If only it were that simple! When my wife and I first tore the ceiling out of our living room last March to begin what’s since become a whole-house renovation, we fully acknowledged our limitations. I was comfortable doing the demolition work, but applying spray foam to the roof? Installing solar tubes? Framing the new walls of our loft space? These were jobs that would clearly require a professional.
At 35 years old, I’m on the older edge of the millennial generation. I felt responsible, acknowledging that some jobs were beyond my capabilities (despite the statistic that 59% of millennials think that they’d do a better job at specific home maintenance tasks than a professional would). I was determined not to fall into the 52% of millennials who have attempted a DIY project, only to have to hire a pro to fix their shabby work.
Seven months later, with our renovation almost completed, I’ve learned that it’s not as simple as DIY vs. pro. The best results occur when an informed homeowner handles the part of the job he or she is completely confident in (after consulting with a professional) and then hires a pro to complete the work. But don’t assume that just because you’ve paid a professional the job has been done correctly.
Here are some tips from my own experience:
Give Yourself an Hourly Rate and Weigh the Cost/Benefit of DIY
For our project, we converted our living room from a low, popcorn ceiling to a cathedral ceiling. The first task—removing 1,200 square feet of decades-old blown-in insulation from above the old ceiling—seemed dirty, but easy enough. A local company quoted me a dollar a foot to vacuum it out, so I decided I’d save money by doing it myself.
Three weeks, 50 of my own evening and weekend hours, 25 hired man hours at $12/hour and a $250 dust collector modified into a giant vacuum later, we hauled the last of more than 100 bags of insulation to the dump.
Even factoring my own time in at a low $12/hour, I hardly came out on top. Next time, I’ll gladly pay a dollar a foot to the pros!
Be Willing to Get Dirty to Inspect the Pros’ Work
We decided that closed-cell spray foam would be the best insulator for our house, applied directly to the bottom of our (now exposed) metal roof. There are DIY kits available for spray foam installation, but even at nearly $4/foot, I decided that hiring pros was the right call for this job. It was June in South Carolina, so working under a metal roof…hot! Plus, spray foam is toxic stuff until it dries, and the pros come in with a giant truck and long hoses designed to quickly and efficiently coat the entire surface to a uniform depth.
That is, until you go behind them and check two days later, discovering that “averaging three inches in depth” can mean places where the foam is only half-an-inch thick. I called and the company agreed to come back out and re-spray the following week. I was glad they made it right, but it put me behind schedule for installing the new drywall ceiling.
After the company returned for their second visit, a friend in the industry lent me an infrared gun to check for leaks. I crawled into the tighter spots of our house and discovered bare metal in several places. Had I not checked behind them, I’d have glaring “holes” transferring heat directly into my house. The pros came back out for a third visit to fix it, but I had to wonder about all the other homeowners who don’t crawl into tight spaces behind them to check their work.
Take the Time to Research the Project and Save Money
Our project required wiring new lights for the new cathedral ceiling and loft. Last March, I didn’t know how to change a light switch. But when I called an electrician in May to come survey the job, he looked at my home’s tangle of decades-old wiring and declared that making sense of it would take him a week. He quoted me $3,000-$4,000 for the job. I got a second opinion and it was about the same, so that night, I purchased a book called Wiring a House. I spent eight hours on a Friday night and Saturday morning reading it cover to cover, learning how to install outlets, switches and lights, and how to protect yourself and conduct the work safely.
I labeled each of the wires coming from my circuit breaker, reducing my potential for a fire hazard by identifying which circuits powered which outlets and appliances, all over the house. Once the jumble of wires was separated and labeled, I ran wires to the lights. My total number of hours came in around 40.
Before I turned anything back on, I had an electrician come out and thoroughly inspect my work for a couple hundred dollars. Now, my home’s electricity makes sense to me, the ultimate result is the same, and I saved thousands of dollars, even accounting for the value of my own time.
There are dozens of examples like this from my project, from fixing leaky solar tubes to saving hundreds of dollars by insulating my own ductwork. (Quick tip: HVAC guys like working on your furnace and compressor but HATE working on ductwork, and they will charge accordingly.) Best of all, by taking the time to learn as I went, even when I hired a pro, I accumulated knowledge that will save me money the next time. Even if you don’t DIY, it pays to research the job!