Home Renovations: Do-It-Yourself Versus Calling A Pro

Home Renovations: Do-It-Yourself Versus Calling A Pro

Renovating your home yourself can be a great way to build skills and sense of accomplishment or ownership. Research shows we value something more that we have partially built, than something bought outright. But as Lifehacker has suggested before, there are a few things you should consider before you take the DIY plunge — not least whether the job is risky and you have the right tools. Let’s take a look at 10 common reno jobs…

Building can get complex via Shutterstock

Lifehacker’s Home Renovation Week brought to you by BankWest. To find out more about how Bankwest’s Home Loans Specialists can help you get one step closer to your Home Renovation dreams, visit Bankwest’s dedicated website.

The real cost of undertaking DIY is forgoing whatever else you could be doing with that time — working, watching television, reading a book in the sun. Before picking up a paintbrush, do the sums. Is it worth it? There are calculators online to find out how much your time is worth. It’s really easy to compute if your choice is between working on your home or working at work — will you end up paying the tradie more or less than the income you’re giving up?

If you are renovating to sell you also need to consider the extraneous costs of doing the work yourself. As property investor Patrick Bright points out, renovating yourself can cost you in numerous ways, not least through the quality of workmanship and the time it takes. Sloppy DIY can be noticeable to even novice buyers, potentially negating the value you have added. And for many investors, the longer they hold a property, the more loans and interest will eat into profits. Tradies, on the other hand, may well do a job quicker and more professionally than an amateur.

Another big question to be realistic about before you begin: will you actually complete what you start? The aisles of Bunnnings are lined with the ghosts of good intentions.

If you do decide to pursue the DIY route, there are a number of ways to get your skills up to scratch. YouTube has loads of tutorials, from laying a concrete slab, to tiling a floor and building a deck. Try to stick to Australian videos and keep local compliance codes in mind.

Meanwhile, many councils and technical colleges run DIY workshops. And back to Bunnings: besides the sausage sizzle, most stores have great DIY workshops to explore. Get off your backside and pick up the skills you need before you begin.

1. Plumbing

Most states around Australia require a compliance certificate to carry out any plumbing work. So this isn’t one of those jobs that you can do yourself, no matter how many YouTube videos you’ve watched.

Nowadays it’s pretty easy to find a good plumber online, through a marketplace with reviews and cost guides. Hipages recommends you get at least three quotes, and ensure you see the plumber’s license and qualifications.

2. Electrical

Electricians also need to be certified in Australia, which is probably for the best considering the danger of electrocution and fire. According to Domain.com.au, you’ll probably want to call an electrician if your job is anything more than changing a light bulb.

Choosing a good electrician is similar to a plumber — scour the internet (Truelocal.com.au is another good place to start), and ask friends for a recommendation. Use social media! Tap the collective experience of your Twitter followers and Facebook friends. Facebook now has many local community-minded groups — ask for help. Tip: search for your postcode or general area, such as ‘West Sydney’. Also keep an eye for ‘Buy & Sell’ or ‘Pay It Forward’ groups on Facebook.

Just make sure whoever you pick has the requisite qualifications and licenses for your state, as well as the right insurance. Get as many quotes as you can before committing, and make sure they make you feel at ease.

Another tip: Don’t forget to ask about tradie availability at the time you ask for a quote.

3. Tiling

Tiling is one of those DIY jobs that feels simple, like a couple of YouTube videos is all you need to be on your way. And as a purely cosmetic part of the house, it is something you are legally entitled to do yourself — here are a few quick tips if you decide to go down this path.

Tiles are a very important and noticable aspect of your house — bad cuts, misaligned patterns, chipped tiles, and shoddy grouting will all stand out. Tiling is more than a labour intensive job, if you aren’t really confident it may be best to get a professional to do it.

4. Joinery/Carpentry

Depending on what you’re planning, the skills you picked up in high-school woodwork may be enough to get you through. Wood is a forgiving medium, and there are loads of super-simple projects you can do with basic tools, like building this climbing wall. We’ve previously showcased a number of smartphone apps that can aid your DIY carpentry projects.

5. Roofing

Putting some new tiles on your house can be a quick way of getting a new look. Depending on what you are doing to your roof, and where you live, it is possible to re-roof your house yourself. Some states require a professional for specialised jobs, such as installing insulation or connecting water runoff and gutters to stormwater drains, but otherwise the way is clear.

Pro Build Roofing has a list of things to consider before tackling your roof, however. For starters, clambering around on your roof can be very dangerous, especially if you don’t have appropriate training and equipment. Roofing companies will often send a few people to tackle your roof, meaning they can get the job done faster — leaving your house exposed to the elements for less time. And most importantly, inexperience with roof design can lead to serious issues — a roof leak can cause a lot of damage to other parts of the property.

6. Painting

Painting your house may be the DIY job with the lowest barrier to entry — requiring neither specialised skills nor equipment. Paintbrushes can be picked up for just a couple of dollars at your local hardware store, and we’ve written before about how to select the perfect paintbrush for your DIY project.

