Do It Yourself Dream or Disaster?

Are YOU Ready and Have What it Takes?

Monica Schaefer
MilitaryByOwner staff writer

We recently discussed home improvement projects in our post, "Keeping Up with the Kitchen Trends" with quick and easy DIY projects that would update your kitchen space.  But what one person deems "quick and easy", may end up being a lengthy, complicated nightmare for someone else. 

Do-It-Yourself websites such as or or books at the home improvement store checkout aisle, can make just about everyone feel like a general contractor. But do not let the glossy wood flooring or sparkling glass mosaic tiles distract you from the reality of DIY projects. 

No doubt there are those individuals that were born with a natural talent for construction projects, or had the fortune to have a mentor teach them, but for most homeowners, improvement/remodeling projects are best left for the experts.  How do you decide which projects to take on yourself and which you should hire out? Here are 7 areas for consideration before you dive head first into that DIY project.

1. Consider all aspects of the project. 

Take time to look at the big picture.  It is easy to look at the "simplicity" side of the project, but sometimes changing or updating one portion of a room will lead to the need to update or change something else.  Will changing the hardware on kitchen cabinets make the finish look dated or dingy? Are you willing to take the time to refinish or paint the cabinets if this happens? If so, will this change make it necessary to repaint the walls? The "snowball" effect is prevalent in home improvement projects, so considering how one thing may lead to another will prepare you for some of the things that could go wrong during your endeavor.  Utilize friends and family who will be willing to offer their eyes and opinion to ensure that you have thought of everything you can before you pick up that screwdriver.

2. Do your research.

With the number of home improvement television shows and websites, there is a wealth of information out there for the DIY homeowner.  Many of the home improvement warehouses also have experts that will offer their advice on various projects.  In addition, you may try placing calls to contractors that may be willing to offer their guidance free or for a minimal fee.  It is worth your time to utilize several different resources for information to ensure that you have explored the various procedures for completing the project. 

3. Do you have the expertise?

If your personal home improvement experience does not include items such as plumbing or electrical work, you should ask yourself if this is the time to learn.  Many remodeling projects that involve plumbing, electrical, or framing work actually require permits issued by your city’s building division.  Research the requirements before you embark on the job, as skipping the required permits may put you at risk for costly repairs when you get ready to sell the home. Failing an inspection can also result in the project going over on time and budget and in the end you may have to hire a professional.

4. Is the project cost effective?

Again, research is paramount to providing you with a clear picture on just how much you may save by doing the work yourself.  Obtain estimates from qualified contractors to get a ballpark figure of what the project would cost if you were to hire a professional.  Discuss the type and cost of the materials that would be used with a contractor so that you can accurately comparison shop if you choose to buy them yourself.  Often times, the discounts that contractors receive will lower the overall cost of the project.  Another component of home improvement projects is tools.  If you do not already own the tools necessary to complete the job, are they items that you have the means to purchase and how will these expenses factor into your total budget?  If they are not tools you are likely to use again, seek out family and friends that may be willing to let you borrow their tools.

5. Strike a compromise.

Negotiate with a contractor to take on some aspects of the project yourself.  If demolition is involved, you may be able to reduce your cost by removing the old materials and prepping the job site, or maybe you are comfortable with painting once the construction portion is complete.  If you have friends or family who has skills that would be of use, entertain the idea of bartering or trading services with them.

6. Do you have the time?

How long are you willing to live with a makeshift kitchen or an inoperable bathroom? Time is precious and if you do not have an abundance of it, you may want to reconsider the idea of doing the job yourself.  Working plumbing, dry walling, tiling and painting projects into your busy schedule may result in the project taking much longer than you have the patience to endure.  Create a calendar that will map out the time that you have to dedicate to the project, which will give you a clearer picture of just how long it may take to complete.  Incorporate a buffer for those unexpected roadblocks, as home improvement projects are rarely smooth and easy. Do you have the time and patience to deal with the unexpected twists and turns or do you want the project done efficiently? 

7. What could possibly go wrong?

Looking at a project with a "glass-half-empty" approach may be appropriate for this type of situation.  If you are embarking on this adventure to save money, you need to take a realistic look at what obstacles you may encounter. Removing a linoleum floor may uncover water damage and knocking down walls could expose unknown electrical or plumbing problems.  Do you have both the financial means and expertise to handle obstacles of this nature? 

There certainly is no greater sense of accomplishment than to complete a home improvement project yourself.  However, that euphoric feeling is more likely if you enter into the project with your eyes wide open.  Taking the steps necessary to make sure you are well informed and prepared for your DIY project will help alleviate undue stress and expense.