/ Home & Energy

Is DIY home maintenance a dying art?

Handy man father and son

Hands up if you can put up a shelf. If that’s a yes, firstly I bet you’re over the age of 25, and secondly, put that drill down before you cause an accident! If a recent survey is correct, men’s DIY skills will soon die out.

I can put up a shelf and I’ve fixed a leaky tap in the past, but that’s probably as far as my DIY skills go. Could I fix a virus-riddled computer? Yes, sir.

I’m a modern man and I’m above averagely good with gadgets. I’m not an uncommon species.

According to a study from AA Home Emergency Response, modern blokes like to express our so-called ‘masculinity’ through our grasp of the latest tech, and not through being a tool-box wielding handyman.

Modern men aren’t so handy

The AA’s study of 2,000 adults found that men over 65 were most likely to describe themselves as ‘handy’, whereas those under 25 were least likely to describe themselves in the same way.

This isn’t just the fault of the changing world we live in – dads simply aren’t passing down home maintenance skills to their sons. While in the 1970s 71% of men learned DIY skills from their dads, that figure’s fallen to a sorry 44% today. AA spokesman Tom Stringer emphasised the results of this research:

‘By 2030 just one in five men will receive basic DIY knowledge from their father. If the trend continues, home maintenance skills could be on the road to “extinction” by as early as 2048, resulting in a nation of no-can-do homeowners.’

So by 2050, when our offspring need to put a shelf up, pieces of wood will simply languish on the floor. When a sink leaks, it’ll just be left to flood the home. That’s unless they get a professional tradesperson to help them out (give Which? Local a visit for member-recommended local traders).

The internet will save the day

Still, I think it’s going a bit too far to say that DIY skills will die out. As what can tech-savvy folk do better than all the others? Google for advice on the internet.

If you need to bleed your radiators and don’t want to splash out on a professional, you’ll just pop on the internet and find out how to do it (here’s a top and not-so-subtle tip – use our DIY home repairs guide).

We modern men might not describe ourselves as ‘handy’, but I’m sure we can rise to the challenge if so needed. And if we can’t, I’m sure women would be similarly up to the task.

Phil says:
19 January 2011

This is probably because few under 25s own their own properties and have to possess these skills.

I’m well over 25 and my father taught me nothing (he never did any DIY) – But I re-plumbed – rewired – re plastered – regassed – put in central heating – built furniture – built several walls in my various houses . It was easy except for plastering. There have always been excellent books – now some DVDs are really excellent.

why is r e g a s s e d starred out?

Several reasons I guess:
Phil’s point – few under 25’s own homes and at the rate we are going few under 40’s will before so very long;
Education System: since Thatcher introduced “one size fits all” national curriculum the practical subjects have become 80+% paper (e.g. food technology: exam question “design a pizza, draw a coloured picture of it, list the ingredients, draw a suitable box”) and many practical subjects have disappeared completely, so youngsters who would once have left school equipped with carpentry, metalwork, cookery and even needlework skills now leave able to drawn pretty pictures but not much else;
Health & Safety red tape & Bureaucracy: I’m all for making sure people are safe an that unskilled people don’t blow themselves and others up, but these days anyone who pays attention to the legislation is debarred from many things our fathers did as routine and frightened off what’s left;
PERCEIVED (not real in my opinion) Lack of need: who will bother to learn how to wire a plug when everything is sold with a moulded on one? Who will want to learn how to paper a wall when the trendy look is painted plaster? Who will learn to plaster when even the so-called professionals “dot and dab” plasterboard over the old, perished, plaster and then paint over the cracks?

I’m sure there are a lot more reasons too, but there are my first thoughts on the topic.

When I was young and had my first car & house , DIY was essential I couldnt afford any other way and there always seemed to be someone around to give a hand or advice ie neighbours, work colleagues.
A bit of experience and practice soon gives you the confidence to try almost anything – you cant get this from the internet.
Nowadays it seems that only the >50’s have this multi-skill experience and are willing to apply it to most DIY problems without worrying about having “done the course” or having a specific “certificate of competency”.

I think the decline is for a number of reasons. Years ago a much larger group of people could not purchase goods or services and had to be resourceful and make their own. This was facilitated by many more people employed in manufacturing that required some technical knowledge. Today many things can be bought with a higher disposable income than previously, which avoids having to find a solution using DIY.

In cultural terms, many modern children want for nothing and consequently do not have to use their ingenuity to solve the problems that presented themselves in the past. Regrettably, their lives revolve around technological “toys” in which they immerse themselves, that may be amusing, but add very little useful knowledge. Many games are violent and most involve ficticious figures in an even more ficticious world. This contrasts whith playing traditional games of skill or games that stretch the imagination and form the basis for DIY, such as Meccano and similar games. Many are less likely to help their parents with house repairs; building a rabbit hutch or making a garden shed.

