Up until our bathroom project at the end of last year, everything that we changed in our home we did ourselves, or with the help of friends and family. I actually had never hired a contractor before!
I'm firmly of the belief that most things are figure-out-able. In other words, I like to approach things from the perspective that with hard work, patience, and the right tools I can probably figure out how to do most things pretty well. Of course, this involves asking people I know with more experience for tips or assistance, or finding tutorials on blogs and YouTube that I can fit to my needs. I've managed to strip and refinish furniture, install tile, paint lots of things, hang lots of things, patch drywall, change hardware, fix a rusty spot on my dryer, demo, and probably some other things that I'm forgetting. So at what point do I decide I can't or shouldn't try to figure something out, and pay an expert to do it instead?
1. When the worst case scenario could be dangerous.
While we've changed light fixtures that already have wiring and don't need to be moved, as well as swapped light switches for smart dimmers, more intensive electrical work has the potential to cause dangerous problems or damage your home. You can cause issues with your breaker or mess up other electrical already in place, or even cause an electrical fire. Did you know that if your house burns down from an electrical issue caused by some work done by anyone other than a licensed electrician, your homeowner's insurance may not cover it? Yikes. That's reason enough to hire out electrical work.
2. When something going wrong could cause a lot of damage.
Swapping out fixtures that already have plumbing in place is one thing (simple, though they can be finicky!), but adding in or changing pipes and drains? What if the slope isn't right? Or the vent? What if it floods, or drips and causes mold? This is the main reason we hired contractors for our bathroom - to make sure everything is waterproofed and all the plumbing is done well, giving us peace of mind. I'd rather pay someone to do this correctly the first time than cause a lot more issues that I'll have to pay someone to fix later.
3. When you can't budget extra time, but can budget money.
Time has a cost just like money does. Sure I can figure out lots of things, but if I move slower, mess something up and have to redo it, or just spend all weekend working on it when I could be doing something fun, well, I have to weigh the value of my time. I enjoy doing projects, but not endlessly. Sometimes you also just need something to work as soon as possible! For example, while our master bathroom is being finished, we are fortunate to have a guest bathroom to use. But after we finish the master, our next project is to change the stall shower in the guest bathroom to a tub/shower combo, which is another renovation. I have done tile work myself, and I considered doing the tile for our master shower, but decided that having the shower finished and ready for use quickly so that we can renovate the guest bath and still have a shower to use is more important than the money spent paying the contractors to do the tile work. When we get to the guest bath, I will be doing the tile myself because our other shower will already be complete, so I can take my time finishing that - saving some money but also not rushing for time.
4. When the cost of a mistake is high.
Some projects and materials are friendlier to mistakes than others. For example, there are certain types of flooring that click in place easily and can be taken up easily, and then there are wood floors that need to acclimate, be nailed down, stained/sealing after they're laid, and could potentially contract/expand and warp - basically being ruined if they're not laid properly. Could you carefully plan and learn to lay wood floors yourself? Sure! But ruining thousands of dollars worth of material is not my idea of a fun DIY. I'd work my way up to using a material like that, and start with more affordable materials, smaller areas, and learning a new skill at a relatively lower cost.
So what if the project you're looking at doesn't meet the above criteria, but you haven't really done anything like it before, how do you know if you should attempt a DIY? Start small! Tiling is a super doable DIY, but if you've never done it before, don't begin by trying to tile the floor in your whole house. We want to eventually replace all the baseboards in our home (they don't match...that's another issue!) but we'll just start with the bathroom and closet. We've also never laid flooring before, but our closet will need new floors because of the changes we made to the bathroom, which is a great opportunity to learn how to lay flooring without being overwhelmed by the whole house. Start small, do some research, ask for help, and tackle that project!