If you’re like a lot of homeowners, you probably became interested in DIY home repairs after you got a few estimates from professional contractors. Between inflation, lingering supply chain issues, and skyrocketing demand, hiring a professional to do your home renovation is more expensive than ever.
But not all around-the-house tasks were created equal. While most people can pack an expensive TV for moving, very few novices can install new plumbing or wiring. Still, there’s a huge gray area there in which, if you’ve got the patience, time, and disposable income, you could probably do a decent DIY job yourself. Let’s look at the pros and cons of DIY home repairs and discuss when you should call in a professional.
This is the most obvious and most popular reason people decide to do home repairs or renovations themselves. A DIY project can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars. When you break down the estimate for having professional work on your home, you’ll often learn that the labor is the largest single cost you face. So doing the work yourself can save you a ton of money — sometimes up to 80%.
That’s pretty enticing, especially if you just finished an expensive and difficult home purchase that was made even worse by a hot local market or credit complications from past mistakes.
According to home renovation data from the U.S. Census, the median cost of a professional home project is $2,600, while the median cost of a DIY project is only $600. While those numbers may be slightly skewed by the fact that DIY renovations are often smaller and simpler than the projects professionals take on, that’s still a massive difference.
Of course, money is only one kind of cost. Doing a home renovation yourself will cost you time, sweat, and, if things go sideways, a lot of stress and frustration.
An interesting alternative to DIY is “BIY,” or “buy-it-yourself.” After labor, the largest single cost in a project is materials. Contractors often use the same suppliers for every job, and they’re not out there scouring sales for the lowest prices. So doing a “BIY” project means you go out and source the materials yourself, and hire a pro to install them for you. This can translate to significant savings but with the assurance of professional workmanship.
If you’re a homeowner who’s had work done on your house before, you may have found it distracting or disconcerting to have contractors in your home all day, especially if you have pets or children who may not appreciate strangers in their space. Doing the work yourself means you won’t have to deal with intrusions and inconveniences.
You’ll also be able to do the work at your own pace. Contractors generally won’t want to work much outside the normal 8-5 window, but you can peck away at the project at night, early in the morning, or on holidays.
Home repairs and renovations can be dangerous work, especially when electricity, gas, heights, or hazardous materials are involved. Even projects that seem innocuous, like exterior painting, can be more dangerous than you realize since they involve heights, ladders, and slippery fluids and surfaces. There’s a reason that many types of contractors have to be trained and licensed.
Sometimes, doing it yourself can cost you more than if you’d just had a professional contractor do the work. That’s because a significant percentage of botched DIY projects end up needing professional repairs, or even a complete teardown and redo. That means you’re out of the time, labor, and materials you already invested, and will have to pay a contractor to not only undo the damage you did but to do the work properly.
If you have any doubt about your ability to complete a DIY project, you should probably hire a pro.
Doing a DIY project doesn’t mean you’re just going to be performing the work — you’re also going to have to learn how to do the work, often as you go. That means your DIY project is going to take a lot longer than it would for an experienced professional. You can expect a few false starts and dead ends as you realize you did some aspect of the job incorrectly or in the wrong order. You may also need to take several trips to Home Depot to get something you forgot, or you may even have to sit around for a few days and wait for your order from Amazon or one of its many subsidiaries.
When you’re selling a house, experts say that if you want a fast sale, sell it to a company that buys houses for cash — but if you have plenty of time and patience, get an agent. It’s sort of the same thing when it comes to renovation. If you need it done fast, get a pro. If time is no issue, feel free to handle it yourself.
Some projects can just be “good enough.” For example, imperfect tilework or a crooked cabinet might be annoying to look at, but they won’t lead to any material damage. However, things like plumbing, and electrical work have to be done exactly right, or it could lead to future trouble.
Bad plumbing can lead to leaks, water damage, and mold, and bad electrical work could cause fires. Checking your home’s appreciation on one of the big home value websites isn’t as much fun if you know your shoddy plumbing is spreading black mold through the walls. If you’re dealing with the type of work that has to be done exactly right, you might want to have a pro come in.
A good general rule to use is that if you could be potentially injured by performing the repair yourself, you should call in a professional.
Some examples of this type of repair are installing a gas line, any kind of electrical wiring, or doing roof work on a multi-story home. The risks you’re taking aren’t worth the savings — and as we noted above, even if you perform the repairs successfully, but do a subpar job, it could result in severe damage or injury in the future. Plumbing work falls in this category, too. Even though it may not be a serious injury risk to you, it could seriously damage your house if it fails.
Another situation in which you’ll want to call in a professional is when you’re installing expensive finishes. If you’re putting in a Florentine marble countertop, or an expensive chandelier, you need to get it right the first time or risk damaging your investment. If what you’re installing is more expensive than the labor cost to have a specialist come in, you should think about turning it over to the professionals.