As a homeowner, you may have found yourself facing a much-needed home improvement project, and after watching many of the Do-It-Yourself shows on TV, have said to yourself “I can do that. If they can do it how hard can it be?” Well, it might just be harder than the show (which is heavily edited for a 30-minute time slot) depicts; though not necessarily too difficult for you to tackle on your own, as long as you consider a few important things before jumping in.
My first recommendation is that if you are going to take on a large project–such as a bathroom addition/remodel, kitchen renovation or finishing a basement–is to start at your municipality’s building department. Contrary to what some believe, the local building codes have not been put in place simply to collect revenue. Building codes have been implemented to ensure that houses are built and maintained with at least the minimum standards of safety and good building practices. The professional contractor, if they are good, knows these codes and not just meets them but exceeds them, remember they are minimum standards. The average homeowner who chooses to do their own renovations likely doesn’t know all of the code requirements; however, the municipal inspectors and reviewers do know these requirements, and usually they are more than willing to answer questions, review plans and give advice on code compliance. Furthermore, many insurance companies will void a policy, or refuse a claim, if damage was done to a home, as a result of work that was performed without the required permits. Relatively speaking, the amount of money you pay for permits and plan review is a small cost, when compared to paying for a house that has burned to the ground, or even worse, possibly dealing with injury or loss of life. Bottom line is, get the permits.
The next step is deciding what you should tackle yourself, and what should you sub-contract out. You have to look at yourself not as a Do-It-yourself laborer but a Do-It-Yourself general contractor. In many situations, you may save hundreds of dollars doing the work yourself, but end up spending an entire week in labor, and still not end up with a quality result. A great example of this is drywall. Having been a contractor for some time I now can hang and finish drywall, and make it look pretty good; however, it takes me 4 times longer than a three-man drywall crew. On top of that, even my best quality work doesn’t match the quality of someone who specializes in drywall; therefore, I almost always sub-out the drywall hanging and finishing. You must identify what is worth the savings, and what is not. Sub-out the really technical work that requires years of experience to get right, and you handle the stuff, that with some research and direction, you can easily knock out and meet the desired quality. Doing something that saves you thousands is a no–brainer, but think twice about the work that will only save you a hundred here or there.
The above is a good starting point. In part two, I will deal with some more items including choosing/obtaining materials, considering a time frame and job planning.