7 House Repairs You Should Almost Always Outsource

by Linsey Knerl · 39 comments

I’m a huge DIY’er (or rather, my husband is), and I understand the value that comes from a job well done with your own hands and time. I am the first to admit, however, that there are some projects best left to a professional, especially when it involves quality and safety. Here are examples of projects that make more sense to be hired out, even if it means paying more for the privilege.

Repairs Subject to Intense Regulation
I recently watched an old episode of Little House on the Prairie. The storyline involved Pa building a kitchen onto the old house. There was no contractor, no permit, and no HazMat professionals standing by to be on the lookout for lead paint chips. While I envy the freedom that Charles had in those days, I also understand that today’s zoning and safety laws (no matter how you feel about them) need to be obeyed. If you have any doubt as to whether your DIY goals will need the approval or oversight of a licensed professional, find out the details before you start. If it requires anything more than a piece of paper and a final inspection when you’re done, it may be less costly (and more stress-free) to just have an expert handle the entire job. And remember, in instances where the final product may affect insurance rates (like the installation of a fireplace, for example), you may need to get your insurance agent involved, as well.

Repairs that Require Expensive Tools
My husband replaced much of the old plumbing in our home with PEX tubing. The installation was easy, but the tools were priced out of our budget. As with mechanic tools and other items used to perform very specialized tasks, some DIY necessities will not be worth purchasing for a one or even two-time job. (We ended up splitting the cost of the crimping tool, ring remover, and other essentials with another family, who happened to be tackling the same DIY project.) See about renting items that you can’t afford to buy. Otherwise, hiring a professional may be the way to go.

Repairs that Require Extra Manpower or Machinery
Replacing a drainpipe, for example, may not be a big deal, but if it causes a homeowner to have to dig up the backyard, it may be the perfect candidate for outsourcing. Tasks like this may require more than just a few people to stand by with shovels, and in some instances, will also require heavy equipment (like a backhoe.) Sure, you can ask five of your buddies to take the day off work or rent a $200 an hour piece of heavy equipment, but most likely, hiring out is the more practical option.

Repairs that Require Intensive Labor
In addition to the number of bodies (or horses) required to do a job right, there may also be an unusually large amount of labor involved with some DIY repairs. Mixing concrete, for example, is a tedious job, and it’s something that many people do not have the stamina to keep up with. Other tasks that fall into this category include laying bricks or sod. If you are in less-than-perfect physical condition, or just feel that the cost of hiring out is worth saving your back (or knees), go ahead and pull the trigger on paying an expert.

Repairs that Require Highly-Specialized Skills
Does the term “GFCI:” ring a bell? If not, it may be time to outsource. This particular gadget, for example, refers to Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, and in most cases, should be installed by a licensed electrician or a very knowledgeable enthusiast. (There are some portable versions, however, that can be used by even the most novice consumers.) Generally, if you aren’t too keen on the ins and outs of a particular area of DIY, like masonry, it may not be the best time to learn. (FYI: A great read for those who want to dip a toe into new waters, is Family HandyMan Magazine. If you see an article on your subject, it’s assumed that it is probably fair game for most reasonably-skilled enthusiasts to attempt.)

Repairs that are Dangerous
In the same vein as those that require skills are those that are just too darn risky to try at home. I wouldn’t recommend, for example, that anyone except the truly experienced try to fell a tree or upgrade their breaker/fuse box. If someone has died doing it, or you sweat at the prospect of going it alone, it’s generally not worth any dollar savings on the man-hours. (Additionally, tasks that are dangerous to perform may have devastating consequences later on – if not done properly. You really don’t want a poorly installed breaker box causing a fire, do you?) Other “don’t try’s” include those that deal with hazardous materials, such as black mold, lead, or asbestos.

Repairs that are Reimbursable or Compensated
It is possible that you may someday end up in the very fortunate situation of being able to use someone else’s money to pay for your repairs. In that instance, it may be worth it to have someone else also do the work, as well. Examples of times where you may not have to foot the entire bill for your DIY include:

  • Insurance payments for repairs from damages
  • Reimbursements from community or government energy programs

Yes, you could pocket the entire amount of a compensated repair, but it might be worth the money to have it done by a professional, leaving you to sit back and enjoy the final result!

