Home Projects: DIY or Hire an Expert?

Tackling most home repair and landscaping projects yourself may save a few bucks, but some things are truly better left to the experts. 

Leave the projects that you could make worse to the experts. For example, hanging holiday lights is something you may choose to do yourself. Rewiring your home’s electrical system is a job best left to an electrician.

So how do you determine which home services you should spend money on by hiring a professional and which projects to add to your DIY list?

For each project, ask these questions — and be honest.

  • Do I have the skills? DIY instructions and manuals aren’t always effective or reliable.
  • Can I handle a DIY disaster? More often than not, they do happen.
  • Do I have the time? Even simple projects get complicated when you’ve never done them before.
  • Do I have the tools? Whatever is in your toolbox may not be the right gadget to use on a particular project.
  • Do I have the budget? Sometimes, it’s just worth spending the extra cash to avoid the hassle of DIY.
  • What about holiday decorating? Can I handle climbing a ladder and all of the other outdoor and indoor stuff or should I hire a professional?

Skills

Deciding which home services to spend money on and which to add to your DIY list starts by assessing your own skills.
Homeowners can find how-to advice on just about every topic online. YouTube makes it look so easy! But most of these YouTubers are professionals or very experienced amateurs.

Perhaps you’re proficient in a particular skill, for example, carpentry, but are you truly ready or able to take on an intricate project that involves plumbing and electrical work? A plumbing mistake can be very expensive — especially if it leads to a leak. A misstep in wiring could lead to minor electric shocks, fires, or serious (and deadly) electrocution.

DIY Disasters

“Disaster” may be an overly dramatic term, but things don’t always turn out the way you envision them, especially when it comes to home improvement projects.

Spilled paint on a wooden floor or carpet, drilling through pipes, attaching wires the wrong way … it happens, even to the pros. However, the difference is that professional contractors are licensed, bonded, and insured. If there’s a problem, they are obligated to make things right.

Still, it’s easy to be fooled by a sales pitch that pushes the idea of an easy DIY project. Let’s say you’ve been shopping for new flooring and found the right product for your kitchen. The sales rep suggests laminate ”floating flooring.” Floating floors have pieces that snap together — easy, right? Not so fast, these projects require precise measuring, proper tools, cutting, and removing and replacing baseboards. If these tasks are not done perfectly, the floor is ruined.

Another potential DIY disaster might be when you decide to refinish cabinets and drawers. After sanding, staining, and brushing polyurethane on cupboard doors, that’s when your spouse decides it doesn’t look right and it’s time to scrap the whole project.

Want to install a lawn irrigation system? It’s just a sprinkler, right? Sure, it might seem like an easy task, but no, not at all. This project requires the combined efforts of an electrician, plumber, trench digger, and landscaper. If a lawn irrigation system isn’t wired and plumbed properly, it will cost you more money to “undo” the DIY.

Time

The amount of time a chore takes is sometimes deceptive, especially when it comes to DIY projects. For example, painting a room seems like a relatively simple task. Certainly, you can DIY this project, and it would go a long way toward saving money better spent on groceries. But painting a room involves moving furniture, laying drop cloths, cleaning walls, and patching cracks and nail holes.

After the prep work (including the travel and shopping time it takes to go to the paint store), you’ll be priming, applying two coats of paint, picking up drop cloths, cleaning brushes and rollers, removing edge tape, and moving all the furniture back.

Now let’s go outside. The cost of lawn mowers, string trimmers, and leaf blowers adds up. Given how much time you spend on yard work, maybe hiring a pro makes sense.

That’s the question you have to ask yourself with every home services job: is putting the hours into a particular job worth the effort?

Tools

Homeowners are bound to have a few basic tools lying around—hammer, wrenches, saw, pliers, screwdrivers, and the like, but many so-called DIY projects require specialized tools. If you don’t already have a full tool chest, the cost of buying or renting these pieces can be prohibitive.

Let’s say you want to build a wooden shed. Perhaps you have a couple of saws, but are they the right kind? The project may require a handsaw, table saw, saber saw, miter saw, hacksaw — or all of them. And then there is a plethora of cordless drills, rotary cutters, sanders, levels, sockets, air compressors, ohmmeters, and other specialized gear that you might need.

Budget

If it’s a quick and easy job, none of us wants to spend money on something we think we can do ourselves (although it may make sense to farm out projects like lawn care and snow removal). In any case, estimating the cost of your home improvement project is a good way to determine if you’ll get the return on investment (ROI) you’re hoping for. Add 10% to 15% to your estimate to cover unexpected costs.

Holiday Decorating

Decorating your home for the December holidays is a joy or nightmare, depending on how simple — or not — you like to brighten up your property.

Outside, tossing a few strands of lights on small trees and bushes is easy, as is setting up small holiday displays. But if you are compelled to keep up with holiday décor trends, you might fill your yard with gingerbread houses, candy canes, large inflatables, and coordinated musical lighting.

Climbing a roof to hang wreaths and colored lights can be dangerous. Hiring a contractor who’s bonded and insured may cost a few bucks, but you won’t end up in the hospital.

Inside, real or artificial Christmas trees are easy — just set them up and decorate. (You can buy pre-decorated trees, too). Decorating the inside of your home is simple and fun. But if you’re hanging garland, wreaths, and other décor in high places, forget DIY — hire someone to do the job.

Same thing for any other holiday like Easter, Independence Day, and Thanksgiving. Decorating is fun, but recuperating from an injury is not.

In summary…

Saving a few bucks is what we all strive for, and DIY is a way to do that. But when it comes to planning a DIY chore, consider the time involved, skills, tools, and budget. Stay safe — stand on a ladder to hang the mistletoe yourself if you want – but leave the big stuff to the professionals.

Teri Silver is a journalist and outdoor enthusiast. She and her husband live on 5 acres with a vast lawn, three gardens, a farm, a pond, many trees, and a lot of yard work! The best parts of the year are summer and fall when home-grown veggies are on the dinner table.

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