Home Improvements: How to Decide Between DIY and Calling the Pros

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One of the best ways to save money when remodeling or updating your home is to do a portion of the work yourself. Unless you’re a trained contractor or professional, there is probably some limit as to what you can accomplish on your own. When deciding which route you plan on going and how much of your budget will be tied up in paying the pros to do what they do best, you’ll need to evaluate your own skill level, and determine how much time you have on your hands.

In general, it is best to rule out trying any extensive plumbing or electrical work on your own. Not only are there unforeseeable dangers with each, but should something go wrong, you will end up paying to fix both the original problem and the new issue. Minor fixes, like installing dimmer switches or hooking up a sink, can probably be tackled in an afternoon with detailed guides.

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) has an online questionnaire to help you determine if you are really ready for a DIY project. It asks you to consider things like whether or not you are willing to get your hands dirty; if you enjoy physical labor; if you’re fully aware of what the process will entail; whether you have a game plan if something goes awry; and if you’re up to date on building codes. Another big component, and something mentioned by NARI, is whether or not you have all the tools needed for the project. Your proposed project could easily involve expensive saws and tools you never plan on touching again, making it less worthwhile to tackle the task on your own.

If you do decide to take on the job yourself, be generous with the time estimates, because projects can easily eat up more time than expected. Consider painting and laying flooring — two projects that can go either way depending on the circumstances.

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Painting a room in your house will require patience and time, but it is something most people can accomplish. The DIY Network explains all the steps you’ll need to take in detail, but here is a brief overview. First, a plan is necessary so you know how to approach the process. Next, you’ll want to repair any damaged parts of the wall or surface you are painting. Then, the room needs to be prepped — which means making sure you have clean, dry walls, edging around windows, woodwork and door frames with painters tape, and removing any electrical sockets and covers. Next, make sure the materials are ready. If you are using several cans of paint, you’ll want to mix them. Another item to check off is the type of roller or brush you are using, and make sure you know the technique best for painting with either. Paint using that method until you get to the trim. Paint the trim after everything else has dried, removing the painters tape and using an angled brush.

So although painting is a “quick fix” that breathes new life into a room, it is actually a lengthy process — one that you want to devote time to so that you don’t have to redo everything, which will take more time. However, it is a huge money saver. According to HomeAdvisor, people paid between $900 and $2,340 for professional paint jobs recently with the average cost being between $1,764 and $2,340. Doing it yourself, however, will only run you the cost of supplies, generally around $200 to $400.

Other types of painting jobs can be more difficult. Take kitchen cabinets for example. Professionals, This Old House Magazine states, will come and spray paint your old cabinets ensuring a smooth glossy finish, and a lot of time saved by you. But this comes with a hefty several thousand dollar price tag. Doing it on your own can be achieved, but painting contractor John Dee says you’ll “need to use the best materials and take the time to sand and do the brushwork right.” The prep work in the beginning is very important step, and Dee explains why. “Old cabinets are covered with everything from hand oils to greasy smoke residue to petrified gravy,” he stated. “You’ve got to get all that off or the paint won’t stick.”

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Let’s say you’ve tackled one DIY job most skill levels can accomplish — ripping out your old carpet or tile flooring. If you are installing laminate or snap tile flooring, you can continue with the flooring process on your own. Like painting, it will take a certain set of skills. With laminate flooring, you’ll need a handsaw for cutting the boards and a jamb saw to cut the door casings. You also need to remove, then reinstall your baseboard moulding. For snap tile flooring, the DIY Network says the skill level is easy to moderate (laminate is moderate.) Again, you’ll need two kinds of saws — a jigsaw and a circular saw — and it also can be completed in a day. You’ll need to cut the tiles as you go along, which can be tricky if there are angles. At the end, you also need to grout.

On the other hand, actual hardwood flooring is a trickier install, and Realty101 recommends leaving it to the pros — especially if you’ve never laid flooring yourself. The wood needs to acclimate to the space, which takes several days. There will also be several days spent installing the flooring, so the project is not achieved in a a weekend like laminate or tile can be.

Ultimately, with any DIY project you’ll need to know you’re own limits, something Scott McGillivray, an HGTV host and contractor, says he hasn’t always been aware of. “When it comes to renovation, I’ve tried just about everything — but that doesn’t mean it’s been the best decision,” McGillivray stated when discussing jobs for the everyday homeowner versus the professional. As a rule of thumb, he says that once specialized knowledge is introduced to the situation — plumbing, electrical work, or anything that is a licensed trade, “you may be doing more harm than good by taking matters into your own hands.” Although DIY is at its best in terms of painting and other small jobs, McGillivray added that, “There are many construction tasks that are better left to the pros. At the end of the day, whatever project you choose to take on should be attainable, safe, and fulfilling. Be ambitious — but don’t be a hero.”

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