In today’s world, it’s pretty easy to find out how to do a repair yourself. Whether you’ll want to actually go through with it, however, will depend on your budget, values, and appetite for adventure! If in doubt, at least consult with an expert (even if you don’t end up purchasing their services.) A DIY with some assurance of being done right is worth twice the investment!

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Charles says:

    I have memories from my early days of watching my grandfather mix concrete to build a sidewalk in the backyard of their house. He also did his own digging to enlarge the “basement” under their house. There were several chores and projects that he was able to do.
    Now I know the real significance of the work he was able to do. His actual profession was an accountant.

  • Beau W. says:

    It appears David that you have a lot of handy people who read your blog. I was in the concrete trade for over 20 years. I’ve seen a lot of DIY jobs and I just cringe. I’ve helped out a lot of friends with concrete at their homes because they didn’t know how to do the job themselves. I trade the job for food or favor in the future with friends. That’s what friends do.

  • Happytown says:

    What is the problem? I repair my vehicles, have rerouted my sewer plumbing under the house because Sewer district made a mistake in the street, then dug the trench and installed the pipe. I have dug several water lines by hand and trencher. I have installed my own gas furnaces, even after the duct manufacturer made the duct the wrong size. I cut it down and remade it. When I lost my job at 45, I could not buy an interview. No one cares about skills or ambitions. I self insured until 65 and saved $75,000 in insurance costs. I never had any problems with an inspection because I did the job right. Nothing is difficult if you learn the proper way the job should be done. With everything start out thinking of the safe way to do a job and how it will be evaluated by the inspector. Did you know they don’t even ask you to start up a gas furnace on the inspection? I thought that odd.

  • Daniel Smith says:

    I’m an electrician, and I can’t tell you how many horrible and dangerous things I’ve seen homeowners do to their property. Obviously, the poorer people get, the worse their “repairs” become – but even well meaning middle class people can do some real shoddy work.

    Much of my business revolves around repairs following fires – most of them electrical fires. The majority of residential fires in America are electrical in cause. The electrical code is written by the fire insurance industry.

    FYI: Fires kill people – and your family is compose of, guess what, people.

  • Jerry says:

    I am a carpenter/handyman I don’t work on my truck and my mechanic doesn’t do home repairs. I don’t do my own taxes and my CPA dosen’t try to fix his door. So if a job is not in your line of work then OUTSOURCE . Try the barter system it works out well, both benifit and the job is done right. That way we all avoid the unemployment line.
    Just saying.

    • Matt says:

      *** So if a job is not in your line of work then OUTSOURCE . ***

      My line of work is software development but I’ve *never* hired a professional to do any work on my house or car. I redid my sprinkler system, installed my tankless hot water heater, electrified (incl. breaker box), insulated and sheetrocked my detached garage, laid my wood floors, installed crown molding, etc. If I have the time, why should I pay someone to do something I can enjoyably do myself – and save a fortune doing it? Tradesmen and mechanics charge rates that would have you think they went to graduate school to learn their skills.

      The bottom line is more dollars on my bottom line. Likely tens of thousands. I’d outsource highly technical jobs like foundation repair, but anything I can do myself I’ll do.

      • Kenny in Mississippi says:

        I agree. Most professionals, including CPA’s will tell you that their field is not a hobby and should be left to the professionals. Having said that, if you cannot do it right – you probably should not do it yourself. My Grandpa used to say, if you can’t afford to do it right, you better be able to afford to do it twice.

        I firmly believe that most tasks are not out of the capability of most people. However, there are plenty of “I don’t need no stinkin’ directions” people. They should NEVER do anything unsupervised.

