Home Improvement: When should you DIY or call in an expert?

While doing a home improvement project yourself can be satisfying, there are some instances when it's better to call in a professional.

LM Otero/AP/File
A "Sold" sign sits in front of a house under the final stages of construction in Plano, Texas (Feb. 2, 2016).

There’s something appealing about the idea of a do-it-yourself home improvement project. By tackling a job yourself, you can save money on labor costs and enjoy work that’s been done with your own hands.

But the reality is some projects are better left to the experts. Professional contractors can handle tasks that are complicated, time-consuming or downright unpleasant. Whether you plan to spruce up your entire home or just remodel part of one room, you’ll want to make a smart choice between doing it yourself or hiring and paying a pro.

Here are some tips to help you choose.

When you could try DIY

The project is small enough to learn quickly: It’s a good idea to take some time to research a home improvement job before you start. If you want to paint your deck, for example, you may need to watch tutorial videos, read about paint choices, and ask paint sellers for advice. If you’re willing to learn the steps, a do-it-yourself project could make sense.

You have patience to work through small mistakes: You may have to make extra trips to the store because you didn’t correctly measure the amount of wood you needed. Or you may discover your paint dried unevenly, and you’ll need to start over to get the look you want. Expect that your DIY project won’t be perfect on the first try. It’ll help if you’re flexible enough to work through small errors.

You view the home repair as more hobby than work: If you enjoy carpentry, painting and other renovation-related activities, you may enjoy a DIY project involving those or similar tasks. You may even find the process as enjoyable as the final result.

You’re OK with “good enough”: There’s a chance your project won’t turn out as well as a pro’s work. There may be some visible brushstrokes in a newly painted room. Some floor tiles may be slightly uneven. If the problems are minor and you’ll be able to live with the results, it could be worthwhile to try a small DIY job.

When it’s best to hire a home improvement contractor

A mistake would have serious or disastrous consequences: If an error would make your home unsafe — faulty electrical wiring that could cause a fire, for example — it’s not worth the risk of doing it yourself. Outsource projects that could affect your family’s well-being or that would be expensive to correct if not done right. Reputable contractors will have insurance and offer a warranty for their work, which protects you as the homeowner. If they make a mistake or worse, damage your property, they’d pay to fix the problem.

The home renovation requires permits: Many localities require permits for electrical, structural and other major work. You’ll want to contact your city government and ask local contractors which remodel licenses are required in your area. These jobs generally require specialized knowledge, so it’s better to let a professional handle the work.

Your time’s better spent on something else: Paying a contractor can free you up for other activities, such as spending more time with your family. If you put a premium on those other activities, it makes sense to hire a professional.

You’re planning to sell your home: When you get ready to sell your house, you want it to be in the best condition possible. An amateurish DIY job could be a turnoff for potential buyers. They may even wonder if the home has other problems.

If you do decide to hire a pro, you’ll need to do some legwork. Make sure you get estimates in writing, and ask for and contact references. You should also confirm that the contractor has the licenses and insurance needed for the job. You can learn more about how to hire a reputable contractor from the Federal Trade Commission.

In some cases, you might do some parts of a remodel or upgrade yourself while also working with an expert. For example, you could decide to take on the role of general contractor for a major project, such as a bathroom remodel, and hire out subcontractors for specialized work, including electrical wiring, plumbing and cabinet installation.

When considering a home improvement project, you’ll want to know the difference between a DIY job and one that should be handled by an experienced contractor. By considering the time you have to spend on the project, your experience and the difficulty of the job, you can weigh the benefits and make the best decision for your situation.

Margarette Burnette is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: mburnette@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @margarette. This article first appeared at NerdWallet.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.