These Home Projects Need a Pro. Don’t DIY and Regret It

A man looks puzzled as he holds electrical wire from a mistake at home from a DIY project.
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In the age of endless how-to YouTube videos and magic do-it-yourselfers on TikTok, it’s easy to think that you can tackle almost any home project as long as you study hard enough. Every renovation project you take on yourself can save money — if done right. But some mistakes can cause problems you’ll have to pay for down the road. So, should you DIY or hire a pro? We spoke with professionals to find out. 

What’s Safe for You To DIY

It all starts with how much knowledge and experience you have. Do you have a basic skill set from past projects? Did you take a shop class in high school? You may be able to put more on your plate and do it yourself.

Whatever your level of expertise, it’s important to assess it before beginning a task. Construction projects, especially those involving electrical fixes, can go wrong quickly.

St. Petersburg electrician Steve Alexander suggests homeowners buy a receptacle tester to plug into an outlet to see if it has any wiring issues. He also recommends purchasing a voltage detector, which will make a sound if voltage is found in a wire. This is helpful in a situation in which the homeowner wants to make sure the electricity is off before starting work.

Start with small DIY projects to ease your way into working with electrical wires. Alexander says a homeowner can change any light fixture in their house as long as the switch is turned off and the circuitry is working. It’s best to shut off the breaker before working on the fixture, he says.

Changing out a bad outlet is also a task any homeowner can take on, as long as they have basic knowledge of wiring. Take a picture of the wiring to be safe, and make sure the breaker is turned off for the area where you’re working. But otherwise, Alexander says it’s “pretty easy.”

When it comes to general maintenance around the house, St. Petersburg contractor Chuck Sicilia suggests trying to isolate the problem. If you know what the problem is, it becomes a lot easier to fix yourself. 

For example, if you suspect a window in your house is not water-tight, Sicilia uses the hose test. Put someone on the inside of the window and run a hose slowly along the outside of the window until you find the leak. 

Alexander agrees. If you have a power outage, consider how you spent the last few days. Did you hang a picture and put a nail through the wall? Were there heavy rains that affected your outdoor outlets? Those could all have an impact on your electricity and could be helpful information for an electrician, if you choose to call one. 

It all comes down to your comfort level. Sicilia says that if it’s a matter of caulking an area and fixing it, homeowners can often do that themselves. 

“If you’re comfortable with doing it, why spend the money if you don’t have to?” he asked.

What You Probably Shouldn’t Touch

So, when should you skip the DIY and hire a professional? Are there projects a homeowner absolutely shouldn’t do themselves? 

Sicilia doesn’t think so. There’s nothing a homeowner can’t do if they’re comfortable with making a few mistakes. 

Take a bathroom remodel. In an older home, bathroom tiles might have been in the house for 75 years. It may not come off easily, and if a homeowner starts hitting it with a sledgehammer, they risk damaging the wall, flexing the studs and cracking the plaster. This will take patience and some trial and error as you figure out the best way to demo your bathroom.

When retiling a shower or bathroom, getting a waterproof seal on everything is essential. Sicilia has had to go behind projects where the tile hadn’t been sealed correctly, causing water to build up behind the shower. The grout eventually cracked and tile started falling off the wall. That’s a problem no homeowner wants. 

If you want to create an open layout and take down walls, it’s vital to know whether or not they are load-bearing. Sicilia says you can always ask a contractor to look at the wall if you’re unsure. It’s never a bad idea to get a second opinion before doing something that could damage your house. Think of it as DIY with a little professional guidance.

The stakes are just as high when it comes to electrical fixes. Alexander says not to fix anything in the electrical panel.

“Too much can happen,” he says. “You can be pulling a screw out and it can be touching a wire and blow up.”

He also recommends homeowners stay away from any 220 circuits — that means the circuitry for their oven range, dryer, air conditioning, and water heater. Too much can go wrong. 

Finally, remember this cardinal rule: Stay away from the wiring under your house and in the attic unless everything is turned off. And even then, be careful. There could be old wiring in the dirt or frayed wires from rats.

So, Should You DIY or Hire a Pro? 

Ultimately, when it comes to home improvements, knowledge is your best friend. Do your research and practice patience as you learn new skills. Talk with other homeowners with experience and professionals whenever you have questions. You’ll probably end up making mistakes, but avoid anything that could put you or your home’s safety at risk. Over time, you’ll build confidence in your DIY skills and be able to save yourself hundreds or even thousands with a little extra effort.

Writer Elizabeth Djinis is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder, often writing about selling goods online through social platforms. Her work has appeared in Teen Vogue, Smithsonian Magazine and the Tampa Bay Times.