As most of you know, Stacy and I bought a house last May that needed some work. Cosmetically, things were in pretty good shape (minus the nasty wallpaper – YUCK!) but there were a lot of things we wanted to accomplish before moving in and after. We were also on a pretty tight budget, having just spent the majority of our money on the house itself. That being the case, we tried to do as much of the remodel work as possible ourselves. Since we’re getting into that season where winter has us all longing for some warmer weather and the planning of some good projects, I thought it might be good to share how we have gone through the process of determining when we can tackle something DIY and when to call a pro.
You’d Be Surprised What You Can Do
Disclaimer: before you do any type of major DIY to your home, make sure you check your home insurance policy to see if you’re covered for things like accidental damage. You can find home insurance quotes online if you’re thinking about getting a new policy or it’s time to renew. And if your project is in a garage or outbuilding, etc., be sure to check your coverage on those building’s insurance at the same time. Also, some areas require a building permit for most home improvement projects, so check to make sure you’re not breaking any laws by adding on that new room. ;0)
Most of you don’t do projects because you’ve never done them before and are scared to try. With some things, that’s okay, but on most home improvement projects that is being a little over-cautious. We’ll get into some rules of thumb in a moment, but let me give you an example first. For a couple of months, I fretted about replacing the main water shutoff valve in our house. The existing one didn’t sut off all the way and in the case of any sort of leak, that’s a BAD thing. Why was I scared? Because if I did it wrong the basement would flood. Then I started thinking – I’ve put together PVC pipe lots of other times. The process is simple – you use purple primer, then let it dry. Use stinky glue, stick the parts together and wait until they cure. I helped my dad do that when I was 8! Sheesh. So eventually I bought the necessary supplies, shut off the water at the street (after making sure it would cut off the water completely) and replaced the main shutoff valve like a big boy. I replaced a water hose faucet (called a sillcock if you were wondering) while I was at it. Cost = about $45, including $25 for the new sillcock. Estimated cost if done by plumber = $250. Time = about an hour. Totally worth it and based on my general skill level, no big deal. The hardest part by far was cutting out the galvanized steel pipe that was there previously, but my handy reciprocating saw made that chore manageable too.
Yourself or a Hire?
The big question is what projects can you take on and more importantly, which projects should you leave to the pros because you have no clue what you’re doing? Here are some questions I developed as we’ve gone through this process:
- Will I need lots of helpers? Since volunteers may or may not be willing to help with a tough project, factor in how many people this project requires.
- Do I need lots of special tools? Tools aren’t cheap. If you are going to spend a fortune on specialty tools (whether rent or buy), leave it to the pros. They’ve invested their money in the tools already and you’ll just help them pay for those tools with your patronage.
- Is it dangerous based on my skill level? Be realistic here. For example, I almost completely re-wired our house but brought in a friend who is an electrician to help on the stuff I wasn’t comfortable with. I would have never taken on that project all by myself.
- Do I have the time? Lord love the wife of a contractor. He starts a big remodeling project at his house about this time of year, then starts getting calls for work as spring begins and his wife lives in a construction zone forever while he works on other people’s houses. Happens all the time. Based on my current responsibilities and schedule, I’d be hard pressed to take on any big projects right now because I know I don’t have the time to devote to them.
- Will I really save money? This is sometimes a tough one. Sometimes a pro will be able to do a better and faster job than you ever could on a project and the extra time and money your mistakes will cost may make it cheaper to have someone else do the task for you. This goes along with #4 because time is money. As a daddy with very limited time at home, I don’t want to always be working on a project at the expense of valuable family time.
- Will I be satisfied with the results? This is also a tough one. When it comes to home improvement, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. When I do a project all I can see are the flaws. In a lot of home improvement projects, you may get to live with the results for the next 50 years. Think about that before you decide that tile is “straight enough” or that wall is “smooth enough” and then consider if the pros should take on that project.
In closing, I’ll give you a list of some of the things we did vs. all of the things we hired in.
Remember, whatever DIY project you take on, you should check your home insurance policy to make sure it will cover you for whatever it is you want to do and with some projects, realize you’ll have to get a building permit.
For everyone out there (except contractors, because you guys can do it all), what are some ways you’ve found to save money by doing it yourself and what are some instances where you wish you’d called the pros?