Watch a few episodes of This Old House or Kitchen Impossible, and you may fancy yourself a competent carpenter or handyman. If TV hosts can do it in sixty minutes or less, how hard could it be, right?
Actually, some home repairs could be hard enough that you’d be better off hiring a professional. Even if it seems pricey, a botched DIY job can end up costing even more money in the long run. We asked Mike Albrecht, a division direction for installation at Home Depot, to help us figure out when to DIY and when to dial a pro. Albrecht oversees the store’s professional installers and has also worked with instructors helping do-it-yourselfers through in-store demos.
Albrecht says there are four main factors to consider with home repairs: cost, safety, permits/compliance, and time/convenience. The right decision depends on the individual’s skill level and desired results. Here are some additional factors to consider based on the project.
(Please keep in mind that the information in this article is intended to be informational only. When tackling your own home repair projects, follow instructions as outlined in your warranty or consult your local government for information on safety permits.)
“Painting’s a great DIY project,” says Albrecht. However, would-be painters should consider height and weather conditions, especially when planning exterior painting projects. “If you’re looking at painting a second story, then you probably want to consider a pro,” he says. “Height and safety concerns are the biggest factors.”
Whether you’re painting indoors or out, do your homework to make sure you’re using the right materials for your surface so you can get it right the first time. “[Painting] may be a waste of your time if it has to be redone and you have to go back and re-buy products,” says Albrecht.
Simple projects like installing a new faucet don’t necessarily require a plumber, but you’ll usually need to know how to shut off the water supply and turn it back on later. More complicated bathroom or kitchen remodels, like changing the location of a toilet or adding a vanity, require more specialized expertise (not to mention the proper permits).
The same goes for installing a new water heater. “In most cases, the DIYer will probably consult with a plumber,” says Albrecht. “If it’s gas, then you should definitely have somebody come out.”
Updating light fixtures or ceiling fans
Switching out light fixtures or installing a new ceiling fan are both doable for many DIYers, especially if the ceilings are eight feet or lower. However, if your project is more complicated or requires rewiring, you’ll need to worry about safety permits.
“If you’re extending the electrical service or adding a ceiling fan, and you need to be concerned about the framing or the electrical support, that’s when you want to call in a pro,” Albrecht says.
Retiling or reflooring
Adding a basic backsplash or ceramic tile floors are popular projects among DIYers. Some also tackle the installation of hardwood floors, but that can lead to problems in the future if they’re not properly installed.
“One of the bigger things that people don’t think about is warranties on kitchen cabinets or flooring,” Albrecht says. “Warranties require specific installation techniques, so a DIYer takes the risk of voiding the warranty.” For instance, if your home has moisture issues and you don’t create a moisture barrier or switch to ceramic tile, the wood could warp and the warranty could become invalid, potentially costing you thousands of extra dollars. “That’s the value of the pro with the flooring,” Albrecht says.
Most DIYers can successfully tackle projects like adding shelves to a closet or pantry. Since those areas will be hidden most of the time, mistakes don’t matter as much. Another simple DIY project is adding crown molding or chair rails.
However, “if you start talking about framing, redoing a deck or basement, or adding an addition, that’s where it gets more expensive,” says Albrecht. You’ll probably need expensive equipment, too (some of which you can rent). Since safety and precision are more important with structural projects, it may make sense to pay a professional and avoid putting family members at risk.
Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer who covers business and lifestyle topics.