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.

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

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.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.


We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.