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Avoiding DIY disasters

Renovating is cheaper than moving -- and it's much cheaper if you can do the renovations yourself.

"We've seen an increase in 'do-it-yourselfers' -- I think it's because of the recession and that people don't want to pay someone else to come in and do it," says Nadine Logan, department supervisor for Home Depot in London, Ont.

But while a do-it-yourself, or DIY, project can save you money on labour, before you haul out the tool belt and start ripping down walls, you'd better make sure you know what you're doing. If you don't, you could easily end up spending more money than if you'd hired a professional in the first place.

To keep your DIY projects on budget, here are a few tips from the experts.

Evaluate your skills
The first thing to ask yourself is what is your skill level? "If you're not used to using a saw, are you really going to be able to do an entire deck yourself?" says Logan.

But, she adds, you can still save money if you do a portion of the work, and let the experts handle the stuff you're not comfortable doing. "Anyone can tear down a deck," she says.

Jim Walmsley, of London, Ont., lives by this mantra. He began helping his dad with minor projects around the house as a teenager, and even though he's progressed quite a bit -- tiling floors and even doing some bathroom renovations -- he knows his limit.

"I had a plumber do the drains on my upstairs shower because if that leaked then it would completely ruin the new reno I did downtowns." But Walmsley still saved money on labour because he finished off the trim himself.

Walmsley says next to materials, labour is the most expensive part of a renovation, which is why so many homeowners are attempting to do at least part of it themselves. According to Ron Jones, a salesman for McDiarmid Lumber, in Winnipeg, Man., labour will typically cost about double the price of your materials.

Make a realistic plan
When Walmsley wanted to redo his kitchen, his plans were lofty: create a walkway into the backyard, install an island, knock out a wall and make two rooms out of one. The list goes on and would have end up costing about $250,000.

Walmsley needed help cutting back, so for $150 for an evening's work, he hired a contractor to help organize the project. The contractor also provided a list of materials and their cost.

"Get in your head what you want, then a contractor can help you scale it back to what you need," says Walmsley. In the end, the contractor helped him whittle down the project to $50,000.

Do your research
Without a plan of attack, do-it-yourselfers end up making costly mistakes. "Having to redo a project can cost you more than if you hired a pro to come in and do it," says Logan.

To help create a blueprint of the work he intends on doing, Walmsley hits online DIY chat rooms, such as DIY Chat Forum, to ask questions and read up on common mistakes.

If you're a visual learner, many building centres, such as Home Depot and Rona, offer free DIY workshops. Staff can help map out all the details as well. "These people can help you stick to your budget and will supply a quote for all the equipment and tools you need," says Oscar Quinonez, store manager at Rona in London, Ont.

Once you have a list, start asking your network of DIY neighbours or friends to borrow the tools you don't have or consider renting them.

Rent the right tools
If you don't think you're going to use an obscure tool or piece of equipment, such as a cement mixer, on a regular basis, renting one can save you money. Instead of spending about $660 to buy one, you can rent one for $33 for four hours or $140 for a week.

But sometimes, it does make sense to buy. For instance, a 24-foot extension ladder costs $220 to rent for a week, but at $200, it's cheaper to buy. A drill kit, which is a required tool for many DIY projects, costs $67 to rent for a week, but you can own it for $250.

If you decide to rent, ensure you correctly estimate the time you'll need it. "If you underestimate the time you need the tool, it might make more sense to just buy it," says Logan. If you become a frequent renter, many centres offer a loyalty program whereby if you rent a tool four times, the fifth time is 50 per cent off.

It's a good deal, but if you still can't see yourself sawing wood and banging a hammer on your day off, then it's best to trust the work to a contractor so you can ensure it's done properly, even if it ends up costing a little more.

Melanie Chambers is a freelance writer based in London, Ont.

-- Posted: Aug. 12, 2009
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