Have you ever wondered if that big check you just wrote to a contractor could have been saved if you had just done it yourself? You’re smart, and can do anything if you learn! Well, I completely agree – that’s basically my mantra for life around here at DIY Without Fear: I think 99% of home projects can be completed by the average homeowner, and you shouldn’t have to hire things out if you don’t want to. But sometimes…it’s the better choice to call a professional. (Spoiler alert: I’ve never regretted it)
In the past few years of owning my home, I’ve tackled some pretty big projects – tearing down a wall in our office, installing bamboo hardwoods on our stairs and throughout the second floor, wiring new fixtures in the downstairs hallway, and now I’m in the middle of a kitchen renovation that I intend to do almost completely by myself (with my lovely husband’s help, of course.)
And I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve called a pro in. Once for a plumbing issue that I can’t even remember what it was now, a few times for our old AC unit (you often can’t DIY that legally), once for an electrician for some non-code wiring that needed sorted out in our attic, another time for an electrician when something went bad in our main panel (DON’T DIY that one…you could legit die), and once for baseboards because I was being lazy. That’s it for the 3 years we’ve lived here so far.
I love DIYing, but there are some instances when hiring it out just makes more sense, and there are some projects I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.
Deciding when to DIY and when to hire a contractor can be complicated. There are lots of things to consider, but I’ve gathered them all up in one place for you! Let’s get started!
It took us almost 5 MONTHS to finish the bamboo floors we laid throughout our second story. Part of it was that it was a big project with a lot of mundane elements. It wasn’t exciting. Part of it was that I was pregnant and really uncomfortable, so spending my weekends laying hardwoods wasn’t my idea of a good time. A professional, though? Probably could have knocked it out in a few days.
When you’re considering when to DIY and when to hire a contractor, think about how long it will take for you to do it vs. a professional. Then double the DIY estimate – that’s more along the lines of what it will actually take. It’s not usually the do-ing that takes forever, it’s the getting ready to do it, running to Lowe’s AGAIN, cleaning up in between, taking care of kids, etc.
If you have that kind of time – great! Or if you don’t mind stretching out a renovation over a few months, that works too. But if time is of the essence, or if you’d rather spend your time doing other things, consider hiring it out.
Another thing to consider is whether or not it is possible to live in your home with a
This is usually the biggest influence for me – I think if I had all the money in the world, I’d still DIY a few things but I’d hire out a lot more things than I do now. Not that I don’t love DIY, I really do, but I hate drywall, and plumbing is just plain gross. And u
Budget is the main reason that we’re choosing to DIY our kitchen remodel (and because I love a big project!). The quotes I got back from contractors were 5
When choosing between when to DIY and when to hire a contractor, there’s never going to be a time when a contractor is going to be cheaper than DIY – and there shouldn’t be. Contractors are skilled professionals that deserve to be compensated for their time. But if cost is the most important factor, buckle in and head to your home improvement store…you’re gonna DIY. Keep reading though, I get into this much
Would you jump off a cliff with nothing attached to you? Probably not. Would you jump off a cliff with a safety rope? Maybe (still a nope for me, though!). Would you jump off a cliff if it didn’t even feel like jumping? Sure.
Look – basically every home renovation/DIY project involves some sort of safety hazard. Even something as mundane as painting – if you were to ingest the paint you would get seriously sick. But you know not to do that, so painting seems super safe, right? It’s a risk you are willing to take, because it doesn’t feel like a risk.
Think of your knowledge and skills as your safety net. Can they make it feel like you’re not even jumping off that cliff we just talked about? Then you can probably do that project you’ve been thinking about! But if you feel like your knowledge and skills are only enough to be a safety rope, then maybe take a moment to pause and consider if you are willing to take that risk.
You can only decide what you are comfortable with. If you think your skills and knowledge are solid enough to keep you safe, go for it. But if you have any hesitation, I’d say err on the side of caution. For example, a few years ago our AC unit died. You can’t legally work on (parts of) an AC unit as an unlicensed homeowner, so we called our AC guy. He came out and fixed everything, but it turns out when the AC died, it also killed a breaker in our main box.
