When to DIY and when to hire a pro

Dear Pat and Brad: I’d like to make my home more efficient, but I’m not sure where to start. When does it make sense to take on efficiency projects myself, and when should I hire a pro? – Chari

Dear Chari: When it comes to home DIY projects, I recently asked myself, “Why hire someone to do a mediocre job when I can do a mediocre job myself?” That may sound odd, but I recently hired a contractor to remodel my kitchen. Needless to say, I was not happy with the quality of work. Unfortunately, hiring a contractor based on online reviews doesn’t always guarantee quality work.

One reason to DIY (do it yourself) instead of hiring a contractor is if you’re convinced you can do a better job. This depends on the scope of the project and how knowledgeable you are about it. Here are additional reasons to tackle a home efficiency project yourself.

  • You’re unable to find an available and reasonably-priced contractor.
  • You need the work completed quickly or during odd hours.
  • You’re certain you can save a lot of money.
  • The job is one you’d enjoy doing yourself.

On the flip side, there are several good reasons to hire a contractor.

  • Specialized equipment is required. For example, the best wall insulators use a fill tube, which results in a higher R-value performance. Some contractors use an infrared camera to review wall framing and air leaks.
  • Specialized materials are needed. Attics need proper ventilation, and contractors might have easier access to attic insulation baffles or roof vents.
  • There’s a safety issue. I was moving insulation in our attic and accidentally stepped onto the sheetrock ceiling and fell through to my waist. My legs were dangling in the air and the room below was littered with broken sheetrock and insulation. I wasn’t hurt but could have been. As I repaired the damage, I regretted the decision not to hire a contractor.
  • Expertise is required. Tasks like tuning a furnace or repairing holes in a sheetrock wall to match the wall around it may be beyond the homeowner’s capability.

Tackling the project yourself will save little or no money. I discovered years ago that some contractors could install insulation cheaper than I could buy it.
As you consider whether to do the job yourself, be sure to research the tools and supplies you’ll need. Fortunately, there are amazing resources online.

When you search for information like “how to insulate an attic” or “how to air seal a home,” you’ll find fact sheets and video tutorials from contractors, home improvement shows, big box suppliers and material manufacturers. YouTube videos often show experts making the installation of anything seem simple, but beware, some of these videos are aimed at other experts and not DIY homeowners.

To ensure you’re getting sound information, visit ENERGY STAR’s website (energystar.gov). A good energy auditor can be another great source and can provide specifics about materials needed, local contractors and suppliers.

Our advice, don’t tackle energy efficiency projects unless you’ve thoroughly researched it. Another benefit of doing the research up front, it will help even if you decide to hire a contractor. You’ll be able to identify a knowledgeable contractor and hire one that knows you recognize a quality job. Good luck!