Do-it-yourself dangers

What to try yourself, when to hire a professional


One way many homeowners try to save money on hiring for home improvement work is by doing it themselves.

While DIY projects may work better for your budget, the problems that can arise can be disastrous.

 "We hear many stories where consumers just don't know what they are getting into when they are doing a DIY project. It's very easy to get in over your head if you don't know what you are doing," said Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List.

Try some smaller projects first: Projects that don't need much experience or many tools.

  • Painting areas you can reach without tall ladder.
  • Tightening hardware on cabinetry.
  • Hanging picture frames or shelves.
  • Installing drapes or curtains.
  • Wall papering, some flooring projects.

When should you hire an expert? Any time the safety of your home and family are in question, hire a licensed expert to do the work. Such repair jobs can include the following:

  • Electrical work
  • Plumbing repairs
  • Repairs that use potentially hazardous chemicals
  • Roof repairs and maintenance
  • Repairs that require ladders or scaffolding.
  • Repairs that require power tools.
  • Repairs that would void a warranty if you do them yourself
  • Work involving natural gas lines
  • Repairs that need a permit

Important questions to ask before tackling a house repair on your own: Before taking on a challenge and getting in over your head, there are important questions to consider.

  • Do you have the right skills and experience? While there are several resources that tell and show you how to do almost everything, there is no substitute for the skills and experience needed to successfully fix the part of your home that needs repairs. For example, if a repair project involves replacing a wall and you've never done this before, consider calling an expert.
  • Do you have enough spare time? Some house repairs need immediate attention and complete follow-through, while others aren't urgent and/or can take weeks to complete. When the need to repair part of your home arises, consider your availability, the urgency of the repair and the amount of time it will take to complete the repair.
  • Do you have the right tools? Not everyone's toolkit has specialty items like a tile saw, air compressor or welder. If you think that you'll use a new tool several times after completing a repair, you may find the investment worthwhile. If not, your local hardware store may offer rental options.

Angie's List 7 Tips for Hiring a Contractor when it's time:

  • Clearly define your project: Before you begin talking with contractors, read remodeling magazines, search the Internet for information on designs and materials. Even rough ideas on paper give a potential contractor a better sense of what you hope to accomplish and what is required to make it happen.
  • Ask around:  Ask neighbors, friends and Angie's List about good, local contractors, but don't hire based on only one conversation.
  • Check references: Get names of previous customers and find out if they were pleased with the work and the timeline of the project, and if they'd hire the contractor again. Get the names of subcontractors and ask if they work with the contractor often and does he pay on time. If your prospective contractor balks at providing references, find another one. Check with trade associations to learn how your contractor stacks up among his or her peers.
  • Get estimates: Get at least three written estimates. Documentation is often the best ammunition you have if things go wrong.
  • License for hire: Some states or cities have no licensing requirements for contractors, which can make it difficult for homeowners to check up on contractors before they hire. Don't rely on the contractor's word to know whether his or her license is valid: verify it through appropriate agencies.
  • Insurance and bonding: Check the status of the contractor's bonding and liability insurance coverage, too. A good contractor will come prepared with proof that he or she is covered. Without insurance, if something goes really wrong with the job, or worse, any of the workers get hurt on the job, the homeowner is on the hook.
  • The contract sign: Don't assume your contract covers all your needs. Know the details of the contract, as well as how any change orders will be handled. Check that your contract includes a lien waiver, covering payments to all subcontractors who worked on the project. Never sign a blank contract.