Electrical is an easy thing to DIY most of the time – as long as you cap everything off and know your wiring diagrams, it’s hard to mess up. Plus the danger of the project can be managed since you can turn off power to whatever outlet or fixture you’re working on. The main box, however, cannot be turned off. That’s where power from your provider first comes to your house, and it’s a LOT of power. Like, touch it and you’ll be thrown back and probably die. (This got super dark, but it really is that dangerous). I knew exactly what I needed to do to fix the fried breaker, but wasn’t willing to take the risk of accidentally touching the main bus and making my hair frizzier than it has ever been before. My kids need me more than I need to save a few hundred dollars, so I hired it out.
So when deciding when to DIY and when to hire a contractor, figure out what you’re comfortable with, and if you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it – it isn’t. Don’t jump off a cliff just to save a few bucks.
YouTube is an amazing thing. My grandparents and parents lived in a DIY world where you could only look things up in books and there weren’t hundreds of videos on every topic. But we live in an amazing world where you can learn SO MUCH for free just by typing it into Google or YouTube.
That being said, just because the information is out there doesn’t mean you are going to be able to understand it. All knowledge is built on previous knowledge, and if you’re looking up how to wire
Part of deciding when to DIY and when to hire a contractor is being honest with yourself. And sometimes you just suck at something. For me, it’s drywall. Every patch in our home looks like something out of a nightmare. I’m getting better, and learning a ton in the process, but…yeah. It’s not a good look. If you aren’t as stubborn as I am, it’s probably worth it to outsource the things you aren’t very good at.
Additionally, there are some things you just can’t teach yourself. In our kitchen, we’re moving a sink hookup around a vent in an exterior wall to a new location about 3 feet over. That’s such a specific job. I haven’t been able to find ANYTHING about it online or at my local library, and I don’t think it’s something that I could teach myself. So? We’re hiring it out, and I’m super okay with that.
Basically, if you have time to dive deep and learn what you need for a project, AND the information you need is out there, I’d say you’re looking at a fun weekend of DIY! If not, hire a pro. It doesn’t make you any less of a DIYer.
The backsplash I recently tiled isn’t going to win any tile awards (is that a thing? I hope that’s a thing, and if so, sign me up.), but I’m still pretty happy with how it turned out. Because we did a decent job, it adds value to our home.
But just for argument’s sake, let’s say someone did a mediocre job on major plumbing installs in my kitchen. They worked okay, but not perfectly. Let’s say they leaked juuus
And it isn’t even hypothetical in our home. The sink install I mentioned above? Yeah, it’s been leaking for 20 years, which led to lots of
Pros are much more likely to install things correctly, but you also have the law on your side if they mess it up (in your insurance’s eyes anyway). Insurance probably won’t cover issues like my kitchen sink, but newer work that is done incorrectly will most likely be covered. But if you do it? Tough cookies – you won’t see a dime from your insurance and will have to foot the bill to fix it.
One more thing to consider when deciding when to DIY and when to hire a contractor is tools. Tools are expensive, yo. And lots of projects need very specialized (and often expensive) tools. If you’re an avid DIYer, it might be worthwhile to invest in them, but if you are just trying to fix something once? Ehhh, probably not worth it. Think about if the cost of the tool would outweigh the cost of the professional…if so, you’ve got your answer on whether to hire one or not.
That being said, you can rent things WAY cheaper than buying. I think most people won’t need a huge industrial grade auger for anything outside of digging post holes for a fence. It definitely doesn’t make sense to buy one, but renting it would be
Whether you buy or rent, tools are only good if you know how to use them. A pro will certainly know which tool you need, how to use it, and already have it with them. If you can learn those skills too (and the tool or rental is in your budget), then tools shouldn’t stop you from DIYing.
I’m gonna let you in on a dirty secret in the DIY world. A lot of the projects you see people DIY actually require permits (depending on where you live, of course). But are code officers knocking on people’s doors? No way – they just don’t have time for that. For example, in Austin (where I live), you are required to get a permit for anything not on this list. Do you really think everyone in Austin got a permit to unclog their drains when they had to remove and replace some of the plumbing? Or that a code officer would really care? I don’t. And they won’t know unless you tell someone (or a code officer happens to knock on your door).
I’m definitely not saying break the law, just to be clear. I’m just saying a lot of homeowners do work that requires a permit without even knowing it because permits tend to be really restrictive. But permits are there for a reason – to keep people safe. If you need a permit, you might need a contractor. It doesn’t mean you can’t complete the work yourself, but it should probably give you pause about whether or not to hire a pro.
