These past 19 months since moving into this house have been big. Bigger than we anticipated when we moved here – perhaps bigger than we would have knowingly taken on, so it’s probably good we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. Ha! But as the projects came up and we decided to just go for it, come what may, we of course had to bring on a lot of outside help.
Our roots are in DIY. It’s how we started, when we bought our first home nearly ten years ago. And as we’ve learned more about what’s possible in a home renovation, our ambitions have grown and we want to uncover every ounce of potential in this home. So that meant working with contractors – and if anything it made us appreciate DIY all the more.
But the bottom line is, sometimes you need a contractor. When we had to rip out the sun room in our home and pour footings for the new dining room that would be built in its place, then completely frame it and heat it and run electrical, we weren’t going to do that ourselves. We needed a contractor. And the same goes with all the other large-scale renovations in our home up to this point. But now, hopefully, we’ve turned a corner and can handle 90% of the remaining work ourselves.
And sometimes you WANT a contractor to simplify your workload.
DIY is not always the answer. Hiring a contractor is not always the answer. But when you’re renovating a home, it’s important to know when you should choose one vs. the other, and what to expect with each. Here are some of the pros and cons we’ve experienced, both with contractors and DIY.
Pros of Hiring a Contractor
• They’re more experienced, and can guide you through difficult issues that often come up in large scale renovations.
• Skilled trades, such as wallpaper, electrical, plumbing etc, specialize in their line of work and the results more often than not reflect an unmatched level of expertise.
• It can free up your time to do other things that may be more important to you.
• General contractors, hired to manage a larger-scale renovation, have connections with subcontractors and specialists in your area, saving you the task of finding them.
• They can often get better pricing on materials than a lumber yard, hardware store etc.
• They handle permitting and other details to ensure the project is up to code and legal.
• They are licensed and insured (if they aren’t, don’t hire them) so their work on your home is covered if it’s faulty. They have to make it right.
• The sky is the limit! Well, your budget is the limit. But hiring a contractor allows you to expand your vision beyond what your skillset would allow you to accomplish.
Cons of Hiring a Contractor
• You’re rarely their only job, and can be overlooked at times.
• Timelines almost always stretch beyond estimates.
• It’s more expensive to work with a contractor, generally speaking.
• It’s not a hands-off experience – at least not if you want it done the way you envision it in your mind. You have to be very present and checking on things constantly or things will need to be taken down and redone (or you’ll be like most people and not say anything but resent it for years and years).
• You’re at the mercy of their timeline and schedule – you have little say when things will get done.
• They will often default to things they’ve done in other homes – they are not designers, so you have to make your wishes clear.
• It brings a lot of chaos and extra people into your home, which can feel unsettled.
Above: The living room/Dining room renovation up to this point was completely done by contractors/ designed by us.
Tips for Working with Contractors
• Remember that they’re human. They need lunch breaks. They need weekends. They need to go home on time to be with their families. They get sick, and hurt, and tired. Your project is the biggest focus for you, but they have their own lives.
• Be assertive and speak up. Not in a demanding way, but advocate for what you want. If you don’t, they will just do whatever they’ve done most often in other homes.
• Have a clear vision for what you want and communicate it frequently. Show them your inspiration photos, talk it through with them. Don’t just say “Let’s add trim around the window.” Show them a picture of the trim you want!
• Make a checklist of things that need to be done, and update it often. Give copies to the subs and general contractor. Review it with them weekly at least and ask about progress, if products were ordered, what timelines are. If you’re on top of it, they’ll be on top of it as well.
Above: Our closet was a complete DIY
Pros of DIY
• You’re in charge of the timeline. It can move a lot faster that way.
• Nobody else is going to care about the project or details as much as you will.
• You have control over your budget and can often do a project for less, if you know what you’re doing.
• You aren’t paying extra for labor.
• It’s satisfying and rewarding and gives you a strong connection to your home.
• Becoming familiar with your home, and accustomed to working on it, saves even more money over time because you are more equipped to do common maintenance and repairs.
• You can make sure the outcome matches your vision.
Cons of DIY
• It can be exhausting and a lot to add onto an already full day.
• If it’s not something you’ve done a lot, it can clearly look amateur.
• If you make a mistake, you’re responsible.
• It can be challenging to keep the rest of your home in order when you’re focused on one project.
• If you don’t have tools, getting them can be an expensive initial investment.
• At 80% completion, most DIYers “take a break.” And that break can last for years. Pushing through that final 20% to really finish the job is tough sometimes.
Tips for DIY
• Have a place in your home where you can escape the chaos. Bedroom, living room – somewhere you can go that is still clean, and feels complete. All chaos all the time is exhausting.
• Give yourself a deadline for completing the project, and work together a schedule to get you there. We had two weeks to tile 1700 square feet of flooring in our last house because our daughter was going to be born. That was a great motivator, and we got it done.
• Educate yourself – watch tutorials, read forums, ask professionals or others who may know. Don’t just wing it – be prepared.
• Celebrate the milestones. Even if it’s just a picture you send to family and friends, or a story you post to Instagram. Be excited about what you’re creating.
• Try to enjoy it! Make a good playlist, invite people to help if you need, and take pride in what you’re creating.
Above: Faye’s room was mostly DIY, but we hired trades to hang wallpaper and frame a new window in!
No matter which avenue you go, there’s no wrong way. We’ve done a mix of large and small scale DIY and hiring contractors since moving into this home and there are some small tasks we’ll continue to hire out (wallpaper–the paper is such an investment, I want to make sure it’s perfect!) or foundational tasks like plumbing or in-depth electrical. But going forward, we’re excited to do most projects ourselves. In the end, we just love the freedom of getting things done on our timeline, in our budget and the satisfaction it brings is unmatched!
Anything you’d add??