To DIY or Not To DIY: Hire the Pros vs Bring in the Joes

January 10, 2018

So, you’re taking on a renovation, or you’re at least thinking about it.  Either way, you’ve got some decisions to make.  Lots of big, exciting decisions! Don’t panic, just breathe.

Inhale. Exhale.

Ahhh. Okay.

I put together a big, beefy debut blog post for you about the things you should be thinking about when planning your remodel, and what I’d suggest you DIY vs hire out.  As a disclaimer, you know your skill set and your project better than I do.  Do your research, be safe, and don’t do anything illegal.

GETTING STARTED

There are tons of things to consider at the start of a project that could send you down the home improvement rabbit hole.  To begin, you need to come up with a plan.  This is something that I wouldn’t have deemed important in my earlier days of DIY renovation, but now I would never start a project without one.  Give yourself time to think about how you & your family use your space, what you’re willing to splurge on, what your budget and timeline are, materials you want to use, manufacturers and suppliers’ lead times, and, who will be doing the work.  Get started on all of this weeks or months before you swing a hammer.  Your finished product will be much better this way, trust me.

WHAT YOU SHOULD LEAVE TO THE PRO’s

Bathroom remodel designed & built by our company, Mix Design Collective

1. Space Planning

We will get into the depths of why you should hire a design professional in subsequent posts (we’re just a bit biased), but it boils down to this: you don’t know what you don’t know.  Designers can help guide you through the entire process from start to finish, and if they’re good, create a plan for you that’s better than the one you could have come up with on your own.  There are code requirements that must be met for not only comfort and efficiency, but for safety as well, that a good designer will consider.  This is all about setting yourself up for success, so investing in creating a solid plan up front will ultimately save time, money, and energy, and result in a better finished product.

A few tips from Catherine & I for your planning pleasure, whether you hire someone to help or not:

– Create an electrical plan

Where to add recessed lighting, when to incorporate pendants and sconces where appropriate, convenient switch locations, etc. can have a huge impact on the functionality of a room.

– know how you’ll use the space

What you see on Pinterest and Instagram, as tempting as it may be, doesn’t matter unless it’s something that will work for you and your family.  You’re the one who will be living in the space, so prioritize that vs what you’re seeing everyone else do.

– Save up for the finishes you love, and select them early

The worst feeling is having to look at something you picked in a hurry and wishing you had just spent the extra money on what you REALLY wanted.  This is especially true if it’s your own home we’re talking about.  So, if you are in love with that brass touch faucet or the frameless shower door or the fun statement tile, save up for it instead of settling on something you like less.  I’m not saying blow your budget, but sometimes a little extra investment up front will be something you can enjoy for a long, long time.  This gets back to planning – don’t wait til the last minute!

– Use free software if you’re diy-ing

Most designers use CAD software that’s great for getting measurements right and showing you 3D renderings of your new space, but if you’re doing this on your own, there’s a few good online options that’ll help you create floorplans.  The ones we know of are Floorplanner and Roomle. We used these before we purchased a more robust software for our business, and they did the trick.

2. Drywall Finishing

Spoiler alert for the DIY section. This is the part of the drywall process that involves filling the gaps of the drywall (gypsum board, wall board) with tape and mud (spackle, plaster).  You can watch a couple YouTube videos and attack it like the clones, but I just don’t think it’s worthwhile in the end, especially if it’s a larger project.  It’s a great skill to know if you need to patch a hole here and there.  Other than that, unless you’re going to become a pro at finishing drywall, don’t worry ’bout it and keep it moving.

When you’re getting estimates, there can be a few factors your finisher will consider when giving an estimate such as square footage, ceiling height, number of floors, quality of the “hanging”, and who is purchasing materials.  With these factors considered you can expect to pay anywhere from $0.65-$1.10 /sf. ft.  If you are hiring out both hang and finish, you should expect to pay around $45-$55/ sheet of 4″x 8″ or /32sqft., which is about $1.70/sqft.

3. Electrical, Plumbing, HVAC

Leave it to the pros.  There’s a reason they need licenses, bonds, and insurance.

4. Tile

Tiling is one of those things that may appear easy, but that isn’t always the case.  Here’s 3 reasons why I’d suggest hiring it out.

– Equipment Cost

There are several types of tile on the market – glass, natural stone, ceramic, porcelain, mosaic and popular cement tile – and the install process can vary depending on what type of tile you’re working with.  You may need to invest in some new tools to get the job done, which can be costly for a one-time project.  Then, you have to learn how to use it.  On a small project, it may not be worth it.

– Having a Solid Base

The key to any good tile project is to start with a solid foundation.  You may need to remove old flooring and/or level it with floor patches or self-leveling concrete to create a flat surface for the tile.  In some extreme cases, more extensive measures may be necessary like adding new joists or raising the entire floor where it’s sagging from below.  Either way, you want to start with a flat, solid base.  If you don’t, your tile may not adhere properly and will not be level.

– UnSquare Rooms

Unsquare rooms (aka, all old homes) present another challenge.  Ideally, you want any visible, out of square lines to be in an inconspicuous area of the room, like behind the toilet or under the vanity.  There’s lots of tutorials out there on how to get it done, but it takes some thought and figuring out.

