I've been talking recently with our contractor about replacing our old wood windows with glass block windows and making one of them bigger. We talked through what's involved and I was mentally adding up how long I thought it would take as we talked details.
Specifically, I thought, "Ok, head to Home Depot and rent a concrete saw, come home and figure out how it works, take a couple awkward practice cuts, try to cut through the wall, get uber frustrated, figure it out, clean everything up and drive back to Home Depot to return the saw. Half a day. Pick out glass blocks and mortar, come home and figure out how to mix the mortar, make sure the glass blocks fit, they probably won't, figure out how to make them fit, make a mess of the mortar, clean it up, get everything in it's place and fix my errors. Half a day. For one window."
And then I snapped out of it as our contractor says, "Yeah, I have a guy who just does glass block; he can do one window an about an hour or all five in half a day."
Dang that's fast! That got me thinking about house projects in general: is it better to DIY or hire out? That is often our question, and it really boils down to time and quality vs. cost.
A case for hiring out
When you hire a good pro you're hiring someone who knows what they're doing. This IS what they do. They do it fast and they do it right. The problems I come across that perplex me and seem impossible won't be a big deal to a pro, they've probably seen it before and know how to handle it. When it comes to visual things like refinishing hardwood or laying tile a pro won't have the blemishes an amateur often ends up with. That skill and speed is really valuable and valuable things cost a lot.
On the flip side, some pros are not good at what they do but still cost the same. Make sure to screen them!
A case for DIY
Compared to hiring out, DIY projects cost about 1/3 as much. It's a lot slower, especially if it's your first time doing something, but with enough time and patience you can usually get the end result to look pretty good. You might screw up now and then but having to pay for the extra materials to fix it will still usually cost less than hiring out. You also get to learn. The more you DIY the more skills you collect and the better your work becomes. If you're someone who likes learning new things and being creative like me, DIY projects are actually fun and challenging, on top of it you get to save money!
On the flip side, sometimes DIY projects are no fun. They can be stressful, go way over budget (money and time) and can leave you disappointed with the results. Are you ready for the emotions that come with DIY?
A little bit of both
Often times, hiring out some portions of a project and DIYing the rest is the best way to go. That's our approach to the basement. So far we're planning on hiring out the drywall installation and mudding, some of the plumbing work (specifically connecting new drains to the main DWV stack and adding a zone to the boiler), jacking up the support beam, and a hand full of smaller projects.
Here's our criteria for why we have chosen and will choose which jobs to hire out instead of DIYing:
- If we feel like we're in over our heads
- Things that affect the structure of the house are very important: we don't want to compromise foundational aspects that could domino into more problems
- Thing's that require expensive tools that we wouldn't use again if we bought them and need practice on if we rent them.
- Things that need to look nice and are easy to mess up - drywall mudding, concrete pouring, wood work, etc
- If the cost of hiring out isn't much more than the cost of materials. Our carpet installation came with removal for an extra $70; totally worth it! If they wanted $300 for removal we would have removed it ourselves.
- Things that aren't worth learning. If we don't think we'll ever do the project again is it worth spending the time to learn? For instance, with the glass window blocks, in the time it would take me to find out what sizes they come in and how much it will cost, the pro could have the window done.
Check out the rest of our basement posts!