There are tons of reasons homeowners try to tackle their home renovations and renovations themselves, but probably the most common is cost. Professional contractors are expensive.
On average, general contractors charge $50 per hour, according to contractor research service Thumbtack. For larger projects, you could end up paying close to $30,000 for contracted services, plus the tab for basic labor and building materials. And then there are the subcontractors, the specialists who do specific tasks: plumbers, for example, charge $45 to $200 an hour.
DIY is undoubtedly cheaper. But it can also be inconvenient, dangerous or even illegal.
Deciding whether to DIY or hire a professional doesn’t have to be complicated or stressful. It can be as simple as going through a checklist of questions — weighing factors like safety, expertise, and time investment — to see what makes sense. Here’s how to determine the best plan for your home improvement project.
Is it safe to DIY?
Whether it’s balancing on a roof, installing a fuse box, or handling a 250-pound garage door, some home renovations pose the risk of physical danger. Before taking on any DIY project, always ask yourself: Could I be hurt or killed doing this? If the answer is yes – or even maybe – then hiring a professional is not only the best option, but the only option.
Think not just of yourself, but of others: Do you have safe places to store tools and hazardous materials out of reach of children and pets? Is there a danger in leaving supplies behind, especially if you only work intermittently?
It is for safety reasons that people must be trained and authorized to do certain jobs. In fact, if you have a homeowners association, you may not even be allowed to proceed without a bonded professional.
Do you have the skills to tinker?
Building a fence, knocking down a wall, or varnishing a table are small home improvement projects that homeowners often do on their own, picking up a new skill along the way and reveling in the sense of accomplishment later. However, other projects do not lend themselves well to a “learn as you go” approach. Remodeling bathrooms, replacing a fireplace or installing a new furnace are complex projects that require special skills and advanced knowledge. In general, any major renovation or replacement involving electricity/gas, heating or water usually requires the services of a licensed professional and should not be a handyman.
Remember that if you make a mistake in your DIY project, not only will it damage your home and destroy its appearance, but you’ll also likely need to hire a contractor to fix the mess. And it can cost even more than hiring one in the first place.
Do you have time to craft?
Do-it-yourself projects can save you money, but time is also money – and home improvement projects can take weeks or months, especially for hobbyists. Will your schedule allow you to take on a long-term burden? Specifically, how time-sensitive are the mechanics of a project: will you need to let something dry for two days? Need to move quickly while the materials are hot? Can you work on it intermittently or does it require several consecutive hours of uninterrupted work?
Another time factor to consider: do you have the freedom to obtain work permits if your locality makes them compulsory – assuming they are even granted to non-professionals? (Hint: If a project requires a work permit and only contractors can get that permit, that’s probably a sign that you can’t legally DIY the job.)
In short, before planning a home improvement yourself, it’s worth tracking your time and determining if your schedule allows for the hobby of a DIY project.
Can you afford to DIY?
Ironically, it’s not always much cheaper than DIY. In fact, you might end up spending more to buy the tools and materials than you would for a contractor.
Many home improvement projects require – or at least are much easier with – specialized and expensive equipment. For example, a high-quality manual tile cutter that is often required for kitchen or bathroom remodeling projects can cost upwards of $3,000. Motorized models can run up to five digits. If a project is one of a kind, do you really want to invest thousands of dollars in tools?
As for the materials: although you pay for them anyway, they might be hard to get on your own; some suppliers may not even want to deal with laymen or they will charge more for a relatively small retail order. On the other hand, contractors can often get offers on supplies and materials. And they usually provide their own equipment. It might be more economical to hire a professional who has connections in all the right places.
How to finance DIY projects
Even if you do it yourself, home renovations can be expensive. Many people are turning to financing to help fund their home improvement costs.
Personal loans are a preferred financing option for home improvement projects because the approval time is usually fast. They have higher limits and lower interest rates than credit cards and can usually be paid off over 12 to 60 months. You will need good credit and a stable source of income to qualify for a personal loan.
Home Equity Loans
Also called a second mortgage, a home equity loan uses the home as collateral to borrow against its equity. It’s best for homeowners who need access to larger sums of money for major renovations and know they can pay it back. Home equity loan interest rates vary depending on your creditworthiness, overall financial health, and any other requirements set by your lender.
Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)
HELOCs are similar to home equity loans, but with one key difference: they offer a revolving line of credit instead of a lump sum loan. You can draw on the HELOC multiple times and only pay interest during the draw period. HELOCs are best for owners who are unsure of the size of the project or the final amount of financing they will need.
The Basics: Do It Yourself or Hire a Professional
Labor costs are always a big part of the price of a home improvement project, sometimes even the biggest part. You can save a lot of money doing your own home improvement projects, and you also get the sense of accomplishment that comes with them. On the other hand, there are times when DIY can be dangerous – for yourself and for your home – or get you in trouble with the local authorities. Or simply not be an affordable investment, in terms of time or money.
If you already have the tools, skills, and hobbies, and can get materials for a reasonable price, it might be worth doing a home improvement project yourself. Otherwise, it’s best to hire a contractor who has connections in all the right places.