I am glad to report that DIY is not dead in my own family. My 6 year old grandson is learning carpentry, simple engineering, electrical and science skills from his grandfather. These necessarily involve numbers, measurement, material quantification and how to get good value when buying it. These compliment knowledge learnt at school by applying both numeracy, literacy and vocabulary building. I hope these will be useful to him when the cheap goods (China factor) has run its course and prices are once again considerably higher.

Though I agree with most of what you say – you seem to have omitted the satisfaction of DIY. I know the reason most of my friends (and I) did DIY was so say – I did it myself. I still do things myself though it has nothing to do with disposable income.- I enjoy it.

I do think a decisive factor is the obsession with technology. It has removed the tactile experience from “children” of today – say under 35!! 🙂

Sophie Gilbert says:
20 January 2011

What’s this about MEN’s DIY????? I’m a woman and I’ve learned my DIY skills both from my dad AND my mother!!!!! But I will admit I’m over 25…

That was exactly what I was thinking Sophie! I think this piece would have been very different if I’d written it – my dad was a tradesman and so are my brother and boyfriend and lots of friends, so being ‘handy’ is second nature to me. In both of the houses I’ve owned I’ve done all the tiling and most of the decorating – and I know many female friends who have done the same.

As many commenters have already pointed out, many people don’t start learning these skills until needs must when they buy a house – then they realise how expensive it is to get people in to do it!

But as a child I would go into my dad’s workshop and do simple tasks for pocket money. My two and a half year old daughter is already well aware of drilling, screwing and hammering, but this is probably more to do with the facts that a) her dad is a joiner and b) we’ve been renovating our house. Still, I think this report is a bit one-sided – I know many children who are learning woodwork in schools, so even if their parents aren’t passing down the skills they’re still being exposed to them.

I completely agree – I do all of my own DIY (albeit sometimes a bit shoddily), and it wouldn’t occur to me to ask a man to come and help me with it unless he was an expert in something specific. I’m a little bit annoyed with the AA for reporting only on how men feel about DIY, implying it’s a masculine activity. It’s not – it’s rewarding (not to mention money-saving) for everyone.

If you don’t think it’s easy to do, I thoroughly recommend having a look through YouTube. Thanks to YT I’ve put up shelves, built a desk, laid carpet and patio and at some point this year I’m going to build a shed. There is so much info out there to help that I’ve rarely found it necessary to get someone in to do something, unless it’s dangerous like electrics.

Doug says:
20 January 2011

Hands up!! Yes I do a lot of DIY – it’s enjoyable, keeps my brain and muscles working and the end result is usually OK. Strangely, my son did not take to meccano and is still duff at DIY although a brilliant architect. Dunno what conclusions to make from that! In fact when I was checking the pressure in my car tyres and using the footpump, he (at 3 years of age) found he could make a funny noise by letting the air out. Needless to say I put him right! after all he was only helping his dad!!

I do a lot of DIY. But I HATE it. I would much rather pay someone else but I don’t trust anyone else, and I can rarely afford to. Fortunately I have a helpful neighbour who is a builder/carpenter who has every tool under the sun (and is willing to lend them to me).

Hence I’m a jack of all trades – I’ve done a bit of laminate flooring, I wire the odd light or extra socket (now illegal), fixed my broken boiler and changed a washer in a leaky tap. And I’ve fixed computers, iPods, speakers, amps etc. And I service and maintain our car.

I’m not saying I’m any good at any of these jobs, but you learn by doing as you go along. I agree with Dave Darwent’s point – we could have done with learning a lot of this at school, but weren’t given the opportunity. (Or maybe I wasn’t listening).

Yep, our whole society has been dumbed down.
I blaim the education system, no practical skills are taught anymore.
Being in my 50’s I suppose I’m from another era. I did woodwork and metalwork at school back in the 1960’s. I underwent a five year engineering apprenticeship. Ended up qualified to HND level in mechanical engineering and engineering electrics.
But now I’m not even allowed to put a three pin plug socket in my own house without have some low life NVQ tell me I’ve done it right.
Why? because more than half the population can’t even fit a three pin plug, and some not even a light bulb, so society needs protecting from itself.
I think it pathetic that society has fallen to the level where someone calls the AA to change a flat. Rather wait two hours than get their hands dirty, or worse not even know how.
What’s going to happen when we can no longer afford to pay someone for every simple little job?
What’s going to happen when the lights go out? (and they will)

Absolutely agree Chris – you are so right and the fact that people really do **believe** that the lights will never go out, we will never again be snowed in and that they will always be able to call someone who will always be able to get there is the most frightening thing of the lot.

Just read about a new scheme between B&Q and UK Youth to teach young people DIY skills. “Each of the retailer’s 321 stores and the company’s head office will be twinned with a local youth group and embark on a range of community projects.”


Mark says:
2 March 2011

I agree with a lot of the points here over education and health and safety. I also do a log of DIY and hate it. I do it because I can’t afford to pay someone else to do it when it is likely they will take a lot less care than me.

However the real reason that many trades are becoming restrictive is nothing to do with Health and Safety. It is trade organisations using powerful lobbying techniques for force through legislation to make it harder to DIY so that they make more money.