Know Your Limits: DIY vs Contractor

It’s a very fine line between what can be considered a DIY project and what requires a professional contractor – and the answer varies depending on the person. I’ve seen some people who can take on major renovation projects themselves, and I’ve seen others who can barely change a door handle without messing it up.

Taking on a DIY home improvement project can be a great way to save money, but if you can’t do it properly and efficiently it could cost you a lot more in the long run. Know your limits and know when to call in the professionals.

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DIY Renovations: What’s Legal?

As long as you have all the necessary permits and inspections, you can do just about any type of renovation in your own home, but in most municipalities you can’t legally do the same things in someone else’s home. This is a good way to determine what kinds of jobs should be done by a professional in your home too – if you’re not legally allowed to do it in someone else’s home, you probably shouldn’t do it in your own.

Municipal licensing for renovators is usually required for:

  • roofing
  • siding
  • drywalling
  • bricklaying
  • waterproofing a foundation

If you know what you’re doing you can probably complete these jobs safely in your own home, but I would still recommend hiring a professional to make sure it’s done right.

Other jobs that require a licensed tradesperson include:

  • plumbing
  • electrical
  • HVAC
  • structural changes

These are jobs that I absolutely DO NOT recommend anyone doing themselves. If these jobs are done incorrectly you put yourself and your home at serious risk.

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Evaluate the Project

Before deciding whether to hire a contractor or take on a project yourself there are a few things to assess: ability, cost, and time.

Ability – Be honest with yourself about what you can handle and don’t be overconfident. Just because there’s a YouTube video showing you how to do something, it doesn’t mean you have the skill required to complete the task safely and efficiently.

Cost – When taking on a DIY project you’ll find the cost is usually less because you’re eliminating the labour costs. However, keep in mind that contractors often purchase materials at lower costs than individual homeowners, and if you make any mistakes you’ll have to pay to fix them. When doing the math consider these factors and always add a contingency.

Time – There are two things to think about when it comes to time. What is your time worth, and how quickly do you want this project done? Doing a project yourself will likely take some time and take you away from other things you’d rather be doing. Hiring a professional will likely cost you more but it will also probably get your project completed much faster.

Income Property Renovation

The Issue of Building Permits

A building permit is the formal permission you need to get in order to begin construction or demolition of a property. Permits exist in order to regulate the type of construction allowed in a community and to ensure that minimum building standards are being met. If you’re taking on a DIY project make sure you get the necessary permits. If you’re hiring a contractor discuss it with him or her to make sure all necessary permits are being acquired. One of the bonuses of hiring a professional is that they usually take care of this for you (but not always so be sure to clarify with them before you start).

Renovations That Require Permits

Every municipality is a little bit different, but renovations that usually require building permits include:

  • changes to the plumbing system
  • changes to the electrical system
  • changes to HVAC systems
  • major structural changes
  • additions to the structure
  • new window or door openings
  • the addition of outbuildings over a certain size
  • the addition of a deck over a certain size
  • changes to a structure’s foundation
  • construction of a secondary suite
  • the addition of a fireplace

This list isn’t the be all end all so check with your municipality to be sure.

Income Property Renovation

Before you take on any home improvement project, be it DIY or with a professional contractor, do your research and make sure you know what you’re getting into. The more you know, the smarter decision you’ll be able to make, the better result you’ll get. To learn more about this check out my book How to Add Value to Your Home and click here for information about how to hire a contractor.

All photos courtesy of Skit Inc.

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