Sunday, September 19

When to DIY and When to Hire a Pro

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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 do-it-yourself (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 the work. Unfortunately, hiring a contractor based on positive online reviews and references doesn’t always guarantee quality work.

One reason to DIY instead of hiring a contractor is if you’re convinced you can do a better job. Naturally, this depends on the scope of the project and how knowledgeable you are about the work. And there are additional reasons to tackle a home efficiency project yourself:

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

On the flipside, there are also several good reasons to hire a contractor (and not tackle projects yourself):

  • 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 once moving insulation in our attic and accidentally stepped onto the drywall ceiling and fell through to my waist. My legs were dangling in the air, and the room below was littered with broken drywall 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 beyond the homeowner’s capability like tuning a furnace or repairing holes in a drywall wall to match the wall around it.
  • 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.

Solar panel installation is a project that’s best left to the professionals.

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 that some of these videos are aimed at other experts and not DIY homeowners.

To ensure you’re getting technically sound information, visit the website. Also, if you have a good energy auditor in your area, he or she can be another great source of information. An energy auditor can provide specifics about the materials you’ll need as well as information about local contractors and suppliers.

Our advice: Don’t tackle energy efficiency projects yourself unless you’ve thoroughly researched them and have become very knowledgeable. Another benefit of doing the research upfront is that it will help you even if you decide to hire a contractor. You’ll be able to identify a knowledgeable contractor and hire one who knows you recognize a quality job. Good luck!

Any handy homeowner can tackle sealing leaks and cracks where air can escape. Caulk is just one of many products that are most effective, depending on where the leak is located.


About Author

Patrick Keegan writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives. He brings over 30 years of energy-related experience at the local, state, national, international, and non-profit level. His experience spans residential and commercial energy efficiency and renewables.

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