DIY or Go Pro?

If you are planning on building or renovating a home, you may have begun thinking about possible pros and cons of doing-it-yourself (DIY) versus hiring professionals.

If you enjoy hands-on projects, even visualize the proud sensation of constructing your own home like our forefathers centuries ago, DIY may seem to be the tempting choice. It may also seem like you could cut costs as a do-it-yourselfer.



It ultimately comes down to your skills and experience—and self-assessing these realistically—as well as the size of the project and the resources, in terms of materials, equipment and labour, you have at your disposal.

Unless you have done similar building or renovation projects before, as a DIY-er you may not be able to actually grasp what is required to complete the job in its entirety.

“When you hire a professional, you’re going to be in good hands with someone who knows exactly what they’re doing and who is going to have a better idea of the cost and scope of work involved,” says Peter Briand, President of Econo Renovations. “You’re hiring somebody who has qualified staff, they’re going to do the right job and what’s expected, they’re going to be on budget, they’re going to have all the proper tools and equipment for the job and they know how to deal with surprises.”

Hiring a full service professional company, like Econo Renovations, brings additional peace of mind since it can manage an entire project from start to finish. That way you do not have to go out and hire contractors for every single component, from carpentry to plumbing and electricity.

Skymark Homes & Renovations also offers all-inclusive services for renovations, as well as for building new homes. “We handle everything from building permits, the inspections, the surveying, the engineering, the construction and we do everything right to the closing day where we hire a team of professionals who go in and clean the home to a hotel quality, so basically you can move in that night,” says Evan Collins, General Manager at Skymark Homes NS. “That’s the benefit of dealing with a professional because we can offer one-stop shopping.”

Safety is another key benefit to hiring professionals, says Briand. “The homeowner is not usually aware of a lot of the hazards that are involved, such as dealing with demolition or tearing out the wrong wall (i.e. the bearing wall), not knowing what do with electrical wires, or with plumbing—they can get themselves into some really bad problems with not knowing where shut-offs are,” he describes. “They cause more damage than good.”

Briand adds that professionals have experience dealing and projecting costs for unforeseen issues that may pop up that a DIY-er may not expect or know how to handle. Examples include discovering rush and sloppy work done by previous homeowners, like improper valves, pipes or joints installed during a plumbing project or a sag in the floor because joists were removed during a DIY reno.

Professionals also are seasoned at ensuring projects are to code and will pass municipal building inspections. Additionally, Collins notes, while a DIY-er strives to meet all National Building Code standards, quality professional builders and renovators strive to surpass these. “With all of our Skymark homes, we actually go above and beyond the National Building Code because the National Building Code is basically the bare minimum,” says Collins. “The Code doesn’t really concern itself with quality. That’s something that a lot of DIY-ers wouldn’t realize. They think the National Building Code is the gold standard in building when in fact it’s only the mimimum you’re supposed to build to legally.”



Time is also an important factor to consider when considering DIY versus hiring professionals, says Briand. He notes that finding the time to do home building projects in between your day job and family can be a challenge. On the other hand, builders and renovators can work full time and, due to their expertise, can complete the job more efficiently.

What most of us consider is budget. It might seem like doing-it-yourself is cheaper, but surprisingly in many to most cases it is not. “Nine out of 10 times, I can sit down with someone who’s looking at DIY, and I can show them the hard numbers and how it’s actually going to cost them more money to do it themselves,” says Collins. “The trades, the sub-contractors and the suppliers give us better pricing than an individual off the street. They know if they deal with reputable builders and renovators, they’re going to get paid and they will reflect that in their pricing. We don’t have the risk of going over budget and not getting the funds from the bank, like a DIY-er might.”

Collins says that of course professionals add a profit margin on top of their price but in most cases it still ends up being more cost-effective than if a DIY-er were to source all materials and labour themselves.

It is also important to note that it is becoming more difficult for DIY-ers to get financing or loans for building and renovation projects. “Banks have tightened up their lending practices when dealing with private individuals who want to build and renovate themselves,” he says. “Right now I’m working with a gentleman and most of the banks he’s talked to really don’t want to give him the financing to build or renovate because with DIY-ers there is more risk that the project is going to go over budget, that it’s going to have cost overruns, perhaps some warranty issues…So the banks say, ‘Find a builder, get a turn-key package and we’ll finance it.’ But they do not want to finance a DIY job.”

Both Briand and Collins are not opposed to homeowners engaging in DIY projects. In fact they encourage it. “I would say there are small-scale jobs where it’s more cost-effective to do it yourself, and if you’re experienced you can do just as good a job,” says Collins.

Collins states the cost of the project is a good guideline to gauge whether it is more suitable for DIY or professionals. Generally any project that has a cost over $5,000 requires a building permit. If the project exceeds this amount, it is advisable to hire pro builders and renovators. “But if it’s under $5,000, and you don’t require a permit, that’s perfect DIY material and I would recommend people do it themselves,” he says. “That’s how they’re able to build a little equity in their home by painting, tidying and modernizing.”



Briand will work with homeowners to include a DIY component as part of the overall project. He says, “When they have a certain budget, I’ll tell them how much it’s going to cost and ask them what they’re prepared to take out or what they’re prepared to do themselves.” In these cases the DIY jobs Briand recommends or that his clients often undertake include painting, caulking around windows, installing trim around doors and even flooring jobs,
including laminate, carpeting and sometimes hardwood.

Both Brian and Collins also have experience working with homeowners who are certified or licensed trade professionals, like plumbers, electricians or flooring installers. “You know they’re a professional at what they do, so absolutely Skymark will partner with them,” says Collins. “We may do the majority of the home and then they’ll cover the plumbing or electrical or whatever it is they’re a professional at, and of course they’re going to save that amount off the price.”

Hiring professionals as opposed to doing-it-yourself does not mean you lose creative control. Reputable building and renovation companies will work with you to meet your project goals and desires. For example, Skymark Homes has an in-house designer that works with homeowners in a variety of ways, from developing design plans to picking out colours and finishes. Collins also mentions Skymark’s Take the Tour program. “We have multiple jobs on the go at all times,” he says. “We’re able to take people who are considering buying or renovating to our job sites and show them what’s behind the walls of the home.”

Building a new home or renovating can be a major investment. It is a very exciting and beneficial endeavour, but it can also take a toll financially, and perhaps even more importantly, mentally. This may be the most important factor to consider when deciding between DIY and hiring a professional. When homeowners start a project on their own and get stressed, they often end up calling in the pros, he says.

“We get calls all the time from people who have started doing a renovation themselves and it’s overwhelmed them – they’re kind of spinning their wheels,” adds Collins. “We’re able to assist them to get the job done.”

Michelle Brunet

Michelle Brunet

Michelle Brunet is a freelance writer based in her hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia. She has had the pleasure of contributing to various publications and websites, including Celtic Life International, Halifax Magazine, The Coast, Bedford Magazine, Resources Quarterly, Atlantic Books Today, up! magazine and My Destination Nova Scotia