When To DIY And When To Outsource

Even Kitty PoP helps DIY in the PoP house!

Even Kitty PoP helps DIY in the PoP house!

We’ve been talking about our DIY kitchen remodeling project for months now, but the truth is, it’s not going to be 100% DIY.


I know, that isn’t really that much of a surprise since we already fessed up to hiring a structural engineer to provide plans that would guide us through the major structural changes of our remodel (moving a wall and modifying our roof trusses to vault the ceiling) without sacrificing any structural integrity of our house.

But that’s not where the outsourcing is going to end… Instead of DIY, we’re going to outsource other parts of the project that (unlike the structural plans) we’re pretty sure we could do ourselves.

double gasp!

But instead of could, we need to also ask the question: should we do everything ourselves?

Yes, even for hard-core DIY folks like us there’s comes a point in projects when outsourcing can make sense. But there’s also no easy “line in the sand” where it always makes sense to DIY for certain projects and always outsource for others. Instead we find ourselves asking some of the same questions time and time again when evaluating the DIY-ness of a given project. Here’s what those questions are.

Is It DIY-able? Or Should You Outsource?

1.  Money

  • Are the supplies and tools (rental or acquisition where it makes sense) more expensive than it would be to just hire someone to do the job?

Amazingly, this is sometimes the case as we found out when I calculated just how much we were spending (poorly) maintaining our pool as a DIY. We were spending just as much to DIY pool maintenance and I was constantly battling green algae (this is one of the few times I have REALLY cursed Mr PoP’s red/green colorblindness) as we now spend to have a pool guy stop by our house once per week and take care of everything. No brainer to outsource.

2.  Urgency

  • How urgent is it that the project be done right away?
  • Do you have time to do a good bit of research beforehand and try and find some online tutorials, seek out the right tools and supplies that might make it easier?
  • Or is it an absolute emergency that must be dealt with rightthissecond?

Even if something seems like an emergency, sometimes only part of the problem is a true emergency and you can outsource that part and DIY the rest. Case in point – our friend’s septic system that was getting backed up into his house.  (A truly $hitty emergency.)  The complete fix was to have a new leach field dug to ensure proper drainage and the septic company was quoting him ~$4000 for the work for the full job, which they could start the next day. Emergency solved, right?!?  Wrong!

Instead, he paid them a few hundred dollars (<1/10th the cost) to drain his septic tank and buy him a few months. Real emergency solved! Then in those few months he researched how septic tanks and leach fields work and he bought a couple of good shovels and spent some serious hours over those months digging trenches for a brand new leach field in his backyard and did the rest of the job himself, saving over $3,000 (75%) off the original quote.

3.  Specialized Knowledge

  • Is there some specialized knowledge involved in the project that not knowing would risk catastrophic failure of some form?
  • Is it possible for you to learn this knowledge through a reasonable means?

Part of DIY is learning, and that’s good. But sometimes the knowledge is sufficiently specialized (and where accuracy is really important!) that you want to rely on someone who absolutely knows how to do things correctly. This is the big reason why we hired an structural designer to provide the plans for our wall move and truss modification as part of the kitchen renovation. Modifying those trusses in an incorrect manner would weaken the structural integrity of our house, and that’s just not worth it to us.

4.  Time

  • How much time do you reasonably have to do this project?
  • Is it enough?

With fairly demanding 9-5 jobs, we are weekend DIY warriors, and during Q4 that’s sometimes even a stretch. So we either need projects that are either:

  • something we can accomplish within a single weekend
  • something that we can live with half-finished in between

Luckily we have a pretty high tolerance of what we can live with in a half-finished state. As long as something isn’t a danger to us or Kitty PoP, we’re general okay with inconvenience if something remains undone at our house. For our rentals, that’s another matter. They’re paying rent so they don’t have to deal with this kind of BS. That means if an urgent project at our rentals looks too big for us to tackle in a weekend, we’re pretty likely to hire it out. Non-urgent problems (like refinishing the linoleum floors) we try and tackle between renters.

5.  Safety

  • Is there something so dangerous about the project that would cause reasonable safety precautions to be insufficient?

Turning off breakers before messing with electricity, wearing goggles, gloves, breathing masks, closed-toed shoes, watching where you walk on the roof, etc… These are reasonable precautions. But sometimes the project seems too dangerous even for a reasonable person – like when we hired an arborist to trim and thin out the branches on our 50+ foot tall live oak tree. Expertly handling chain saws atop tall ladders while branches (some of which are quite large) fall and litter the ground around you? Eh… that felt a bit beyond the “reasonable safety precaution” stage for us.

6.  Worst Case Scenario

  • What’s the worst that can happen during a reasonable DIY execution?
  • Can you live with it?

