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Should You Do It Yourself?

When it comes to home improvements, many of us have champagne tastes on a beer budget—we noodle out the perfect plan for a project, and then the contractors’ bids come in at twice what we can afford. So we become do-it-yourselfers. We know that, by eliminating the labor expense, we can often chop a project’s cost in half.

But should you do the work yourself? The answer depends on a number of factors, including your abilities, your collection of tools and safety gear, your time, and your inclination to roll up your sleeves.

Unless you are a highly skilled do-it-yourselfer, avoid taking on jobs that may be dangerous, particularly difficult, or where a mistake can be quite costly. Some jobs simply are not worth the risk. For example, think twice before doing:
• Extensive electrical work
• Plumbing that involves crawling under the house
• Roofing work on a steeply pitched or high roof
• Difficult or laborious work, such as removing or pouring a concrete floor
• Siding work that requires scaffolding higher than two stories
• Work where there may be hidden mysteries
• Any other task that you’re not confident you can handle.

Consider you skills, tools, and time. Then take a closer look at your options before you make a final decision.

Skills. Be realistic about your skills. Don’t try to take on work that you won’t be able to finish or that may end up looking unprofessional. Avoid intricate work or work that requires a high degree of craftsmanship unless you’re competent at the job. For example, don’t plan on building raised-panel cabinets unless you have the necessary cabinetmaking skills.

Tools. Be aware that you’ll need special tools for some jobs. You can rent tools, and you can often buy tools with what you’ll save on labor, but if you don’t already own the tools, you probably don’t have very much experience at using them. Once again, think twice before jumping in with both feet unless you have experience with the necessary tools.[GARD align=”right”]

Time. Don’t forget to take your time into consideration. Even spare time has a value—and the value of yours is worth factoring into the equation. Although a professional repair person can probably do the job considerably faster than you can, you actually may complete some jobs sooner by doing them yourself because you won’t have to wait for professionals to show up.

A closer look at your alternatives. There is definitely something to be said for hiring a pro to handle a project from start to finish—particularly if you find a professional who gives you a quality job at a good price.Unfortunately, that isn’t always easy. The best way to find good people is through personal recommendations. Talk to friends or neighbors who have had similar work done and were happy with the results and the service. Or, on the web, you can go to HomeAdvisor to get local, pre-screened home professionals (they have screened more than 30,000 contractors, home repair people, etc.).

Or, you can talk to local building supply dealers or turn to the telephone directory—your most likely source of names if you’re dealing with a home-repair emergency. So that you’re not left to this device in a pinch, it pays to have the names and numbers of good repair services on hand. It’s also smart to check with the local chapter of the Better Business Bureau to make sure there isn’t a history of consumer complaints against the pro you plan to hire.

For problems with products or some materials—such as appliances, flooring, or carpeting—always check the conditions of your warranty before hiring a repair person or doing the work yourself. By using factory-authorized service people, you may not have to pay for the repair if the material is under warranty. And if you don’t use authorized service people, not only will you have to pay—you may void your warranty.

Another option is to do some of the work yourself and save the more complicated tasks for the pros. Demolition work usually can be tackled by homeowners who aren’t afraid of getting a little dirty. Painting is another good way to be involved in the project and save money. But be aware that, if you set up this type of arrangement, you must stay ahead of your contractor—he or she won’t want to be slowed down by the need to wait for you.

10 Ways to Trim Home Improvement Costs

When it comes to home improvement, many of us have champagne tastes and a beer budget. We envision magnum-sized rooms sparkling with natural light and overflowing with the latest materials and fixtures. But when we pore over the cost figures, we opt for Budget Lite.energy saving tips

The point is this: You usually can’t do everything you want to do. In most cases, you have to sacrifice square footage, quality, or other features you want. The question becomes, what is the best way to cut corners? Here we look at ten ways to trim the excess from a remodeling budget without compromising your results.[GARD align=”left”]

1Set priorities. Decide what is critical and what isn’t. You may be willing to settle for vinyl flooring if it means you can get a higher grade of cabinets. But there are probably some things at the top of your wish list. If you’ve always wanted radiant heating beneath the bathroom floor, this is your chance. Budget for the things you really want.

2Rethink the scale of your improvements. Consider whether cosmetic changes such as replacing fixtures or updating with paint might suffice. For example, changing your home’s lighting is a simple technique that can make a tremendous difference in the way rooms feel.

