How to decide if you should do it yourself

Thinking about having work done on your home? The first, most crucial, question is: can you do it yourself? The second question is: should you, or would it be wiser to call a professional?

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It depends. I have not come across any home improvement task that I cannot theoretically do myself.

In the last 16 years I have tackled jobs that I would have previously thought beyond my abilities, but some I have happily handed over to contractors.

How do I decide who does which kind of job? Some DIYers I know draw a line across a personal no-go area: they will do anything except touch electricity or plumbing, because the consequences of a mistake seem to be irreversible. I do not think like that.

The key calculation is: do I have the means to undertake that which I am about to undertake?

That means, as a minimum, sufficient knowledge and the necessary equipment. There is no shortage of advice around (mostly in French, of course) and often it comes down to whether I have adequate tools, or can buy or hire them for a reasonable price.

I also consider whether I have enough time (and, for outdoor jobs, whether the good weather will hold). It may require a continuous stretch without interruption, rather than half an hour every other weekend.

Another self-assessment question is: can I do it myself in a literal sense? Do I have the strength and stamina? Will I need assistance at some point?

Sometimes the decision is also a matter of courage and commitment. Start cutting a hole in an almost-new roof to fit a skylight and you cannot stop until the thing is watertight again.

Commitment also means resolving not to panic when the unexpected problem occurs – which it will.

Even if I can do the job myself, that still leaves “Should I do it?”. Apart from saving the cost of paying a professional, there are two major considerations. One is that if someone else does it, I lose control. I have effectively had four electricians involved in the wiring of a new guest room. The third undid the work of the second then retired, leaving me with a junction box which might have been a work of art but took me a year to figure out so that I could finish the job.It might have been quicker, overall, to have done it myself to begin with.

There are two really big differences between a DIY and a professional job. The first and most evident is the finish. My house is definitively rustic in style – and that includes all the modern additions. The joints of the plasterboard are rough, some of my tile work is uneven, and there are splashes of paint where there should not be. I work to the best of my abilities but I am far from perfect.

Mostly, I can live with my own imperfections but where it needs to look good, I would be tempted to get in someone who can do it properly.

The clincher difference, however, is emotional.

Tradesmen (or tradeswomen) will do the job much better in a fraction of the time... but that brings me no personal satisfaction.

I do DIY partly to save money but mostly to learn new techniques and know how my house “works”.

Do it yourself and you have a minor sense of autonomy, of being in control of your own living space.

It is an illusion, of course, because in an old French farmhouse nothing ever stays straight or immaculate for long. The house tells you how things are going to be, not the other way around.