DIY or hire a contractor? Kitchen & bath remodeling guide

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The rise in popularity of home renovation reality TV shows has left many Americans wondering if Do-It-Yourself is the “way to go” for their kitchen or bathroom overhaul, but if you don’t have oodles of free time or aren’t very handy with tools you can quickly turn your home into a disaster zone.

DIY isn’t for everyone. This post will help you quickly decide whether you should pick up the sledgehammer or the telephone!

Two big questions every homeowner should ask

Not all home renovation projects are created equal. It’s not the same animal to replace your kitchen faucet as it is to solder in new fittings for the tub.

Be honest with yourself and start the planning process for any project with these two questions:

  1. How complex is the work? Do I have the necessary skills to complete the tasks?
  2. How much time can I realistically commit to the project per week? According to this schedule how long will the renovation take?

Okay, technically that’s 4 questions, but they’re related.

In short, if you don’t have the time or capacity to do the job right (and in a timely manner) you’re almost always going to be better off calling in the pros.

But just because you can do it doesn’t always mean you should.

Codes, permits and compliance

A host of renovation activities require that the work be completed by a licensed and bonded professional. From electrical work to HVAC, sewage, expansion and more, always check with your local county to find out which aspects of your project you can legally do yourself as a homeowner.

Breaking building codes is serious business. Not only can it lead to hefty fines but you could be liable for future damage if you ever sell your home.

Safety first

Look at every project with your “What’s the worst that could happen?” glasses on. If the worst-case scenario includes death or major injury to yourself or anyone else or major damage to your property, that’s a good sign that perhaps you might be better off outsourcing the work.

Remember, if a plumber causes a leak to dry rot half your home, he’ll have insurance to cover the damage. If you under-tighten a fitting and the floor caves in, you’ll be stuck with the full bill!

For experts only

Here’s a list of projects that are generally no-go’s for novice DIY-ers:

  • Replacing a bathtub
  • Installing new hardwood floors
  • Window replacement
  • Complex tilework
  • Any work involving gas fittings

And while simple plumbing projects where you can easily check your work are usually okay to figure out on your own, beware any water-related projects where the end product is hidden behind walls or under the house. A small leak can turn into a big problem in the blink of an eye.

Best projects for newbs

If you’re patient and willing to learn, almost any homeowner can head to the hardware store and embark on the following ventures:

  • Painting (both interior and exterior)
  • Vinyl/laminate flooring
  • Simple tilework
  • Kitchen backsplash
  • Basic carpentry

Consider a@ll options

For all renovations, big and small, always consider both routes. Calculate the cost of materials and length of time to complete the project and compare those numbers to several contractor bids. Often the savings you earn with DIY aren’t as great as you think, and a contractor can have your home back in working order much faster than you can on your own.

Avoid overconfidence when contemplating a DIY project. Caution trumps potential cost savings when it comes to your #1 investment.

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