Guides on making painting easier abound, we’ve even written a few guides ourselves.

Tip: Order pizza, make cocktails. Invite your friends who have offered to help. It’s pizza painting party time.

7. Glazer

Glass is often one of the most expensive parts of a build, so you may be tempted to cut some of the cost by installing them yourself. While there aren’t laws against it, you may want to weigh the marginal benefit — installation is a minor part of the total cost, against the risk of damaging some valuable glass panes.

If you have some experience with carpentry, installing windows shouldn’t be beyond you according to Repair-Home.com. Pay close attention to when you’re measuring and cutting, to ensure you aren’t left with gaping holes. A good selection of carpentry tools may be necessary.

8. Bricklaying

Bricklaying is another job that looks like it’s mostly grunt, but requires a lot of skill as well. In fact, it’s one of the jobs Lifehacker has pointed out as a job best left to the professionals.

Professional bricklayers will not only do the job much faster than an amateur, but will do it right the first time. When laying bricks yourself, it’s very easy to end up with a wonky wall, one that isn’t structurally sound. Small mistakes and imperfections throughout the job can magnify to huge problems by the end.

9. Plastering

DIY plastering is so common and easy, that even the major plaster brands like Gyprock and Boral have published how-tos on their websites.

Humans have been using kinds of plaster for so long, you may even want to try an older recipe to create a natural plaster. Depending on your area, you may be able to make an earth plaster from your local soil, or a clay plaster from local clay. You generally don’t need to wear protective equipment when plastering with natural plasters, meaning you can even get your family involved in slapping on this tactile medium.

10. Labourer

The one job we are all qualified to do is some manual labour. Convincing a tradesman to take you on as muscle can help you speed up the job, save a couple of bucks, and may allow you to pick up some skills along the way. Just remember to lift correctly and otherwise take care of yourself when you’re on the job.

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  • Anything structural is best left to professionals. This is one area to not cut corners or compromise on.

    Thereafter, it’s down to skill set per the above. Which doesn’t necessarily rule out some of the more technical stuff like wiring/electrical work. While it’s true that electricians need to be credentialled, it’s not necessary for DIYers. The only essential is a certificate of compliance on the work done, which a electrician can provide after inspecting/testing the work done.

    • On the risk/reward scale you would want to be very well trained in electrical/wiring before doing that yourself. Of all the things listed it is certainly the easiest to get yourself killed. f not doing the work then the risk of fire from shoddy work.
      You point about compliance is valid, but that would be the last thing I encourage your would be home handyman/handywoman to do

    • The only essential is a certificate of compliance on the work done, which a electrician can provide after inspecting/testing the work done.

      That isn’t true at all. A simple search will find many, many results in various states all pretty much saying the same thing. You’re not allowed to do ANY electrical work yourself, and if you do, no electrician that’s in any way resembling a professional, will ever certify your work.

      • An A grade electrician can sign off others work., but then liability falls of the person signing off.
        Though as you said no right minded sparky will sign off some unknowns work. But they can have ta’s or apprentices that they will happily sign the work of for.
        All testing for certificate of compliance must be performed by an a grade though.

  • What if you are a trained sparky but from a different country and haven’t bothered going back to school to get your Australian accreditation because IT was easier and cheaper. Can you still legally rewire your house?

    • You’ve somehow managed to ask a question and answer it all while providing your brand of social commentary.

  • I’ve been taking on a different DIY job every few months. Just over a year ago I did the bathroom top to bottom. Tiling took way longer and was much tougher than I expected but has been totally worth it, looks great and saved $8k-$10k. Left the shower screen install to the professionals but I installed bath, vanity and plumbing fixtures. Before the reno we had a dampness issue on the other side of the wall next to the shower which is gone now too which is nice.

    Most recently I inherited a stack of floorboards which I laid in the nursery last weekend (sanding and finishing this weekend). This job was easier than I was expecting – I set my difficulty expectations high after underestimating the tiling job, but the floorboards are much more forgiving and look INCREDIBLE compared to the awful laminate we had in there previously. Will probably do our main bedroom next.

    I have many more plans, one involving some structural work that I am going to have to get a professional in for. I’m still deciding whether I want to tackle removing tiles and grinding and polishing the concrete in the kitchen/lounge/dining myself or get a professional – around $400-$500 and a LOT of hard work and dust, or $5000. Anybody tried DIY polished concrete? (industrial style, not exposed aggregate)

    • Just wanted to say well done. Tiling takes a lot of hard work and measurement. When doing it yourself it will take many times longer than a professional – and will probably look 80-95% as good depending on your ability.

  • I’ve learnt my DIY lesson the hard way. Tried painting my lounge room wall after there appeared a crack in my unit. Not only did I ruin the entire wall, I had to pay twice as more to get the same problem fixed. Do not attempt to do anything DIY unless you are absolutely sure about it. Hope someone will learn from my mistake. 🙂

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