3Avoid costly types of construction. If possible, don’t move bearing walls, alter a roofline, restructure a floor, install new windows, or make involved changes to plumbing and electrical.
You can usually save money by working within the existing exterior walls and roof. When possible, plan bathrooms and kitchens where they can share major drains, vents, and supply pipes. Doing so can dramatically reduce the cost of plumbing labor and materials. Similarly, you can save by arranging plumbing fixtures against one or two walls.

4Explore ways to use moderately priced materials creatively to achieve great-looking results. Toward this end, become familiar with the many options available. Knowing the world of possibilities gives you the ability to choose less expensive materials or fixtures without compromising the results. If, for example, stock cabinets can achieve the same look as custom ones, why pay the premium?

5Don’t cut corners on highly visible work. If it will cost a little more to get a high-quality drywall job or crafted trim work, spend the extra. On the other hand, be aware that some highly visible features, such as plumbing fixtures or paint, may be relatively easy to upgrade later.

6Gather as much cost information as possible. For this, you’ll have to do some homework. You can get a pretty good idea of typical costs of materials and fixtures at a home improvement center. Whether or not you intend to do some or all of your own work, get at least three bids from contractors or other professionals. This will help you determine the savings you will realize if you do it yourself.

7Protect yourself from cost overruns by hiring only qualified, reliable professionals, and be sure to detail every aspect of the work to be done in a written agreement. The best way to find good help is through personal recommendations. Alternatively, you can find qualified, pre-screened contractors and professionals here.

8Don’t pay more than you need to for financing. You’ll have to do the math to figure the best option. Refinancing with low fixed interest rates will allow you to pay for your remodel over the life of your mortgage–but setup costs may be higher than for other types of loans. A home equity loan, added as a second to your existing loan, is usually very inexpensive to set up but will have a slightly higher interest rate. Then again, if you have little equity in your property, a more expensive home improvement loan may be your only choice. Be sure to consider the tax consequences of any choice you make.[GARD align=”left”]

9Stretch the value of your future dollars by choosing improvements that offer a strong return on your investment, particularly if you plan to sell your home within a few years.

10Consider doing some of your own work or acting as the contractor if you’re experienced at do-it-yourself work. Because labor often accounts for half (or more) of a major project’s cost, you can often save significantly by reducing the labor factor. Just be aware that this can be a big job, and you can’t always do it cheaper than a pro. Remember that your time has a value, and you may pay more for materials and subcontractors. All of these factors add up. For more about making the decision about whether or not to do it yourself, see Should You Do It Yourself?

Building & Remodeling Permits

reduce hidden dangers

For many different types of home repair and improvement jobs, permits are required. Though simple repairs usually don’t call for permits, additions or major changes—particularly those that involve structural work, electrical, heating, and plumbing—usually demand that you get the appropriate permits from the local building department. If you’re working with a contractor or subcontractor, this professional usually handles the permit process.[GARD align=”left”]

If your job falls within this category and your tradesperson suggests that you don’t need a permit, be wary and check with the building department yourself. In most cases, getting a permit means the work will be inspected by the necessary officials.

As a homeowner, this is good for you. Your contractor’s work will be scrutinized by another set of knowledgeable eyes and the results must adhere to building codes, which set minimum safety standards for both materials and construction techniques.

Building codes ensure that your home will be safe for your family and any future families who live there. If work is done without a permit and discovered later, building officials may require that you bring the work up to permit standard—or even dismantle and redo the work—before they will give it a completion or occupancy approval.

For most permits, you must pay fees, typically based on the value of the project. Don’t overestimate the value of the work because it will cost you more in permit fees.

A permit ensures oversight of your contractor’s work (or yours). The scrutiny of an inspector can guard against mistakes and shoddy workmanship and ensure that the work adheres to building codes. You’ll sleep better knowing your project meets safety standards for materials and construction techniques.

A permit will also help you avoid headaches in the future. If building officials discover you have done work without a permit, you could be legally obligated to disclose that you have remodeled without a permit, and the buyer could demand that you bring work up to code.

When Do You Need a Building Permit?

If your project involves minor cosmetic surgery, you probably will not have to worry about getting a building permit. If you are making changes to your house’s structure, plumbing, or electrical wiring, you will need to obtain permits from your city or county building department before you begin. The best way to find out whether or not a permit is required is to call your local building department.

