How do you decide which how-to guides are worth following?
There is a multitude of online content about home repair, but how do you tell who’s doing it “right”? Rather than simply trusting the first google search result, you’ll need to decide which information is reliable, the best fit for your home, and overall situation. Being critical as you search online for how-to advice will help you make repairs that last and are safe for you to live with.
Is the information coming from a trusted source?
Who is the person in the youtube video? Who is the author of the how-to guide? What organization is publishing the article?
When evaluating the content creator, think about a few different things:
Their level of expertise-- What qualifies them to tell you how to do this repair?
Are they licensed or do they have training in the trade the repair is in?
A master plumber is usually qualified to give advice on fixing a leaky faucet.
Do they have other experience and a track record of success?
They’ve done 12 rehabs and 6 of them had a leaky faucet they repaired.
Do they have other credentials or experiences that make them a trustworthy source?
Point of view or bias-- Understand that the source may be coming from a particular perspective.
Biased: The manufacturer of a material or system may have how-to videos saying their system is the best way to repair something, keep in mind that they have a bias to tell you this is the best way to repair.
Point-of-view: Are they coming from a perspective that aligns with yours? For example are they a historic preservationist, a fast-house-flipper, a homeowner, or a tradesperson etc? Where they are coming from informs how they think about the repair.
No name or creator? A good rule of thumb is to avoid anonymous content, if someone isn’t willing to put their name on something, then it may not be the best advice.
Where is the content posted or published? Ask yourself many of the same questions as you did about the author. Does the website or publisher seem reliable? What is the organization’s purpose? Is it well established or perhaps known to be a “fake” source? Independent self-published works can still be reliable sources, but it’s important to consider the publisher.
When was it published?
Is it current? If it’s not a recent guide, the info may be out of date. There may be new best practices or new information about why a method often fails.
Working on a historic house--Alternatively, old trades books can be helpful to understanding the ways in which homes were built at the time your house was. You can learn things about repair and old house systems that may offer insight in how to best fix your home!
Are multiple sources doing things the same way?
You often want to read about the fix from several sources. Watch multiple videos to see what people do the same and what varies. Why are people doing particular things differently? Is there a debate about what’s “best” or do different contexts call for different solutions? Sometimes you may want to combine different methodologies to make a process that works best for you and your home.
Is the context of the repair the same?
Does the problem seem similar to yours? Is the house located in a similar geography with similar climate/ materials used? Is the home the same age as yours?
The fix for something on a house built in 1923 and 1993 will probably be different, the same goes for a house in Michigan vs. a house in Florida. You want to find content that is happening in the most similar context as your own home.
What materials are being used and how quick is something happening?
The fastest or cheapest fix is often too good to be true. Take time to research how materials, “systems”, and ways of fixing hold up over time. You want to fix things for the long-term, and avoid having to fix the same issue again. You also want to avoid unintended consequences, some fixes may solve the immediate problem, but create issues with other systems in your home.
There are often multiple ways to accomplish something-- you’ve got to pick what’s best for your project!
Despite what many sources say, there isn’t a single “right” way. You will often have to adapt methodologies or combine multiple ways of doing things to make your own process. Being critical and considering who’s creating the how-to and understanding the pros and cons of different ways of repair will help you get to a solution that works best for you.
Looking for some good sources? Check out some of our favorite home repair sites here.
This resource was created August 2020 by B+BD. In addition to drawing from our how-to experience, we referenced:
The NC State University Libraries. (2015, June 9). Evaluating Sources for Credibility. Https://Www.Lib.Ncsu.Edu/Tutorials. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLTOVoHbH5c
Western University. (2012, January 13). Evaluating Sources. Western University YouTube Channel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EyMT08mD7Ds
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