Can I really do it myself?

Filed in Construction by on March 26, 2014

Measuring Wood with Measuring TapeI am often asked, “When do I need to call a contractor?” or “When is a project too much for me to handle?” This is a difficult and personal question that depends on each person’s abilities and patience.

It’s said that the most important thing in any do-it-yourself’s toolbox is a telephone and the number of a good contractor. This may be true more often than I’d like to admit. Yes, you can save money remodeling your home by yourself, but mistakes can be costly. So the number of a good contractor may be useful – even it it’s just to ask for advice to help you complete a job.

I have gained most of my construction and home repair experience by doing things even when I was not completely qualified. I won’t say that my way of learning is the best: sometimes it has been a costly education. Still, I believe that the best way to learn how to do something is to do it – but only if do your homework first. Learn what you can about the project, ask a qualified contractor or expert to make sure you have the tools you’ll need.

Most experts in home repair are happy to talk to you because they enjoy their work and helping people solve problems… plus, they may gain you as a customer if you run into trouble.

In all of my first-time projects, I have been lucky enough to have someone to answer my questions or give me direction when I need them. I have never been afraid to ask for directions, and that is an enormous help when learning home improvements.

When my wife and I built our first home, I was very green in construction. I had watched homes being built and helped with some framing, but I had never worked on a construction crew or seen the complete process of building. I went to work with some advice and directions, then worked until I didn’t know what to do next. Then I would go see by brother-in-law, Jerry Pederson, and ask “What’s next, and how?”

This can be a slow process, and I did make some mistakes, but I was able to complete the project since I trusted Jerry’s advice and quite frankly did not know that I couldn’t do it.

You also need to consider how much time and energy you want to invest and how much money you hope to save. If you can handle the time and energy commitment for a project, then you are saving enough to justify the that time. Some projects require specialized tools that may make it more cost effective to hire a contractor. Some projects may be too dangerous for an inexperienced person to complete, or they may require structural changes that are above your aptitude. So before you decide whether you’re capable of completing a project, look at all the elements and ask for advice.

Most do-it-yourselfers can handle painting; simple carpentry including hanging doors, installing trim and base, and deck construction; simple plumbing including changing faucets and sinks; changing electrical switches and outlets (with the power off); hanging and finishing drywall; and demolition and clean-up.

Unless you have qualified help, you may want to avoid exterior painting of more than two stories, elaborate framing that could impact the structural integrity of your home, installing toilets or plumbing that requires extensive pipe-fitting, circuit breaker wiring and roofing.

Yes, my list is brief and vague. I don’t want to encourage the ill-prepared to tackle a project that they can not finish correctly, nor do I want to discourage you from trying. Become knowledgeable about your project and, with determination, you will complete it.

My wife is always saying, “Can’t we just hire someone to do this or that?” or Wouldn’t it be great to see something done without all the hard physical work?” What she is really saying is that this isn’t getting done fast enough, or I’m not sure you are capable of completing this project. Well, I may not be the fastest or the best, but I enjoy doing these things, take great pride in the finished project and learn lots of stuff while I’m working. So, I will continue to be a do-it-yourselfer and yes, I will probably take on projects that I shouldn’t. After all, that’s how I learn.

Enjoy your projects, make yourself knowledgeable before you begin, ask for advice and – as always – measure twice and cut once.

by John Burns, a real estate appraiser, and consultant for Lake and Home Magazine. 

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