  • Brian says:

    As a professional qualified in heating and refrigeration trade I have seen both ends of the quality of work done in residential and commercial work. I have seen jobs done by the home owner that are better install then some of our seasonal qualified hacks that show up as the seasons change. And I have seen the disaster of a home handyman installation (house burnt down, insurance not wanting to pay because work not done by qualified trades people). For the home owner I can understand the desire to save on a job as qualified trades people are not cheap to hire. This is one of the reasons why as a home owner you need to do your home work!
    1) If you feel the need to do your own handy work ask your insurance company their opinion on it, are you at risk of losing your insurance coverage?
    2) Do you honestly feel you have the skill Required to do the job? I am not talking about having watched a Home Handyman program and figure you can do that because of something you built in grade school wood shop.
    Be honest with yourself and study up on how to do it then make a careful decision before you start. Or Husband ask your wife her honest opinion.
    3) If you decide to hire a Contractor to do the job find out about them ( Trade experience, Qualification, Service offered, BBB, WCB, Liability insurance, Qualified to pull the REQUIRED PERMITS for the job).
    4) Understand that Inspectors are in place to help protect the home owner from Unqualified people doing the installations. They look to see first is the Contractor registered with the City or Town for this kind of work. Then they Inspect the job to make sure that it satisfies the MINIMUM code according to standards set.
    Keep in mind that a poorly done job cost way more to hire a professional to clean up, fix, or repair work done by people not qualified then it would to hire the right person for the job to start with.

    • Mike says:

      Keep in mind that just because a trades person is licensed does not mean they are worth a damn. I’ve spent the last few weekends in my basement re-doing the work my *licensed* contractor did poorly — reworking the plumbing that they soldered incorrectly; replacing the sheetrock that was damaged by the water leak and soon replacing the wood flooring.

      I clearly learned more about how to solder copper pipe from watching the DIY videos on YouTube than the hacks who did the work the first two times. I expect they missed step #1, which is to dry out the pipe completely before attempting to solder it. Yes, it leaked before and I complained about it then too.

      People do not know how to research contractors and their qualifications. If it was easier to get an on-site inspection of the work this wouldn’t be such a problem.

  • Norm says:

    My only issue is that not DIY-ing some stuff means that I am faced with alternatives. I can’t afford. For instance, I want to finish a basement room in my 1200 sq ft house. I have pulled wires and hung sheet rock before. If I decide that a contractor should be doing this I could pay $110,000 – 20,000 for this as opposed to the $1,000-2,000 I budgeted after some due diligence. It feels that these admonishments are made by contractors reluctant to cede any jobs and desirous of eliminating any DIY activity that could get in the way of them charging whatever they want. Comments?

    • Bill says:

      I’m a painting and repairs contractor with 35 years experience. I like the DIYs because most only do one or two jobs on their own then call in a professional to straighten out their mess. I also act as the GC doing insurance restorations and always used licensed, bonded and insured electricians, plumbers and HVAC techs for those repairs because most insurance policies won’t pay for damages if their line of work isn’t performed by a licensed professional. I also let them supply all the materials used so their completed operations insurance pays for any mishaps due to faulty goods or workmanship or if the devices don’t work right then they make it right at their expense.

    • Bill says:

      Go do whatever you’re capable of and hire out the critical items that’s required by code or your insurance carrier. I use big shops for the mechanicals on my jobs since they always show up as scheduled with all the material and do it right the first time for the price they quoted. The small shops or the Chuck with a truck types whole give lower quotes will cost you more money and often lengthy delays by running back & forth to the supply houses (which they will charge you for) then stopping along the way to jack with other small jobs they have going on.

  • fiona says:

    My husband is an electrical engineer and he has the knowledge to do the wiring around the house and it is really not that difficult for him. But to clean the gutter and roof, we will definitely leave it to the professional as height is something we are not comfortable with.

    • Mike says:

      @Fiona – no disrespect to your husband, who may know what he is doing, but some of the worst electrical work I’ve seen has been completed by electrical engineers. I can say that as an electrical engineer myself (B.S.E.E., M.S.E.E. and started a Ph.D.) that there is a massive difference between the theory taught in classes and the reality in the real world. The differences can get people killed who fail to show electricity the proper respect at all times.

