Saving money isn’t the only factor to consider when tackling a home improvement project. Know when it pays to call a professional.

By Marla Christiansen
Updated September 24, 2018
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When it comes to maintenance and repairs, professional labor can often be one of the more costly parts of a homeowner's budget. While many people will opt to save some cash by doing much of the handiwork themselves, not everyone possesses the skills necessary to fix their own homes—even with the help of instructional online videos. Attempting a DIY project without careful preparation and a complete knowledge of the task at hand could actually result in expenses that far exceed the cost of a contractor. Even if you have the experience and know-how, it’s important to consider the time, materials, tools, and permits required for your home improvement project. So, how do you know which projects you can tackle yourself and which you should leave to the experts? We contacted a few professionals to find out.

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1

The verdict: Try to DIY it.

A DIY fix for a drain pipe may be simply tightening a slip-nut near the P-Trap. If the leak is directly from a hole in the drain pipe, a DIY fix would be a flexible coupling with hose clamps. If the leak is from a drain pipe inside the wall, consider calling a professional, says Don Glovan, a franchise consultant with Mr. Rooter Plumbing.

2

The verdict: Hire a pro.

The challenge with hanging wallpaper is getting it straight on the wall and matching up the patterns correctly. It typically requires two people to do the job. Sometimes bubbling can happen, which means a strip of paper will need to be removed and a new strip reinstalled. This can result in not having enough wallpaper and needing to order more. While only you can decide whether the DIY savings outweigh potential risks, hiring a professional guarantees a smooth and predictable outcome, says Tina Nokes, owner of Five Star Painting of Loudoun, VA.

3

The verdict: Hire a pro.

Painting the exterior of a house is a big job. Most homes require all of the trim, soffits, and rake boards and, depending on the type of home, all of the siding as well. This requires extensive use of ladders at high levels and sometimes climbing up on the roof. Homeowners need to consider safety requirements before tackling an exterior job. Five Star Painting recommends hiring a professional with experience and the correct equipment.

4

The verdict: Hire a pro.

Removing popcorn ceilings is gaining in popularity lately, but is an extremely messy job. First, the popcorn must be sprayed and softened by a softening agent. Then, all of the surface area must be scraped with a blade. While scraping, it is impossible not to create divots and holes on the surface. Those divots and holes need repair with compound that will need to dry and then be sanded smooth. Finally, everything needs to be primed and then painted with two coats of paint. The work is overhead and requires ladders. For a job like this, hire a professional and save yourself the headache and probably less-than-desired results, Nokes recommends.

5

The verdict: Try to DIY it.

A clogged disposal may be cleared by using a small specialty wrench that fits into a hexagonal opening on the underside of the disposal while the disposal is turned off. You may want to call a professional if this method doesn’t clear the stoppage, suggests Glovan.

6

The verdict: Try to DIY it (if it's centerset).

A centerset type faucet is a good DIY job—just follow the faucet manufacturer's installation instructions. A more complicated, wide-spread type of faucet with various hose connections on the underside, however, would be best handled by a professional, recommends Glovan.

7

The verdict: Try toDIY it.

A running toilet can be comfortably fixed by a DIY-er with a toilet rebuild kit (like this one from Home Depot) from any hardware or big box store. These kits typically contain straightforward and easy-to-follow instructions. If you have a one-piece or specialty toilet, these can be tricky and might need the professional touch.

8

The verdict: Hire a pro (probably).

Electrical repairs and installations are at best expensive. Taking a little time to research and understand your electrical system can give you the necessary skills to take on some electrical projects yourself. When installing a light fixture, low voltage projects can be safely performed by a homeowner as they are less likely to cause structural or bodily harm. With that said, if you don’t feel confident in your knowledge or skill or if your project is over 50 volts, it’s best to call in a professional, says Keith Simnacher, owner of Mr. Electric of Austin.

9

The verdict: Hire a pro.

Installing a ceiling fan is not extremely difficult but may take a few hours depending on your home maintenance experience and the size of the fan. Save this project for a professional if you aren’t comfortable performing work on a ladder or if the task just isn’t working out, recommends Simnacher.

10

The verdict: Try to DIY it.

If you are interested in changing the sound your doorbell makes, consider adding chimes to your existing doorbell system. It is a low-voltage project that doesn’t require the know-how of the pros, Simnacher assures us.

11

The Verdict: Try toDIY it.

Nearly any homeowner can patch nail holes. Filling unsightly nail holes is an easy way to make old drywall look new. Using a spackle knife, fill in each hole with lightweight putty and scrape the excess off the walls. Wait for the putty to dry and sand the spot down until it’s smooth. Then, paint the repaired spots with a primer. For larger holes in the drywall, cutting, replacing, mudding, taping, and sanding is required and should be reserved for a professional to ensure the seams are undetectable once covered with paint, says J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman.

12

The verdict: Try toDIY it (if you're comfortable on a ladder).

Clogged gutters can cause water to pool around the house, leak into the basement, and seep under siding causing some major mold and rot issues, warns Sassano. To prevent this kind of water damage, leaves should be cleaned out of gutters every spring and fall. For single-story homes with level grounding around the foundation and an experienced ladder climber—go ahead and handle the task yourself. We recommend doing this project when someone else is there to hold the ladder still and help. If you aren’t up for the challenge of moving or steadily climbing up and down a ladder and clearing debris, then hire someone to complete this important task.

RELATED: What You Should Know Before Hiring Someone to Work on Your Gutters

13

The verdict: Try to DIY it.

This common household fix can be done by a homeowner who is comfortable with DIY projects. The surface of tile grout is porous, so dirt can get trapped in cracked grout, which leads to discoloration and further damage.

The first step in repairing grout is to choose the right one. Grout choices consist of four different types: sanded, unsanded, acrylic latex, or epoxy. Measure the space between your tiles to figure out which type of grout you should use. If the space between the tiles is less than 1/8-inch, use an unsanded, acrylic, or epoxy grout. If the grout space is larger than 1/8-inch, it is suggested that you use a sanded grout. Also, don’t forget to match the grout color before making your final purchase! The next step is to clean the grouted area. Next, use a grout saw to remove any damaged grout and then dampen the joints with a wet rag. Mix the grout according to the manufacturer’s directions and begin grouting the tile. It is important to fill all the joints completely and smooth over the surface with a damp sponge to remove excess grout. Allow the grout to set firmly and then clean with a damp rag.

RELATED: How to Clean Grout the Easy Way

14

The verdict: Hire a pro.

Not all homeowners have a power saw or the skills to cut and safely install crown molding while on a ladder. The measurements must be accurate and the cuts must line up seamlessly. This task is best left to a professional, unless you’re a really experienced DIY-er, says Sassano.

15

The verdict: Hire a pro.

While a new door can help brighten up a space and cut down on heating and cooling costs, these savings are best spent on making sure the installation job is done right. Any major door overhaul should be handled by a professional, according to Sassano. For example, turning two windows into an opening for beautiful French or sliding glass doors.

16

The verdict: Hire a pro.

There are a number of reasons that a window may stick. It may be a buildup of dirt and debris in the window casing. Problems in the foundation of your home can cause windows to lose alignment and get stuck. Sometimes, a window is painted and shut before it completely dries, which glues the window closed. High humidity can cause doors and windows to swell and bind them in the jamb. Fixing a stuck window often involves removing the window and could require using a belt sander or planer. If you’re not extremely experienced at home repairs and do not have or know-how to safely use the tools required, leave it to the professionals.