You will probably need a permit if you plan to:

• Change the footprint of your house

• Move a load-bearing wall

• Alter the roofline

• Create a new door or window opening

• Replace an electric stove with a natural-gas model

• Move a sink

• Install new electrical wiring

 

You probably won’t need a permit if you plan to:

• Install new floor coverings

• Replace doors or windows without altering the structure

• Change a countertop

• Replace a faucet

Handling Building Codes & Permits

Here’s a to-do list if you decide to act as your own general contractor:

Check with your building department if you are putting on an addition. Local codes usually specify how far from the property line a house must be. If your addition is too close, you may need a variance, or you may be prohibited from building at all. Find out whether you will need to submit your plans for approval.

Ask whether the building department can send you printed information about the ordinances that apply to your remodel and the various types of permits you will need.[GARD align=”right”]

Be aware that only certified electricians or plumbers are legally allowed to install or upgrade wiring and pipes in some regions. Check with your local building department before doing any of this work yourself.

Prepare for inspections. Read pertinent sections of the building code so you will know exactly what things the inspector will be looking for. If you hire subcontractors, ask them to be present when their work is inspected.

Featured Resource: Get a Pre-Screened Local General Contractor

 

When Do You Need a Building Permit?

reduce hidden dangers© Palto | Dreamstime.com

For many different types of home repair and improvement jobs, permits are required. Though simple repairs usually don’t call for permits, additions or major changes—particularly those that involve structural work, electrical, heating, and plumbing—usually demand that you get the appropriate permits from the local building department. If you’re working with a contractor or subcontractor, this professional usually handles the permit process.[GARD align=”left”]

If your job falls within this category and your tradesperson suggests that you don’t need a permit, be wary and check with the building department yourself. In most cases, getting a permit means the work will be inspected by the necessary officials.

As a homeowner, this is good for you. Your contractor’s work will be scrutinized by another set of knowledgeable eyes and the results must adhere to building codes, which set minimum safety standards for both materials and construction techniques.

Building codes ensure that your home will be safe for your family and any future families who live there. If work is done without a permit and discovered later, building officials may require that you bring the work up to permit standard—or even dismantle and redo the work—before they will give it a completion or occupancy approval.

For most permits, you must pay fees, typically based on the value of the project. Don’t overestimate the value of the work because it will cost you more in permit fees.

A permit ensures oversight of your contractor’s work (or yours). The scrutiny of an inspector can guard against mistakes and shoddy workmanship and ensure that the work adheres to building codes. You’ll sleep better knowing your project meets safety standards for materials and construction techniques.

A permit will also help you avoid headaches in the future. If building officials discover you have done work without a permit, you could be legally obligated to disclose that you have remodeled without a permit, and the buyer could demand that you bring work up to code.

When Do You Need a Building Permit?

If your project involves minor cosmetic surgery, you probably will not have to worry about getting a building permit. If you are making changes to your house’s structure, plumbing, or electrical wiring, you will need to get permits from your city or county building department before you begin. The best way to find out whether or not a permit is required is to call your local building department.

You will probably need a permit if you plan to:

• Change the footprint of your house

• Move a load-bearing wall

• Alter the roofline

• Create a new door or window opening

• Replace an electric stove with a natural-gas model

• Move a sink

• Install new electrical wiring

You probably won’t need a permit if you plan to:

• Install new floor coverings

• Replace doors or windows without altering the structure

• Change a countertop

• Replace a faucet

Handling Building Codes & Permits

Here’s a to-do list if you decide to act as your own general contractor:

Check with your building department if you are putting on an addition. Local codes usually specify how far from the property line a house must be. If your addition is too close, you may need a variance, or you may be prohibited from building at all. Find out whether you will need to submit your plans for approval.

Ask whether the building department can send you printed information about the ordinances that apply to your remodel and the various types of permits you will need.[GARD align=”right”]

Be aware that only certified electricians or plumbers are legally allowed to install or upgrade wiring and pipes in some regions. Check with your local building department before doing any of this work yourself.

Prepare for inspections. Read pertinent sections of the building code so you will know exactly what things the inspector will be looking for. If you hire subcontractors, ask them to be present when their work is inspected.

Featured Resource: Get a Pre-Screened Local General Contractor

 

Building & Remodeling Permits

reduce hidden dangers

For many different types of home repair and improvement jobs, permits are required. Though simple repairs usually don’t call for permits, additions or major changes—particularly those that involve structural work, electrical, heating, and plumbing—usually demand that you get the appropriate permits from the local building department. If you’re working with a contractor or subcontractor, this professional usually handles the permit process.[GARD align=”left”]

If your job falls within this category and your tradesperson suggests that you don’t need a permit, be wary and check with the building department yourself. In most cases, getting a permit means the work will be inspected by the necessary officials.

