. I’m now a licensed electrician, but in an earlier life I tried to replace a ceiling light in our 100-year-old home. What a disaster. The wiring was knob-and-tube, there was no electrical box and my new light/ceiling fan combo had six wires I had no idea what to do with. After a few hours, I just put the old light back.

I’ve come a long way since those days, but every new project comes with trial and error. Last month I built a cabinet door for a friend. I’m an experienced DIYer, so I was flying high with my router table, cabinet router bits and a good plan. I still had to make it twice.

As long as you work safely, there’s no shame in trying something that doesn’t quite work the first time. With every project, you’ll get better and more confident — and we’ll be here to help.

Beginner DIY Toolkit

Whether you’re a new homeowner or just new to DIY, you won’t get far without a few basic tools. A tape measure and level come in handy for hanging pictures. Screwdrivers and hex wrenches are a must for assembling furniture. And a power drill and saw make quick work of woodworking projects. You’ll also need tape, pencils and a utility knife.

For more must-have tools, check out our DIY toolkit and homeowner’s toolkit ideas.

Easy Projects for Beginners

Are you ready to start? Remember my ceiling light fiasco. If you’re not sure what’s lurking behind the drywall (or in my case, lath-and-plaster), try something a little more knowable.

Here are a few easy projects to set yourself on the road to success:

Paint a room

Painting a room may seem harder than it is, so don’t be afraid to try. Start with a bathroom or other small room to gain confidence. My first painting project was my kitchen. While it was great to get rid of that ’70s avocado green, moving all those appliances was a pain.

The key to painting is the prep work. If you just go in and start slinging paint around, you’ll end up with a big mess and sloppy results. Use painter’s tape to block off light switches and other obstacles and make crisp edges. Use a drop cloth to catch drips. No matter how careful you are, paint will still drip.

One other tip: Don’t overload your brush. You’ll think you can spread it out as you go, but I promise it will just make your job harder. Dip your brush in about one-third of the way and tap both sides against the can or container. Reload as needed.

Hang a gallery wall

Transform any blank wall into a showcase. We put up a gallery wall of family pictures when I was growing up, which basically meant hanging one pic in the middle and just kind of “winging it” outward. It was charming, but luckily not in a prominent spot!

For a more deliberate design, plan your layout before you start hanging. Use craft paper and painter’s tape to work out where things go before reaching for the hammer. You can put up this easy gallery wall in a couple of hours.

Build a bench

As a new homeowner, I dreamed of building a woodworking empire in my garage. Just one problem: The closest I’d come to building a wooden anything was assembling IKEA furniture. But hey, you have to start somewhere.

How about with this easy, attractive DIY bench? It can be built for about $75 with just a few tools. If you have a saw, great. If not, just ask the home center to cut the wood for you.

Build a raised garden bed

I love to garden, so when I move into a new place I usually start outside. Raised garden beds save your back and keep bunnies from eating your lettuce, although I usually plant some for them, too.

The first garden I built was nothing more than four 2x12s screwed together into a box. There are plenty of other DIY raised garden bed ideas to satisfy your green thumb.

Common Home Maintenance Tasks

These projects aren’t quite as fun as building a DIY cat tree, but homeownership comes with responsibilities. You spent your hard-earned money on your home and appliances, so it’s important to keep everything in tip-top shape.

For more “Home Maintenance 101,” check out our helpful guide.

Replace air filters

Air filters in our heating and cooling systems remove indoor dust and pollutants. They don’t last forever, though. Luckily, changing them is super easy.

Check your furnace, air conditioner and wall return ducts once a month, and replace them if dirty. Always unplug your HVAC unit first!

Test smoke detectors

Smoke detectors save lives, so test yours every month. Simply push the test button; it will chirp if the smoke detector’s in good working order (get ready, it’s loud!). If you have high ceilings, grab a broomstick and push the button from the ground.

Replace your smoke detectors every ten years. Write the date on the outside edge so you or the next owner knows when it’s time to change them again.

Clean out gutters and downspouts

This easy, once-a-year task protects your roof from ice dams and water intrusion. You’ll need an extension ladder, a good investment for any new homeowner. Scoop out the leaves and debris and rinse with water — that’s it!

This is a good time to make sure your downspouts are in good shape and direct water away from your foundation.

When to Call a Pro

Once you get a few projects under your belt, you may want to tackle everything that goes wrong in your home. Be careful, though. Some things are better left to professionals, especially for beginner DIYers. It’s often just quicker to call a pro, and that’s perfectly OK, too.

If you have any of these problems, or you’re just not comfortable fixing them yourself, give them a call!