Over the past five years, my husband and I renovated a 1921 Craftsman style bungalow. We learned several things along this journey, including the fastest route to a marital argument. (It’s through insulation—at least in our case). Because my husband is a mechanical engineer, he is often willing to personally tackle home improvement projects that I would regard as the perfect opportunity to break out the checkbook. However, even my dyed-in-the-wool DIYer has some projects that he’d prefer to leave to the professionals. And there are some reasons you might want to call a contractor rather than wield the hammer yourself. Here are the most common occasions when it’s better to call in the pros:
1. Safety concerns. My husband and I are in agreement that an electrician should handle any major jobs in our house. We both feel like we don’t have the necessary knowledge to safely handle any electric jobs. I would add to that plumbing, because so many things can go so very wrong with gushing water. In any case, if you are a DIYer who is nervous about your ability to do something safely and without damage to your home, go ahead and call in a professional. You can always watch them at work and try to learn about what they do. But in the meantime, it’s worth the extra money to know that no one will get hurt and your house will still be standing at the end of the project.
2. Expensive materials. If you have just dropped a fortune in tiling, flooring, carpeting, or any other home improvement product, now is not necessarily the time to save money by doing your own installation. Granted, if you know you can install the new stuff as quickly, efficiently and attractively as a pro, go for it. But if this is your first installation project, you may end up throwing good money after bad if you do it. Making a mistake in tiling a backsplash means that you have to tear out the entire job and start over. Cutting a carpet to the wrong size means that you have wasted the material. It really does make sense to let the workers who do this every day make sure your house looks its best.
3. The cost of tools. Many projects would certainly be within the abilities of your average homeowner—if he owns the right tools. For example, if you are adding crown or foot molding to your home, you would need a miter saw and a pneumatic nail gun to do the job right. Yes, you could buy the tools, but there goes your savings by doing it yourself. (In the midst of a project, when my husband is gripped by tool-lust, he will often try to convince me that we need these tools for future projects.) If it’s possible to do your project with rented or borrowed tools, it can still be worth it to DIY, but if you have to buy a tool you’ll only use once (or once a decade), it’s worth it to call in a contractor.
Each DIY homeowner has different skills, abilities, tools, patience and readiness for different kinds of projects. The important thing is to know your own limits and do your money planning ahead of time. That way you’ll know if doing it yourself really is cheaper, or if it will just be an expensive headache.