You finally did it! You worked hard, you saved your money, you kept your credit score high, and you bought a house. Maybe you got lucky and purchased your dream home, move-in ready. Chances are, you’re going to have to make a few upgrades to the house in order to make it perfect. It’s possible that you decided to dive head first into a complete fixer-upper. Remodeled kitchen, rebuilt deck, refinished hardwoods, restored moulding, fresh paint, new roof, and maybe even an addition. And even if you did buy a turn-key house that already has everything you ever dreamed of, eventually one of those things is going to break and before you know it you will knee deep in home repairs.
So who’s going to do this work?
Well, that depends on what is being done and and what you are comfortable doing yourself.
PAINTING: Interior painting is commonly done by the homeowner during any remodel or home upgrade. As a building contractor, the customers of my home improvement projects frequently do their own interior painting to save some money. If you take your time and mask well, you can probably handle interior painting. Exterior painting is a little more complicated. You need to know the right type paint to use depending on the material. You need to account for the weather and outside temperature. You usually need to get up high on extension ladders which could be dangerous. This is why I recommend having a professional painting contractor handle exterior painting on your home remodel.
DECKS, SHEDS & FENCES: Building a new exterior structure can be a great way to upgrade your home. Building a deck, shed or fence are usually simple projects that you can do on your own. A ground level deck is the easiest to complete on your own. A second story deck is more complicated but still doable. There are many places online where you can find tips on how to build a deck. Pay special attention to the handrail on your deck though as there are some specific building codes that govern handrails and guardrails if your deck is over a certain height. A fence is another home upgrade project that you can accomplish on your own in a couple of weekends. The most difficult aspect of fence building is getting the posts plumb and in a straight line. Get some string and a good level to ensure your fence looks good. A shed is going to be the most difficult of the outdoor projects. You will need to make sure it has a stable foundation, you will need some framing skills to get the walls and roof built and other building skills come into play such as siding, roofing and door installation. With some good pre-planning and some online tips on how to build a shed, it’s definitely something I would encourage a homeowner to try to tackle themselves. Then there are other little outdoor projects you could try like a trellis or a gazebo.
TILE: Tile is a very common item to be replaced in a home remodel or upgrade. Tile can be easily dated or damaged and need to be replaced all together. Even if I’m going to handle the tile installation as a contractor, the demolition of the old tile is one thing that some homeowners suggest doing themselves to save some money. If you want to go this route, just take your time and make sure you do a lot of site protection. Cover the countertops, the tub, the fireplace, the floor; anything that could get scratched as little sharp pieces of tile fall onto them. If you want to install the tile yourself as well, it’s something that can be done with the right amount of patience and prep work. Make sure you get a nice clean, even surface to work with. For your first tile project, I recommend using a bigger tile since these will be easier to install than a bunch of little mosaics. Also, laying out and cutting as many tiles as you can before you start setting them in mortar usually makes the process go much more smoothly
DRYWALL: Most drywall work when it comes to home upgrades is just small patches. A full remodel will require more drywall, especially if walls are added or moved. If you are doing a full gut to the home and bringing it down to studs, then of course this will call for the entire house to be drywalled. Most small patches can be filled by the homeowner. Either they will be small holes that can be spackled or they will need a small piece of sheetrock to fill the void and a small coat of joint compound. Hanging and taping drywall on an entire wall is also doable by a homeowner if you have a little patience. You can easily find tips online on how to hang and tape drywall. If you gut the house and need to have the entire interior drywalled, I recommend having a professional do it. A drywall crew can not only hang and tape an entire house in a fraction of the time that you could do it, but they also can get a better deal on the material which helps offset the cost of the labor. One or two smaller areas might not be as noticeable if the mud is not perfect, but getting a nice smooth wall with straight corners is not easy. Unless you have a decent amount of drywall experience, you will probably have a lot of blemishes all over the house at the end of your remodel which will defeat the purpose of the remodel.
DOORS & TRIM: Doors can be a fickle part of a home. If they aren’t hung properly or if the house settles over time, the doors can stick or the latches don’t engage. It usually takes a carpenter who has a lot of experience with doors to really fix the problem. There are experienced building contractors out there that don’t know the intricacies of fixing a problem door. Some people decide to get a sander or a planer out and shave down part of the door, but it isn’t sticking because it changed shape, the door is sticking because the jamb didn’t stay where it was when it was originally installed. getting some shims behind the appropriate hinge to correct this is usually the answer. It can be done by the homeowner, but usually take an experienced carpenter to get it done quickly. Replacing the trim in your home during a remodel is another task that can be done by the homeowner, depending on the trim. Door casing and base trim are usually simple enough though you will need to start dealing with pneumatic nailers and a miter saw. More complicated trim such as crown moulding and stair skirt board are probably best left to a professional finish carpenter.
