There are tons of reasons homeowners try to tackle home renovation and remodel jobs themselves — but probably the most common one is cost. Professional contractors are pricey — and often, it’s paying for their time and services that comprises most of the cost of a project.

On average, general contractors charge $70 to $130 an hour, according to contractor search service Thumbtack, though of course their prices vary greatly around the country. For large projects, you could end up paying nearly $30,000 for contracting services, on top of the tab for basic labor and building materials. And then there are the subcontractors, the specialists who do specific tasks. Plumbers, for example, charge $45 to 200 per hour.

$6,352 vs $2,502

The average estimated cost of a professionally done home improvement project vs a do-it-yourself one

When you look at it from that perspective, do-it-yourself home repair or renovation is undoubtedly cheaper. But it can also be impractical, dangerous  or even illegal.

Debating whether you should DIY vs hiring a professional doesn’t have to be complicated or stressful. It can be as simple as running through a checklist of questions — weighing factors like safety, expertise and time investment — to see what makes sense. Here’s how to determine the best plan for your home renovation project.

Is it safe to DIY?

Whether it’s balancing on a roof, installing a fuse box or manipulating a 250-pound garage door, certain home renovations pose the risk of physical danger. Before undertaking any DIY project, always ask yourself: Could I get injured or killed doing this? If the answer is yes — or even maybe — then hiring a professional is not only the better option, but the only option. Saving a buck on DIY house repair isn’t worth your wellbeing.

As you weigh the DIY-vs-professional route, think not just of yourself, but of others, too. Do you have safe places to store tools and hazardous materials away from children and pets? Is there any danger in leaving supplies around, especially if you’ll only be working intermittently?

It’s for safety reasons like these that people have to be trained and licensed to do certain jobs. In fact, if you live in a ‘hood with a homeowners association, you may not even be permitted to proceed without a bonded professional.

Do you have the skills to DIY?

Building a fence, tearing down a wall or varnishing a table are small home improvement projects that homeowners often do themselves, acquiring a new skill along the way and reveling in the sense of accomplishment later. However, other projects don’t lend themselves well to the “learn as you go” approach.

Repiping bathrooms, replacing a fireplace, or installing a new furnace are complex projects that require special skills and advance knowledge. In general, any major renovation or replacement involving electricity/gas, heat or water requires the services of a licensed professional.

Remember that if you make a mistake in your DIY project, not only will it damage your house — potentially wrecking both its appearance and functionality — but you will also probably have to call in a contractor to fix the mess. And that can cost even more than hiring one in the first place. Long story short: DIY house repair isn’t always the cheaper route.

Do you have the time to DIY?

DIY projects can save you dollars, but time is money, too — and home renovation projects can take several weeks or months to complete, especially for amateurs. Will your schedule allow you to take on a long-term burden?

More specifically, how time-sensitive are mechanics of a project? Will you need to allow something to dry for two days? Have to move fast while materials are warm? Can you work on it intermittently, or does it require several consecutive hours of uninterrupted labor?

Another time element to consider: Do you have the leisure to obtain work permits if your locality mandates them – assuming they’re even given to non-professionals?

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Keep in mind: If a project requires a work permit, and only professional contractors can obtain that permit, it’s probably a sign you can’t legally DIY the job.

In short, before you plan on doing a home renovation yourself, it helps to track your time and figure out if your schedule allows the leisure of a DIY project. Do the math: In some cases, the hours you’d sink into a project — having to forego other responsibilities, including work — mean it could actually be more efficient to hire a pro.

Can you afford to DIY?

Ironically, it isn’t always that much cheaper to DIY. In fact, you could end up spending more to buy the tools and materials than you would on a contractor.

Many remodeling projects need — or at least, are much easier with — specialized, expensive equipment. For instance, a high-quality manual tile cutter that is often required for kitchen remodels or bathroom renovations can cost as much as $3,000. Motorized models can run to five figures. If a project’s a one-off, do you really want to invest thousands of dollars in tools for it? Even renting a piece of equipment can cost a few hundreds.

As for materials: While you’d pay for those anyway, they might be difficult to obtain on your own when DIY-ing. Some suppliers may not even want to deal with lay people or they’ll charge more for a relatively small retail order. In contrast, contractors often can get deals on supplies and materials. And they generally provide their own gear. In the long run, it might be more economical to hire a professional.

When to hire a professional contractor

If you’re still trying to decide if you should go the DIY vs professional route, we’ll lay down some fairly hard-and-fast rules. Skip the do-it-yourself home repair and call in a pro when:

  • The job requires a permit from your municipality
  • It needs specialized tools or equipment costing over $100
  • Local laws or your homeowners’ association require a professional
  • You would be working with potentially dangerous substances: electricity, gas or other hazardous materials
  • A mistake would make your home unlivable

Generally, inexperienced homeowners should pursue DIY house repair or remodeling projects only when they’re low-stakes.

How to finance DIY home improvements

Even if you’re doing them yourself, remodels and renovations can be expensive. Many people turn to financing to help them fund their home improvement costs.

Personal loans

Personal loans are a preferred financing option for home renovation projects, since the approval time is usually quick. They have higher limits and lower interest rates than credit cards, and can typically be repaid over a period of 12 to 60 months. You will need good credit and a stable source of income to qualify for a personal loan.

Home equity loans

Also called a second mortgage, a home equity loan uses the house as a collateral for borrowing against its equity. This is best for homeowners who need access to larger amounts of cash for major renovations and know they can pay it back. Home equity loan interest rates will vary based on your creditworthiness, overall financial health, and any other requirements posed by your lender.

Home equity line of credit (HELOC)

Home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) are similar to home equity loans but with one key difference: They offer a revolving line of credit instead of a lump sum loan. You can draw from the HELOC multiple times and often you’ll only be required to pay back the interest during the draw period. HELOCs are best for homeowners who aren’t sure the size of the project or the final amount of funding that they’ll need.

The bottom line: DIY vs hiring a pro

Labor costs are always a big part of any home remodeling project’s price tag — sometimes even the biggest part. In some cases, you can save some serious cash with do-it-yourself home repair or remodeling, and you also get the sense of accomplishment that comes with the final result.

On the other hand, there are times when DIY can be dangerous — to yourself and to your home — or land you into trouble with the local authorities. Or, it might just not be an affordable investment, in terms of time or money.

If you already have the tools, the skills and the leisure, and you can obtain materials for a reasonable price, it could be worth doing a remodeling project yourself. Otherwise, it’s best to hire a contractor who has connections and expertise in all the right places.