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.
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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?