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Home projects: when to do it yourself and when to pay someone else

Home ownership tends to present an endless to-do list of projects. Some are optional, some unexpected, and some are downright urgent. Deciding which projects to tackle yourself and which ones require professional help can be summarized in this basic equation:

Time + Money + Skills = Finished

It's simple addition that can escalate to a multiplication problem before you know it.

You may want to save money, but if you don't have the skills necessary, you could end up spending extra time and money to get the project done. Some tasks don't reveal their complexity until you have pulled back the drywall or landscape fabric or carpet or [insert your project here].

When sweat equity pays off

Many home projects are worth the elbow grease. With instructional videos and reality TV shows for inspiration, accomplishing the task may be all the reward you need; saving money is a bonus. Invest in a few basic tools and trust yourself to manage common projects, such as painting or refinishing hardwood floors. A quick online search for instructions could have you replacing caulk, eliminating the squeak in doors, fixing torn window screens or unclogging a sink in no time.

Planning to sell your home? You might wonder which projects are especially worthwhile for resale. Take a look at the return on investment for home improvement projects.

Electrician image

Experts are there for a reason

Depending on your skills and available time, there are certain home repair projects that may have the best chance of success if you seek assistance.

  • Think twice before attempting plumbing jobs more complex than fixing a toilet lever. Projects that use "blow torch" or "welding" in a sentence may be best left to professionals.
  • Changing a light switch or installing a ceiling fan is one thing, but most electrical repairs include more than basic fixtures. Circuits are nothing to mess with unless you know what you are doing. Why risk resale value on a project that isn't up to code?
  • You may have skills suitable for roofing work, but risking injury may not be worth it. Take on a job you aren't ready for, and you may end up with a leaky roof or expensive water damage.
  • Installing or repairing windows and siding yourself can save labor costs, but proper installation is vital.

Saving money can really add up

As you consider the costs of doing it yourself or paying someone else, keep these tips in mind:

  • Tally all the costs, including tools and equipment, training, child care and the like.
  • Prioritize the project against your other financial goals. If building a deck yourself saves labor costs, and you can use that money to pay down debt or for retirement savings, it could very well be worth your time.
  • Pull a permit, if necessary. Depending on the complexity of a remodeling project, you may have to apply for a building permit. A hired contractor will take care of this on your behalf, but there is a cost.
  • Know thyself. Prevent personal frustration and potential disagreements with your spouse or partner by establishing household guidelines for which projects are always hired out.
  • Find online tools to help calculate supplies such as paint, tiles, concrete, wallpaper, you name it. You can also calculate how much your time is worth, which will help you solve the equation at the top of this article.