When we were swapping out our water heater last summer we briefly considered hiring someone to install it for a few hundred dollars. But when it came down to it, with the water turned off in the house during the install (a reasonable precaution!), the worst case scenario was that we couldn’t get it hooked up in time and we would need to cap off the pipes and live without a water heater for a week, ie risking 7 days x 2 people = 14 cold showers. Outsourcing meant a guarantee of no cold showers, which sounded nice… but we would be paying over $20/shower for that guarantee. We decided we could risk the possibility of a few cold showers at $20/shower. The install took a little longer than we thought, but we still got it done in one *long* day and we didn’t have any cold showers, but we could have lived with it even if it happened.

Often times, the worst case scenario is simply calling someone out after you’ve already tried it yourself. And as long as your repair efforts aren’t making the situation significantly worse, it’s probably worth the risk of giving it a shot yourself!

7.  Mental Health / Relationships

  • Will DIY-ing this project threaten your mental health or the health of your relationships?

DIY can be stressful, especially in long, ongoing projects. But saving money on home improvements really isn’t worth it in the long run if you and your family aren’t going to be in a mental state to enjoy the improvements (or each other) when the project is done. Be honest with yourself. This isn’t a carte-blanche to hire everything out, since hiring contractors for unnecessary projects can get stressful too. But if your marriage is weak right now or you’re in a depressive state of your bipolar disorder, maybe it’s not the best time to try and DIY a new addition.

So What Are The PoP’s Outsourcing?

For our grand kitchen renovation, here’s where we stand in terms of DIY/Outsource.

  • Structural plans – Total Outsource! Needed that expertise!
  • Relocating the drain & plumbing for the washer – Partial Outsource. Between time (it’s Q4, and we need this done before we can start on the wall move in early 2015), tool rental costs (to cut probably 6″ into concrete slab), and not wanting to deal with worst-case scenarios of possibly messing up slab or having drain lines not draining properly, we thought it would be worth the ~$1,400 to hire someone, but we’ll be doing the finishing work like retreating the exposed soil and repouring concrete to save a few hundred off the total.
  • Relocating the 240V electrical lines for the laundry – Possible Outsource. Once the plumbing gets moved, we’ll take a look at the electric and see if it looks fairly straight forward in there. If it does, we’ll do it (making reasonable safety precautions), but if it doesn’t… getting zapped by 240V isn’t Mr PoP’s idea of a good time, so in that case we’d hire it out.
  • Everything else – All DIY… we think!


How do you decide if you’re going to DIY or outsource a project?

26 comments to When To DIY And When To Outsource

  • That’s pretty much the list we use too, with the safety question being paramount. The unfinished state point is a good one too–you absolutely have to be OK with some disruption when you DIY. We’ve been missing a wall in our kitchen for awhile now (due to a cabinet removal and brick exposing experiment) because it just hasn’t risen to the top of the DIY priority list. But, we don’t mind it and we’ll drywall it when it’s the priority. Looks like you’re still planning to DIY much of this project, so I’m impressed!

    • Yes, safety is definitely important! I don’t think the list was necessarily in order of importance =) Not worth risking your life over something, but it’s a good check-in to make sure you’re making reasonable safety precautions when you DIY, too.

  • We’ve done both DIY and outsourcing. There are certain things I always do for our home and rentals- like painting! Painting is expensive and I’m actually really good at it. Greg does basic plumbing but is scared to death of electrical so we always hire that out. I’m also generally willing to hire out cosmetic things- like the backsplash in my kitchen for example. It would drive me nuts if it didn’t look great.
    We’re also at a point in our lives when we have very little free time so outsourcing makes more sense.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Who Sabotages Your Christmas Budget?My Profile

    • With little things, I’ve seen enough friends complain about contractors messing up the little things (like chipping a bathtub while installing tile over the tub) and being blasé about it that I think I’m more apt to do those myself and make sure they’re done slowly and done right.

  • We should do more and outsource more! It’s sad when it seems easier to do the entire project ourselves than to find someone who can do it (and then the worries that they won’t do a good job). If we had people for every project that we trust as much as our plumbers we’d be getting a lot more home improvement stuff done a lot faster!
    nicoleandmaggie recently posted..How do you handle the mental load of partnered life?My Profile

    • “It’s sad when it seems easier to do the entire project ourselves than to find someone who can do it”

      Absolutely… babysitting contractors isn’t fun for them, nor is it fun for us… but if they would do things right the first time it wouldn’t be nearly as painful for everyone involved!

  • We pretty much always outsource some or most of a project if it relates to plumbing, water, or electricity. Those are areas we are not experts in, and if we messed up then it could lead to a costly mistake!
    Michelle recently posted..6 Ways Being Cheap Can Cost You MoneyMy Profile

    • You might be surprised! Next time you have a small project for electrical or plumbing, check out a you-tube video or read a “dummies” book and something might be easier than you think!

