Sunday, August 10, 2014

To DIY or Leave it to the Pros??

Happy Sunday!

I have no exciting project reveals today, but I am feeling the need to write the almost obligatory post for a DIY blog: knowing your limitations.  We spent the morning yesterday finishing the demolition of our deck, and found a few frustrations along the way which brought out something important to me.

But first, let's talk about something great: progress!  We are completely without a deck on half of our house, and I couldn't be more thrilled!  Next comes pouring the concrete footers.

It's a bit messy, but look, no deck!

And on to the rest of the post...

Sometimes it can be difficult to make a decision over whether or not to tackle a project yourself.  I'm sure we have all seen both sides- those great successes when a home owner picks up a hammer and creates something amazing, all while saving thousands compared to paying someone else to do it, and on the flip side those, in-over-your-head, what-did-i-get-myself-into disasters where people have to be rescued from their own ambition.

This subject is important to me because we are on the receiving end of some poor decisions. Without trying to publicly shame anyone, let's just say that we moved into a house where things were not always renovated correctly.  This has caused us financial pain, damage to our home, stress, and this general feeling of 'what are we going to find next?'. I truly believe that well intentioned, but poorly executed DIY decreased the value of our home.  

Rather than just complain about it, I would like to give some tools to help you through making this 'to DIY or not' decision for yourself. 

1. What skills do I posses, and what am I realistically capable of doing myself?
Some of us happen to be more skilled at different tasks than others, whether it is natural ability, specific training, or practice along the way.  This means that what we can do by ourselves will be different for each person.  For example, I can hardwire a new light by myself, but I cannot install a new receptacle for that light. I just do not understand electricity and home wiring well enough at this point to be comfortable with it.  The overall tip here? Be honest about you know.

2. Is this change reversible?
Are you making a change that homeowners after you will have to live with?  If you make a mistake, is it going to bother someone else?  If you are making significant, irreversible changes (like moving a wall, for example), make sure you know what you are doing before you tackle it.  Ask yourself if you would do this in a friend's home.  If not, maybe you shouldn't do it to yours by yourself either.

3. What is the worst that could happen if I mess this up?
If your answer to this is something like, I can pay someone else to fix it without too much trouble, I will be disappointed with it, or someone else may not like it, you may be ok to DIY.  If the answer could be my house will not meet building codes, or I could reasonably put someone in danger, call a pro.  If someone else (like the next homeowner) will have to rip out your work just to fix it, call a pro.

4. But what about the cost of a contractor?
Contractors can be expensive.  You know why?  Because their work takes training and skill.  Obviously, they need to make a profit too.  When you are considering the cost of a contractor, here are a few tips:

- When you are comparing the cost of a contractor vs DIY, assume it will take you longer, and you will use more materials.  Sure, if you do it perfectly, you may not need to use more material than they would, but keep in mind the cost of not getting things right the first time.  A good contractor knows what he/she is doing, and probably will not have these costs.  Even a designer or architect could be a great help, because they can point out a good plan from day one.

- Get a second quote.  If you are surprised by the cost of your job, ask for a second opinion.  It can't hurt, and helps you understand if your contractor is being reasonable or not.  

- Ask your contractor if there are any steps along the way that you can do to save money.  You may be capable of something like demolition or cleanup that could relieve some of the labor costs.  It's worth asking if you are willing to do some of the work yourself.

- Think about the confidence you will give a future potential buyer of your home when you can say that various areas of the home were remodeled, and the heavy lifting was done by a professional.  

- This is a minor last point, but by hiring them, you are supporting someone in your community.  In our little neck of the woods, there are many people who own their own businesses, and we make an effort to support them, since that money goes right back into our town's economy.  

I hope that you find these tips helpful and not just pointing out the obvious.  Have you had any projects where you had to wrestle with the To DIY or Not decision?  

Oh, and since the deck is what inspired this, we do have a professional working with us.  We are contributing labor, but he's in charge of how things get done.  This deck is a little too complicated for us to take on just by ourselves.

Have a great week!


  1. Amy- We had a deck built a few years ago, and there are some things we wish we did differently. You and Matt will need to come over for pie!

    1. It stinks when something doesn't turn out exactly as you had hoped... Happens all the time here! And we are always up for pie. :-)