Home Renovation: Pros vs. DIY

Home Renovation: Pros vs. DIY

Marcia Prentice
Mar 12, 2010

Because of the plethora of resources about DIY projects on TV, in magazines and online, consumer confidence for taking on home renovation projects has skyrocketed into its own industry. This reminds us of the 90's TV sitcom, "Home Improvement," where Tim Allen's character's overconfidence with power tools consistently resulted in renovation disasters, all staged for our viewing amusement. It is important to distinguish between projects appropriate for DIY and when it's time to call in the professionals.

When first evaluating if you can take on a project yourself, set your ego aside and consider your skill level for that particular home project. There is no shame to consulting with a professional and at the end of the day the goal is to save money, but also to have quality workmanship. There are many DIY home tutorials on HGTV, You Tube, and other websites, but again only tackle what you find manageable. We think we could handle possibly tiling a small backsplash, but we know better than to try to tile an entire shower.

We compiled a list of home improvement projects and categorized them by beginner, medium, advanced, and professional.


  • Painting. Painting can be very time consuming, but it is fun to see the quick results. Don't be fooled, however, because there is a skill to painting if you want the color and walls to look flawless. If you take your time and have patience, painting is an easy home improvement project that almost anyone can tackle.
  • Wallpapering. While wallpapering and removing wallpaper is not as easy as painting, it is still manageable for someone with a beginner skill level. To save frustration, consult with friends and watch a couple of tutorial videos to understand the process before you get started.
  • Landscaping. Planting flowers, small plants, or trees can make a sizable difference to the exterior aesthetic of a home. If you don't mind getting dirty for a weekend project, you may find it fun to shop for and plant greenery.
  • Changing Hardware. Replacing cabinetry and door hardware is pretty simple for most anyone. It just takes a screwdriver and an eye for precision and detail, after all you want all your draw pulls to be straight.
  • Refinishing wood furniture. With some stain or paint, a furniture piece can take on a whole new look. Lay tarps under the furniture, put on gloves, get out your paintbrush, and you are ready to start.


  • Tiling. We don't find tiling all that difficult, but when it comes time to tile around corners or edges it is important to have more than a beginner skill level. Also, tiling requires a specific tool set including a tile cutter, trowel, and a level. This is another project where the level of quality and precision can make or break the end result.
  • Laying hardwood floors. Similar to tiling, installing hardware floors prompts the need for job specific tools. However, most Home Depot stores rent the hardwood flooring stapler by the hour or day.
  • Hanging doors. I wouldn't suggest hanging a whole house full of doors, but hanging one or two doors yourself can be a great money saver. It is not as easy as it seems and definitely consult with a friend or family member that has hung a door before. Hanging doors sometimes requires the doors to be cut and leveled to fit into an opening.
  • Installing carpet. Installing carpet takes patience, prep work, and the need to watch a couple of DIY video tutorials.
  • Cutting and installing moulding. Cutting and installing moulding is in the medium category because of the precision required to cut and miter corners of moulding. Please, please be careful if you are using a saw for the first time and always wear safety glasses. You can rent the miter saw at Home Depot.
  • Installing cabinetry. Installing cabinetry can sometimes be a big challenge and can seem similar to putting the pieces of a puzzle together. In a set space in the kitchen, each cabinetry module has to fit in its particular place and fit together as a whole. First, develop a plan to where each cabinet should be hung, before even placing one screw in the wall. When each cabinet is hung, it should be checked to make sure it is level. This job requires minimum of two people: one person strong enough to hold the cabinet against the wall and another person to screw the cabinet to the wall.
  • Hanging drapery or window treatments. When measuring the window to determine the amount of drapery fabric needed, you must also consider the amount of overlap and puddling (if any) on the floor. There are a couple measuring guides online that you may be helpful.


  • Framing. Framing a partition wall (interior wall that doesn't bear any load) takes a skilled carpenter. You must be comfortable with a saw, nail gun or hammer, and the basics of construction.
  • Reupholstering furniture. Reupholstering furniture can be a great way to save a quality piece that just needs a little updating. Pay particular attention to detail and any pattern repeats to make sure you achieve the desired results. We found an informative step-by-step upholstery guide online.
  • Installing drywall. We found that the hardest part of installing drywall is making sure the screws are flush with the drywall and all joints are taped. Spending the time to install drywall correctly prevents future issues when finishing the walls.


  • Roof repair. It is not only dangerous to be up on the roof, but not to mention it is extremely hot in the summer. Repairing or replacing a roof can be a costly endeavor, but paying to hire a professional is wise. Any work regarding the roof is not something you want to handle as a part-time DIY contractor.
  • Replacing windows. Windows needed to be leveled and sealed properly to prevent drafts or leaks in the future. Some may disagree, but we recommend hiring a profession for this home renovation project.
  • Any structural alterations. We strongly advice you to only use a professional contractor or architect for any structural alterations. They are trained in the physics and engineering of a home and work with the city building inspector. Any changes to the structure of a home usually requires building permits from the city.
  • Anything involving plumbing or electrical. All plumbers and electricians are required to be licensed. It is not a good idea to attempt plumbing or electrical projects yourself. Never hire a contractor who is not licensed in their field to perform plumbing or electrical work.

If you end up hiring a professional contractor, see our recent post on tips for hiring and working with contractors. Since February was home renovation month, check out our favorite home hacks.

Apartment Therapy Home Hacks:
How To Repaint & Stencil Ugly Rental Vinyl Tile Flooring
How To Mount Hardware in Tile
How To Reuse a Cabinet Door as a Frame

(Images: Gregory Han, Flickr member REDBUD Construction Services via Creative Commons, Flickr member sundaykofax via Creative Commons)

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