When to call in the professionals

When it comes to improving your home, the one choice you will be faced with making over and over again is which jobs to tackle yourself and which to leave it to the experts. The key to making the right decisions is to balance how much you are prepared to spend on the project, against the time available for completing it and your own level of skills and resources.

Planning any home improvement project, whether it's new work, maintenance or a repair job, revolves around a cost. Unless you are rich or reckless, it's unwise to start anything until you know how much you are going to be spending. This is the same whether you are planning a major project such as home extension or a minor, but potentially complicated, repair job like changing a bath fitting.

On the face of it, doing any job yourself sounds like a sure fire way of saving some money because your own labour is essentially free. Yet this is not always true, especially if something goes wrong and you have to call in the expert anyway to completer the job. The only certain way of finding out what you are in for is to think the job right through.

What does the job involve?
The typical Do It Yourself (DIY) is likely to break down as follows:

As you work through these stages, it's a good idea to make notes: they will help you to organize your thoughts, and to decide on just how you will approach the job in practical terms. You can then sketch out a flow chart that indicates what's involved, ready for the next big decision.

How much can I do myself?
Now comes the crunch: you need to look at each stage of the job you are planning, and ask yourself the following question:

First - have you the skill to do the job, or are you prepared to take time to acquire the skill if you have not got it now? If the answer is definitely no, then you need professional help.

Second - do you have the time to do it? It obviously takes an amateur longer to carry out a job he or she isn't familiar with, but you have to set that against the time it takes to track, brief and generally wait around for the concerned professional or a contractor. Some jobs may well need professional help for just one or two stages.

Third - have you the tools and equipment required for the job? If you haven't, you may be able to borrow them from a friend or you have to buy them. That may be uneconomical, thus calling a contractor may be a more sensible decision then. At this point, draw up a detailed plan of the job, indicating who will be tackling each stage and how long it should take to complete. Put costings against each stage based on your own research into the cost of tools and materials, and on the estimates received from the contractors.

Some Typical Jobs
In the table given below some typical DIY Jobs broken down according to the amount of skill and time required and what tools needed. The last column - the contractor ("C") factor - shows whether it's economical to use self-help or not. Jobs with high C Factor offer the greatest savings potential, all the other things being equal

Job Description
Skill Factor
"C" Factor
Lay Tiles 4 Weekend Trowel/spirit level Low
Replace W.C. 3 1 Hrs. Basic plumbing Tools Low
Build Brick Garden Wall 5 Week Masonry tools +Cement Mixer Low
Lay Patio on Sand Base 3 Weekend Spirit Level Low
Fit New Doo 4 1 Day Chisel/Drill Low
Change the main Wirings 3 1 Day Insulated Screw Driver/Tester/Electric Tape Low
Reglaze window 2 1 Day Chisel/Putty Medium
Rearrange Interior Décor 1 1 Day Drill/Hammer/Chisel Medium
Change Fan 1 2 Hrs Screw Driver/ladder High
Change Plug Point 3 2 Hrs. Insulated Screw Driver/Tester/Electric Tape High
Change Computer Wirings 3 1 Hrs Insulated Screw Driver High
Change Tap 3 1Hrs Wrench/Basic Plumbing Equipment High

Interpreting the chart

Skill Factor rating runs from 1(Low) to 5(High). Jobs with high skill rating will take extra time for the skill to be mastered. Jobs that are potentially dangerous should be ruled out anyway, regardless of the skill factor.
Time Factor is based on the job being carried out by someone with average skills under average conditions. It also assumes that the materials and the equipment you need are already to hand and you don't spend the better half of your day looking for them
Tools requirement assume you already have basic DIY and garden tools - electric drill, hammer, screwdrivers, saws, decorating tools etc.
Contractor "C" Factor is calculated on the basis of how much you can save by doing the job yourself
Low = small savings
High = large savings
However, this assumes that if you do the job, you will do it properly.