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DIY or DI Don’t – Which Jobs in Your Home Should Be Left to the Experts?

Last Updated Sep 14, 2018 · Written by Marianne Stenger


Whether it’s ripping out an old kitchen or tacking on a granny flat, Aussies are obsessed with renovating, and figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that homeowners are spending billions on renovations each year.

According to a recent survey by Realestate.com.au, kitchen and bathroom renovations are at the top of many DIY renovators’ lists.

But before you strap on that work belt and dust off your power tools, you should know that botched DIY jobs frequently end up costing homeowners thousands of dollars and can even lower a home’s value.

One UK survey in particular found that nine out of ten potential homebuyers would lower their offer if they saw that shoddy home improvements had been carried out, and more than half would be put off entirely.

The report concludes that on average, poorly executed DIY jobs can lower a property’s sale price by 11%, which equates to a loss of more than £30,000 or AU$ 50,000.

So before you begin any DIY project, you should ask yourself the following questions:

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Do I have the necessary tools and expertise?

Too many homeowners jump into DIY projects with little or no knowledge of what it will require, only to discover halfway through that they haven’t bought the right materials or simply don’t have the tools and expertise necessary to complete the job.

A professional builder or contractor will be able to tell you exactly what materials you’ll need and how much everything will cost, and will already have all the necessary tools, which saves you from having to buy equipment.

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Is it worth my time and effort?

Even if you have the tools and expertise necessary to carry out a DIY project, you need to ask yourself if it would really be worth the money you’d save. Sure, it might be cheaper to do it yourself, but would it be worth the time you’d spend away from work and family?

A professional will also be able to complete the job a lot faster than you would, so you’ll be spared the headache of living in a construction site for months on end while you attempt complete a project in your spare time.

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How risky is it?

Some projects, such as those that involve plumbing or electrical work, can be risky if you don’t know what you’re doing. But aside from the fact that you could be putting yourself in harm’s way, you may not be properly licensed to carry out certain jobs, which means your insurance may not cover damage or injuries that result from your DIY projects.

If you’re still not sure whether you can or should tackle a DIY project on your own, here’s a look at some of the most common home improvements, and the ones you’d be better off hiring a professional to do.

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1. Painting or wallpapering

Painting or wallpapering generally falls into the category of projects that homeowners with a bit of DIY experience are capable of tackling on their own, but you will need to do some research on how to properly prepare the surface and choose the right paint or wallpaper for the job.

Painting and wallpapering can also be particularly time consuming jobs, and you’ll need to consider potential hazards such as working on ladders and dealing with solvents and dust. With this in mind, you should seriously consider whether the pros of doing the job yourself would outweigh the cost of hiring a professional.

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2. Repairing property damage

Property damage may range from clogged drains to leaky roofs and water damage, so when considering whether to tackle a job yourself or bring in a professional, you’ll need to consider the scale of the job, the risks involved, and what sort of time commitment would be required.

For instance, you could probably take on simple tasks such as repairing a leaky tap or fixing a creaky door if you have the right tools, whereas larger repairs such as retiling a roof or replacing windows and doors would almost certainly require the attention of a licensed professional.

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3. Home extensions and renovations

Sergio Deiana, experienced contractor and owner of Deiana Build, says some of the most common jobs he takes on include extensions and renovations such as adding a bedroom, bathroom or outside kitchen and modernising homes to an open plan living design.

When it comes to DIY projects, he says the onset of reality TV renovation shows has given people a false perception of the work involved and the potential for costly mistakes.

“People mistakenly believe that just about anyone can tackle extensive renovations and extensions or think that hiring the tradesmen alone and trying to manage the job will save them money,” he says.

“Unfortunately, it doesn't take much to course a costly disaster and people often over estimate their ability without doing their homework.”

He explains that registered builders are well-versed with the building process and understand how to keep the build on schedule and quality control in check, whereas the layperson has no real idea of how much time it takes to manage the building process and expenses.

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4. Electrical jobs

Electrical work should never be attempted without the help of a properly licensed electrician because as Brad Rosen, co-owner of Glenco Electrical Services points out; there are a number of risks associated with DIY-ing electrical work.

“The first and most obvious risk is your personal safety and that of those around you, as working with electrical cabling is not the same as installing your own shelves or even fixing a broken pipe,” he says.

“At Glenco, we have a no ‘live-work’ policy to ensure our electricians are kept safe when working. We provide services in everything from changing a light bulb to rewiring a property, because electrical work is undoubtedly one of the home repairs you shouldn’t DIY.”

The other risk of doing it yourself, says Rosen, is the risk to your pocket.

“More often than not you'll need to get an electrician out to rectify the work you've done and bring the cabling up to Australian standards, and this will end up costing you a lot more than if you’d simply hired a licensed electrician to begin with.”

