Knowing When (and How!) to Hire a Contractor

When Does a DIY Project Require Professional Help?

Did you ever take on a simple afternoon home remodeling project, but instead it took days … or even weeks? Have you ever called in a contractor to fix what you started? Ever unintentionally turn your basement into an indoor pool?

According to the American Express Home Improvement Index, more than two-thirds of homeowners planning to do home improvement projects in 2003 say they’ll do the work themselves. But while going the do-it-yourself (DIY) route may save time and/or money, homeowners should carefully evaluate the project’s scope and decide whether they really can do it themselves.

“Many professional remodelers say they’ve been called in by a homeowner when a DIY project their spouse has been working on runs into problems,” says Nina Patel, senior editor of Remodeling Magazine. “One of the reasons is the prevalence of home remodeling TV shows. They make everything look so simple and a lot of people get in over their heads.”

So when do you know to say “when”? Before committing to any DIY project, the experts at Moen Incorporated recommend using the “Three T” system to gauge which home projects you can do yourself and which ones require the help of a professional. These “T’s” include time, tools and temperament.

Time

One of the biggest factors in determining if you should hire a contractor is the amount of time you can devote to a project. If you work full-time and want to spend your weekends on the golf course, simple projects might be the best for you to tackle. If you don’t mind the hassles of an ongoing “job site”, have a very patient family, and can put in the hours required, you may select a more difficult job.

Tools

Do you have the right tools to complete the job? If you have to go out and purchase a welding machine, band saw or some other expensive power tool that you will never use again, it might be more cost effective to hire a contractor.

Do your skills match the tools required for the job? Cutting mitered joints, welding and installing main plumbing lines requires know-how and experience. Can you hang drywall, solder pipe or run electrical wire? If not, easy decorative projects, such as painting or changing a light fixture, might be more your speed.

Another important consideration is whether or not you have the physical strength to use larger tools and do the job. For example, wrestling with a two-man powered auger to dig holes for deck posts and hauling the lumber into position are physically demanding tasks. It is best to be safe rather than sorry when it comes to using the proper tools to keep your health.

Temperament

When problems with the job arise (as they always seem to) will you be shaken or ready to deal with them? If you have a difficult time handling the hassles and stresses that are an inevitable part of a home improvement project, once again, the contractor route may be better for you.

Planning

After you’ve evaluated the job based on the “Three T” system, do a cost comparison to determine what you save in labor by doing it yourself versus the cost of a professional (by they way, you may want to figure in having it done right the first time).

Since labor can account for up to 60 percent of a remodeling job’s cost, you always save money by going the DIY route. But, if your project won’t pass local building codes, you may end up paying more in the long run to correct errors.

Also, according to Patel, doing it yourself could take three to four times as long as calling in an expert. Therefore, a room such as a kitchen or bath may not be usable for an extended period of time, resulting in showering at your in-laws and other inconveniences for awhile.

Simple DIY Jobs

Don’t fret. There are many jobs most homeowners (even those without much ‘fix-it savvy’) should be able to handle. These include painting, replacing outdated lighting fixtures, hanging a picture, staining, replacing door locks or cabinet pulls, repairing a screen or installing molding.

According to Gary Pember, Moen Incorporated Director of Bath Marketing, changing out the showerhead is one of the easier jobs homeowners can do themselves. Simply using channel locks, unscrew the old showerhead, place a little Teflon tape over the threads, and screw on a new model such as Moen’s Revolution. This unique showerhead offers a range of settings from a rain-like shower to a deep, therapeutic massage; and provides all this for under $60 and in less than five minutes.

Another option is to upgrade to a new Moen faucet, such as the new traditionally styled Kingsley line. This is an easy project that immediately pays off since it brings a new level of elegance to the bath. Changing out a lav faucet is a moderate-level DIY project. In fact, the hardest part of installing a new faucet is removing the old unit which may have become corroded or rusty. It’s here a little WD-40 goes a long way!

And, if you choose a faucet with the new M•PACT common valve system, you’ll be able to update or change the style of the faucet trim in just minutes without having to go under the sink. Pember notes that other simple jobs to enhance a bath include installing new accessories such as towel bars and paper holders, and changing shower curtains, hanging new pictures or adding a new set of towels.

Painting is another quick and easy decorative change that is very cost effective for any room as well as for the exterior of your home.

When to Call in a Contractor

Still need help? Certainly some of the home improvement jobs best left to the professionals include any electrical work and major plumbing projects, such as installing a new shower system or adding onto a room.

Other jobs usually requiring contractor expertise include installing a fireplace, adding a skylight, finishing a basement, adding a deck, repairing a roof or installing gutters and downspouts.

“A hidden benefit to hiring a contractor is that he or she can tell you if there are any other problems in your house that you should be aware of. For instance, when estimating or beginning work, a contractor might find structural damage or potential plumbing problems that you may not have caught on your own,” notes Patel.

What to Look for in a Contractor

If you do decide to hire a contractor, it is important to find the right one. First, start by asking friends and neighbors for recommendations. The city in which you live should also be able to provide a list of local recommended contractors.

When you have narrowed the list, ask two or three contractors to come to your house to survey the job and provide a written quote that includes a materials list. The contract should spell out the scope of the project, any items that are excluded and the payment terms. It is also important to get in writing an expected time of start and completion.

Compare contractor prices, but remember the lowest quote isn’t always the first one you want to take. It is imperative to check into work they’ve already completed by speaking with references, asking to see photos of past work and ascertaining whether they finished projects on time and on budget. If they can’t (or won’t) supply references, ask yourself why -- and move onto another craftsman. Another option is to call the Better Business Bureau to see if complaints have ever been filed against your potential contractors.

Make sure the contractor you select is licensed, bonded and insured. Your city will be able to tell you if he or she is licensed to work in your area, and your contractor should be able to provide an insurance policy copy.

“Believe it or not, it is very important to find a contractor who has a personality you can work with and develop some type of rapport,” says Patel. “You want someone you feel comfortable asking questions and who will listen to your concerns. Not to mention the contractor and his or her crew may be practically living with you for a few days, so you will want to feel at ease in their presence.”

There you have it -- everything you need to know about assessing the difficulty of a home improvement project and whether you should call in a contractor. Now, go put those skills into practice!

For more information about Moen products, contact Moen Incorporated at 25300 Al Moen Drive, North Olmsted, OH 44070-8022, call toll free (800) BUY MOEN (289-6636) or visit its Web site at www.moen.com.