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.
On average, general contractors charge $50 an hour, according to contractor search service Thumbtack. 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.
DIY is undoubtedly cheaper. But it can also be impractical, dangerous, or even illegal.
Deciding whether you should DIY or hire 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.
Think not just of yourself, but of others: 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 such safety reasons that people have to be trained and licensed to do certain jobs. In fact, if you have 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 usually requires the services of a licensed professional, and shouldn’t be DIY-ed.
Remember that if you make a mistake in your DIY project, not only will it damage your house and wreck its appearance, 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.
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 a long-term burden on? 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? (Tip: If a project requires a work permit, and only contractors can get 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.
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 or bathroom remodeling projects can cost as much as $3,000. Motorized models can run to five figures. If a project’s one-of-a-kind, do you really want to invest thousands of dollars in tools?
As for materials: While you’d pay for those anyway, they might be difficult to obtain on your own; 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.
How to finance DIY projects
Even if you’re doing them yourself, home improvements can be expensive. Many people turn to financing to help them fund their home improvement costs.
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)
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 you’ll only be required to pay on 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. You can save some serious cash by doing your own home renovation projects, and you also get the sense of accomplishment that comes with them. 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, just not be an affordable investment, in terms of time or money.
If you already have the tools, the skills and the leisure, and 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 in all the right places.