      Electricians are trained to learn the electrical code for their jurisdiction. It covers things like how closely electrical outlets are supposed to be spaced in the kitchen. It covers how close to the floor an outlet is supposed to be placed. It covers what gauge of wire to use when installing a ceiling light so you don’t get an overheated wire that causes a fire in the attic space when someone replaces a low-heat incandescent bulb with a halogen bulb and the lamp body gets ridiculously hot. None of those things are taught in engineering school.

      No disrespect to your husband, but it is a rare electrical engineer who has both the design knowledge and the practical knowledge to do house wiring safely. If your husband is such an individual, then he will recognize this as the compliment that it is. Otherwise it is better to hire an electrician and watch them like a hawk.

      • fiona says:

        We own several properties and being a handyman and an electrical engineer sure help us save a lot of money to fix things around the house. Can you imagine how expensive it will be if I have to hire someone else for every single job. We built our brand new home and I hire an electrician to run the wire in the whole house. The important thing is not to be afraid to learn and you got to have a good attitude. And by the way, he has completed his PhD in Computer Engineering too.

  • Ed says:

    A GFCI circuit protector is not difficult to do. In fact if you put one in your Breaker box it just snaps in plus refitting a few wires. You can tell it works by using the test button. I know the one I installed works because my elderly mother wiped an upward facing outlet with a wet cloth and tripped the circuit. Good thing I illegally installed it. My parent’s never would have paid someone to install the bath fan I did which the code said to have on a GFCI circuit, and that’s why I put the GFCI in.

  • Oswald says:

    Good tips but it seems like if they are all followed there are very few things one can/should DIY. I think it is a shame that housing has become so industrialized and removed from local materials and traditions.
    Whenever one is in an old house built long before safety and zoning laws (think nice log cabins or adobe houses in the West, English or Italian farmhouses etc), made with local materials and traditional methods, they are so much cozier and more pleasant to be in. Why in the world, with all the benefits of labor saving tools for cutting and digging etc, can we not produce similar structures now? I think we can, but somehow bureaucracy and the effects of modernism (making us forget the way things used to be done) have gotten in the way.

  • Mike says:

    If the tools to do a job are expensive, then rent them instead of buying them. In general, any specialized tools you will only need once to complete a special job should either be rented or purchased and then sold off on Craig’s list or eBay to recover the money. Why store tools that you aren’t going to need again?

    It doesn’t mean you need to hire a professional; it means you don’t want to become the owner of the tool.

  • Scott says:

    In my experience upgrading a regular outlet to a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt) is one of the easiest home projects around. The only really critical part is making sure the power is off to the outlet before you begin work.

  • Daniel Smith says:

    Some electrical work is OK to undertake, sure, but PLEASE have a clue about what you are doing and learn the proper way to do it. Risking a fire or the death of loved ones is a false savings. Money can’t replace those things.

    Oh yeah, and all electricians aren’t created equal BTW. If you just pick a name out of the phone book ( do people still do that?) God knows who you’ll get. Do your research, ask friends, call around and insist on an experienced electrician.
    Back in my apprenticeship, I got sent on calls knowing nothing, and people still paid the full rate. It’s wrong, but it happens.

  • Leah McClellan says:

    Great tips. I’m a big do-it-yourselfer, but the price of tools–if you’re never going to use them again–is a good reason to outsource as you say.

    For me, I’ve learned that everything always takes longer than I think it will, and if there’s learning involved, double or triple that. For example, I know the basics of plumbing from having helped my dad for years and doing a few things here or there on my own (he was a contractor), but even he made mistakes, and I would have to spend hours online reading and going back and forth to the home supply store, no doubt, and it would be a huge project to fix a few things. I don’t need to know how to do plumbing. I don’t enjoy it like I enjoy yard work or painting and other projects. I don’t even mind mixing concrete to repair some lifting sidewalk slabs. But plumbing? Outsource.

    Electricity–no way. I know the basics (again, because of my dad) but it’s just too risky as far as I’m concerned and too time-consuming to make sure I do it right. Outsource.

