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6 things to ask before you DIY

Doing a home improvement project yourself could be a huge money saver or a disaster. These tips will help you decide what the likely outcome will be.

By Stacy Johnson May 24, 2012 12:52PM

This post comes from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyDoing home improvement projects yourself can save you money. My frugal father once taught himself how to put a brick mailbox back together after I had backed into it with my car -- saving us both $500.

Then again, DIY projects can also cost you more money if you end up DIW (doing it wrong) and then have to hire a professional. So how do you know when to go it alone or go with a pro? In the video below, Stacy Johnson shares a checklist that can help you decide. Check it out and read on for more tips. 

How do you decide? Here's a checklist:

Does the project take specialized knowledge? Some projects, like installing an HVAC system, take more than practice. If the project you're considering requires a special skill or inside knowledge you don't possess, hire a professional. Here's a quick list, although even the DIY projects aren't necessarily for everyone:

Do it yourself

  • Painting
  • Crown molding installation
  • Toilet installation
  • Appliance installation
  • Weatherstripping
  • Landscaping

Hire a professional

  • Heating and cooling installation
  • Relocating plumbing
  • Major electrical work
  • Foundation repair
  • Window replacement
  • Driveway paving
Image: Young man and woman holding power tools, low section (© Thomas Barwick/Photodisc/Getty Images)Will you need special tools? Many home improvement projects require only tools you already own, or ones you can rent. If you don't own them and can't rent them, don't buy them. Hire a professional who already owns the tools.

Is the project large or in a highly visible area? If you're not an expert at doing something in a key area of your home, it may turn out badly and look worse. For example, I built some shelves in my bedroom. They don't look great, but no one sees them, so I don't mind. But I wouldn't have installed the tile in my kitchen. I see that floor every day, and so do my family and friends. I want it to look professionally done.

What would a professional recommend? If you know a contractor, ask him if he thinks you can handle the project on your own. Or ask a home improvement store clerk. Some clerks know a lot about their specific department and will give you an honest answer. And while you're at it, find out if the store offers free or low-cost clinics that teach the skill required.
Will the savings be worth it? In my opinion, spending 45 hours on a project isn't worth it if I'll only save a couple hundred dollars off the cost of hiring a professional. Before deciding, check out DIYorNot. The site compares the cost of hiring a professional with the cost and time of doing it yourself on hundreds of improvement projects.

Is there danger involved? Making a mess in your house isn't the only risk involved in DIY. In some cases, you could be seriously injured. Don't risk falling off a roof or electrocuting yourself. Hire a professional.

If you decide to DIY, there are several great resources:
If you decide to hire a pro, take these steps:
  • Look at the right time. Shop for a contractor in the off-season, when you can get a better price. 
  • Get multiple estimates. Get estimates from three to five contractors. 
  • Choose a contractor you like. Things will go smoother if you choose someone you can get along with.
  • Ask for references. Ask for recommendations from friends or family members, or have the contractor provide references you can contact.

More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

May 24, 2012 5:47PM
Contractors work year round. When is their off-season???
May 24, 2012 10:19PM

I love do it your selfers,  I hear this all the time, I bought an (insert item here) online and I don't know how to hook it up / wire it correctly /  make it go round, ETC.  What do you charge to make it work?  That’s way too much,  I already have it installed it will only take a few minutes.  They are usually correct; it only takes a few minutes to load the needed tools, it only takes a few minutes to drive across town to the job, it only takes a few minutes to find out how badly it’s screwed up, it only takes a few minutes to (often) completely undo everything that has been done wrong, it only takes a few minutes to repair the damage done to the machine by the inexperienced purchaser, it only takes a few minutes to reinstall it correctly, it only takes a few minutes to do a proper checkout / operational test to make sure It’s right, it only takes a few minutes to clean up and put away the tools.  You betcha, it only takes a few minutes.

I have been contracting for over 30 years even I often realize that I am better off paying an expert to do it right and warrant the work and I can and have installed and repaired nearly everything on a home or building.  The flip side is that I am also happy to show a customer how to do my trade or anything else I am expert in. People just need to realize contractors make it look easy because they have paid the price in the past, even easy things like drywall and light fixtures require more than just general knowledge.  Most contractors have paid for their knowledge in blood and tears and pain at some time or another.

May 24, 2012 5:58PM
I agree with some of what they are trying to say.  For example I never mess with electrical re-wiring or adding additional service.  Although I will change fixtures like outlets, switches, ceiling fans and the like.  Plumbing, I always call a plumber for installations of toilets, sinks and re-locating plumbing as I try not to get in over my head.  As far as painting, wallpapering, tiling, cabinetry, sheetrocking and decking, I tackle those myself as I have the tools and feel confident using them.  I always "read-plan-and do" before I take on any project and if I still have a question I ask a pro. 
May 25, 2012 9:52AM

You can save money if you DIY, To bad the government helped the banks cheat me out of a house to improve on, and out sourced my job so I can't afford a new one.

Now for me, Home improvement is buying new tires or parking with a new view.. 

Jun 22, 2012 4:05AM
This article reinforces that concept with some practical advice.
Thanks,valuable discussion about this topic is very essential for us.
Great works man.
For more information like this topic visit at

May 26, 2012 9:44PM
I work in the electrical dept. of a home improvement store.  It is truly astounding the number of people who come in to buy items for a project (some large, some small) and clearly know absolutely NOTHING about what they are doing.  Electrical projects are serious business and mistakes can be dangerous or fatal or can burn your house down.  If you're determined to do it yourself, buy a good DYI book and study it.  Go into the store with at least enough knowledge to ask intelligent questions.  Otherwise, once you've rounded up your supplies and headed for the checkouts, we sales people will stand there shaking our heads and saying, "There goes another one.  I hope we don't read about him in the paper tomorrow."
May 25, 2012 1:16PM
Angies List is a joke and a scam ..Anyone that has an IQ above down syndrome would NEVER use it ..
May 24, 2012 10:59PM

I learned the hard way about asking for references. Last week I hired a, 'contractor,' that had a free ad on a certain classifides website. I didn't want to do the work myself because of physical limitations.

 He seemed like a nice guy, so I went ahead and hired him without asking many background questions...To be honest, I didn't want to appear like a stick in the mud.

Long story short, I ended up with a bigger mess than what I started with and had to finish the job myself. Now I'm about $200 down and in copious amounts of pain. From now on, business is business. I will ask for references and verify them.

May 25, 2012 11:39AM
I think kim kardasssssian should play Jacki Kennedy.
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