Which Home Renovations to Tackle Yourself

When my wife and I bought our first home, it was a fixer upper. Over 100 years old and poorly maintained, we got it for a song, but we knew it would take some work. “It’s OK,” we said vacuously, “we’ll fix it ourselves”. After several months of living on a mattress in the kitchen, we realized that there were some jobs we could handle, and others we could not. For first time homeowners, it is important to know that, unless you are a skilled contractor, there are some jobs best left to the pros. Here are some house jobs that I found myself perfectly capable of performing.


  1. Locks. It may sound elementary, but this was a learning experience. I personally recommend taking all of the locks in your house and setting them to be opened by a single key, unless you have a good reason to do otherwise. Several manufacturers available from GotStock industrial supplies have simple mechanisms that let you set the locks to any key of your choosing. Assembly is simple, and once you’ve done it a couple of times, you can change a lock in just a couple of minutes.
  2. Broken Windows. I remember breaking our bedroom window, to my abject dismay. I also remember having no conception of how a window pane is repaired. With research I learned that a new piece of glass is cut and then secured into the space with a proper adhesive. I wasn’t at all sure I could do it on my own. But I measured twice, got my glass cut at my local hardware store, and in no time my window was secure.
  3. Refinishing floors. Our ugly floors look awesome now. It took a couple days of sanding, staining, and sealing, but the floors look brand new, even though they’re more than a century old. Some floors this age have outlived their utility, and must be replaced. Some homeowners can handle this, but others will benefit from the speed and professionalism a contractor can bring.
  4. Demo. I’m fantastic at demolition. If you need your home reduced to rubble and thrown in a dumpster, I’m your guy. Once everything’s ripped down to the studs, you need to bring in someone who knows what they’re doing, though.


I would absolutely not try to handle the following jobs on my own:


  1. Electrical. I have succeeded in putting a working, wired in light to my closet. But there was trial and error, sparks, and a lot of frustration. For anything bigger, I always hire the pros. That way I know everything works, and my house isn’t going to burn down
  2. Plumbing. I have successfully done basic plumbing fixes, but I leave big jobs to licensed plumbers. Like electrical, your plumbing needs to be inspected, legally. By hiring a plumber, you know that your system is safe, efficient, and perfect for any future people who will inhabit your home.
  3. Foundation work/roofing. These are costly repairs. I have been spared from foundation woes, but when my roof started leaking, I forked out the cash for a roofer. I was able to get by with a resurfacing, not a new roof, so it wasn’t that costly, but the changes will be good for another 7-10 years. I’m very glad I got it done and I got it done well.


Homeownership is an education for those of us who didn’t grow up doing this kind of work. However, there are simply some times when it’s best to spend the money on a professional job. You can save a lot of time and consequences of your own (questionable?) work. 


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