Thinking about renovating with a home improvement project? It’s an exciting time – after all, you’re enhancing the value of your home, both while you’re living in it and should you choose to sell down the road. But it can also be a challenging time, especially if you go into it without a plan.
One of the biggest decisions for any home renovation is whether to do it yourself or hire a professional. Of course, a lot goes into that decision, like researching, planning and shopping for tools or hiring a professional.
Not sure where to start? We’ve got your back. Use our flow chart decide whether your next project should be DIY or if you should hire a professional.
Before any other research, you’ll want to audit the home improvement project in front of you. It will create some additional upfront homework, but it will save you a ton of time in the long run. Here are four things to keep in mind:
Plain and simple: do you have the time to focus on remodeling? A good way to determine this is to spend a few days tracking your time, either by writing it down or with a productivity tool like Toggl. Do you have kids or pets to take care of? Are you working on a side hustle that eats up your evenings? Identify any activities that may take your time and focus away from home remodeling.
Sometimes, a home renovation project takes much longer than expected. What if you planned for a room being inaccessible for a week, but the repairs end up taking a month? Or even longer? Can you deal with that inconvenience, or will it have a major impact on your living situation?
Most professional contractors will offer some kind of quote, either directly on their website or via email or a phone call. You can compare a few options in your area, and then consider the potential costs of DIY. Would it be cheaper to purchase all the materials and tools yourself? Do you already have most of them at home? That can play a major factor in which route you go.
The philosopher Voltaire is widely acknowledged as coining the term “perfect is the enemy of the good.” He likely wasn’t talking about home renovations, but it can certainly apply here. Are you okay with your renovation being “good enough?” Or will nothing less than perfection do?
Now that you’ve got a nice overview of the two options, let’s dive more deeply into each of them. Here’s the good and the bad with DIY.
In most cases, DIY home renovation is going to be cheaper. The labor costs of professional contractors generally run between $30 to $125 per hour, so their work can add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars. In effect, you’re trading your time for that extra money. Especially for larger projects, those savings can be substantial.
You also get to work on your own timeline. If the renovation is a “nice to have,” rather than an essential fix, there’s less need to rush. Maybe you have a big work report due in the next week, so you can push the start of the renovation back. There’s more flexibility in when you can get things done.
Finally, you get to learn a new skill. Your skill level for, say, doing a bathroom remodel may be nonexistent when you start. But thanks to online research and resources like YouTube videos, being a DIYer yourself has never been easier. By the end of the project, you’ll have knowledge that wasn’t there before, and that’s pretty cool.
DIY home renovation has a lot of room for error. If you’re not totally sure what you’re doing, you may end up doing something like destroying drywall or damaging the lighting infrastructure of your home.
Should you make a mistake, you may end up spending even more money in repairs. Suddenly, that cost advantage you once had is now putting you in a tight spot.
What’s more, you could potentially put yourself in physical danger. For example, a garage door that weighs 250 pounds needs torsion springs that exert 250 pounds of force, so the door can open and close easily. That means the springs are under a huge amount of pressure. Have you ever had a ball or other object fly at you unexpectedly? It’s hard to react quickly to something like that. Certain home projects offer more dangerous situations than others, so consider those potential obstacles before you put yourself in harm’s way.
Think professional renovation is the route for you, instead of DIY? See how these pros and cons sound before heading that direction.
One pro of hiring a professional for your renovation is that it can greatly increase the value of your home. According to Remodeling Magazine’s annual Cost Vs. Value Report, a minor kitchen remodel, garage door replacement, and HVAC replacements offer a great opportunity to recoup nearly all of your investment. Replacing roofs and windows are also good ways to improve the value of your home. Most people buying a house want the basics to be fully functioning; you can offer that peace of mind with professional upgrades.
You can also get higher quality results with a professional. After all, they’ve done hundreds of jobs like this. Even if you’re a wizard with a toolbox, chances are you don’t specialize in every kind of home renovation project. Replacing a toilet flapper valve may be something you can knock out easily. Repairing malfunctioning sink pipes? That might be out of your wheelhouse.
Additionally, a contractor’s company is most likely insured, and they have the ability to approve permits more quickly. You wouldn’t want to have to halt on a construction project because you don’t have the proper permission, and you probably won’t run into that issue with a contractor.
As you’d likely expect, professional renovation projects are more expensive than DIY. Per The Spruce, you’ll likely pay an average of $25,000 for a professional to perform a minor remodel of your kitchen, doing things like replacing laminate countertops, installing a new sink and faucet, and upgrading the cooktop, oven and cabinet hardware.
