Save more money with DIY

More DIY tips to save money around the house

Save more money with DIY

The Money Mage household needed some critical maintenance on the outside this year. We bought the property 7 years ago and have mostly focussed inside, as outside wasn’t too bad.

But over the past 7 years, outside has been deteriorating.

We have two balconies that needed some resurfacing & repair. And making them water tight. The windows and fascias needed painting. Some of the rendering was flaking off due to water damage. The front door step was rotten. So quite a bit needed doing.

Spring arrived, and we started thinking about getting the work done.

Normally this is work I’d just do myself, but the other-MM convinced me to get the trades in.

‘It’d save time’ he said, and I listened. If you’re a long time reader, you’ll know I am fan of DIY. What do they say, you need to be handsom or handy. I reluctantly agreed to get the trades in. It was one of those time-poor, cash-rich decisions. It was also at-height work, which I don’t particularly like doing.


Let me just say: I don’t like tradespeople. I have a trusted local plumber who is especially awesome. But the rest…

I hate working with the trades. They are unreliable. Don’t turn up when they say they do. Do a pretty piss poor job. Many are charging equivalent to a software engineers day rate for labour ontop the margin they add to materials. It’s only worse with coronavirus.

So yeah, I don’t like working with the trades.

Usually, we only get the trades in for big jobs. And we’d engage a main contractor on a fixed cost.

So I am naturally biased against the trades, and this time was no different.

Despite the work being outside and not prohibited due to social distancing, it took me 2 months to get the local trades to even bother turning up and quoting.

I tried 11 joiners & roofers for repairing the balconies. Only 2 quoted.

I tried 6 decorators for painting the windows, doors, and fascias. Only 2 quoted, and one quote was insane at over £3,000.

In the end, we offered the work to a decorator and his joiner pall. The joiner was reasonably priced, self-employed, and turned up when he said he would. He did a pretty decent job. The decorator, likewise self-employed, also came across well.

The decorator did turn up to do a bit of undercoating of some bare wood that the joiner had left. But he pulled out of the job due to a health scare.

So yeah, two months of the summer lost.

I threw my toys out of the pram with the other-MM a little and played the ‘if you want a job doing well, do it yourself’ card.

Worst Case Quotes from tradespeople: circa £6K

Best Case Quotes from tradespeople: circa £3K

And that excluded fixing the rendering!


The balconies on the property had not been watertight for a while, and water had been running down the walls. This was causing the rendering to flake in the winter from frost damage.

I haven’t plastered before, apart from the odd internal repair. Filling or like half a foot hole.

So I wasn’t confident in rendering a large part of the outside of the house.

But it can’t be that hard, can it?

Turns out it’s not hard. But it’s really hard to do a good job. It’s a highly-skilled job to get everything smooth and level and not casting crap shadows showing what a poor job you’ve done yourself.

But anyway, I persevered.

Firstly, I had to get back to the brickwork on the damaged area, so with a hammer and masonry chisel, I took all the shot plaster off the wall. This included areas around the door and lintel.

The underlying brickwork and mortaring ended up being in pretty good shape. Just a bit of mortar needing replacing. Structurally everything looked fine, which was great news.

Next was figuring out how to get new render on. It’s an older building, so I didn’t want to go with some modern mix. I stuck with what was obviously on the wall, a cement and lime mortar.

Rendering Required Tools & Materials

After a bunch of reading and youtube video watching and blog reading, I figured I needed:

Rendering Mix

I’d figured I needed to do the job in two coats, first a scratch coat that can be a bit rough, this adheres to the brickwork and provides a decent surface for the finishing coat to bind to. Grooves are scratched in using the scratching tool so the finishing tool can adhere. For the scratch coat I used a 5:1 plastering sand : cement mix with a tiny bit of plasticiser to make the mix easier to work with.

This I just measured out with a shovel in a mixing bucket, and added water slowly until I had a workable, light mix that wasn’t so wet it’d flop off the float.

Scratch Coat

Getting the scratch coat on the wall was easier than I expected. I used a plastic edge strip above the door to get a nice clean edge.

The technique I used was to get some of the mix from the mixing bucket on to the hawk, then from the hawk to the float, pushing the float upwards. I placed the hawk underneath to catch any slop that fell off. Loads fell off because I am incompetent! After 20 minutes of practice, I was sort of getting there.

I levelled off as best as possible with a straight edge (some wood) and a plastic float, trying to fill out any low points, and scraping off any high points with the straight edge.

When I was happy with the finish, I scratched in some curved lines using a scratching tool to give the finishing coat something nice to attach to. Rather than doing straight lines, I did these curved to give the best possible vertical and horizontal adhesion for the finish coat.

It was a little warm, so in the evening I sprayed the wall with a really fine mist spray from the hose to keep the scratch coat from drying out too quickly.

Then I left the scratch coat to dry for 48 hours.

