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DIY or Hire:
Should you do it yourself or hire someone?



Doing a job yourself could be fun, rewarding and cheaper but could also turn out miserable, embarrassing and much more expensive. This article will help you to decide whether to hire someone or to do it yourself. In order to decide, you should consider the following questions:

Do you have the physical skills and capabilities that the job requires?

Just because you can bench press 250 lbs., ski the Alps, stretch into every yoga position or you built something years ago, that does not necessarily mean you will be able to do the project you are thinking about.

If the job requires moving a lot of heavy material, are you in good enough shape? Remember, lifting one 80-pound bag of concrete might be reasonable, but will your back hold up to carrying 20 bags? And mixing it? What if you hurt your back and have to miss work for a week? Can you manage to get the material from the store to the site without damage? Drywall is very heavy and very difficult to maneuver without breaking off corners or cracking the sheet.

Can you use the necessary tools effectively? Some tools require very good hand control. Other tools vibrate or otherwise impact your joints. Will you be able to withstand that unaccustomed abuse without blisters or aches and pains? Can you hammer a nail in without hitting your fingers over and over? How about several hundred nails? Can you hold a paintbrush steady enough to cut-in the corner where the color changes? Can you work neatly with paint or will you probably make a mess? Does the project require any work that is dangerous for the inexperienced? Using power saws is very dangerous unless someone has actually taught you in person how to safely use them. Improper use can throw the saw back into your body or hand. Comparing an injury of the exact same length and depth of a saw cut to a knife cut, the saw injury is far more serious because a saw blade erases flesh by the width of the blade, a knife merely separates without removing any flesh.

Are you afraid of heights? Someone who is afraid is actually much more likely to fall. Are you afraid of using certain tools like saws, hammers, knives, or ladders?

If you feel that you are physically able to do the job and already know how to or can learn to use the tools for the project, then you can move on to the next question.

Do you have the knowledge and/or experience that the job requires?

This may seem like an obvious question but we run into repairs all the time in remodeling where it is clear that the person who did the original project was clueless about how to build it correctly. Maybe you can do it yourself, but then again maybe you can't and don't know it. Many very easy looking projects are much harder work or require more skill than most people would think. Some projects are easy and straightforward but take so much longer the first time or two that you do them that it is just not worth it for a one time project. You might do a wonderful job but it could take every day you have off from work for two months or even require you to take extra days off from work just to finally finish it! Some projects require very little knowledge but require experience to be able to do them successfully. Without that prior practice, your work might be sound and strong but look terrible.

"It looks easy enough to do!" is not a good answer. You should either already know or have access to good information about ALL the steps involved in your project. Do-it-yourself books and TV shows never tell you everything you need to know. You should certainly use them but do not trust them to reveal everything you need to know for your project. You should be able to answer exactly what each step or part is for. If you do not know what primer is used for in your painting project or what a cripple stud does for a header in a framing project, you should really stop and consider whether you can do things properly and safely. You could also waste a lot of material if you do not know how to properly use some product or correctly assemble something.

Some projects are dangerous if not done by someone with the experience to "see through walls" or to know what is probably hidden away behind the drywall or what a wall is holding up, etc. Some very simple mistakes can cut the life of your project by years or cause big damage from water leaks, fires, etc.

If you feel that you do have the knowledge and experience to do the job or can live with the consequences of a lack of experience or practice, then you can move on to the next question.

Do you have the right tools to do the job?

Will you need any specialized tools to do the job right or to do it fast? A good example is painting. You can paint with nothing more than a paintbrush and a screwdriver to open the can of paint. The poor results and time involved, however, pretty much rule out doing any but the smallest of jobs that way. In order to paint (by hand) reasonably quickly and with attractive results, there are many special sizes and types of rollers, brushes, extension poles and ladders, tarps, trays, etc., etc., etc. Some small jobs require only a couple of items, but for others, you would not save much, if any, money if you buy all the tools. Other projects require really expensive tools that you would never want to own for just one project. Many projects cannot be done well and quickly without the tools. Some projects, however, need only a few inexpensive tools.

You can also rent some tools, but if you take too long to finish, the fees could end up really high. But, renting tools can be a good way to have the right equipment for a reasonable price if you are really well organized and will work quickly.

If you already own, want to purchase, or can afford to rent the proper tools, then you can move on to the next question.

Do you have the time to do the job?

