6 DIY Questions You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask

woman with drill and hammer working on table and looking confused

DIYers are, by and large, a particularly self-sufficient bunch. They pride themselves on their acquired skills, their vast knowledge, and their accomplishments. But we’re all human, so there are bound to be those moments in your history where mistakes were made and not to be mentioned ever again. You learned from it, did you not? For those just getting started in the world of DIY, we’ve compiled a list of questions you may have been embarrassed to ask so you can learn from our many mistakes.

If a plant is drought resistant or drought-resistant, does that mean I never have to water it?

Never is such a finite word, isn’t it? Even though the two terms might sometimes be used interchangeably, they actually refer to different water requirements. Both are obvious choices for xeriscaped gardens, but while drought-tolerant plants can survive on a minimal amount of rain or garden irrigation, a drought-resistant plant is suited to long periods of time without a drink.

So go ahead and give the drought-tolerant/resistant plants just a taste of the H20 at initial planting, but then very sparingly (even more so for the drought-resistant ones) from then on.

xeriscape garden with flowers and rocks

What’s the difference between perennials and annuals?

This might be a new concept for garden noobs, but don’t be embarrassed. That’s what we’re here for. In the gardening world, perennials refer to plants that grow back again after dying down for the winter. Many shrubs and ornamentals are perennials, like hostas, daylilies, azaleas, and hydrangeas. Artichokes, asparagus, chives, and parsley are edibles that are also perennials. They are generally hardy and can be harvested year after year as long as their needs are met.

Annuals are plants that give you their best show during the year before dying at the end of their season without resurrecting like perennials. Flowers like pansies, marigolds, impatiens, and begonia, and veggies like snap peas and zucchinis will leave empty spots in your winter garden once they’re spent, so plan accordingly for their demise.

Your ornamentals space can be planted with bulbs that bloom in spring, while the planting bed for edibles can use some enriching with compost or other soil amendments to allow them to build up nutrients for the coming planting season.

What’s the difference between drywall and plaster?

drywall surfaces on room undergoing remodeling or construction with large double doors and ladder near painting supplies

Drywall is a modern building component, while plaster is generally found in older homes. Why would you need to know the difference? Plaster, even when in poor condition, is generally more desirable and worth preserving. It resists mold and provides more insulation than drywall.

Plaster is a better quality material rendering it more expensive, especially because it can only be applied by skilled artisans. A quick test to see if you’ve got drywall or plaster walls is to try and stick a thumbtack into it. If it goes through, you’ve got drywall. Plaster is too hard to allow a thumbtack to pierce it. Knowing what type you have will help guide your decisions when embarking on a reno.

Do I really need to prime before I paint?

Short answer—maybe. But before we get into that, you might want to ask yourself whether or not you’re going all out with paint prepping. It might feel like you’re just wasting time taping, sanding, and cleaning before getting to the project itself. Don’t think of it as a waste of time. Would you go into an interview without dressing appropriately? Researching the company?

That’s prep work, friends, and it’s an important part of the project. But do you need to prime? No—if you’re using the same color. And as long as you’re using the same type of paint, e.g., the original was oil-based, and you’re covering it with oil-based paint. If you’re going darker, you might also be able to get away without priming. But if you’re trying to cover a red painted wall with a crisp white, you’ll need a coat (or two depending on how deep the color you’re trying to cover up) of primer to get good coverage.

How do I take accurate measurements?

person carefully measuring line on piece of wood

First thing’s first: make sure your math is correct! Some of us can’t do math without a visual depiction. Thankfully, we’ve got phones that have calculating capabilities, but if you’re in the middle of something and have your hands full, you can always call out to Alexa and ask her to do the math for you.

If numbers don’t scare you, we applaud your bravery. Working on a project requiring measuring means you could probably use some measuring tools aside from your tape measure to keep things precise. Tools like a marking gauge, framing square, and straightedge could use some space in your toolbox.

If measuring isn't your thing, you can still get accurate cuts by marking where you plan to cut. It can be done easily when working with siding, trim, and shingles. We’re not saying it’s not important to know how to measure, but why do math if you really don’t have to?

Lastly, once you’ve measured, don’t forget to measure again. The old adage measure twice and cut once bears repeating here.

Ask for Help When You're In Over Your Head

DIYers want to do-it-themselves, but there will be times when you've truly bitten off more than you can chew. There's never any shame in asking for help. It happens to the best of us. Okay, so yeah, maybe your friend or the repair guy will snicker under their breath at your mistakes, but hold your head up high and be comforted by the fact that the project will soon be done, and you can still claim the glory of another accomplishment.

If you're stuck, post a question on our DIY expert forum!