When Should You Call an Expert and When Should You Do It Yourself?

If you have a home improvement project that needs to be done, you might consider doing it yourself. If you’re just installing a new toilet seat or changing a light bulb, there’s no reason you should have to call an expert.

If you’re tackling something more complex, like replacing a part in your washing machine, you might be able to figure it out with a YouTube video.

In the best-case scenario, the DIY approach has many advantages. Doing the work yourself could help you reduce costs, save time, and even pick up new skills.

As an added bonus, you’ll get to brag to all your friends and family members that you did this work without any outside interference.

However, not every situation is a best-case scenario. In some cases, you’re practically required to contact a contractor for assistance. When should you call an expert and when is it appropriate to try to complete the project yourself?

General Rules for Success

Every case is different, but these general rules for success apply to most people and most situations.

Know your limitations

According to the oft-misrepresented Dunning-Kruger effect, people have a tendency to overestimate the knowledge and experience they have in a subject after becoming initially acquainted with it.

After learning more about a subject, people typically figure out just how much they don’t know, so their confidence falls.

In any potential DIY project, it’s important to assess your limitations as accurately as possible. If you’re just now learning the basics of how outlets are wired or how kitchen cabinets are installed, you may be prone to overestimating your knowledge or abilities with respect to these projects.

If you’re a relative newcomer in any specific DIY field, you have to understand that some projects may be beyond your grasp.

Research the permits required

In some areas and for some projects, you may be required to obtain certain permits before doing any work.

This is especially true of work that could be risky, such as electrical rewiring, or work that is visible from the outside, like building an external structure.

If the job requires permits or if it’s otherwise legally complex, you’re probably better off leaving it to the experts.

Understand that complexity scales with cost

Though not always the case, the complexity of your project is going to scale with its cost. The risks of your project are also going to scale with its cost.

The more expensive the project is, the more it’s going to cost you if things go wrong and, to an extent, the more likely it is that something will go wrong.

The smaller and less expensive your product is, the better it is to adopt the DIY approach. The bigger and more expensive it is, the more you should consider hiring a pro.

Avoid certain high-risk project areas

Some DIY project areas are inherently riskier than others. If you’re painting the interior of your house, the worst thing that could happen is a spilled gallon of paint or a finish that isn’t quite perfect.

If you’re working with electrical wiring, the worst thing that could happen is electrocuting yourself to death. These risks aren’t equal, so you shouldn’t treat these projects as equal.

You’re best off avoiding any project that could seriously hurt or kill you (unless you’re suitably experienced in that field).

Learn what you don’t know

Before tackling any project yourself, make a mental list of all the variables and factors you don’t know or don’t understand. Are there specific tools you’ve never learned to use before?

Are there specific materials with which you’re unfamiliar? It’s possible to learn these things, especially if you have ample time to do so, but if your list of unknown variables is especially long, you might as well hire an expert to fill in the gaps.

Assess your mistake tolerance

As you evaluate this project further, take a moment to assess your mistake tolerance. If you make a mistake in the middle of this project, what’s the worst that could happen?

How much could that mistake cost you? Could you do damage to other areas of your house? As an amateur, mistakes are a practical inevitability, so if your project has a low tolerance for potential mistakes, you should probably hire a pro.

Set expectations about your finished quality

You’re not an expert, so you’re not going to do a perfect job on this project. Are you okay with that? Make the assumption that your work is going to be flawed and evaluate whether the flawed finished product is acceptable; for example, is it okay if your new porch steps are slightly off-center? If you’re a perfectionist, and you don’t have much experience, find a contractor.

When Should You Call an Expert?

So what’s the bottom line? When should you call an expert?

This decision is going to look a bit different depending on who’s asking the question. But for the most part, you should avoid doing projects yourself when those projects are especially expensive, dangerous, or complicated.

If the project is small, inexpensive, and relatively easy to learn, go for it. Everything else, in the middle of these extremes, is going to require some thoughtful consideration and judgment based on your personal experience and risk tolerance.

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