    Recently I paid someone to nail up my gutters that had popped nails and were sagging terribly. I could have done it, I have an extension ladder, but you know what? I have better things to do. Outsource.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  • Frank Mondana says:

    I have spotted so many big no-no’s with DIY electrical projects than anything else. Even the home shows demonstrate some severe dumbness in this area.
    It is almost never mentioned that conduit can only be filled to a specific volume and why it’s a good idea to oversize it for future expansion.
    While still legal in many states, Romex and armored cable are just bad to use. Most Romex gets tossed in behind walls only to get perfed by nails down the line. Armored has a tendency to short out due to improper fitting into boxes or tight radii.
    Circuiting a large project such as an additional floor can be an art as much as a science. Breaker ratings are specific for a reason. Many DIY’ers figure that if a circuit keeps popping and the wiring is clean then just put in a higher rated one. What’s 5 amps in the grand scheme of things?
    I rarely see home shows explain why pull boxes are a good idea and where to put them.
    I watched one show explain how to rewire a distro panel in order to get 220 as split single phase. This in itself isn’t bad but should only be done by a good electrician and not a “handyman”. I had to tear a friends house apart to fix his DIY upgraded service which produced an aphasic short. This is extremely rare so I gave him kudo’s for stumbling onto this phenomenon.
    I don’t mean to sound arrogant but please remember that electricity can easily start fires and/or kill quite easily if a small detail is overlooked. Is it worth losing your house or even worse, a family member because you wanted to save a couple hundred bucks? The electrical code is there for a good reason. A bad drywall job looks terrible but bad electrical installation doesn’t have a look since most of it is out of sight. We all know the saying about that right?

    • Kenny in Mississippi says:

      It goes back to my earlier statement. If you think you don’t need instructions or can’t follow them (i.e. building and electrical codes) outsource. As for Romex, 90% of homes have Romex and if it is installed according to code and DYI’ers follow reasonable precuations; such as using a stud and wiring finder prior to driving nails or screws into walls, hitting a wire with a nail is a non-issue. Having said that, if you are driving nails and screws into a wall deep enough to hit the wiring (when installed to code), you probably should be hiring a carpenter to hang your pictures and an electrician to install your light bulbs.

  • David @ MoneyNing.com says:

    Which house repairs are worth the hiring cost of a handyman is a very personal question. For us, pretty much everything is worth the cost because it frees up my time to work on our business, which is much more important to our finances than learning how to, for example, replace a roof tile.

    Of course, some stuff are so small you can’t possibly find someone willing to come without paying them a hefty price, like replacing parts if the toilet stops working. In those instances, I do it myself 🙂

  • Drifter says:

    In Australia it is Illegal to do wiring for a very good reason. a stuff up can kill, so for all those smart alec’s, snap out of it , or show just how dumb are by giving little consideration to your family, IS IT REALLY WORTH IT???

  • Mark says:

    Great tips. Any repair that can cost you life, limb, money, or valuable time is not worth doing yourself.

  • mike says:

    Rule #1 – Never take Home Repair advice from someone that would actually re-pipe their own house with PEX tubing.

    • Gary says:

      Hey Mike,
      What is wrong with PEX? Do your homework.. Almost all of the plumbers in my area(Central NM) use PEX on a daily basis. I use all the time and I just LOVE it-NO flames to catch the structure on fire, no flux, no dripped solder, no corrosion, no calcium deposits, a lot fewer joints, much faster install times, etc.
      The fact it’s flexible let’s you eliminate many elbows, etc. In fact, I found the easist way to use it is to run my longest run from one end to the other and then go back and put in the tees wherever they are required, thus eliminating tedious measure-and-fit that is necessary with coppper, pvc, cpvc or galvanized. Another thing I like about it is that if it freezes, it just expands without breaking(one manufacurer has tested it in over 10,000 freeze-thaw cycles with no leaks) and then shrinks back to original shape and size upon thawing. The only drawback I can see is that if it does freeze, you can’t thaw it with an arc welder or a torch, you have to use a hairdryer, some consulation.. It has a life expectancy that far excedes any other building material except concrete.It is by far my choice for repairs or new installs.
      As for tools, I can plumb an entire house with only my PVC tubing cutter, band crimper, a 8″ adjusable wrench and a hammer. A DIY’er can get a reasonable quality crimper for around $20 and a professional one for under $100-about what an hour of plumber’s time is worth.
      PS NO I don’t work for PEX manufacturer, I’m just a guy that likes to do the job right the first time, with mininum cost, effort and time, and almost no callbacks.

