Here's how to know when you can roll up your sleeves and play Ms. Fix-It, and when you'll actually save money—and your sanity—by leaving it to the experts.

By Lisa Tucker
March 26, 2018

When my new husband and I moved into a 200-year-old brick house last winter, we faced a looming list of home-improvement projects. We needed a ceiling fixture in the otherwise gloomy dining room. The flooring was shot. The storage was minimal. And—after an epic knockdown, drag-out fight over what design we could both live with—we had to put up a tile backsplash in the kitchen. Then there were the toilets, all of which needed to be replaced.

We knew we could save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars doing the work ourselves, and as newlywed homeowners, our budget was already tight. But we also knew that if we messed up, we would have to spend even more money to have a pro fix our amateur efforts. Peter Rose, owner of The Home Hero, a Philadelphia-based handyman service, told me he always dreads picking up a message from a client who tried to install a toilet: “If you don’t get the seal just right, you’re looking at water leaking through the floor into the room below – and it isn’t clean water, either.”

So before we pulled on our work clothes and started hammering and wiring, we investigated which projects we could safely DIY. Here’s what we found:

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