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DIY vs Contracting the Work

If you do a Google search for “Do It Yourself,” you get almost 80 million responses back. The one that pops up first is a site dedicated to exactly that: Do it yourself. The “DIY” movement has grown to impressive proportions in the past decade or so, but such growth begs the question: Is doing it yourself always better?

The answer largely depends on what it is that needs to be done. DIY projects for decorating, gardening and other projects can be not only budget-friendly but also grow into fantastic hobbies. In fact, DIY has itself become a favorite hobby for millions. That is one of the reasons hardware and home improvement retailers are flourishing. As much business flows through hardware stores from contractors and construction companies, a huge chunk of it also comes from home owners, hobbyists, gardeners and other non-professionals (in the construction industry).

The obvious answer to “Is doing it yourself always better?” for hobbyists and many home owners is, “Of course.” If the point of DIY is to save a few dollars or to simply pass the time in some creative way, then there’s no point in contracting the work to be done. If your DIY project is building an outdoor bench for your deck, painting your home office or setting up a small woodworking shop in the extra space of your garage… go for it. But what if that project is installing a bathroom in your basement where the rough in is? Or wiring those extra quad-outlets around your rec room? Most recently I desired an outlet on one wall that encloses the garden tub in my master bathroom (so I could hang a television on that wall for my wife). Is that a project I COULD do? Yes. Is it one I SHOULD do? Maybe not. I’m not, after all, a professional electrician and there are some considerations that I don’t even know enough to be aware of.

So should some projects require a contractor or licensed professional? The answer is an emphatic, “YES!” If for no other reason than keeping your home warranty intact or making sure your home owner’s insurance will pay off if there’s an accident, some home improvements / projects need to be contracted out. There are several categories of work I’d put here:

  • Electrical work in your home
  • Interior home improvement (if electrical, plumbing or structural modification are involved)
  • Exterior home improvement (same caveat)
  • Plumbing and HVAC

The contractor should be fully licensed and bonded. The necessary permits from the state, county and/or municipality prior to the work being done should be pulled. The contractor ought to meet with you to get a full understanding of the work to be done and your end goals. S/he should be able to give you an estimate with a +/- 10% accuracy goal. They should be able to draw up, or have drawn up, any plans requisite to getting the permits and then they should be able to pull the necessary permits to get the work done. Inspections, as required by applicable laws, should occur on the appropriate schedule. Completion should happen with reasonable timeliness and in accordance with the estimate given.

Keep in mind: Just because you contract, as the example, an interior home improvement project, you don’t have to contract 100% of the work. Let’s say you want to have a double-wide archway put in between two rooms currently separated by a door. The contracted work would include necessary permits and inspections as well as the structural change work. However, it doesn’t have to include painting or wood finishing. You can do that yourself.

When you consider DIY projects, to determine if they truly are “Do It Yourself,” ask yourself a few questions to help make the decision:

Can I do this work safely, in compliance with all best practices and local laws? (If you don’t know what contemporary best practices or the applicable laws are, the answer is no.)

Do I have the competence / expertise to do this work? (Just because you read it in a book doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing.)

Will the work potentially impact your home warranty or home insurance? (If the answer is “yes” or “I’m not sure,” then find out before starting any work.)

Remember, if you’re a family man, that you’re not the only person potentially impacted by any mistakes you make. Some mistakes can be quite costly not only in dollars but also in possible injury. Plan accordingly, recognize your limits and use a contractor when you should.

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