Fix-It Friday: Norma “Toolbelt Diva” Vally’s Top Ten List of DIY Do’s and Don’ts

Do's and Don'ts List
Fix-It FridayHome ImprovementSelf Improvement 7 Comments

Do you make lists? I’m a list maker – love to make lists. A shopping list, to-do list, packing list, materials list, Christmas card list – even now, a list of lists! I find it’s my mind’s way of compartmentalizing and coping when all the stuff of life gets to be too much. So instead of letting my brain go snap, I list.

Several years back I noticed myself running two distinct lists in my head. When something would make me go, “Huh? What?” or “Are you f**ing kidding me?!”, it would go on a list. From trite to tragic, silly to surreal, I eventually gave these ever growing lists formal titles.

Norma's ListsThe first list I call, “Things I Don’t Understand”, and there’s a lot I don’t understand. Why do we park in a driveway, yet drive on a parkway? Parents naming their kid North? How could little babies get sick with cancer? (I don’t understand!!! Big sigh…).

My second list I titled, “People Whose Butts Need Kicking” – not that I’m pro-violence, but I think you’ll feel me here! The guy that made a left turn from the far right lane and honked at me as if I did something wrong? Celebs that get arrested for DUIs when they can afford to be limo-ed 24/7? An inattentive mom, nose buried in her phone, suddenly smacking and yelling at her kids to stop smacking and yelling at each other!? GRRRRRR!

Both of these lists are long, and usually, if a person is on one, they’re likely on the other, which, come to think of it, puts them on an entirely new list – my sh** list.

As a result of my years in the home-improvement biz, I’ve collected a smart and handy list of do’s and don’ts in the world of DIY. This list has saved me time, money, aggravation, and even injury. Here’s my TOP TEN to share with you… you’re welcome to add some of your own in the comments section!

Norma’s Top Ten List of DIY Do’s and Don’ts

1. DON’T wear loose clothing while performing home improvement tasks. Loose-fitting garments can get caught in power tools, especially saws, a potentially life-threatening situation.

strong woman2. DO know where the main shut-off valves for all your utilities are located. We need to know how to turn off the main power sources for the gas, water and electricity in our homes. This is critical in an emergency and often necessary when working on a utility project.

3. DON’T be stymied by lack of upper body strength. For example, women can gain leverage by extending the length of a wrench – thus requiring less brute strength – by adding a long piece of metal pipe over the wrench’s handle. Back in Brooklyn, we call that pipe a ‘persuader’.

4. DO mark your project materials before cutting them, meaning, instead of taking a measurement of a space (i.e. floor, wall, etc.), then transferring that measurement on to the material to be cut for it (i.e. molding, tile), mark the material itself, which minimizes room for error. So for example, if you need to fit a piece of chair molding between a doorway and corner, hold the molding up to the space it needs to fit into and mark it at the exact point you’ll need to cut it – no measuring necessary, but an exact cut point for a perfect fit! The old adage goes, “Measure twice, cut once,” which is smart and true, but I like to take it a step further and say, “Whenever possible, mark instead of measure – it’s even better!”

Vector screw icon5. DON’T buy cheap tools. Investing in good tools upfront will save you money in the long run since they won’t need to be replaced. They’ll also save you a lot of aggravation – and not being aggravated is priceless!

6. DO know which direction to turn screws and other fittings. The general rule is, “Right tight, left loose.”

7. DON’T be embarrassed to ask for help from the staff in home improvement centers and hardware stores. They are often retired trades people and can offer a wealth of information.

8. DO organize your workspace and keep it clutter-free. Clean up as you work to keep the area safe and free of potential hazards, especially anything that you can trip over.

9. DON’T forget to bring along any old parts that you may be replacing when you go to the hardware store. It’s much easier for you and the sales staff to find replacement parts when you bring in an example of what you’re looking for. If you can’t bring it with you, try to find a serial or ID number from the original part.

home improvement accident10. DO unplug your power tools when you’re adjusting a part or changing a blade. Just turning the tool off isn’t enough. And if it’s cordless, pull the battery. Accidents can and do happen, so be sure to always unplug your tools. Remember… nothing can take the fun out of home improvement more than a trip to the emergency room!

Norma sig

Got A DIY Question? Ask-The-Expert!

If you have a DIY home repair, maintenance or improvement question for Norma, now is your chance to ask-the-expert and have her answer. Your burning question may just be the “star” of an upcoming Fix-It Friday column.

Add your question to the comments section below or email it to Women You Should Know.


Fix-It Friday is an exclusive Women You Should Know® editorial series authored by seasoned veteran of home improvement, Norma Vally, the former host of Discovery Home Channel’s series “Toolbelt Diva” and a show on Sirius Satellite Radio by the same name. The weekly column is designed to inspire women – weekend warriors, aspiring handywomen, and even seasoned DIYers – to take on home repairs and maintenance projects with confidence and gusto.


  • Guy from Hell’s kitchen

    Enjoyed the “do’s and don’ts” lists. My neighbor had a pipe burst in her basement. She asked me for help. The first question I asked was where’s the main water shut off valve.
    She looked at me puzzled and said “I don’t know”. So I sloshed around her basement until I found it and shut it off. I’m lucky the rising water level hadn’t reached the electrical outlets. Thanks for all the tips.

    • Norma

      You’re welcome! So true about knowing where the water main shut off is. The same thing happened to my aunt who had a washer hose burst. People don’t realize they’re under pressure! First thing she was told to do was shut off the main and she had no idea where it was….so it ran and ran until until help came! Thanks for your comment! Cheers!

  • Jean B.

    I know where the water and electricity shut offs are, but now I have to find out where the gas shut off is!! Your tip about making sure all tools are shut off and cord pulled when not in use is probably one of the most important ones someone needs to know. I know that because my husband needed stitches in his finger because he mistakenly put his hand under the lawn mower when he thought it was off. Thank goodness he only needed stitches!!!

    • Norma

      Hi Jean B! The gas shut off is near the gas meter. You’ll need a wrench to turn it off. Yeah, power off is crucial! Thank God your hubby wasn’t injured worse than that! Thanks for the comments! Cheers!

  • Jean B.

    Norma, I have wall-to-wall carpeting in my bedroom. Over time I’ve noticed that there is a lump in one area. The room is not large, and the furniture is very heavy. Do you have a tip on how I can remove this lump without having to move all of the furniture out of the room?

  • Leigh Grathwol

    Norma, this is a great list! Do you have any suggestions for how to hire a contractor and not get screwed? Any online resources you could suggest?