Finishing Coat

The finishing coat I used a 6:1:1 plastering sand : cement lime mix. I used no plasticiser, as the lime does the job. The lime makes the mix more workable, but also adds some protection against cracking and a degree of self-repair as the lime will reform.

This is also a slightly weaker mix (more sand to cement) to not be as strong as the scratch coat. I did this to hopefully reduce the risk of cracking or pulling off the scratch coat if there is movement. Whether that works or not, I guess I’ll find out!

The finishing coat was applied in the same way as the scratch coat and finished off with the straight edge and plastic float to get it as smooth as I could. It’s certainly not as good as a pro would do, but I am happy with it.

The rest of the render on the house has a brickwork pattern. To mirror this, we used a wee bit of bamboo and scraped in brick lines to match the existing pattern on the house. This was done using a straight edge with marks for the size of the bricks. And a spirit level to make sure the lines are level.

Scratch Coat (Left) Finish Coat (Right)
Scratch Coat (Left) Finish Coat (Right)

Pretty happy with the result. I left it for 6 weeks to dry out before painting on a breathable masonry paint, colour matched as best as possible to the rest of the house.

Exterior Painting

The other job that needed doing was painting of 14 exterior windows and 4 exterior doors. 10 of the windows are at height, with 1 being 3 stories.

The windows are wood, and the other-MM and I are worried if we don’t get them done this year, they’re going to start decaying. There’s already some flaking and peeling paint, and some rot setting in.

The joiner had done some repairs on the doorstep and doors that were rotted, and he’d done a really good job. So all that was left was to repair, scrape, sand, fill any remaining dodgy bits of woodwork, and then get the painting done.

At Height Work

I’m pretty competent at decorating, certainly from a DIY perspective. We’ve done the decorating of the entirety of the inside of the house.

But there is no way I am going up 8 metres off a ladder.

So we bought a scaffold tower. It’s a 7m tower that comes as two packages. A 5m tower, and a 2m extension. It’s made of aluminium so it is extremely light. There are no tools to put it together, it’s bolts and wingnuts.

Scaffold Tower
Scaffold Tower

You climb it up the inside, the legs themselves are the ladders. There’s a trapdoor in the platforms which you raise and climb up through, then lean back to sit on the platform.

I’m not a fan of heights, but I found it safe after getting used to it. The first time was a bit terrifying, but when you get used to it it was fine.

Exterior Painting - Required Tools and Materials

The decorator we gave the job to recommended using Jotun Demidekk as a paint. Usually, I’d be down Screwfix or similar buying the cheapest value paint possible, but given the need to have the windows protected, we went with the more expensive Demidekk.

It was £44 from a local paint merchant for a 3-litre pot, which has lasted 2 coats on 4 doors and 14 windows with some to spare. I’ll probably need another pot to do the apex at the back of the house and to finish the fascias.

I could have got it cheaper online, but you know what, I felt like giving our cash to a local firm during coronavirus rather than Amazon. They’re also a customer of the company the other-MM works at, so it all cycles back around right? That’s one of the reasons we try to buy locally. Money goes around the local economy way more than going straight into Amazon or Tesco’s hands.

The vast majority of this we already had. As mentioned, we did buy a 7m scaffold tower, so I could get to the fascias and the apex at the back of the house, and the window that’s on the 3rd storey. The tower is surprisingly stable with the four outriggers attached. It cost £550, I probably could have found cheaper second hand, but wanted one to arrive in working order.


As a bonus, I tiled the front door step and side door step with some new brickwork tiles. I had some leftover grout from the, so this was just tile saw, tile adhesive, and some spacers.

The joiner had previously replaced some rotten wood in the front door frame. Good as new and should last another 10 years at least before we need to replace the door.

Pretty simple job and we’re happy with the before and after.


All in all, I reckon we’ve spent £800 on materials. The vast majority of that was on the £550 scaffold tower, which we’ll either keep or sell on second hand if storage is a problem.

It’s probably taken me about 50 hours of work.

At my day rate, that’s quite a bit.

But you know what? There’s a cost of selecting, arranging, and coordinating tradespeople. So it’s not a 0 sum game.

Compared to the tradespeople quotes we’ve saved £2,500 in 2020 by doing most of the work ourselves. The other-MM has helped out too, by helping move the tower and making sure it’s safe. It was referred to as my ‘coffin’ at one point.

The only thing left to get everything ship-shape is the garden. The first job is to replace the shed, that’s coming end of October. We’ll tackle the rest of the garden next year. The other-MM is more about the garden than I am, so I expect he’ll have more to say on that.

Do you have any major DIY projects on the go? What are you working on?

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Sources and Attribution

  • Drills (c) Mark Hunter, CC-BY
  • Scaffold (c) Money Mage, All Rights Reserved
  • Rendering Before and After (c) Money Mage, All Rights Reserved
  • Door Step Before and After (c) Money Mage, All Rights Reserved