A quick scroll through your cable channels will reveal that do-it-yourself (DIY) renovation projects are incredibly popular. Television makes DIY projects look quick, clean, easy and cheap. Sometimes this is true. Sometimes these shows are not telling you the whole truth. The key, as a do-it-yourself-er, is to know the difference.
When you are considering any house renovation project, use the following checklist of questions before diving in. Answer the questions honestly!
1. Do I have the tools for this project? Can I borrow them?
If the project you’re considering will involve purchasing big-ticket tools and/or supplies, get an estimate from a professional before you start. In many cases the professional has the tools and can buy supplies at a significant discount and it may be cheaper to hire the pro to do the work.
2. Do I fully understand each step of the project or can I find clear instructions?
Enough cannot be said for reading the directions 2-3 times before beginning a project. Make notes about steps you feel are missing or that do not make sense to you. Skipping a crucial step can be expensive and devastating after you have worked hard on something. Don’t start unless you are 100% clear on what you are doing.
3. Do I have time to finish this project in a reasonable amount of time?
DIY projects are often messy, can use up a lot of your precious time and can disrupt your life. For example, if you plan to tile your bathroom, how long are you willing to give up that bathroom? How many days are you willing to spend on tiling it?
4. Will this project involve interfering with anything related to your structural foundation, your electrical system or your water/plumbing?
Unless you are a structural engineer, an electrician or a plumber, stop! Knocking that wall down in the kitchen might seem like a good idea. And it might be. Do nothing until you have heard this directly from a real engineer’s lips! Same with electricity and your plumbing. Making a mistake in any one of these areas can end up costing you several thousand dollars.
5. Can I afford to do this project well?
Without the right tools, the right skills and a clear plan, you can end up making even the most expensive materials look shoddy and cheap by doing it yourself. If you have never cut granite, you could ruin an expensive piece of stone by attempting to install your own kitchen counters. If you have never laid tile on a bathroom wall, you run the risk of spending hours tiling and grouting only to complete the job and find your measurements off by 1/4 of an inch.
6. Do I have the landlord’s permission for this project (if you are a renter)?
If you do not own the property you want to work on, get permission in writing from your landlord. Better yet, stick to DIY projects you can take with you when you move.
The list above is not meant to discourage you from learning new skills or improving your home. It is, however, meant to be a reality check. There are times where you will save money, headaches and time by hiring a professional.
If you are still considering tackling a DIY project, the room-by-room overview might help you decide if it’s the right project for you!
- Roof/Gutter – If your roof is leaking, it is worth having a professional roofer come out to locate the source of the leak and give you an estimate. Unless you have prior experience, if the damage to your roof involves more than replacing a shingle, leave it to the pros. The average person is quite capable of cleaning out their own gutters once or twice a year. You can also probably manage small fixes if a gutter is knocked loose.
- Landscaping – If you have some knowledge of what grows in your zone, replanting or minor changes to your yard should be no problem. If you are new to your area or have little gardening experience, you can find plenty of information at your library or online before making a plan. A way to combine your DIY tendencies and use professional experience is to talk to a local landscaper. Often, they will, for a reasonable fee, help you develop a plan, map it out and even deliver plants to your home. You do the hard labor and upkeep.
- Painting – Like landscaping, the biggest portion of a professional painter’s fee is labor. Painting your house yourself might be an option if you are looking to save some money however also consider the time you will have to invest into the job. Will you have to scrape old siding of peeling paint? How many stories does your house have? Do you have a Homeowner’s Association that frowns on unfinished work for extended periods of time? If you opt to do the job yourself, rent a professional grade spray system, be sure to adequately protect doors, windows and surrounding plants.
- Flooring – If you’re ready to tear up the carpeting and put in new floors, decide what kind of floor you want. Hardwood floors are best left to professionals. Laying simple tile is a great DIY project provided you’re willing to learn how to tile. Many of the large hardware store chains offer classes at no charge. If you plan to tile, make sure the transition into other areas of the house is smooth. A floating laminate floor system is a great DIY project that with a little time and attention to detail gives beautiful results.
- Painting – As long as you are reasonably fit and detail-conscious, you can achieve a professional looking change at a minimal cost. If you do not know how, a quick internet search will show you how to repair cracks, holes and dents in your walls. Starting with smooth walls makes all the difference in the final finish. Be sure to choose a paint with a finish that suits your life. If you have small children, look at a semi-gloss or eggshell finish, they clean up the best!
- Wallpaper – If you have an abundance of patience and a partner with an abundance of patience, jump on the wallpaper bandwagon! (You have been warned. My kids still talk about the legendary “Wallpaper Fight of ’99” between my husband and me.) If you are new to wallpapering, you might want to try doing just an accent wall with the other walls painted in a complementary color.
There are instances where hiring a professional painter is the way to go. If you have extremely tall, vaulted ceilings, hire someone. If your house is very old with textured plaster walls, hire someone who knows how to patch and paint them correctly. If you have concerns about lead paint, hire someone to test your existing paint before you proceed. Additionally, if mold is a problem, bring someone in to test it. Do not just cover up mold with paint.
If you are looking to give your kitchen a boost, DIY is the way to go. Update light fixtures, change the backsplash, and paint walls and cabinets. Reconsider how you are organizing your stuff. Can you add shelves, hooks or other means of keeping kitchen utensils handy and neat? Switch the pulls on your cabinets – it’s amazing how much this one investment can change the look of your whole kitchen. These small changes can make a world of difference.
If you want to gut your kitchen and start new, at the very least, hire a kitchen remodeling company to come in and help you make a plan. The small fee will be worth learning which areas absolutely demand professional attention.
Like your kitchen, you can update your bathroom on your own without fancy tools or advanced skills. Update lighting, replace a vanity, change the flooring, update towel bars, or change your shower head. If you have some handyman skills or a willingness to learn, you are capable of changing out a sink or toilet as well as retiling a shower.
Call a professional if you suspect mold. If he finds mold, hire him to repair and re-tile safely and with lasting results. If your “tile guy” finds mold, he will suggest you call a plumber. You should. If there is a slow leak in your bathroom, get it fixed while it’s already torn up.
No matter what DIY renovation project you are considering, think it all the way through! Start with small projects you are confident with and gradually build your skill set. If you find that DIY is a true passion, you will build up a treasure trove of knowledge and skills that will enable you to tackle ever bigger projects adeptly.