We're huge fans of the DIY ethos here at Lifehacker and we've shared guides over the years to help with everything from laptop sleeves to building self-watering tomato planters. When is it, however, a good time to hire it out?
Photo by Bruce Berrien.
The decision to hire someone to do something for you or to purchase a commercial version of something instead of building it yourself, is a highly personal one and based largely on your financial situation, the amount of free time you have, and the desire you have to DIY. With that in mind we offer up some guidelines to help you weigh whether or not you should bust out the tool kit or call a pro.
Do I Have The Time?
You might have assumed we'd start off talking about money, but time is an even more limiting factor in many instances. You may not have the time or the money to fix a plumbing problem in your house but you have to suck it up and put the house call from the plumber on a credit card to avoid having a leak in the basement destroy your house and fill it with mold. You may want to insulate your unfinished basement and you might even have the skills to do so, but if you're working 80 hours a week when exactly is that going to happen?
Be honest with yourself and your time constraints. In the example of the unfinished basement, what's more important in the long run: saving money by eventually doing it yourself or getting it done now so that you can use the basement as an extension of your living space? It's ok to outsource work when you simply don't have time to do it yourself. Photo by RBerteig.
Is Hiring It Out Cost Effective?
Many DIYers want to do everything themselves because they enjoy the very act of DIYing a project and the learning experience that comes with it. Not every DIY opportunity is a cost-effective one however. You can for instance, teach yourself all about pouring and shaping concrete when it's time to replace your driveway but that's a back-breaking, messy, and time consuming task to add to your weekend projects list. Hiring out the pouring of a new driveway is obviously cost-efficient for someone with no experience or access to the necessary tools and supplies.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is something like insulating your hot water pipes. You could hire a plumber to come and insulate all your hot water pipes but the amount of money you'd save in decreased energy bills in the future might not actually pay for the visit of the plumber and the cost of the pipe insulation. It takes such little effort and expense to jacket your water pipes with pre-slit pipe foam and tape it in place that it doesn't make sense to pay a professional plumber or handy man an hourly rate to do it when the price of the visit erases the financial benefit of doing it. Photo by quaziefoto.
Can I Do It Safely?
Last summer I had a new roof put on my house. When the numbers were crunched and things like buying or renting roofing supplied were factored in, it was cheaper—although not by as much as you'd think—to roof my own house than to hire it out. While on paper it made sense to do the roof myself with the help of a few friends, the reality of the situation off the paper was much different. I knew I wouldn't be able to finish the roof quickly—it's a big roof!—so there was a risk that I'd get caught in a huge summer storm before the roof was put back on.
The biggest factor was, however, was safety. Roofing my one story garage wouldn't by a huge ordeal but a tumble from the peak of my house would mean a nearly 50 foot plunge at the steepest point. I hired it out and a team of five roofers did a great job and completely stripped, repaired, and reshingled my entire roof in less than 48 hours. The premium I paid didn't seem like such a premium when compared to me not completing the roof efficiently or correctly, or even worse taking a spill off the roof and being out of work.
The best rule of thumb for determining if you can do something safely, besides being honest about your own skill level, is to answer the question "What happens if I screw this up?". If death is the worst case scenario—as it well could be with things like roofing and electrical work when undertaken by the inexperienced—it's perfectly reasonable to opt to outsource. Photo by world_waif.
Can I Buy or Replace It Easily?
We've been talking about big call-a-contractor type jobs but the rules of DIY or not apply to smaller jobs and even repairing individual items. Whenever you're about to DIY you should use the above factors like time and safety and then factor in how easily you can replace the broken object or buy a commercial version of the thing you're about to build. If the ignition switch on your snow blower breaks off, it's more than worth the effort to buy a $US3 switch and wire it back on and it would be silly to replace the snow blower over something so trivial. On the other hand if a $US10 table lamp stops working is it worth the effort to take it apart, test the components, and rewire the lamp? Unless you really love that particular lamp or you see it as an oppurtunity to learn more about electrical wiring and expand your DIY knowledge, it's not. Photo by mecredis.
Deciding whether to do a project yourself is a complex interplay of how much free time, money, and desire to tinker and learn you have but by checking in on the big things like whether or not the project needs to be done soon and you lack the time or whether it would be a great way to learn basic plumbing on a weekend, allows you to assess the DIYablity. Have your own tips for deciding when something merits the touch of a pro and when it's a DIY job? Let's hear about it in the comments.