On one hand, choosing to DIY a home renovation can help you save money, as home improvement spending increases nationwide. From February 2016 to February 2017, U.S. homeowners shelled out an average of $5,157 on home projects — an increase of $1,869 over the previous 12 months, HomeAdvisor’s 2017 True Cost Survey found.
Doing a renovation yourself can also give you a feeling of gratification, says Craig Webb, editor in chief at Remodeling magazine. “The feeling of accomplishment you get from doing something with your own two hands is priceless,” says Webb, adding that DIY home improvements are a great way to learn how your house functions.
However, some home renovations are better left to professionals, says Mark Clement, co-founder at MyFixItUpLife (myfixituplife.com), a resource for DIY home remodeling. Unfortunately, home-improvement TV shows have distorted the way many homeowners view renovation projects, Clement says. “A lot of these TV shows tend to oversimplify things,” he says. “They make complicated projects look easier and less expensive.”
So, what’s the best way to decide whether to do your next home improvement yourself or hire a contractor? As Angie Hicks of Angie’s List puts it: “You have to determine whether you have the talent, the time and tools to do the job.”
Ask yourself these seven questions before opening your toolbox.
What are the risks?
Every year, more than 500,000 people are treated for ladder-related injuries in the United States, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Clement recommends exercising caution when sizing up a project that requires you to use a ladder, such as repairing a damaged roof shingle or replacing a second-story window.
Similarly, home projects that require you to handle harsh chemicals can pose health risks, says Liza Hausman, vice president of industry marketing at Houzz, a home remodeling and design website, so make sure you know what products you’re dealing with in advance.
And renovations that involve plumbing or electrical work are typically better suited for a licensed contractor. “If you’re doing something that could cause the house to flood, or something that puts you at risk of being electrocuted, err on the side of caution” and hire a plumber or electrician, Webb says.
How much do you value your time?
Labor costs can add up when you use a professional contractor. “As a general rule of thumb, about one-third of what you’re paying for are the materials, and the other two-thirds are for the skills of the remodeler and their time,” Webb says.
Therefore, you’ll want to consider how much you value your time. For example, “if a plumber charges $75 an hour, is your time worth $75 an hour?” Webb says. You can use a website like HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List or Fixr to get a rough estimate of what hourly rates are for professional contractors in your area. These websites also track prices of materials and supplies.
How much can you save?
It’s important to compare how much it would cost for you to hire a professional to what you’d spend if you do the work yourself. The easiest way to do this is to get a quote from a professional contractor for the project and to ask the company to separate the costs of materials from the labor costs. (Factor in equipment costs if you’re going to need to buy or rent tools for the job.)
What’s your skill level?
You have to be honest with yourself about your home remodeling skills. “It’s easy to get in over your head,” Hicks says. Depending on the project, she added, “if you screw up, you can do serious damage to your house.” So, when sizing up a potential DIY project, check whether you know how to use the tools you’re going to need.
Don’t have a ton of experience fixing things around the house? Start with a small home improvement and work your way up to bigger renovations, Webb says. “Painting a room is a great first DIY project,” he says. “If you make a mistake, you can always paint over it.”
Is the project complicated?
You should be able to map out the project step by step; this is where online videos can come in handy. Home-improvement experts such as Ron Hazelton, Bob Vila and Mr. Fix It have how-to videos on YouTube for a number of home renovations. Pro tip: “Watch the video from start to finish to see what the scope of the job is,” Webb says.
Because online remodeling experts sometimes oversimplify projects, Clement says homeowners should be skeptical of videos that tout unrealistic promises, such as “Build your new kitchen in a day!” or “Finish your basement for only $5,000!”
Do you need a building permit?
If you’re planning to alter the bones of your house — say, by adding a deck or knocking down a wall to create an open floor plan — you may have to obtain a building permit before beginning the work, Hicks says. (As of November, single-family building permits were being authorized at a rate of 862,000 a year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s monthly New Residential Construction report.) However, because the process of applying for a permit can be complex, it might make sense to use a professional contractor who can help you navigate the application process.
Still set on doing the home renovation yourself? You can pay a building permit expediter to help you file the necessary paperwork.
Will you need a second (or third) pair of hands?
Is the project a one-person job? If not, decide whether you feel comfortable asking friends to help you do the work — but keep in mind that you want to find people who know what they’re doing, because any mistakes they make can cost you money.