Should you hire a contractor or do it yourself?

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
Feature Article - posted Wed., Jun. 22, 2011
Photo by Tom Phelan.
Photo by Tom Phelan.

For some homeowners, it is easy to answer the question: should I do this myself or hire someone to do it? Those of us who are not DIY-savvy will go with hiring an expert. But anyone who has had success with doing home projects will have confidence and will give DIY serious consideration.

Before you beat your chest and get excited about working with your hands, ask yourself a few key questions:

• Do I have the time to get a project of this complexity done? This varies widely depending on the scope of the project. And although the plans may call for a significant undertaking, you may have the luxury of spreading the work out over a year. Projects such as replacing a roof, however, may be constrained by the season and its weather. If you are only available on nights and weekends, you may be setting yourself up for a disappointing outcome or, at best, a burdensome effort.

• Do I have the tools to do this type of work? If your list of successful DIY work is long, you might have a well-equipped workbench and tool shed. But if the project at hand is something wholly unlike anything you have ever tackled, cost and availability of the necessary tool set could be a big impediment. You may have framed in rooms, laid flooring, and hung a suspended ceiling. But if your new project calls for more than simple electrical work and perhaps even bringing in some plumbing, you will at least need to augment your complement of tools to achieve success in those arenas.

• Do I have the expertise in all areas of the project? If you don’t have the tools for the project, you might also not have the level of expertise required to be successful or get the work done in a reasonable amount of time.

My oldest brother, Jim, never asked himself any of these questions. He had three houses, and was always working on at least one of them. Jim never met a project that was bigger than he. The last time I visited with him before his death, he showed me his basement workroom. It looked like a test lab for all the major tool manufacturers. He had simply bought any tools he needed. He worked tirelessly on his projects, and he had developed extensive expertise in every facet of home building and remodeling.

Most people are not like Jim. I know I am not. Although I like the challenge of most home projects, I set limits for myself. For instance, I know I will never put down a ceramic tile floor again. But I will always do plumbing and electrical work in my home.

If answering the questions above sobers you of the DIY addiction, learn the basics of contracting with someone who is right for the project. The same questions you asked yourself can be framed for a contractor.

First, look for someone with the expertise your project demands. If it’s a large undertaking, you may be seeking a general contractor who can subcontract any of the specialties he lacks. These candidates will have the right expertise and the tools to get the work done.

Deal only with contractors who can show proof of insurance and licensing. Anyone who scoffs at the mention of a building permit should be cut from the list.

Create your list of potential contractors by asking relatives, friends and acquaintances. The building department in your town may also help. There are also online resources that will help you find qualified and reputable contractors.

Your list of questions for every contractor should be long and detailed. Ask for references of customers with projects similar to yours. Visit them, if their job is still in process, so you can observe the work and the workmanship. Ask detailed questions of reference customers.

Give each candidate detailed specifications for your job, and demand detailed plans and material lists. Ask how much time he can devote to your project, and when he will start and end. Ask about warranties for workmanship and materials. Finally, get an itemized quote that includes materials, permits, special tools and any and every cost that will become part of the job.


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