    • HandyGary says:

      Hey Mike,
      Just what’s wrong with PEX? I use it all the time in my home repair business and I LOVE it. I can usually have the entire job done with PEX(whatever the repair is) before I could cut and fit the copper or PVC that I used to use to repair plumbing, let alone take it all back apart and either flux it (copper) or prime it(PVC) and rerassemble it. I don’t have any obnoxious VOC’s to breath in, no chance of burning anything behind or around the pipes, it is CHEAPER, all things considered, than any any other piping system. It is also flexible, and the pipe rotates around the fittings and remains watertight. If you havent tried it, you shouldn’t knock it…

  • LoveBeingRetired says:

    Over the years, some of the jobs that I may have deemed as not dangerous have migrated to the dangerous category. Probably because I am getting older and a slight misstep can have serious consequences. Case in point, cleaning the rain gutters. I know this needs to be done each year before the rains and in the past have climbed up on the second floor roof, leaned over with a hose and cleaned away. However, this year I will hire a local service to take care of the gutters. In addition to my fear of heights, I hope to avoid any broken bones for yet another year.

    • Kenny in Mississippi says:

      THIS is an excellent example of a good reason to outsource. And thumbs up to you for being able to recognize your limits and include them in your outsourcing decisions. In general, if I don’t think I am capable, I outsource. It rarely happens, but if my probability and severity of mishap become intolerable, I don’t do it myself.

  • Steve Jobs says:

    It is of much joy if we had done the job by ourselves but I do agree that there are some jobs that cannot be done by a mere DIY instruction. I myself usually outsource electrical and civil works for my house but for those little ones that does not require change in design, I do it myself. Sometimes I do purchase tools that are needed but not those special tools used by technicians.

    • Bo No Jobs says:

      I on the other hand, totally enjoy working with electric. I, in fact, have replaced my breaker box. I also, enjoy working with live electrical wires (think of me as an extreme electrician). Just remember to always handle only one wire at a time, otherwise . . . smokin!

      • alain smithee says:

        I was also taught to make sure that the back of my hand was what touched the wire.

        This way, if it’s a live wire, the muscle contraction tends to pull you hand awar from the live wire rather than toward itl

  • Frank says:

    I notice everyone says electrical is a big no-no. But having done the electrical for my second floor addition I have to say it was by far the easiest thing I have every done. As long as you dont pierce the wire, staple well and keep the job clean you should be fine. Saved $12,000 and the inspector even commented on how neat a job we did.

    • Kenny in Mississippi says:

      I agree. I build an entire 12′ x 24′ backyard work shop. I did everything, including digging the 100 foot long 2 foot deep trench and laying the service line from the house to the shop. I installed a breaker box, circuit breakers, and did every stitch of wiring. It was indeed the easiest part of the job. Much easier than putting a 24 ft long 5″ x 5.5″ beam up for the ridge of the roof. I’d much rather do electrical than hang insulation or shingle a roof. The reality is that most jobs can be tackled if you do your homework first. Having said that, if is scares the hell out of you, hiring someone else is not a bad idea.

  • Industrial Electrician says:

    Although I do it for a living at work, most electrical jobs should be left to a bonafide residential electrician.

    And know this, 120 vac (typical home voltage) kills more *experienced* electricians than any other voltage (it is the most commonly worked on). I cannot stress enough the -proper- safety precautions to take when doing electrical work.

    • Matt says:

      ***And know this, 120 vac (typical home voltage) kills more *experienced* electricians than any other voltage (it is the most commonly worked on). ***

      That is likely because *experienced* electricians are the most likely to get complacent. A skilled homeowner that knows how to perform wiring but doesn’t do it often is probably going to be hyper-careful.

      ***I cannot stress enough the -proper- safety precautions to take when doing electrical work.***

      Yeah. Turn the electricity off and test it with a voltmeter before you start working. Done.

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