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5. Plumbing jobs

Although simple plumbing jobs such as unclogging a drain or fixing a leaky tap can usually be tackled by an amateur handyman or woman without any problems, larger repairs or installations should never be attempted without the help of a professional plumber.

Jobs such as installing or repairing septic tanks, replacing old piping or dealing with gas lines could pose health and safety hazards, not to mention that improperly sealed connections could lead to leaks, moisture damage and mould, which will cost a lot more to fix in the long run.

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6. Upgrading patios or decks

While a brand new patio or deck can increase your living space and add to the curb appeal of your home, one that’s badly built or poorly designed could have the opposite effect.

An experienced carpenter or builder will be able to advise you on a design that matches your home’s structural design, what sort of materials are best to use based on where you live, how much you should expect to spend and what sort of permits you might need.

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7. Bathroom and kitchen renovations

When renovating bathrooms or kitchens, many homeowners assume they can save some money by doing the tiling themselves, thinking it’s as easy as slapping some adhesive on the walls and floors and laying down the tiles.

Martin Stallard, Teacher and Coordinator at the Canberra Institute of Technology and Worldskills chief judge for wall and floor tiling, notes that DIYers often make basic mistakes such as choosing tiles that are difficult to work with, not properly preparing the surface, spending insufficient time on grouting or failing to ensure that all tiles are absolutely level.

“Many do-it-yourself weekend warriors think tiling is just laying one tile down after another,” he says. “Of course novice people can do a good job, but only if they spend a lot of time on preparation and buy good quality tiling tools.”

Stallard points out that one of the most common mistakes DIYers make is attempting their own waterproofing. “I always recommend a waterproofing specialist to do this work, as leaking showers are expensive to fix,” he says.

“I have seen a few half-finished bathrooms which I have been asked to finish off, but generally speaking no tradesman will continue someone else’s work. They will want it all pulled out to start again.”

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Most Common DIY Mistakes – According to the experts

To give you a better idea of what could go wrong when undertaking large projects without the help of a licensed professional, we asked some of the experts to share their own examples of projects that homeowners often try to tackle on their own, but end up needing a professional to fix.

1. Underestimating the cost of the job

“I think the most common error that people make is underestimating the cost of their proposed works,” says Sergio Deiana of Deiana Build. “Their eyes are bigger than their budgets and that's where the trouble begins.”

He explains that setting a realistic budget should be the first order of business, as starting something and being unable to complete it due to poor budgeting and unrealistic expectations can be extremely frustrating.

“I have missed out on jobs, knowing that I was under quoted by unregistered builders, only to receive a call months later asking me if I could come out and fix their mess,” he says. “The problem is that the cost involved in undoing their work is often far more expensive than the original quote.”

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2. Taking unnecessary risks

When DIYers attempt certain jobs on their own, they may unwittingly be putting themselves in danger. Brad Rosen of Glenco Electrical Services says one such case involved a client who had attempted to install some lights in his garage.

“We were called out because the client's lights were continually tripping,” he says. “When we arrived at the property, we found that the man, who had been eager to ‘do it himself’ had tried to install some lights in his newly established 'man cave' in the garage, and had connected the wires the wrong way.”

Rosen notes that although in this case it wasn’t an extremely dangerous situation, it did mean the lights didn't work until the cabling had been rectified. “He said to us after ‘I should have just called Glenco to begin with,’ which is what we usually hear in these instances.”

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3. Starting a job without the proper know-how

Homeowners often begin a project thinking it will easy, only to find they don’t have the expertise necessary to complete the job satisfactorily. Deiana says one example of this was when he was asked to redo a bathroom renovation that had gone wrong.

“In this case, the DIYer had started tiling without calculating the proper tile widths and final positions on the walls, which left unsightly gaps at some corners and looked really messy,” says Deiana.

“He also attempted to tile the shower base without preparing the base correctly or using the appropriate waterproofing membrane as stated on the Building Code of Australia. So I had to come in and tear up some of his work and do it properly at a cost.”

4. Attempting to manage large projects alone

Taking on large projects without the help of a registered builder can also quickly get out of hand, and Deiana recalls a time when a client wanted to save money by managing the build of his new house on his own.

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“First he had the concreter put the footings in the wrong positions, so they had to be ripped up and redone. Secondly he thought he could have the house frame prefabricated and then the installers would do the rest.

But this was not your standard house; it was a two storey Californian bungalow style home with Dutch gable roofs and tricky ceilings.

So the installers lifted the ground floor walls and that’s as far as they got. We had to come in and construct the remainder of the wall frames on site to make it work, and helped him through the remainder of the building process. At the end of it he even said it cost him more than he was originally quoted by another builder.”

With this in mind, Deiana points out that any renovation over $5000 must be done by a registered builder and any job over $16,000 dollars must have home warranty insurance applied.

Moreover, he says if a tradie you’re thinking of hiring can't show you their builders license card, which displays a current photo of the builder and their DB-U number, it’s better not to hire them as it could be too risky.

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