In many ways, this is a tough time to be a homeowner. Finances might be tight, but that doesn’t stop the roof from wearing out, or the plumbing from starting to drip.

Or perhaps you’re thinking of selling your home, and you need to add a deck or replace some windows or siding in order to be competitive in a tough real estate market. But you can’t really afford to hire a pro.

That may have left you giving some serious thought to undertaking some do-it-yourself projects that in the past you might not have considering tackling. There are some pros and cons to that. Doing things yourself saves money and adds value to your home. It can also bring a lot of personal pleasure, and a definite sense of pride.

But there are risks. A poor job can actually detract from the value of your home. In some cases, you can even end up paying more for wasted materials and correcting mistakes than you would have paid to have a contractor do it right in the first place. So before you break out your tools and head to the home center for a stack of lumber and paint, take a moment for some honest assessment.

Do you know how to do the work?

This is the obvious first thing to ask yourself. Do you know what steps are involved in the project? All of the steps? There are lots of great columns (you’re here, right?), books, videos, TV shows and other sources of information that will help tell you how to get from point A to point Z in a project.

Take the time to check out a few of those sources. Understand what’s involved. Then ask yourself if you know how to do those things. If you don’t, can you learn them?

Do you have the right skills and abilities?

OK, you figured out the steps involved. Now, do you have the skills and the physical abilities to accomplish those steps? Remember, they’re two different things. You might easily read about how to re-roof a house, and fully understand all of the steps involved in doing it.

But if you’re not able to handle the rigors of working for hours at a time on a steep roof, then understanding the theory of how to do it won’t be enough.

Can you commit the necessary time?

This is a tough one for a lot of homeowners. For one thing, it’s really hard to understand just how long some of these projects are going to take — especially if you’ve never done them before. For another, the time commitment to the project means time that’s going to be taken away from something else.

It may be that re-siding the house takes the entire summer, simply because you can do it only on the weekends. Will that work for you? Will that work for your family? If the purpose of doing the re-siding work is to sell the house, will you end up missing the prime selling season? …CONTINUED

Time creates other risks, as well. Take re-roofing, for example. If you can commit only small chucks of time to the project, you may be leaving your home vulnerable to sudden rain storms if the roof isn’t adequately protected. Or your home may not be secure if you’re taking windows or doors out, but temporarily replacing them with plywood or, worse yet, sheets of plastic.

Have you thought about the physical side?

Most building projects, even the simple ones, require some amount of physical labor. Are you up for that? Climbing, crawling, lifting, carrying and all the other things that go along with getting the work done? Then there’ll be those times when, despite your own willingness to do the work, another set of hands is going to be necessary. Do you have a helper you can call on?

What about getting the materials? Can you pick them up at the home center or the lumber yard by yourself? Can you get them delivered? Once they get to the house, can you get them where they need to go: onto the roof, into the house, or into the basement, attic or crawl space?

And don’t forget that once things get under way, there’s the obvious need for tools and equipment, which you’ll need to buy, rent or borrow.

You might want to go back to the first question, and look at all of the steps involved in the project. That might help you better understand the physical side of things, as well as those times when a helper might be needed as well.

Do you want to do it?

Be honest here. Your real estate agent may have said that your house will show better with a fresh coat of paint. You can’t really afford to hire a painter, so you decide to do it yourself. Unfortunately, you hate painting more than root canals, and the only thing you want to do is hurry up and get it over with.

Do you really think that the appearance of the finished product is going to help you sell your house?

None of this is meant to dissuade you from tackling a do-it-yourself project. Just the opposite. Taking responsibility for their own homes is something I encourage people to do every day.

But so is honest assessment. So just take a moment before you start, and make sure your eyes are open before you get started. You’ll end up with a better finished project as a result.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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