April 28, 2022

You’ve watched HGTV and seen all the things that can go wrong when taking on a big home improvement project or repair, so you’re a total expert, right? Maybe. There are some projects that the average homeowner can definitely tackle. But there are others that will benefit from a professional.

Here are some tips to help you decide when to go it alone.

How much time do you have?

We have all seen the partially built additions, unfinished bathrooms, and paint projects that fizzle out after one or two rooms. Be honest with yourself about how much time you have to devote to a project and how long you and your family are willing to wait to complete a project. If one year is okay because you know you can devote only one day per month to the project, then that’s great. But if everyone is going to get annoyed with each other when that project still isn’t done, consider getting someone to do it. A professional is almost always faster because they are experienced and typically have all the necessary materials on hand.

What do you know how to do?

There is a learning curve for many home repairs, so if you’ve done a project before, you can benefit from what you already know to make the project faster, cheaper, and easier.

If you haven’t done something similar, then be prepared for things to take longer than you anticipated and to make more trips back to the hardware store for the items you didn’t realize you needed. YouTube can be a big help, especially if you’re a visual learner, so watch videos before committing to a DIY project to clarify whether you really can complete the project.

Who can help?

If you’ve never fixed a plumbing problem, but your brother-in-law is a plumber, you may be able to either get them to help you or guide you through the ins and outs of the project. This assistance may seem like a cop-out because DIY means you’re doing it yourself. But it’s actually a smart option to ensure that you know what you’re getting into and can benefit from a pro’s expertise without hiring that professional outright.

You also need to know whether you’re getting help from your kids, spouse, or friends. Painting, for example, is a project most homeowners can handle on their own. But it is time-consuming, and the more people who can help, the faster it can go. You may set each person up in a room so you can all work simultaneously, or you might take advantage of everyone’s strengths by assigning the tasks that each person would be best at. For example, your budding artist could select colors and tape for designs. Your soon-to-be engineer could use their eye for detail to tape around moldings and edges. And your strongest people can paint, as it requires a certain amount of pressure to get a good coat of paint on the wall.

What is your escape plan?

Even the best research and plan can fall apart. What is your plan to get professional help if you find out you’re in over your head? For example, if you’re doing a plumbing project, do you know an emergency plumber who can come if something goes wrong? And do you know how to shut off the water main or do another quick fix if something breaks while you’re working?

YouTube videos are an excellent option for figuring out the potential pitfalls of your project. Try searching for “PROJECT TYPE what could go wrong” on YouTube to get expert advice on what could go wrong and how to fix it. If the potential problems seem beyond your comfort level, then it might be a better choice to bring in a professional from the beginning.

What recourse do you have if something fails?

When you hire a professional to perform work, they likely give you a warranty over a certain period of time in case something fails soon after they complete the job. Some products will have their own manufacturer warranties, but those may be voided if the product is not installed by a professional. So be aware of what could go wrong after you finish the project and how you could solve it.

How will you pay for it?

Depending on the scope of the project, you may need to budget beyond your current savings to afford the upgrades. A home equity line of credit (HELOC) is a good option for home improvement projects because you borrow only as much as you need — up to the amount of your HELOC. So, if projects cost less than anticipated, you’re not on the hook to pay back more than you need.

Should you DIY?

Once you’ve gone over the time, expertise, and help you have, you should be able to make a good decision on what you can do yourself. If you’re still looking for some guidance, here is a handy list of projects by whether they are typically an easy DIY or not.

Great DIY options

  • Interior painting
  • Repairing a dripping faucet
  • Replacing the hardware on cabinets
  • Replacing window coverings
  • Weatherproofing your doors and windows

Could go either way

  • Replacing a kitchen or shower faucet
  • Exterior painting
  • Minor roof repair
  • Replacing a light fixture
  • Installing rain gutters

Probably best for a professional

  • Installing a new HVAC system
  • Roof replacement
  • Adding a new power outlet or circuit
  • Replacing large amounts of water pipe
  • Replacing doors and windows

This list is not exhaustive, and your personal knowledge and preferences will affect your ability to do any of these tasks, but it should get you thinking about what you can do on your own and what is worth paying a pro to do.

See if a Home Equity Line of Credit can help fund your home improvement project


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