CABINETS: Whether or not you choose to install your own cabinets will depend on the quality and location of the cabinets. If you are getting high end, custom cabinets built for your new chef’s kitchen, you are probably going to want to hire a professional cabinet installer. They will know how to hang the cabinets properly and trim them out so they look beautiful. If you are doing a bathroom or laundry room and you picked up some off-the-rack cabinets from your local home improvement store, you will most likely have no problems getting them installed on your own. Places like Ikea have modular cabinet kits that you can purchase and follow step by step instructions to assemble and install the cabinets that are designed with homeowner installation in mind. Just remember that these cabinets tend to be designed in European countries that don’t follow the same standards as we do, so sometime things are a little off. Pre-planning makes your self-install go a little more smoothly. Measuring out where your cabinets will go ahead of time and adding blocking in the wall before sheetrock goes up will make for an easier install later down the line.
FLOORING: There are so many different types of flooring and all of them can be installed by the homeowner, though some are easier than others. Your standard floating laminate flooring is the most common flooring used for self-install. It doesn’t get nailed and all you really need is a small miter saw and rubber mallet. Real hardwood flooring takes a specific nail gun and a lot more skill. Vinyl flooring gets glued down and can get messy, but if you are careful, most homeowners can get the job done. Carpet is not as easy as some people think and needs to be stretched properly with a special tool and there is an art to getting the seems to disappear. What type of flooring you try to tackle yourself might also depend on the area. You probably want a professional to install the hardwoods in the master suite, but you could probably lay your own laminate or vinyl flooring in a laundry or storage room.
PLUMBING: Plumbing, like electrical, is one of the trades where you need to have a special license in order to do the work. In most areas of the United States, homeowners are exempt from these licenses when they do their own work on their home repairs or remodels. Simple repairs, such as stopping a toilet from running or replacing a faucet, can usually be done with a couple of hand tools and a part from a home improvement store. Fixing a major issue like a burst pipe should usually be handled by a licensed plumbing contractor. If you are doing a major remodel and will need to do a large about of plumbing changes through the house, A licensed plumber will have the necessary tools to get the job done efficiently. If you are trying to save money by doing the plumbing rough in yourself, after you purchase or even rent all the specialized tools you will need, you will probably have spent as much as if you hired a professional. Not to mention they will be able to do the work in half the time. Just keep in mind that most areas have a lot of specific codes for where plumbing fixtures can go and how the lines are hooked up.
ELECTRICAL: This is another construction trade that needs their own license to do work on a house repair or remodel. Again, most homeowners are exempt from requiring a license but will still need to get their work inspected. This is an area that is highly recommended you use a licensed professional electrician. Not only could you electrocute yourself if you make a mistake while working, but you could potentially set yourself or someone else up to be electrocuted in the future. If something doesn’t get grounded properly, someone could make contact with it in the future and get zapped. You could also end up burning your house down in the event something gets hooked up wrong and catches fire. Your work will have to be inspected, but building inspectors don’t catch everything and having an experienced professional perform the work will give you the piece of mind that the electrical system in your home is in proper working order.
APPLIANCES: Getting new appliances in your home is one of the simplest ways to upgrade your space. New kitchen appliances may be the final step in your kitchen remodel. A new high efficiency furnace or tankless hot water heater may lower your utility bills. A new washer and dryer might just be a little gift to yourself. Installing these items usually will be done when they are delivered unless there is some reason the new appliance can’t go in right away. In this case, most of the time, it will involve plugging it in and hooking up a water line (washing machine or refrigerator with an ice maker) or hooking up a vent line (clothes dryer or range hood). To be on the safe side and ensure your appliances are warrantied, you can always schedule the installer to come out at a later date to perform the install. When it comes to appliance repairs, I find that having a professional technician come out is always best. Chances are, your appliance could still be under warranty, so the repair will be free anyway. The other situation might be that there has been a recall on an appliance which means the manufacturer will cover the repair even if the warranty period is up. Even if you have to dish out a few bucks, appliance repair is a very specialized field and will most efficiently and successfully be performed by an experienced technician.
ROOFING: One field of home construction that I always suggest be handled by a professional is roofing. Can you roof your house on your own? Sure. Should you? Absolutely not. One of the biggest dangers to every aspect of your home is water. Water leaks can destroy every part of your house and can trickle in from a penetration in the roof and go all the way down a wall undetected for decades. If you detect a roof leak, get a professional out to fix it immediately to ensure the leak stops. If you need a new roof, have it professionally installed so you know it is done correctly and flashed properly. They will know the proper type of roofing to use in the event that you have a flat roof or a low sloped roof. These types of roofs are very susceptible to leaks if not installed properly. Do your research and make sure the roofing company has good reviews and no complaints with your city or local construction contractors board. You can find tips online on how to properly vet a potential contractor.
Most repair or remodel projects around your home can be done on a DIY basis. The common theme when it comes to doing your own construction projects is to plan ahead, take your time and give yourself enough extra material to mess up and fix the mistake. It’s going to happen so you might as well be ready for it. Also, don’t sacrifice quality to save a few bucks. Some home remodel project should just be handled by a professional. You’ll be better off and your house will be worth more in the long run.