Some people (like you and me) really enjoy DIY and working on their homes. There’s something really satisfying about being able to say that you built that. Or you fixed that. It’s fun to accomplish things! If you’re going to enjoy it, go ahead! Dig in! But PS: The inverse is true, too.
When we installed the bamboo floors on the top level of our home, I enjoyed the process (mostly) but was happy when it was over. Except I never got around to baseboards. And when I went to do it, I sucked at it and it was taking FIVE-EVER. I don’t like sucking at things, and with two under two, I just didn’t have the time. I called a pro and never looked back.
Or plumbing. It’s just gross. Even clean water lines – there’s not a person in the world that likes water pouring from a mysterious pipe splashing on them. Or worse, fixing a toilet. If you enjoy those things, more power to ya (but you’re probably already a plumber!), so I’m gonna agree to disagree.
How To Cost Compare between Contractors and DIY
Remember when I told you to keep reading in that budget section up above? Here’s the part in this post I was talking about.
When considering when to DIY and when to hire a contractor, DIYing will always be cheaper (and in my opinion, more rewarding), but that doesn’t mean it’s always the better choice. It’s hard to compare apples to oranges, so let’s break it down. You need to know whether or not it’s worth it to pay a pro to help you complete your project. Here’s how:
- What would a pro charge? Have two or three contractors come out and give you an estimate (I’ve even been able to get an estimate from people over the phone or through an app with a good description and pictures). If you are just wanting a quick comparison, there’s a really cool tool developed by Fixr that can give you a ballpark. HomeAdvisor also has an estimator.
- How much will it cost you? Put together a budget and estimate what all the materials and tools will cost you. Subtract that from step one (the pro’s cost), and you’ll see how much you can save!
But that’s not the whole story. Your time is worth something. Think about this – even if you worked a minimum wage job, your time is worth a heckuva lot more than $0. So let’s figure out your hourly wage for this potential DIY project.
- How long will it take? You can use estimates from forums, home renovation books, or just your own feelings about the time you’ll spend. It also depends on your experience and skills/knowledge – the more you know and the more you’ve done it, the quicker you’ll be.
- Calculate your hourly wage. Take the potential savings you calculated from DIYing it, and divide that by the number of hours you’re estimating you’ll spend on it. That’s essentially how much you’re paying yourself to do the job.
The question is – are you willing to work for that rate? When you’re deciding between when to DIY and when to hire a contractor, you can justify an awful lot with whether or not you think you’re worth it, but if you don’t have the funds to pay a pro to do it? You’re gonna be DIYing it regardless. I don’t think it’s necessary to do these calculations if you know you can’t afford the bids from the pros…just go ahead and roll up your sleeves and get started. (Just like we did in our kitchen remodel)
Just to give you an idea of the kinds of things (in my opinion) that should and shouldn’t be DIYed, I’ve put together some lists below. They are certainly not exhaustive but can give you an idea of the scale of things you can tackle. BUT! Just because something is on the DIY list doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hire a pro if that’s what you feel in your gut. And on the other hand, if you feel capable of tackling something on the Pro list (as long as it’s legal and you’ll be safe), go for it.
Do It Yourself Friendly
- Change out door knobs and other small cosmetic projects
- Install ceiling fans
- Change out outlets
- Install smart thermostats
- Install drywall
- Simple electrical
- Simple plumbing
- Tile (look how great our backsplash turned out above our desk in the picture above!)
- Installing fixtures
- Install baseboards (I just didn’t want to!)
- Hang Kitchen Cabinets
- Structural issues
- Mold/asbestos/lead/toxin removal
- Additions/Major Remodels
- Driveway repaving
- Foundation work
- Window installation
- Tree removal
- Major electrical work (or anything on the main panel)
- Major plumbing
- Major rodent/pest problems
Overall, when deciding when to DIY and when to hire a contractor, you just have to weigh the pros and cons. Your home is a huge investment, and it’s perfectly acceptable to want to make sure you’re making the right choice. Don’t be scared to tackle DIY projects (you can absolutely do 99% of projects in your home), but at the same time, don’t be penny rich and pound foolish. A good contractor is worth his or her weight in gold.
And if your head is spinning after this over 3,000-word blog post? Never fear. I put together a little flow chart for you to access anytime you’re considering whether or not to hire a pro.