  • We outsource a good amount of projects. We usually consider time, cost, and expertise needed. For example putting up a wall with a door and tile could take me a few weekends not to mention the tools I would need. I think the expertise in building the wall would come into play as well, so we hired someone and it was done in 2 days at a reasonable cost. We decided to get multiple bids and do our research on what was the best price and quality expected.

    I did do a DIY patio/fence wooden door while they were working, even used some of their tools, so we saved money on labor and tools, while also completing a nice little project on Columbus day.
    Even Steven recently posted..How a Guy Selling Hot Dogs Retired EarlyMy Profile

    • Nice job combining DIY with outsourcing for a compromise. Tool rental can be pricey, so it was nice of the contractors to let you use theirs while they were on site.

  • Great list. We basically follow the same checklist in our household too.

    Sometimes it just makes more sense to have people do the project for you.

  • I consider myself a pretty good handy man, but there’s one thing I don’t touch… electricity. I don’t know why, but I’m a little scared of it. Okay I know why, because I can get electrocuted! That’s one thing that I always pay somebody.
    Aldo @ Million Dollar Ninja recently posted..Living On Campus Costs More than Off Campus (Infographic)My Profile

    • I used to be pretty terrified of electricity, but even I can do some basic stuff now that I know how to use tools to make sure outlets are completely turned off before messing around with them.

  • We have spent most of our adult lives as renters, not homeowners, and are not very handy. The last time I did something under a sink, I flooded it and we had to have all the wood under the sink cut out and replaced. Oops.

    That said, I do sometimes tackle smaller jobs. My father always says, “It’s already broken. You already need a new one,” meaning that if you can’t make it worse, why not give it a shot?
    Frugal Paragon recently posted..I Got a Flat Tire, and My Life Is AwesomeMy Profile

    • Yikes on the sink!

      We tend to err more on your dad’s side of things, but have to balance time and money in there too since even DIY repairs take both of those!

  • I generally outsource when it takes a long time to learn the skill, and is probably a one off skill. I don’t mind spending two hours learning how to change a tire, but I won’t learn something that is ever changing like a specific coding language that I’d have to learn all over again 3 months later.
    Pauline recently posted..How to survive a breakup financiallyMy Profile

  • This is a really good list. I’d add two items to this list.

    1). Efficiency. Some jobs can go a lot faster if you have a lot of practice at the task. An experienced mudder can mud and sand a room in about 1/4 the time I can….and I’ve done a lot of mudding.

    2) Availability. I don’t live in a big city, so good contractors are scarce. Our mudder is pretty much impossible to hire in the summer because he has outdoor work that takes priority over his mudding work. The last room we finished, I mudded it because I finally got sick of waiting and getting pushed off for weeks.

    • Those are great additions to the list. Availability played a role in the structural plans that we got since we had to push the engineer a few times to get them finished… He has so many jobs right now that our little tiny one just wasn’t a priority. 5 years ago in the depths of the real estate bust down here, I’m sure he would have had them done in a heartbeat, though!

  • CincyCat

    I’ve moved a 240 line before. I moved our stove electric about 8″ to the side to accommodate a new cabinet. As long as all power is cut at the main breaker, you should be fine. It took about an hour, including time to drill the new hole for the line.

    • Yup – that move definitely sounds do-able as a DIY. Unfortunately, our case looks a little more complicated, so we’re going to be asking our inspector a few questions before deciding whether it’ll be DIY or not. As it stands now, the 240 line isn’t long enough to run to the new location, so a new line will have to be run from the breaker box, and the code has changed in our area from when the original 240 line was put in (was 3 wire, now 4), so it’ll need to be brought up to the new code with the move as well.

      • CincyCat

        New 240 line from breaker box = call an expert, IMHO, for reasons #3 & #4, especially. When we had a new (standard) line run for a new dishwasher, we called an electrician to do it. We did not have the right tools, etc. to get the line through the joists & up one floor from the breaker box in the basement. He had it done in a couple of hours, but I’m sure it would have taken us a couple of days (at least!).

  • Yep, this is us in a nutshell.

    We are still trying to figure out what we can and cannot do with our kitchen remodel. We will definitely paint. The wall will definitely not be done by us. We’re hoping we don’t have to shift the plumbing or electrical at all so as to avoid that.

    We think we can do the flooring ourselves, backsplash, and re-treating the cabinets that we are keeping. For any new cabinetry installed, we’ll see.

    We will need a new breaker box–ours is ancient and the house needs it either way. So that will be outsourced. We want to add some recess lighting, which we may or may not do depending.

    We want a banquette–I’m leaning towards having that outsourced so it’s 100% done right. I feel that would be really time consuming/frustrating.
    Mr. FI recently posted..October ExpensesMy Profile

  • I wish I would have read this article in my younger years. I’ve also learned that if it is a small project and you don’t have the tools, outsource it. Takes way too much time and money.