A question that often nags at the minds of homeowners…
Deciding whether to do a project oneself or hire a contractor may be difficult. On the one hand, you can often save considerable labor costs by doing jobs yourself. On the other hand, you can waste money should projects fail. Look at two scenarios:
Some jobs can go wrong…
Joe, a local barber in the Philadelphia area, experienced a clogged drainage pipe at his place of business, located in an old historic building. Joe took apart some visible pipes where the clog was located. Inadvertently, he made the problem worse by jostling some older pipes. Joe was required to call for help and the repair ended up being significant and costly. Had Joe considered the age of the building and his limited ability to do plumbing, he might have reconsidered doing the job himself.
Some jobs can go right…
Leona from Long Island was disappointed in her moss-covered patio. To host her niece’s bridal shower outdoors, the patio required a decent power washing. After watching D-I-Y videos, she decided to buy a power washer and do the project herself. Using the new equipment and the techniques she learned, she restored her patio to like-new condition. Not only did Leona understand the task, but she also did her homework to ensure that the job was something that she could adequately handle. Now she can regularly keep her patio clean, saving the cost of having to hire a professional for the job in the future.
Mull it over…
There are four main considerations before committing to a house project.
1. Ability to do the job well. “Am I able to handle this project?” If the job is simple and straightforward, or within your area of knowledge, go for it. However, if the job is tricky and unfamiliar, or if there are dangers involved that put you at risk of personal injury, such as having to climb a steep roof, lift heavy items, or work with dangerous products such as asbestos, then it’s best to hire an expert. Also, consider the worst-case scenario. “Is it likely I will be injured on the job?” The greater the potential for harm, the better it is for you to hire a professional.
2. Time & energy. “Do I have the time and strength to take on a project of this proportion?” Some jobs, such as repainting a front door, are generally quick and easy and don’t require a lot of time and stamina. However, taking on a complex construction project, such as adding an addition to a home, can be full-time and back-breaking work. It’s important to consider how much time and energy you are willing to devote to a project. Also factor-in setbacks that can usurp more of your time, such as construction delays. If you are a procrastinator and have trouble finishing projects, consider hiring help to get the work done.
3. Budget. “What is the cost of the project and what help can I afford?” Budgeting is a tool that can define the magnitude of your project and help you decide which jobs you can handle, and which ones to delegate to others. Planning also enables homeowners to break down projects into affordable stages. Since most home improvements tend to run over cost, many people look to cut expenses in terms of labor. Though DIY projects can save homeowners money, the broader picture must be considered. “Can I afford to make mistakes?” If there is a high risk of problems that may significantly raise the price, such as old plumbing and electrical issues, consider sticking with a professional.
4. Equipment, material, & labor costs. For DIY projects, ask, “What equipment do I need, how long will I need it, and is it cheaper to rent or buy?” Before buying, ask if machinery maintenance is required. Bear in mind that the more costly the equipment is to rent or buy and maintain, especially for one-time use items, the more reasonable it might be to hire someone for the job. Material and labor costs should also be considered. Can you get a deal if using a professional service? Be sure to shop around and make price comparisons.
In summary, it’s a no brainer that small and uncomplicated projects can generally be done by homeowners without having to hire a professional. However, when jobs become complicated, risky, or unpleasant, or there are some unknowns, homeowners may enter a gray area and not know what to do. While cost is often a driving force behind the decision to DIY vs. hire a professional, saving money should not be the lone influence. Always take time to understand the scope of projects and know what skills are required. Invest your time upfront in research, self-education, and classes. And use multiple resources, such as reaching out to knowledgeable friends, reading books, and watching DIY videos. Consider the four important factors above and listen to your inner gut. Since mistakes can have serious consequences, homeowners should mainly do what jobs they safely can, and leave the complex, problematic, or specialized work to the experts.
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