One big question you’ll probably ask yourself as you prepare for a renovation is when to DIY, and when to hire a home remodel professional. There are tradeoffs in time, money, and results, so it’s often a matter of budget—and personal confidence.
There are seemingly endless resources available to help do-it-yourselfers, such as books with step-by-step instructions and online how-to videos. The general rule is to undertake projects you feel comfortable with and have the skill set to complete with good results. Most people are handy with a paintbrush and can save some bucks handling cosmetic improvements themselves. Others are willing to expand their repertoire to install tile, replace countertops, or even build a deck.
“Sweat equity is a way to save a bit of money upfront,” says Christina Hoffmann, content manager for HouseLogic.com. “Seasonal home maintenance is one area you can DIY on your own, and those savings add up. You can do your own landscaping, paint fences, replace filters, clean gutters, and other maintenance you do on a regular basis.”
DIY WITH YOUR EYES OPEN
Homeowners should avoid DIY jobs that, if performed incorrectly, could have truly disastrous results, like a plumbing leak inside a wall that causes water damage, or poor electric work that repeatedly blows circuits or causes a fire.
“There are a few things you mostly want to avoid, which are plumbing, heating, and electrical work,” advises Louis M. Weiher, CR, CCP, president, owner, and general manager of Carmel Builders, Inc., in Menomonee Falls, Wis. “Other than that, you can pretty much learn to do anything else on your own. You just have to have the time, and I mean a lot of time, to learn. You have to be prepared to waste a lot of material learning and know it’ll take more time than you thought. Plan on five times longer.”
The keys to success are actually enjoying DIY…and a willingness to learn from the pros.
“If you like DIY and have the time, go for it,” Weiher says. “What we do—these are not skills that people can’t learn, but they can’t be learned overnight and can’t be learned by watching YouTube.”
Part of the DIY decision centers on homeowners’ expectations for the finished project. Pros who work on homes every day know the tricks and techniques to get high-quality results. For example, even first-time DIYers can lay tile, but floors and walls are never perfectly flat. They always have bumps or imperfections. A pro knows how to fix that, whereas a DIYer might struggle with it, which could affect the installation and how the tile looks in the end.
BE YOUR OWN CONTRACTOR
Homeowners can act as their own general contractor. This lets them handle the tasks they feel comfortable with, then hire subcontractors for the rest. “For a basement project, you can install the trim, which can save you a few thousand dollars,” Hoffmann said.
Know that subcontractors will probably charge you a higher rate and give your job a lower priority than with general contractors who they work with every day.
“Contractors have a set of partners we work with repeatedly. They know me and have worked with me repeatedly,” says Diane Welhouse, CKBR, Executive Director of the Milwaukee Chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI). “When I call a plumber or an electrician, they will come when I need them. Homeowners are a one-off. You don’t have that pull.”
Still, with the proper planning and communications, you can have subcontractors work on your project when you’re ready for them.
DIY OR BIY AND SAVE
DIYers can complete small projects around the house that help with energy efficiency. HouseLogic.com found that DIY home insulation projects that plug drafts can cut heating and cooling costs by up to 20 percent.
You can also take a buy-it-yourself (BIY) approach, which is buying products yourself and then hiring a pro to install them. “A BIYer can save up to 20 percent on home improvements by shopping for bargains and eliminating contractor markups on materials and finishes,” according to HouseLogic.com. “It’s a growing trend that industry experts and big-box home improvement centers are watching closely, defining BIY as its own genre.”
For example, homeowners can search for discontinued or on-sale cabinets or tile, which offer huge discounts. Contractors are not going to spend time looking for sales. Instead, they work directly with their suppliers for products and materials.
Click through to see which projects you should save for a professional, and which you can DIY.