Dear Claire: DIY or Professional – How Do I Decide?
Making the Choice: DIY or Professional? Balancing Imperfections and Comfort in Home Projects
It’s often hard to choose. At the end of the day, this question is going to be up to you and specifically what you feel comfortable with. There are a lot of companies, like Home Depot, that offer all kinds of do-it-yourself classes. YouTube has a crazy number of classes that you can take online for virtually every project. I often go to This Old House to figure out little solutions and fixes for around the house. So, I think it also depends on 1) how brave you are, and then 2) whether you can live with imperfection because no matter what you do it’s not going to be perfect. Usually, it’s not going to be anywhere close to perfect. It is almost impossible that it will look as if it were done by a person who does it every day, day after day.
Let me give you a perfect example: gardening. If you don’t mind experimenting, you don’t need to hire someone for your garden. However, it is possible that the plants you put in to make your house look beautiful, may not work in our climate. They might not be the right match for the soil. They might be too small at first and will need time to grow as big and beautiful as you want them. This is just one small example where, through experimentation and a significant amount of time, you can work to achieve the look you want.
Now, if you can’t afford a professional, then you can’t afford it. And if you’ve got to do it yourself that’s just the way it’s going to be. There are plenty of projects that I’ve done before on my own and while I can see the imperfections, most people do not. I’ll give you an example. When I bought my first house with my brother, we refinished all the hardwood floors ourselves. We rented the sanders, bought all the sandpaper, got the polyurethane, and did it all ourselves. When I look through that house, I can still see divots from where we first put down the sander and said, “Whoa, that thing took off the wood in a way that none of us were expecting!” So, I know there’s a divot in the wood. Does anyone see it besides me? Probably not, but those are the fun things that you get to tell stories about. If YOU can live with it, then it’s not that big of a deal.
Another example I’ll give you is when we laid out our own kitchen. We didn’t ask any professionals to help us. I had my Mom, who is an interior designer, lay it out for me and she specified the size of each of the cabinets so we could take those measurements to the discount cabinet store. The cabinet store didn’t have one size that she had specified, and we thought, “What’s the difference? We’ll just make one smaller and add another one to make up for it. It should be fine.” So, we get the cabinets back to the house and we start putting them where they’re supposed to be and, “Oh, yeah… now I understand why my Mom did that.” The cabinet was originally designed to be centered on the window and it was no longer the case with our adlibbing. So, now we have the stove that sits halfway into the window. Is it something you would notice if you went to my house? Probably not, however, I see it every freaking day when I look at it. Invariably, if you do it yourself there are going to be those kinds of mistakes that you’re just going to have to say, “I learned something about it and I learned from it.” Now you know better, but there’s no remedying it once it’s done.
For big projects like kitchen remodels and tile jobs, you’ll really want to consider whether it’s worth doing it yourself or having a professional do it. I know everybody thinks they can do tile work, but in the end, you’re going to be able to see every flaw. There will be some three-dimensionality to your tile work. It’s not going to be straight. It’s not going to look like a professional did it. Do you care? That’s really the biggest question.
The only other tip I would like to give you is that for anything that’s mechanical or electrical, you should probably hire a professional. If you’re installing a new hot water heater, unless your uncle is a plumber and he is there helping you, you probably shouldn’t do it yourself. However, if you feel comfortable with the job, go for it. Try it. See how it goes. Electrical, same thing. I won’t do electrical myself, it’s just too scary. But there are plenty of people out there that I know who do their own electrical and it comes out perfectly fine. So, it just depends on what the risk is that you’re willing to take and what you can live with.
At the end of the day, deciding what you are willing to live with is pretty much the best advice I can give. If you do need any references for professionals, I have a whole directory that I’m happy to share with you. Just reach out to me at (503) 998-4878.
I wish you the best on your spring projects! Take care.
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