Know When to Do It Yourself And When to Pay a Pro

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Professionals aren't always out to rip you off, but sometimes handling home improvement projects yourself is the cost-effective solution. Learn how to know what you can handle and when you need help.

If you want something done right, call a professional. But if you want something done cheap, do it yourself.

That sounds like common sense, but it’s not always true. There are a million do-it-yourself (DIY) projects out there, ranging from the necessary and mundane (like rewiring an electrical outlet) to the original and insane (like this musical bra). The smartest investment can be different in every case, and largely depends on many factors, some objective (do you have enough money to hire a pro?) and some subjective (do you consider construction fun?).

DIY projects can often save you a lot of money at the expense of your free time, and you can make things you won’t find in any store – but some aren’t worth the trouble. With any project that requires specialized knowledge or tools, for example, you might not want to invest in learning a skill you’ll never use again or an expensive tool you’ll never use again.  In other cases, your own hands might be the quickest, cheapest and most satisfying solution.

But how can you know the best approach for any particular project before you begin? There are several sites that can help you decide. For example, this home renovation advice page at lists some projects that you should always do yourself, and others that always call for a pro. Here are some of their recommendations…

Hire a pro

  • Driveway re-pave
  • Hardwood flooring install
  • Foundation work
  • Gutter install
  • HVAC install
  • Window replacement

Do it yourself

  • Baseboard install
  • Laminate flooring install
  • Drywall hanging
  • Minor electrical work
  • Toilet install

Another site offering similar advice is The site features tons of tips for various projects and calculators that can help you figure out the cost of supplies you’ll need to “get ’er done.”

The best feature on this site is a price and time comparison: You can look up hundreds of typical home improvement or maintenance projects and get a breakdown of how much time and money, on average, it would take for you to do the job or for a pro to handle it. There’s even a poll for each project that lets you know what other people usually decide.

For example, say you want to lay bricks to make yourself an outdoor patio. DIY Or Not estimates it’ll take you about 45 hours from start to finish, whereas a pro will take 37. However, you save over $1000 by doing it yourself: either spend $1100 on supplies, or $2275 for a professional mason to handle it. If you want to tackle the project, you can get step-by-step directions with pictures. Or, if you’re set on calling a pro, the site can tell you how to find one and what to ask for.

Regardless of the project you’re considering, here are things to think about before making a decision:

  1. Time. Are you willing to give up some leisure time to get the job done? If it’s a big project, that might mean several nights or weekends, during which time you’ll need some place to keep the tools and supplies. And if you have to dismantle something in the process, that means you won’t be able to use it again until the job’s done. If it’s an important area – like the kitchen -that could be a real inconvenience.
  2. Tools. Do you need a Phillips screwdriver and some needle-nose pliers, or do you need a tile saw? Specialized tools can be expensive, and if it’s a one-time project, you might not need them again. You could look for a used tool online, ask your buddy in construction, or find an equipment rental shop – but that means more time and potentially more expense.
  3. Experience. Do you have a clue what you’re doing, and are you comfortable with the safety risks or possible damage if you screw up? If it’s a big or dangerous project, you might need a special permit or license to legally do the work. Messing up could mean you have to call in a pro anyway – and spend extra to fix your mistakes on top of the original project. On the other hand, if you’re familiar with the work and have the experience to do the job right, you could save a lot of time and money, and achieve the same level of quality a pro would get.
  4. Interest. Is this type of work you’d consider interesting and relaxing, or a chore? While everybody can take satisfaction from a job well done, the path to getting there can be enjoyable for some, a pain for others.
  5. Replaceability. When it comes to some things around your house, sometimes it’s cheaper to replace it than repair it. This is especially true of low-end electronics — non-professional digital cameras are a good example —where technology is constantly improving but products aren’t built to last.  But if it’s something unique or something with sentimental value — like a grandfather clock older than your grandfather’s grandfather — paying a pro to fix it might be worth the money to you. Likewise, if you’re interested in learning something new, repairing something yourself might be worth it.

If you’re looking for more ideas or resources on projects, check out these sites:

Stacy Johnson

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