A variety of factors should be taken under consideration in deciding to "make or buy" when it comes to home repair and improvement. Cost and budget will often obfuscate other equally important factors such as personal skill level versus determination, investment in tools and risk of injury.
There's a huge difference between learning as you go and re-inventing the wheel. Do-it-yourself videos and publications are helpful aids to learning but are also very sanitized -- they rarely show copious amounts of dust, debris, scraped knuckles and bruised knees -- and require a good deal of time. In short, if you don't mind getting dirty and a little beat up, are in reasonably good physical shape and feel passionate about learning new skills, you've got what it takes to do a number of home projects. If, on the other hand, your primary motivation to do-it-yourself is to save money, you probably won't and should hire a pro. I fell into both categories more or less equally when I began this quest back in college (way back) and vividly remember blowing the budget with visits to the ER.
If there is one universal truth in the trades it is this: "There is nothing like having the right tool for the job." Tools are expensive and will likely consume a good deal of investment capital at the outset. Once you've purchased a basic set that is appropriate for anticipated projects, renting special tools that you will only use occasionally is a great alternative when starting up -- it's also valuable in that the rental shop will provide basic instruction. The tool rental business is currently thriving as more homeowners take on the do-it-yourself challenge.
Timing is another major consideration. If the processes involved in a project will require shutting off your house electrical power and/or water supply you should always have a contingency plan for back-up assistance if things don't go well. This can involve having a skilled friend or relative on call or talking to a local plumber or electrician in advance to know their rates and availability. These precautions are just that -- knowing that all problems and mistakes have a solution goes a long way in growing confidence, skill and the satisfaction of standing back at the end of the day to admire your work.
If you take the challenge, be mindful of safety. Never ever cut or saw directly toward yourself, wear safety glasses and be prepared for everything to take twice as long as you expected. Having said that, stepping outside your comfort zone and working with your hands to repair or create something new in your home after a long week at the office can be exhilarating. It's also a great opportunity to bond with the spouse and kids if they're willing to lend a hand.
Please feel free to post suggestions for topics on this week's thread or email questions to wbusch(at)spendmatters(dot)com.
- William Busch, Retired Contractor and Spend Matters Columnist