I love DIY projects, but I am always looking for tips to make my life easier. In a recent article, Trulia provided seven questions to ask yourself as part of that decision-making process, in order to avoid a DIY disaster.
1. What's the project? Define the project, in writing, as completely as possible.
This will equip you from the very start to outsource some or all of a project that is beyond your skill set, rather than running to a contractor in a panic in the middle of a project (when you’d certainly be charged a panic premium price). Depending on your aptitude level and the time you have, what seems at first glance to be a highly DIY-able room refresh with paint and new wood floors can snowball beyond the realm of reasonable DIY-dom if you add in a lighting or plumbing project.
2. Does it require permits?
Generally speaking, electrical, plumbing, major renovations, erecting new walls and structures and adding square footage are all projects highly likely to require permits. Hint: if you use the word “gut” when describing what you’re planning to your friends and relatives, chances are good you’ll need a permit. If you’re not sure, a quick website visit or phone call to your City’s Building Services or Building Permits Division should clear things up.
3. Are there health and safety issues? I’m a big believer that high decks (i.e., decks, balconies and similar structures that are tall enough that a collapse would cause injuries to those standing on it), additions and gas/electrical work are things home owners should rarely do on their own. Now, I’m not saying you can’t install track lights or change a light switch to a dimmer. Rather, I’m cautioning that that if you’re doing work in these categories beyond that level, calling a contractor can avoid a disastrous outcome.
4. What are the relative hard costs?
Don’t automatically assume that doing a job yourself is the cheap route to go, or that it will save you scads of cash. Until you’ve actually gotten 3 bids from reputable contractors or vendors, based on the full scope of the job, and have compared that with the cash you’d spend to DIY, you cannot know for certain which is the less expensive way to go. They might qualify for bulk discounts on materials that you can’t get, and you might have to rent a truck, equipment or tools that they already own. In any event, calling contractors out can be educational in terms of understanding every element of the job and troubleshooting things you might not otherwise have anticipated.
5. What are the relative soft costs?
Cash is just the beginning of the resources required to get a home improvement project done. They also take time - which some might see as opportunity costs. Ask yourself the question: what could I do with the time I’ll have to spend on this project?
6. Is it really DIY-able? Remember, the ‘Y’ in DIY stands for YOURself.
The decision whether to DIY or call a contractor in for a job is not based on whether your Dad, your neighbor down the street or Bob Vila made a similar project look simple. Rather, it needs to be made based on your own, personal:
- skill and experience level
- aptitude for whatever sort of work you’re completing
- patience level
- spare time available for the job, etc.
7. What could go wrong?
If your project is simple, like replacing a toilet or painting a wall, there are a limited number of worst-case scenarios which might be annoying and inconvenient, but are far from the end of the world. The kitty-cat wallpaper might be harder to get off than you thought - that sort of thing. But as the project grows larger in scope or more complex, the more potentially disastrous your worst-case scenarios are - and the more costly calling someone in to fix a DIY-gone-wrong will be.
I'd love to hear your DIY stories - from fantastic to disastrous. What projects have you found yourself well able to do? What projects did you take on that you ended up wishing you'd called a pro out to handle?