If you own a home, chances are you have projects and repairs that need to get done. Unless you have friends or family in a particular trade, you typically have two options – Do It Yourself (DIY) or Hire a Contractor.
With a name like Need2Save, you would probably assume that we would always recommend DIY. After all, going the DIY route is going to save money and that’s the most important thing, right? Although saving money is important (especially for us at Need2Save), there are other things to consider when taking on a home project. We are in the midst of two home improvement projects and needed to make the DIY vs. Contractor decision. So what did we choose? Read along to find out.
Do It Yourself (DIY)
The shows on television make it look so easy. Flip this, remodel that – it’s a piece of cake. We’ve certainly spent a few rain filled weekends watching too many shows on the DIY Network and HGTV. We are currently on our third home and have tackled numerous projects on our own. Mrs. Need2Save’s favorite part of DIY projects is demolition. I should have known I was in big trouble at our previous home. After returning from the store on a cold November afternoon, I pull up to the house and notice that she had removed our master bathroom window! I guess we are changing out that window today… before it rains in the next couple of hours.
DIY is big business. Just look at how many Home Depot, Lowes, ACE Hardware, True Value, etc. stores are near your house. Of course the larger stores can also provide contractors to help you get your job done, but these stores are targeted to the DIY homeowner. The most obvious advantage of a DIY project is that, assuming you do it right the first time, you are going to save money. As the Home Depot motto goes – ‘More Saving. More Doing’.
As we alluded to above, one project we are currently working on is replacing all three exterior doors on our home. We received a quote for materials and labor to remove the old doors and install new doors. The labor portion of the quote is almost 30% of the total. So we could save a good bit of money by doing this ourselves…
Besides the cost savings, there are other advantages to taking on a DIY project. Here are a few that come to mind:
- Learn or enhance a new skill. By taking on a small project now, you may be able to handle a larger project in the future.
- You get to select the exact materials for your project. A contractor may only present you with a limited set of options.
- The personal fulfillment of creating or fixing something yourself. It’s powerful to say – ‘I did that’ or ‘I can do that’
Although saving money is a great motivator, going down the DIY path may not always the right choice. DIY television shows show you the finished product in less than an hour, but chances are a DIY project is going to take longer than it would for a contractor. Small projects like changing a light fixture or replacing a faucet can get done quick, but larger projects always seem to take longer that we expect.
In addition to the amount of time it takes to get a DIY project done, consider these potential disadvantages as well:
- Hate to say it, but the quality of your work may be sub-par to what a contractor can do.
- There may be potential safety risks, to yourself or your home, if you attempt work that is too far out of your abilities or comfort zone (I have no interest in replacing my roof, as I’m not exactly a fan of heights).
- Opportunity cost. When spending all of those hours on the project, what are you not doing that you would like to?
- You may need to buy, rent, or borrow specific tools to get the job done.
Hiring a Contractor
No matter how handy you are, some projects just need to be done professionally. I don’t know of anyone who has replaced the HVAC system in their house or re-plumbed their entire house (we had to get these done at our last house – darn polybutylene pipes!). Just as we have Home Depot and Lowes for the DIY crowd, web sites like Angie’s List and HomeAdvisor are here to help you find a good contractor.
For me, the biggest advantage to hiring a contractor is the time savings – both the overall time to get the project done and freeing up my time. In the past I didn’t mind spending my weekends on home improvement projects. These days I value my time more. Before Mrs. Need2Save went back to work, the cost savings were a big incentive to taking on home improvement projects ourselves. Perhaps because I’m getting older, time is becoming more valuable than money; although it sure helps that Mrs. Need2Save is working again (and hasn’t had the urge to rip out any windows).
Besides the time savings, hiring a contractor can also provide these advantages:
- You are hopefully hiring an expert. So the quality of the work may be better than you can produce.
- A contractor should be licensed and insured, thereby reducing risk.
- You are providing someone else a job. My father is an electrician, so I’m grateful that there are plenty of people who don’t want to take on electrical work.
- If needed, a contractor can take care of getting any required permits.
That positive point above about providing someone else a job means you are paying for their labor. A project is surely going to cost more if you hire a contractor. In some cases the labor cost may be higher than the material cost.
Some other downsides of hiring a contractor may include:
- If the contractor is highly regarded, they may have a significant work backlog. That may delay the start of your project for months!
- Even with ratings websites like Angie’s List and HomeAdvisor, there is still a chance that you select a lousy contractor. I can think of one or two that we will never call again.
Some of our DIY Projects
We typically handle simple DIY projects such as changing light fixtures, hanging ceiling fans, changing faucets, toilet repair and replacement, painting, etc. I’ve learned that I really hate plumbing work, so Mrs. Need2Save always needs to convince me that I should take on basic plumbing work.
We’ve also been successful at a few larger projects as well. We completely remodeled the master bathroom in our last house, although Mrs. Need2Save did let me hire a plumber for some of the work :-). I built decks for our last two houses and I was also a hobbyist woodworker for a few years. A few pictures of my handiwork are below.
For the previously mentioned exterior door project, we’ve decided to hire a contractor for that work. Although the labor cost is significant, I think it’s going to turn out better if I let the professionals handle this one. Besides taking a long time to complete and the hassle of getting rid of the old doors, I honestly don’t think I would do a good job on this.
We are also in the process of remodeling our master bathroom. Although we took on a similar project in our last home, for this remodel we are considering a hybrid approach. We will take on a good part of the demolition (Mrs. Need2Save’s favorite part), painting, replace the cabinet/vanity, and replace the lighting. We will bring in a contractor to remove the old tile, install the new tile, and replace the shower and tub. We haven’t received quotes for this yet, so we are keeping our fingers crossed that it’s within our budget.
How about you? Are you DIY all the way? Do you always hire a contractor? What influences your decision?