Jason Young has a growing family and a fixed budget. When he bought a fixer-upper as his first home, he knew he could use his carpentry skills as an asset to make his house into a home, but he also knew he would have to pay for outside help for electrical work the home needed. “I didn’t want to gamble, so I hired it out,” Young says. Safety trumped cost with little ones running around.
Steve Milbrath retired at a young age from his job as an electrician. When he and his wife decided to update their farmhouse, they sought advice on the design, but Milbrath did nearly all the work himself. “I love this stuff, so I don’t find it to be a hassle,” he says. It took him years to complete, but the home is now a showcase of the couple’s taste and Milbrath’s mastery of new skills.
When is a DIY project really something you can do on your own — and when should you call in some reinforcements? Here are four major things to consider if you want to brave the waters of home repair and renovations.
You took a weekend class to learn to use a saw, but does that really qualify you to take on a big project? Before tackling a DIY adventure, ask questions: Do I know building codes and how to pull permits if needed? Can I identify safety hazards? Do I know what repairs I am legally allowed to do myself? Visit blogs and watch online video tutorials, suggests Jim Wall, owner of Wall Construction in West Bend, Wisconsin. “That can also mean researching and renting or buying the tools and products to get the job done,” he says. “It’s a part of the package.” So ask yourself: Is this something you want to take on?
Are you on a deadline? Tile can take longer than expected to ship. Extra outlets in a basement remodel may need to be moved. The perfect lighting fixture may be on backorder. Wall says time is a key factor. “If you have a month to figure out how to put in a kitchen faucet, more power to you. But if you have a party coming up, then I find it’s easier to just hire a professional.”
Wall also suggests factoring in time to deal with the unexpected. “Nothing is truly ever straightforward. There’s a lot of ad-libbing that goes on. Most of the time you have to fix something before you can actually do what you want to do.”
Being budget-conscious doesn’t always mean you need to do the work yourself. Pros know where to add to an estimate to cover for supply needs and where they can trim with efficiencies. They’ve done jobs like yours before, so they can anticipate things in advance.
But sometimes it’s tough to beat the free labor you can offer yourself, especially when you know enough to do at least part of a project. Smaller contractors or a local handyman would be happy to help you tackle a portion of work that may be over your head. “They may even offer you free advice or talk you through the rest of your project,” says Wall. Many big-box stores offer discounts if you use their credit cards to buy things like tools and materials. Some of Wall’s clients save by buying the supplies for a job themselves and asking him to do only the labor.
If a DIY project is something you are naturally skilled at, have as a hobby or have always wanted to try, then it’s hard to say you shouldn’t go for it — or at least a portion of a project you can manage in a safe manner. Some people DIY to bond with family and friends. If you fit into this category, virtually no amount of money or time will detract you from digging in and getting dirty. And who can argue with that?
If you have a month to figure out how to put in a kitchen faucet, more power to you. But if you have a party coming up, then I find it’s easier to just hire a professional.