DIY or Hire a Pro? 7 Questions to Ask Before Starting a Home Improvement Project

Making home improvements yourself can save you money, deepen your connection to your home, and provide a sense of accomplishment. But that doesn’t mean DIY is always the way to go.

From a fresh pair of jeans to new tiling in your master bathroom, everyone likes to refresh their look from time to time. But while putting on a pair of pants is generally an easy task, home improvement projects can require big investments and specialized skills to safely and efficiently pull off. Before you decide whether to break out the checkbook or the toolbox, ask yourself these questions to determine if you’re up to the task.

1. Do you have the skills it takes?

The first thing to determine with home improvement projects is whether it fits into your skillset. While some skills can be learned quickly with the help of resources like online tutorials, others require expertise that’s best left to the pros.

Painting a room is usually pretty simple for even a novice to tackle — even if you don’t have much experience, basic prep work and brush skills aren’t too difficult for most to pick up. On the other hand, when it comes to tasks like plumbing repairs, the level of skill necessary can intensify. If you have a basic toolkit, you can probably figure out how to unclog a drain or fix a leaky faucet — but if your pipes are leaking, it may be time to call a plumber. A small mistake could cause serious damage.

2. Can you do the job safely?

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Simple tasks like swapping out fixtures shouldn’t require much concern, but others could be dangerous for you and damaging to your home — like working on electrical wiring, foundations, roofing, and fireplaces. If you’re not confident, consider that any accidental damage to your home or a trip to the emergency room could easily wipe out any money saved by not hiring professionals.

3. What's your time worth?

Even if your skills are up to the task and doing the job yourself will save you money on paper, make sure you consider the cost of your time. Are the financial savings worth the lost weekends, return trips to the hardware store, and thumbs hit with hammers? It can help to research and write down the exact cost of the project you’re considering. How much money could you save if you didn’t hire a professional? How many hours or weekends would it take for you to DIY versus a crew of contractors?

4. When do you want it done?

Speaking of time, you likely won’t be able to match the speed of professionals when it comes to most home renovations. Professionals can get the job done in the blink of an eye — no stopping to watch the same YouTube tutorial a dozen times over. And even if you don’t need to watch a tutorial, if it’s a task that a crew would generally do, consider how many hours they would spend collectively. It could take you much longer to do something on your own. But if you’re not in a rush, that may not be a big deal. If you want to change the color of your cabinets and don’t mind going without them for a couple months while you paint them in the garage, then go for it!

5. How high are your standards?

Even if you’re a relatively skilled weekend worker, you probably can’t match the polish of a professional. If working on a highly visible or detailed part of your home, or if you’re just picky, you may want to leave it to a professional. But if you can live with a tile that’s slightly askew or the occasional splotchy painted corner, then DIY can be a great way to save some money.

6. Do you have all the right tools?

You’ve probably got the basics in your toolbox, but significant home renovation projects can require extra equipment. Buying, or even just renting, tools for what might be one-time use could quickly eat up any savings from doing it yourself — whether it’s something simple like a circular saw or more specialized gear like a cement mixer for paving a driveway. One possible way around these potential DIY costs is to check with friends and neighbors who might loan you what you need for the job.

7. Can you redo it if there's a mistake?

In most cases, a little smudge, crack, or crooked line can be redone and fixed. (And sometimes, you can simply live with imperfections as long as they don’t lead to long-term problems.) However, some tasks only give you one shot to get right, like working with antique materials in a historic home. When there’s no margin for error, it’s best to trust a pro.

Either way, do it the right way.

Whether you choose to DIY or go with the pro, make sure you set yourself up for success. Confirm that anyone you hire is licensed and insured to protect yourself and your home. And for any projects you take on yourself, be sure to get the proper permits required where you live. You’ll also want to check with your homeowners insurance provider, as additional coverage may be necessary for certain renovations.

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