To DIY or Not to DIY: Questions to Ask Yourself

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Thumb and Hammer Can’t decide if a project is better suited for a professional? Read a personal account from our partners at Thumb and Hammer, complete with questions to ask yourself, before tackling your project.




I bought my first house 15 years ago. I started out as a newbie homeowner who couldn’t do anything, but I soon became an avid do-it-yourselfer who tried to do everything. These days, I try to find a balance. I am still a weekend handyman at heart, but when the situation calls for it, I am quite comfortable calling in the pros.

While every homeowner is different, the decision to do it yourself or to have it done for you will be based on one or more of the following factors: money, time, and workmanship.




Money


It was Homer Simpson who said, “”A contractor? Those guys are the biggest crooks around. They charge for materials AND labor! Pick one, jerks!” Indeed, by doing a project yourself, you will be paying only for materials. By saving labor charges, you could potentially keep a substantial amount of money in your pocket. However, before you assume that you have cut the cost of your project in half, there are a number of other things to consider:


1. Cost of tools: Certain projects require specialty tools. You will either have to buy or rent these tools, whereas a contractor will already possess the tools of his trade. The more projects you do, the more tools you will amass, reducing the cost of future projects. Every homeowner should have a tool collection, but having an extensive collection of expensive tools just doesn’t make good financial sense if they are used for one project and then stored away.


2. Logistics: Each time you head out to buy tools or materials, it will cost you money in gas and wear and tear on your vehicle. If necessary, you may have to rent a van or pay for delivery of materials to your job site. These expenses will already be included in the contractor’s price.


3. Waste and mistakes: As a do-it-yourselfer, you will be learning on the job. With most projects, there is a learning curve where you may make mistakes and waste more material than would an experienced contractor. When you hire a contractor, you are paying not just for his labor, but also for his experience and expertise.


4. Warranty: Manufacturers of certain products, like windows or shingles, will only honor their warranty if an authorized contractor installs their product. Even if there is no warranty associated with the materials, a reputable contractor will stand by his work. If you do the work yourself, you will have nowhere else to turn if there are any problems.




Just about every do-it-yourselfer at some time has asked, “Why should I pay someone else to do something that I can do myself?” Only after looking beyond the simplicity of just materials and labor and considering hidden costs and intangibles will you be able to determine the value of hiring a professional or doing it yourself. Considering hiring a professional? Find local plumbers, roofers, and electricians to help you with your project.




Time


I completely remodeled the basement in my first house. From start to finish, the project took five years because I was also working full time. Therefore, the renovations were done around my work schedule, on weekends and days off. Professional contractors extensively renovated my present house. Two bathrooms, a kitchen, bedroom and laundry room, flooring, windows, doors, trim and painting took about three months. That was two to three men working nine-hour days five days a week. That’s a lot of man-hours. Assuming that I could work at the same speed, it would have taken me more than a month of working entire weekends without interruption to accomplish what they accomplished in one week. One of the questions a do-it-yourselfer must ask is, “How much is my time worth?”


1. Don’t be misled by television shows: Projects that last weeks or months are compressed into one-hour shows. For example, through the magic of editing, an entire house can be sheet-rocked in a one-minute montage. In reality, it takes much longer.


2. With experience comes speed: A contractor who has done the same type of work for years is obviously going to be able to work faster and more efficiently than a do-it-yourselfer. How long do you want to live with the mess and inconvenience of a home renovation project in progress?


3. Don’t give up your day job: If you are working full time, that is at least forty hours per week that you will not be able to devote to your project. How much time can you devote to your project around your work schedule?




For some people, and I once belonged to this camp, DIY is a satisfying hobby. “Working on the house” is just another way to spend free time. There would be no reason to hire someone to do something you enjoy doing. But when the time comes that you would rather be doing other things, then it’s time to consider hiring it out.




Workmanship


You can buy the best materials, but if they are not installed properly you will have wasted your money. Poor workmanship, whether DIY or professional, will negatively impact your investment. Good workmanship is the product of pride and skill.


1. The do-it-yourselfer: If you take your time and focus on doing a job properly, your workmanship could be on par with many professionals. However, lack of experience works against you and you may not be able to do a job as well as someone who does it for a living. Bad DIY will cost you.


2. The professional contractor: While contractors have a reputation for rushing jobs, cutting corners, and hiding mistakes to maximize their profits, most are very good at what they do. They are true artisans who take pride in their work. Just be sure to ask the right questions.




Before opting to “do it yourself,” you need to ask whether you can do the job as well as a contractor. And before hiring a contractor, you need to ask whether he cares as much about the quality of his work as you do.




DIY can be a source of satisfaction, pride, a sense of accomplishment, and can help you save money. DIY can also be frustrating, time consuming, and more costly than anticipated. You can still be a do-it-yourselfer without trying to do everything yourself. We all need to recognize our limitations. We also need to be willing to admit that sometimes there are other things we’d rather be doing. There is no shame in calling in the professionals.




The author is the Webmaster of Thumb and Hammer, a home improvement website geared towards do-it-yourselfers and weekend handymen.