If you aren’t going to heed my advice and DIY anyway, here’s a few tools of the trade that will help:

  • Wet saw – for cutting tile (less expensive version here)
  • Tile laser square – this can help you determine if your room is square or not, and properly lay out your tile so your off-square cuts are hidden
  • Drywall cutout tool with tile bit – this helps w/making precise tile cuts in smaller tile
  • Angle grinder w/continuous rim saw blade – Another tool that I sometimes use to cut tile when I don’t want to use a wet saw
  • Tile leveling systems – these help get your tiles level with each other

Also, check out this how-to from This Old House on how to tile a bathroom floor.

WHERE TO FIND GOOD PROs

We’re telling you to hire good pro’s.  Here’s where we’d suggest finding them.

– Get a Referral

Get a referral from someone you trust.  Try posting on social media (on your Facebook page, in a neighborhood group page, etc) to see if anyone suggests a contractor for your upcoming job.  Or call a friend or family member.  People who have had first-hand experience can usually give you the best recommendation.

– HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List and Houzz

We’ve hired people from these sites and have had a good experience with most of them.  Just read the reviews and do your research.

– The Pro Desk

Go to Home Depot or Lowe’s and ask the Pro Desk if they have any suggestions.  Normally the people at the Pro Desk have relationships with contractors who come in regularly, and they may be able to steer you in the direction of someone who can help.

As a rule of thumb, get a few estimates for your job before hiring someone.  Prices can vary drastically.  And remember, the least expensive contractor does not always equal the best.

FOR THE DIY-ER

DIY wall made from reclaimed woodthat we did in our first home almost 5 years ago!

1. Demo & Clean up

Every job needs a grunt to do grunt work.  I’m not saying that you’re a grunt, but… lets… keep… going.  In general, you’ll find if you throw a party for some friends with pizza and brew’s after (during if you’re with us) you can get what you need done for little cost and have fun doing it.  A few things to be aware of.

– be careful

It might look cool when people jump through walls and swing sledge hammers left and right during demo on HGTV, but there can be important things behind the drywall like plumbing and electrical that you do not want to mess up.  If you don’t know what’s behind the wall, try to get just the drywall or plaster/lathe off first, take a look, and then resume.

– get a real dumpster

I’d suggest getting a dumpster that opens up at the end (some of the smaller ones don’t) – it makes it easier to get your trash in there vs having to lift it over the top.  Also, I don’t recommend getting those dumpster bags that they sell.  We’ve tried them and have never been happy with them.  Even for a small job, we’ve found the cost is more than what a local company charges for more space.

2. Installing Fixtures & Finishes

This is (usually) well within the skills of any homeowner.  With a ladder, level, drilland a pair of wrenches you should be able to install the bulk of the finishes and fixtures there are in a home and save yourself a lot of money doing it.  Install an accent wall, replace your baseboards, or install a new sink faucet.  Most faucets, toilets, door knobs, pulls etc. come with instructions and their own special tools needed for install if it isn’t compatible with the tools I listed.  If that isn’t enough, YouTube and This Old House are always a great resource for finding tips and tricks and how-to’s.  Don’t worry, you got this!

3. Painting

All of these recommendations come like Barry Bonds in Cooperstown (with a *), but painting is achievable for the DIYer.  One of the biggest tips I learned from a pro was taping off the floor with two layers of painter’s tape before starting.  Start with one layer of tape around the edge of your room, and then lay your drop cloth down and add another layer of tape to seal it off again.  Don’t be cheap with your tape, you’re already saving money by DIYing.  Also get a 14″-18″ roller and yoke.  It will make the job go that much faster.  We use flat/matte on the ceilings, eggshell on the walls, and satin/semi-gloss on doors and trim.  Another pro tip:  if you don’t finish the whole job in one day, wrap your brush or roller tightly with a plastic bag and it’ll stay wet til next time.

4. Drywall Hanging

This is one of those things that could go either way.  I’d almost suggest just saving up to hire it out because drywall hangers are so fast, but if you’re low on funds, this is one of those things that you can tackle with some YouTube tutorials.  I’d definitely suggest having 1-2 other people with you when you do this – it’ll help.  The drywall finishers, if they’re good, can come in when you’re finished and work their magic.

BOTTOM LINE

You ultimately need to crunch the numbers when deciding which projects you’re be taking on versus which ones you’re going to be hiring out.  Skill is not the only thing you should consider.  Time, money, learning curve and tools needed to perform the job with precision are important, too.  Some jobs may be attainable to DIY, but will take you 3x the amount of time it’d take for a pro to complete the same job, and it may just work out that hiring it out is just as beneficial as DIYing it.  Sometimes the opposite is true, especially if you have some experience – you can save thousands of dollars by DIYing a project.  It all depends on your unique situation.

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5 Comments
    1. Awesome advise. I have a few projects that in my mind seem like DIY projects but as the plans have slowly evolve so has that idea, I know longer feel that way; and after reading this post it has solidified my decision to leave it to the pros. But I have many more ideas so not all of them will be passed on to the pros just a few.

    1. Great post. Doesn’t apply to me and my projects as I am living in France. I live in my third house in three countries and all your advice is spot on. Thank you in the name of all possible and prospective DIY’ers and those with plenty of ideas ….. 🙂 Bonne Année, Happy New Year

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