Personal Finance

Home improvement projects: Hire or DIY?

Do or hire?

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With summer home renovation projects like a composite deck addition and roofing replacement costing homeowners $15,912 and $19,528, respectively, according to Remodeling magazine's 2015 Cost vs. Value Report, it's no surprise some folks are tempted to do it themselves.

But they may be wise to think twice. Take into account costly permits and equipment rentals, the cost of transporting materials, insurance, and the amount of time—and degree of difficulty—involved, and it may be better to leave it to the experts.

Here's how to determine if you should DIY or hire a pro.

—By Lucy Maher, special to CNBC
Posted 5
July 2015

Do it yourself: Add an outdoor fire pit

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Even the warmest climates succumb to chilly evenings. If you're looking to counter the cold with an outdoor fire pit, heed the warning of Mark Clement, the blogger behind My Fix It Up Life. "Step 1 is safety and common sense," he says. "Create enough clearance to combustibles so that you don't light something on fire. And, think about seating and creature comforts. Fire pits are awesome summer projects but often used when it's cooler at night, like in the autumn. So think about how you can feel the warmth and still sit comfortably and move around the area. Also, keep a garden hose handy when you're burning."

Do it yourself: Landscaping

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Use sunny summer days to figure out which areas of your property could be better shaded. In need of trees to add natural shade to your barbecue area? Does the sun hit your patio at lunchtime? Take stock during the summer months and plant trees or add planting vines in strategic places that will result in natural shade next year. Landscaping of garden beds or borders is the most common outdoor project, tackled by two in five homeowners, according to the remodeling and design website Houzz.

Do it yourself: Seal the windows

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No use turning on the air conditioning if all that cool air is going to escape out poorly sealed windows. Avoid that by spending an afternoon applying weather stripping or rope caulking to drafty spots. If you've got more time and patience, you can replace loose or missing glazing, the putty that seals window panes. Replacing windows entirely, though, is a project best left to the pros. Sixteen percent of homeowners surveyed by Houzz plan to upgrade their windows this year.

Do it yourself: Build outdoor seating

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Wood benches can be used on both a front porch and back deck, as well as in the garden, and make an ideal DIY project for the novice carpenter, thanks to simple lines and unfussy design. Find an online tutorial before embarking on your project.

Do it yourself: Refinish the deck

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Spending a dry day scraping off old paint or adding a gloss to your existing deck will both protect it and make it appear new. You'll need a few materials, including paint stripper, a rented power sander, cloths, stains and finishes, and little more than time and elbow grease. Eighteen percent of homeowners plan to upgrade their decks, according to Houzz.

Leave to the experts: Tree removal

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You may be tempted to take a chainsaw to that dead oak in the backyard. But be wary. Tree removal often occurs in confined spaces near houses, cars, utility lines and major roads, requiring considerable expertise and often special machinery to be performed successfully. And the work can be dangerous. Of 37 homeowner tree care-related accidents reported publicly in 2014, 60 percent were fatal, according to an analysis by the Tree Care Industry Association.

Before hiring a pro, be sure to check the certificates of liability and workers' compensation insurance. If you hire a company without insurance (or with inadequate insurance), you may be liable for accidents or injuries, and may have no recourse if your property is damaged during the removal.

Leave to the experts: Roof repairs

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You may think that a leak depositing water into your attic would be easy to plug by crawling up a ladder with a new piece of siding. And that can be an option if a leak is due to a minor problem, like a torn or missing shingle or one small hole in the flashing.

But if there are multiple leaks, the repair you made isn't holding, or if it's tough to determine the source of the leak, it's best to call in a pro. Before you hire roofers, though, make sure that they are licensed in your state and carry workman's comp and general liability insurance. And if you're getting a major repair done, look for a long-term warranty. Fifteen percent of homeowners surveyed by Houzz are planning to upgrade their roofs this year.

Leave to the experts: Fence installation

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Fences add security, privacy and charm to a home, and are best left to an expert who knows how to install on a grade and can work with a concrete foundation, should that be needed. Once you settle on a pro, "make sure you have solid plans and, if needed, acquire permits to do the work," says Dahl. "There is nothing worse then getting stopped in the middle of the project because your plans aren't up to code or your measurements are off."

Leave to the experts: Outdoor pathways

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Can't stop admiring your neighbor's jaunty stone front steps? Feel free to install a similar look on your property, but hire an expert to do so. That's because using proper materials and tools and ensuring a level underlayment is key to avoiding problems, such as cracks, down the road. Fifteen percent of homeowners surveyed by Houzz plan to upgrade their pathways or steps.

Leave to the experts: Outdoor shower

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For some, there's no greater joy than a cool shower outside. While the relatively simple carpentry can be handled by a novice, the plumbing should be left to an expert with the know-how to move and expand plumbing, the understanding of local lines and secure the permits needed to do so. A simple shower can cost less than $1,000 to install, Houzz estimates, but more elaborate ones can cost $8,000 or more.