Larger home projects can also force you to rearrange your life. If you’re making major structural changes, it may require you to stay out of a room or two, or maybe even the whole house. Would you be okay crashing with family or friends, or staying at a hotel while the renovations get finished? Would an extra week or two on the project be okay (albeit an inconvenience) or would it really set you back?
You may also run into disagreements with a general contractor about the look and feel of a room. You likely have a vision in your mind, but a contractor could think another route is the way to go. If you let them run with it, you may not like the end result.
So, then, when is it best to DIY? A good rule of thumb is to save DIY for smaller, less complex projects, especially if you’re just starting out. Painting a bedroom, installing floating shelves in the loft or replacing harsh white light bulbs with LED yellow ones to create a long-lasting, calming feel – these are all good DIY projects to tackle.
The above examples are all mostly cosmetic renovations, with minimal know-how required. You can usually find out how to perform these fixes or upgrades by looking online at YouTube videos or other DIY websites.
If you’ve done a home renovation project before, you may be comfortable with some light demolition. Tearing down drywall or removing and replacing a door are on the easier side of things. However, if you don’t feel confident destroying anything, you don’t have to go it alone.
You’ll generally want to hire a contractor when the renovation is more complicated. Most of us aren’t electricians, and trying to do any kind of electrical work is likely to leave us in the dark (and maybe provide a nasty shock, to boot).
Likewise, playing around with load-bearing walls is often not a good idea. Poking away drywall is one thing, but when you start fiddling with the structural integrity of your home, things can go south quickly.
Plumber pros should also usually handle any plumbing issue. You can tackle minor fixes – like trying to stop a running toilet or removing some grime with a product like Drano – but if you need to replace a dishwasher or take apart and reconnect bathroom pipes, a pro will usually be quicker and safer.
Finally, the United States remains one of the few countries where asbestos is still legal to use, even though it’s been linked to diseases like mesothelioma and lung cancer. While most buildings constructed after the 1970s don’t use asbestos, it’s still found in trace amounts in a lot of different products. There may come a point where you need to remove some from your home, and that’s not something you want to mess with on your own. A professional contractor can come in and remove asbestos safely and thoroughly.
Now that you know some of the pros and cons of DIY and hiring a professional contractor, as well as some areas where you might pick one or the other, it’s time to make your decision. Whichever route you end up going, the work is just beginning. Make sure to avoid these common mistakes as your home renovation project gets underway.
This can happen with DIY or a professional contractor. Before your project begins, set a budget. You may want to add a bit of cushion to your ideal number, but work diligently to ensure things don’t go over that budget.
If you’re opting for DIY renovation, consider all of the costs beforehand. That means tools, materials, paint and anything else you may need.
On the other hand, a professional contractor may, for example, refinish hardwood floors in a few rooms, and then try to upsell you, offering to remove the carpet in the living room and bedrooms, too. Be firm and don’t get talked into something you didn’t budget for.
Think about any major purchase you’ve made. You didn’t just jump at the first choice that came along, did you? Of course not. You spent time researching your options, looking into the details and weighing the various pros and cons. Do the same with any professional contractors you’re looking to hire.
Check out websites of your potential contractors, and look for reviews online. Joining sites like Nextdoor can offer nice word-of-mouth recommendations, and most folks on there are usually willing to provide information for their fellow neighbors. It also doesn’t hurt to contact contractors directly. Get a sense of their work style, hear a quote, and ask any lingering questions.
Both of these can be costly in their own ways. If you overestimate a DIY project, for instance, you may end up buying things you ultimately don’t need, spending more money than you had to. Meanwhile, if you underestimate the work needed for a professional renovation, you’ll probably get a rude awakening when you look at the final invoice.
Underestimating scope of work can also happen on a DIY project. You think you have everything you need for a nice weekend renovation, and then realize it’s going to take a few more tools. If the hardware store is already closed, that project is now dipping into the week or the following weekend. And if the room you’re working on is unusable, that’s now introducing an inconvenience into your daily life.
If you’re working with a contractor, you should lay out your expectations for the project. However, if things get delayed or altered, you might end up having a conversation with them about the best path forward. Their vision may differ from yours, so try to stick with what you had in mind as best as you can.
Conversely, a DIY project can quickly turn sideways. Bigger isn’t always better, and what started as a simple fix could end up looking completely different if you allow yourself to get off track.
Home renovations are thrilling and a major step in any homeowner’s journey. Just make sure you’re doing the research (including into the right home insurance for the new additions) and considering pros and cons before making your decision. That will make the end result all the more rewarding.