Ask LH: Which Home Improvements Can I Undertake Myself?

Ask LH: Which Home Improvements Can I Undertake Myself?

Dear Lifehacker, My home is crying out for a renovation. I’d love to try my hand at doing some of the upgrades myself and save money in the process, but I’m sure some projects are better left to the professionals. What do I need to know before I get started? Thanks, Worried Weekend Warrior

Photo remixed from originals by FXQuadro (Shutterstock), Kucher Serhii (Shutterstock), Dave & Margie Hill / Kleerup , Bill Selak, Morgan, and Charles & Hudson .

Dear WWW,

DIY home improvements can definitely be very rewarding, both in terms of saving money and the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel as you turn your living space into your dream home. Choose the wrong projects, however, and all your time and effort will be wasted — not to mention you’ll end up paying more to have the work redone correctly. Also, some improvements are just plain dangerous for regular homeowners (even experienced DIYers) to do themselves (and as such are against the law).

So before you pick up that drill, ask yourself the following questions to figure out which projects you can do yourself and which are best suited for the pros.

Is It Worth Your Time?

Going the DIY route can save you money, but it comes with a cost: Time (and sweat). Before you even consider whether you’re capable of doing a project, think about how much time you have available to complete it and whether it’s worth that time investment.

For example, if you want to replace all the cabinets in your kitchen but only have the weekends to do it, make sure you’re comfortable having your kitchen an inaccessible mess for weeks or even months. Polishing wooden floors can also be a DIY project, but it’s not only time-consuming, it’s tricky and absolutely no fun (sand everywhere! Footprints and dust stuck in the finish!). On the other hand, many projects you can complete in a weekend or that can be more comfortably spread out over time are great for DIY. Examples are painting or landscaping. Keep in mind also that while you might save on labour by doing a project yourself, the materials themselves could cost more than you think, especially since the pros tend to get better pricing.

How Risky Is It?

We can also rule out certain types of projects right away: Those that have the potential to seriously injure you or severely damage your home. These include anything involving electrical work or natural gas pipes. Both require certified professionals. Other areas you may want to move cautiously on include plumbing and roof repairs.

Some projects also present greater risks to your home itself. For example, knocking down a wall sounds pretty simple, but if it’s a load-bearing one or you don’t know there’s electrical wiring or plumbing behind it, you’re in serious trouble. Beware of any projects that could affect the structural integrity of your home, such as tearing down walls and converting roof space.

Do You Have The Skills?

The last element is you. Do enjoy doing DIY projects? Are you capable of doing them well? Make a list of the projects you would like to do or have done around your home. For each of them consider:

  • Do you know all the steps it will take to do the job?
  • Do you have all the necessary tools, or can you borrow or rent them?
  • How much skill or expertise is needed to do this project properly — and do you have it?
  • What are your recourses if the project turns into a DIY disaster? (Many pros charge more to redo work or refuse to do it at all.)

Try to be realistic about DIY improvements. (Don’t be fooled by all those TV shows which make these all look so easy). Some tasks, such as tiling a shower wall, look simpler than they are and require an artisan to do correctly. Others can be done with a little research and just carefully following directions.

When it comes to your home, nothing’s worse that investing time and energy into an upgrade that you screwed up. On the other hand, nothing might make you prouder than an improvement you did yourself. Just choose your projects carefully by knowing your risks and capabilities.


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