At $50 or more an hour, contractors get expensive fast. You can save thousands by doing more of your own chores. Here’s how to get started:
Resist the urge to load up on tools. You won’t save money if every repair job starts with you plunking down a hundred dollars for gear. Try renting instead. For example, you’ll pay about $30 a day for a professional-grade hammer-drill that costs over $300 to buy. As a bonus, staff at the rental centre will show you how to use it.
Attend free seminars. Hardware chains such as Home Depot hold weekly classes on everything from tiling floors to installing toilets. The classes are great starting points, says home improvement expert Jon Eakes in Montreal. Don’t depend on what you read on websites and blogs. “A lot of their information is just wrong,” he says. Instead pick up Reader’s Digest Complete Do-it-Yourself Manual or DK’s Do it Yourself (Canadian Edition).
Ask a contractor for help. It sounds crazy, but some professionals will teach you how to do jobs yourself. For instance, you can hire a contractor to replace your faucet, watch how he does it, then replace other faucets on your own. “Contractors know it’s ridiculous to pay someone $50 to install a faucet,” Eakes says.”If they teach you, they know you’ll give them the bigger jobs later, like renovating the entire bathroom.”
Shop at a specialty store. The people behind the counter at your local lumberyard, flooring store and plumbing shop know more than staff at big hardware chains. So when you buy a few hundred dollars in laminate flooring, ask staff for advice on how to install it.
Practice in the laundry room first. It’s the best place to test your skills since no one will ever see your mistakes, says Eakes. “I tell people, if you want to drywall the bedroom and you’ve never drywalled before, drywall your laundry room first—even if it doesn’t need it” Hopefully the second time around you’ll get it right.
Know your limits. Some things really should be left to the experts. Electrical wiring is one. Another is a leaky roof or basement. “A small leak can cause a lot of damage, and finding the problem is more than most people are capable of,” says Robert Koci, editor of Canadian Contractor magazine in Toronto. Also, avoid moving walls yourself. If you cut into a load-bearing wall, your house could collapse. The good news: in a sour economy the renovation business dries up, which means you should be able to negotiate a cheaper rate if you do need to hire a contractor.