When to DIY a Project and When to Hire a Contractor


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When it comes to tackling projects around the house, my wife and I balance each other out pretty perfectly. She loves dreaming up myriad improvements, from the mundane to the grandiose, and I hate it. She takes it a step further by thinking we can do them all ourselves, while I freely recognize the alternate handyman reality in which I reside—you know, the one for people with two left thumbs and a penchant for messing things up. Through a lifetime of practical experience, I’ve been conditioned to expect that, if I take on detailed improvement projects around the house by myself, I will inevitably make things worse.

My wife, however, is a master of curiosity. From car repairs to plumbing solutions, if there’s something that needs fixing in which she has no prior experience, she’ll immediately search out multiple instruction videos on YouTube and psyche herself into thinking we should tackle it ourselves.

Some people are just wired differently—but don’t take my opinion without consulting a psychologist or an electrician. The point is that, when it comes to common home improvement projects, it’s important to recognize where to draw the line between doing it yourself and calling in an expert. Let’s look at three areas where knowing that distinction is important.

Plumbing and Pipes

There are numerous plumbing fixes the common person should be able to handle on their own with little know-how or study. The following could all fall into this category:

  • Unclogging most drains
  • Replacing washers and faucets
  • Repairing toilet handles
  • Unclogging toilets
  • Fixing a leaky water heater
  • Stopping leaks in joints
  • Removing a stuck cleanout plug
  • Replacing a sink sprayer
  • Changing a showerhead

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However, here are some plumbing fixes that are probably better left to a professional:

  • Replacing a toilet
  • Fixing a broken pipe
  • Installing a water heater
  • Remodeling a bathroom or kitchen
  • Discovering unexpected water damage

I’m proud to say that there are some appliance installations that my wife and I have accomplished together that fall somewhere between DIY and hiring a professional. For example, we have installed a new dishwasher a couple of times and also replaced a garbage disposal. Since these usually require working in tight spaces and sometimes dealing with rusty attachments, it’s not necessarily easy, but we managed to figure them out. But it’s maybe not for everybody.

Closet Renovations

In a very real way, people often view their master closet space kind of like most people view money: No matter how much you have, you inevitably want more. 

When it comes to closet renovations, most DIY efforts are accomplished by collecting various items to help you maximize the potential of your space. These items—such as wire closet organization systems, bins, baskets, and shoe organizers, to name a few—are usually a mishmash of stopgap measures deployed over an extended period that often don’t coordinate well together in the long run. 

For a complete closet design and remodel, it’s probably wise to consider checking in with a professional closet contractor. When it comes to meeting with one, some key questions to address include whether closet design is one of their core competencies, whether or not they have a showroom of available services, how much time the remodel will take, comparing the cost of ownership with long-term return on investment, and whether the closet will be able to adjust to your ever-changing needs in the years ahead. 

Revamping our master closet is on my wife’s list of potential projects. She’s already mentioned knocking down a few walls and encroaching into the bathroom behind it in an effort to open things up, but you can bet that we’ll be consulting an expert before any of that happens.

Working with Walls

There are literally a million different things you can do with your walls. Why, here are 31 different DIY paint projects from Better Homes and Garden to consider right off the bat.

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Wall decor is one home improvement project I’m personally passionate about. When we moved into our house more than a decade ago, my wife and I made a deal: She would take the lead in selecting paint colors and schemes, along with general decor, through most of the house, but I could have the downstairs TV/game room and the office, places where I would be spending a lot of time. (I secretly believe she made this offer just to trick me into signing the mortgage—but I digress.)

Our pact has mostly remained intact through the years, which is why the front door and upstairs reflect bright blues and yellows along with earth tones, but the main room downstairs contains an entire side wall DIY-painted to match the red with white- and black-striped motif popularized by Eddie Van Halen’s iconic Frankenstein guitar design. The TV room and office are also adorned with large poster-framed prints of personal rock concert photography, something that inspires me every day.

When it comes to decorating walls (wallpaper, painting, designing), by all means, put your own stamp on things in whatever DIY trend tickles your fancy. If your plans involve knocking out walls, especially those that are load-bearing, then you should probably consult someone with experience. 

Home improvement projects mostly fall into two general categories: They’re usually born out of necessity or creativity. Your own background and experience will determine how far your DIY skills will take you and at what point it’s wiser to go with a pro.

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