DIY or Hire a Pro?


Many homeowners enjoy do-it-yourself home renovation and repair projects. If you’re planning a project and considering the do-it-myself route, here’s some advice that may help with your plans.

Do you have the necessary skills?

Consider your own skills and abilities carefully. While many of today’s home improvement products are designed to make it easy for do-it-yourselfers, other projects will require specialized skills. Seeing how something was done on a TV renovation show isn’t the same as having practical experience.  Getting in over your head can end up costing more money, and frustration, than hiring professional help in the first place.

Do you need a building permit?

Typically, any renovation that changes the structure of your home requires a building permit issued by your municipality. This also means inspections of the work at the appropriate times to ensure the work meets the local building codes. Be sure to get a permit if you need one. Keep in mind that someone looking to buy your house in the future may ask about the renovation work and want verification that the work was done to code.

Do you have the time?

Renovation or significant home repair projects can require a lot of your time to complete. If the work disrupts your day-to-day routine (e.g., kitchen/bathroom renovations) or exposes your home to weather (e.g., roofing projects, exterior refinishing), delays can be a real problem. So before you commit to doing it yourself, be realistic about how much time the work will take, and your ability and willingness to invest this time. If you don’t have the time, don’t start the work.

Do you have the tools and equipment?

Saving money by doing it yourself can easily be undermined if you have to layout hundreds of dollars for tools and equipment. Renting is always an option, but costs can also add up quickly if you’re doing the work in your spare time. So when you develop a do-it-myself budget, include realistic costs for buying or renting tools and equipment.

How do the rest of your household feel about it?

Being a do-it-yourselfer is great – as long as everyone else in your household shares your enthusiasm. Nothing undermines a do-it-yourself project faster than having your family upset when their normal routine is disrupted. So talk it through with everyone ahead of time, and make sure you have a team behind you!

If you’re doing it yourself to save money – get a second opinion to be sure you are saving

If your primary reason for doing-it-yourself is to save money, talk to a contractor before you make a final decision. An experienced renovator or trade contractor may be able to suggest ways of reducing the cost of your project while still using professional services where you lack the time or skills. You can also save by doing the finishing work yourself, such as painting or wallpapering, while leaving the more complex work to the pros.


DIY projects to avoid

Put safety first – do it yourself projects most homeowners should avoid

Unless you have technical qualifications, and a lot of experience, there are some projects and types of work that you should avoid doing yourself:

Plumbing, electrical and gas repairs and installations can all require licensed contractors by law, depending on provincial regulations. Make sure you know the rules where you live – and follow them. For the sake of your family’s safety, work involving electricity and/or gas service should only be done by a qualified contractor. Because this type of work can result in a safety hazard if done incorrectly, permits are usually needed.

Roofing or other exterior work involving heights requires proper safety equipment that must be correctly used. If you don’t have such equipment – and know how to use it – don’t take chances, hire a pro.

Asbestos removal is another area where you should always use a professional, and provincial laws likely require this. Don’t risk your health, and that of your family, by doing this work on your own.

Learning from others

Homeowners who have completed major renovation projects, including bathroom and kitchen upgrades, additions and whole-house renovations, are a great source of advice. Over the years, CHBA has heard from many such satisfied customers, and here’s the type of advice they offer:

  • Find a renovator you can trust and are comfortable with. This is crucial to a good renovation experience. You need to check out the renovator thoroughly. Ask lots of questions when you meet. Talk with previous customers. Visit past or current projects. You also need to be confident that the company is financially stable and has a solid history. Many experienced homeowners also comment on the importance comfortable personal fit with the people they hire, that they easy to talk with and responsive.
  • Find out what services the renovator offers. Homeowners often don’t realize that many professional renovation contractors also provide design and planning services. Even if you want to work with a designer or architect of your own choosing, a contractor can add a lot of value to the process. “Our renovator saw opportunities for improving our design and offered alternative solutions to structural challenges, saving us money in the process.”
  • Make sure you have a detailed written contract. “We chose the renovator who had it all written out. We knew what we were in for and didn’t have to lie awake at night worrying what the final costs would be.”
  • Know the facts before the work begins. Ask a lot of questions of your renovator or contractor. What does the work entail? How will it be done and by whom? How will it affect your day-to-day living? Should you consider moving out during any portion of the construction process? What if want to make changes? The more you know upfront about the whole process, the less anxious you’ll feel.
  • Take an active role throughout the project. It’s your investment and your home, so you want to follow things closely and know what’s going on at all times. The best results come from good communication and a good working relationship between you and your renovator. Ask for and expect regular, if not daily, updates. Know how to get hold of the renovator if you have questions or concerns. Be prepared to spend time going over drawings, monitoring the progress of your project, and discussing decisions with your renovator.
  • Don’t expect a problem-free renovation. The bigger the project, the more likely you will run into the unexpected, such as existing deficiencies hidden in the walls, delays in special orders or bad weather. Be flexible and understand that some things are beyond the renovator’s or your control. “If there is good rapport and trust between you and your renovator, it is usually easy to find a solution and move beyond the problem.”
  • Plan ahead for your finishes. Typically, homeowners are responsible for choosing cabinets, flooring, tiles, fixtures and the many other finishes that will complete the job. This can be time-consuming: “My afternoon at the bath showroom turned into two full days.” Set aside plenty of time and begin early – in some markets, there may be a significant delay for special orders. And take full advantage of your renovator’s experience to help you find the best options.
  • Keep money in reserve for extras. Once the work begins, it is not uncommon for homeowners to want to go an extra step – a better quality tile, brand new appliances and so on. “Once you are into it, you realize that just so-so is not good enough, and that now is the best time to get those extra little touches of style or luxury.”

As you plan your renovation, here’s a Checklist of Golden Rules for a successful renovation. Make sure you have each one covered.