The DIY gurus make it look so easy. Home bloggers and HGTV hosts would have us believe that no kitchen project is out of reach for the average homeowner. But take heed: Even the most ambitious among us sometimes need to swallow our pride, step aside, and call in professional help.
It’s true that you’ll spend more on pro contractors than you would tackling a kitchen renovation yourself. But the higher price tag beats paying a contractor to fix your work in the gory aftermath of a DIY renovation gone awry.
We talked with experts to learn which projects are best left to the pros, no matter how tempted you might be to attempt it yourself.
1. Tile work
First, a caveat: My husband is living proof that tile isn’t strictly a job for the pros. After tiling three bathroom floors, two showers, and two kitchen backsplashes, he’s earned the nickname of Oscar the Grout. For him, tile work is a puzzle. He enjoys the precision required when cutting pieces to fit tight corners and tricky curves.
Tile work is deceptively easy, which leads many homeowners to DIY it, explains Shawn Finley, owner of Noble and Oak Renovation & Restoration in Liberty, MO. But for the average homeowner—myself included—tiling is a skill that usually takes years to perfect, which might not align with your renovation timeline. Unless you’re a natural-born Tiley Cyrus like my husband, you may not be happy with the results.
“Getting a quality end product takes a lot of patience, planning, and experience,” Finley says. “Issues I see are uneven tiles, crooked grout lines, and poor layouts resulting in weird cuts in obvious places.”
2. Plumbing and electrical upgrades
Unless you’re intimately acquainted with the supply lines and drains under your sink, leave the plumbing to a professional.
“These are generally shared services between many units,” Fara says. “Buildings almost always require licensed tradesmen to do this type of work in order to ensure the building’s safety and protect the owner from damaging adjacent units.”
Depending on where you live, you could need permits for plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling, or building, but be forewarned: Many municipalities don’t allow homeowners to pull permits themselves, explains Nathan Gabor, owner and manager of Gabor Design Build in Germantown, WI.
“Check with your municipality before starting a project,” Gabor says. “When it comes time to sell your home, many buyers will want to know permits were pulled for all work completed.”
3. Cabinet finishing
For homeowners hoping to upgrade an aging kitchen on a budget, the painted cabinet trend is glorious. In our first house, my husband and I jumped at the idea of painting the original cabinets in our 1940s Cape Cod. It would save us thousands of dollars on new cabinetry, and painting is easy, right?
Not exactly. We hastily jumped into the project and ended up with an uneven paint job and more than a few unsightly blobs. Barely a year later, we emptied out our cabinets again so we could sand down our mistakes from the first job and do it right the second time.
Bottom line: If painting isn’t your forte, save yourself the trouble from the beginning.
4. Replacing countertops
Even if you have the strength to physically move hundreds of pounds of stone countertops, the average homeowner doesn’t have the know-how or the machinery required to custom-cut their own kitchen countertops.
Countertops can also be one of the costliest components of a new kitchen, and an expensive mistake with a piece of rare natural stone isn’t worth it. When you’re ready to go out with the old countertops and in with the new, call the pros and let them handle the installation.
5. Installing appliances
Appliances are often the unsung and relatively unnoticed heroes of our kitchens—until it’s time to replace them, of course. Poorly installed appliances are one of the most common DIY faux pas Finley notices in kitchens.
“They didn’t fit quite right and the owner didn’t take the time to make the necessary adjustments to get things setting correctly and looking professional,” he says.
Sometimes it’s a range hood that doesn’t sit flush with the surrounding cabinets, or a dishwasher that isn’t level. These imperfections can be an eyesore in your new kitchen, so if you’re not confident with installation, purchase your wares through a supplier that offers in-home installation. You’ll have peace of mind knowing your shiny new appliances were installed correctly.
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