As a homeowner, this is good for you. Your contractor’s work will be scrutinized by another set of knowledgeable eyes and the results must adhere to building codes, which set minimum safety standards for both materials and construction techniques.

Building codes ensure that your home will be safe for your family and any future families who live there. If work is done without a permit and discovered later, building officials may require that you bring the work up to permit standard—or even dismantle and redo the work—before they will give it a completion or occupancy approval.

For most permits, you must pay fees, typically based on the value of the project. Don’t overestimate the value of the work because it will cost you more in permit fees.

A permit ensures oversight of your contractor’s work (or yours). The scrutiny of an inspector can guard against mistakes and shoddy workmanship and ensure that the work adheres to building codes. You’ll sleep better knowing your project meets safety standards for materials and construction techniques.

A permit will also help you avoid headaches in the future. If building officials discover you have done work without a permit, you could be legally obligated to disclose that you have remodeled without a permit, and the buyer could demand that you bring work up to code.

When Do You Need a Building Permit?

If your project involves minor cosmetic surgery, you probably will not have to worry about getting a building permit. If you are making changes to your house’s structure, plumbing, or electrical wiring, you will need to obtain permits from your city or county building department before you begin. The best way to find out whether or not a permit is required is to call your local building department.

You will probably need a permit if you plan to:

• Change the footprint of your house

• Move a load-bearing wall

• Alter the roofline

• Create a new door or window opening

• Replace an electric stove with a natural-gas model

• Move a sink

• Install new electrical wiring

 

You probably won’t need a permit if you plan to:

• Install new floor coverings

• Replace doors or windows without altering the structure

• Change a countertop

• Replace a faucet

Handling Building Codes & Permits

Here’s a to-do list if you decide to act as your own general contractor:

Check with your building department if you are putting on an addition. Local codes usually specify how far from the property line a house must be. If your addition is too close, you may need a variance, or you may be prohibited from building at all. Find out whether you will need to submit your plans for approval.

Ask whether the building department can send you printed information about the ordinances that apply to your remodel and the various types of permits you will need.[GARD align=”right”]

Be aware that only certified electricians or plumbers are legally allowed to install or upgrade wiring and pipes in some regions. Check with your local building department before doing any of this work yourself.

Prepare for inspections. Read pertinent sections of the building code so you will know exactly what things the inspector will be looking for. If you hire subcontractors, ask them to be present when their work is inspected.

Featured Resource: Get a Pre-Screened Local General Contractor

 

Remodeling & Home Improvements

Remodeling and major home improvements can increase the value of your home and dramatically improve the quality of your life in it.

Adding a second story requires major demolition above living spaces, the type of chaos that you can find yourself in during a remodel.

But taking on this type of challenge is not for the meek. Major remodeling and home additions can be very complicated and expensive, and they can turn your world upside down if you’re living in the midst of the project. In this section of HomeTips, we’ll guide you through the pitfalls and gird you with the knowledge you need to achieve a successful result. Also be sure to check out our sister site, RemodelGuide.com, for a free, step-by-step control panel that will help you manage every aspect of your project.

We’ll begin here with a few quick tips about how to avoid some of the larger remodeling disasters. Most remodeling projects—even those that come off without a hitch and on time—are stress-producing. And when things don’t go smoothly, it can be a living nightmare. You can’t control unforeseen calamities, but you can take steps to reduce the day-to-day upheaval:[GARD align=”left”]

• Plan ahead. There’s no excuse for living with a hole in the wall because you didn’t order the window in time.

• Schedule your project around extreme weather. And do not get your heart set on hosting Christmas dinner if, say, you started a major project in October.

• Do not go out of town. You do not want anyone else making decisions for you, and work can stall if you are not watchful over your project’s progress.

• Go easy on your nerves and plan to be elsewhere when work is exceptionally noisy or fumes are noxious.

• Make sure you have the phone numbers of all the major players on your project and make sure they have all of yours, including home, work, and cell. Impress upon them that you are only a phone call away and would rather be called if there is the slightest doubt about anything than for them to guess at the answer.

• Draw up and put in writing house rules regarding the use of bathrooms, phones, the refrigerator, whether or not pets are allowed outdoors, and other issues of this type.

• Seal off all work areas from the rest of the house with plastic sheeting.[GARD align=”right”]

• Store all valuables off of the premises for the duration of your project. If you must give out keys and alarm codes, consider having your locks and combination changed after your project is done.

NEXT SEE:

• Building & Remodeling Permits

• Improving an Attic

• Converting a Basement