This is a very important question. All projects take longer than expected. This is true for professionals and even truer for amateurs. You may have all the tools, years of experience, and all the enthusiasm needed, but if you don't have the time to work on your project until you finish, the project is going to fail or be half finished for a long time. Are you going to do it in your spare time or take time off work? Either way has its costs. Time off work costs whatever money you would have made at work. Maybe you make a lot at work. Time off could be more expensive than hiring someone. Maybe you plan to get it done in your spare time. But, what if you just cannot finish in your spare time. That means living for a long time with a half-finished project or taking time off work. Even if you can finish in your spare time, will you be happy slaving away all your leisure time working? Unhappy people are grumpy or depressing people. Grumpy, depressed people can lose friends and are not very effective workers. Can you afford that at work and at home? Also, you or your loved ones may not be happy with the mess or other inconveniences during your project. Even if you successfully accomplish your project as planned, just how happy will you be living with it during the project. Hiring someone might make the discomfort and mess go away much quicker.

O.K., if everything up to here is a go, then you can do the project. Now, you need to answer some questions about whether you ought to do it yourself or not.

Which way will really be cheaper?

If you are planning to do a project yourself because it is cheaper, be careful! Most people add up the real cost completely wrong. When you add up what you think it will cost, always pay yourself. This is important for several reasons. Whatever you are doing, it is work. You are losing free time or work time. If losing time at work, automatically pay yourself your salary when adding things up. Otherwise use some reasonable wage for the time to be spent. Sure, you may not actually be spending any cash "paying" yourself, but you can now ask the question: Would I actually be willing to do a job this hard for that price if I was actually doing it for pay? Your free time is valuable, whether with your family or just watching TV. Is it worth the price of giving it up? Another concern is that you might not be able to finish for some unexpected event or problem - get sick, hurt, overtime at work, etc. If that happens, you may now be forced to spend the money that was "saved" to pay someone else to finish! That is one the most important reasons to pay yourself too when adding up the true cost of doing it yourself.

How much will you have to spend if some parts of the project require a helper? The very best of friends all too often fail to show up to work for free. Can you really blame them? There is a reason they call it "work".

The other cost that can be trouble is the cost of materials. This is much more difficult than it appears. Sure, everyone adds up the big obvious stuff, but it is common to completely forget all the small stuff. The small stuff, however, can often cost more than the big stuff. If you need 5 watchamacallits, you might have to buy a box of 5000. Or it could be that those tiny doodads are really expensive (who would have believed it?) Also, you have to add up the time and fuel to go find, buy and deliver the material and go back for more or return the stuff that is wrong or extra. Do not underestimate how many hours or days could be involved in that. A single trip to a hardware store usually lasts between an hour to two hours, when you include drive time (really!)

O.K., but I want to do it myself. It will be fun and interesting and I'm brave enough to take it on!

Well then you probably should do it yourself. Nevertheless, the above concerns still apply. You might consider getting us to come out and go over your plans and tell you those important tips that you need to have a successful and safe project. We can also come out at each stage and give quick inspections of what you have done so that you can correct mistakes while it is still cheap and easy to do. We can also do just those parts of your project that are really difficult and you can do the stuff that is appropriate for your experience and abilities. We had a customer a while back who called us for several tricky parts of his almost complete remodel of his house. We passed by his house recently and he did a great looking job. He definitely did some difficult and challenging work himself. He also knew what things were worth paying someone else for. Just let us know if you need advice or some help on your project and we can set a reasonable fee depending on how much help and advice you need.

This article seems very biased against doing it myself

Guilty as charged! After years of experience doing construction, I do very little myself at home. Being self-employed (and thus overworked) I have truly learned how valuable time off is and how bad stress can be. All construction projects are stressful, messy and take away your living space for a time. Even when I really cannot afford to use my crew, I still have them do or help me with my projects at home. I'm far happier for it. Earlier in my life I insisted on doing everything myself. I'm wiser now.

While it may seem that I might be advising against doing it yourself in order to get more work for my company, the truth is that we do a lot of work fixing other people's failed or ugly work. Often, we have to charge more to fix something than we would have charged to do the original project right. Frequently, it is for a home's new owner. So, in a very real sense, we got that project anyway. Also, construction is dirty, wet, dusty, nasty, sweaty hot or freezing cold work. Nothing guarantees a quick call to us more than someone having done a miserable project themselves previously. We might not get their work on that first project, but we will get it for all the rest without any further concerns whether they should do it themselves to save money.

My advice is: If you really will enjoy doing it, GO FOR IT! But, doing it only to save money or just out of pride usually does not work out so well.



Last Updated: February 1, 2006