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Which Home Improvements You Should DIY and Which You Should Pay For

In the afterglow of buying a new house, homeowners are often confronted with a whole catalog of issues which might need to be addressed, or which the new owners simply want to tackle for the sake of putting their own stamp on the place.

At least in the beginning, there may not be a lot of actual problems that require fixing, but there will always be a number of changes contemplated by new homeowners in order to personalize the home, and to make it more a reflection of themselves. The question is – which tasks should you pay a contractor for, and which should you do yourself?

The danger of overlooking tasks

While you might have the skills and patience to put in a new vanity in your bathroom, most people lack the knowledge and expertise to plan a remodel of the bathroom. Considering medium to difficult household renovations will depend to a large extent on the background and skills of new homeowners. However, there are a number of lesser tasks which should definitely be addressed, lest they cause problems later on due to neglect.

For example, cleaning or changing air filters in the furnace or air conditioner is something every homeowner should do once a month, so that filters don’t become clogged with debris and pollutants that can be harmful to occupants. Draining a quart of water from the water heater once every two months could add years of life to it.

Tasks such as these don’t require any special knowledge or expertise, and they can be very helpful for maintaining a household in good operating condition. The trick is in knowing about these kinds of tasks in the first place, so that you can dutifully address them, and do yourself a favor in the process. Below is a guideline of which tasks you should personally look into, and which you should leave to the experts.

Start with an annual To-Do list of projects

You can start by making a full listing of all the household projects which you are aware of that need to be accomplished in the coming year, regardless of what any particular project might cost, or how long it would take to complete.

Once you’ve compiled this complete listing of projects, the next step is to categorize them, in terms of the type of project. This is important because something like structural problems would need to be addressed sooner than wish-list kinds of projects. Other categories might be functional problems, aesthetic issues, or improvements such as a new deck or fireplace. Now that you’ve categorized them all, apply a ranking scheme to the projects, based on urgency.

Tasks you should not personally undertake

People who consider themselves to be very handy around the house, and who really do have some wide-ranging skills in that area, will probably be more tempted than others to take on difficult tasks. For the most part though, you’re better off to simply stay away from jobs requiring electrical work, plumbing work, or tasks involving the use of ladders, because all of these kinds of jobs can end up badly, if they’re not done by someone who really knows what they’re doing.

The caution about ladders might seem curious, because a great many people do try to clean out gutters which have been clogged with leaves, and they do try to remove large amounts of snow from the roof. The problem comes in when you lack the right kind and size of ladder, or when you don’t guarantee that your base is absolutely safe and secure. Numerous injuries have occurred around the house for just these reasons.

Repairing and replacing

To avoid unpleasant surprises like a dead furnace or a non-operational water heater, you should make a point of determining the age and operating status of all the systems in your household, preferably before you take ownership.

For example, almost any major appliance in the home which is older than 10 or 15 years, is likely on the downside of its life expectancy, and should be closely monitored for signs of decreasing performance. While most homeowners are probably aware of this rule of thumb, fewer know about what to do for systems which are perhaps half that old.

Generally speaking, if you have a furnace that’s in the neighborhood of eight or nine years old, and you know that it will cost something like half the cost of a new one – you’re much better off buying the new one now, instead or repairing it and trying to make it last another five or six years.

Which improvements offer value?

A perfect example of a home enhancement that provides real value is installing a programmable thermostat, and this is also a do-it-yourself task which most homeowners are capable of. The thermostat can help you save money on utility bills by conserving on energy, and it also adds resale value to your home. Other improvements which are technology-related can also increase value and may still be within the skill range of a homeowner, such as installing a wireless security system.

Bigger projects like a kitchen or bath remodeling job are well outside the normal skillset of most homeowners, but if you have it ranked high on your wish list, look up a good local contractor to do the work for you. Few improvements add as much resale value to a home as kitchen and bath remodels.

Outsourcing to enjoy free time

There’s another reason why you might contract out bigger tasks to a competent contractor, and that’s simply so that you can enjoy more free time yourself. Some projects will consume most of your free time for weeks on end, especially something like a remodel, and that means that your quality time with family will be seriously impacted – and you will feel like the next workday comes a whole lot faster. This is something you shouldn’t get carried away with though, because if you start paying for lawn-mowing services and other tasks like it, you’ll quickly find that your household budget is getting a little thin.

Get the best price when you do outsource

When you’ve decided that you are going to outsource some specific project to a contractor, don’t just hire the first contractor you talk to. Get two or three estimates before choosing a contractor, and then do a little negotiating while you’re at it. You might even get lucky and find someone who is substantially lower than the others. It’s a good tactic to let contractors know that your budget for the job is less than what it really is, because that may become the agreed-upon price, which saves you some money.

When should you really do it yourself?

Do tasks around the house yourself when you have the requisite skills for them, when you have enough free time to do them, and when you have the knowledge to do the job right. To be on the safe side, it’s better to take on the smaller, simpler jobs at first, before tackling anything major. If you really have the itch, try painting a room, or some other project which can be completed within two or three days. Keep in mind that most home improvements aren’t nearly as easy as they look on TV, and that there’s almost always something that goes wrong.

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