Thursday, September 27, 2007

Muscle or Money?

Ah, the ultimate question that every handyman eventually faces:

Do I do this job myself, or do I pay someone to do it for me?
Sounds simple enough; deceptively simple. But answering this question can have your intellect staring down your ego until one of them blinks. There's going to be that part of you that puffs up it's chest and declares, "Of course I can do this!" To do otherwise is a blow to your pride, a smudge on your reuptation and that of your forebears! The honor of all handymen around the world would suffer, and they might just come looking for you, pointing and laughing until you dissolve into a puddle like the Wicked Witch of the West after Dorothy gave her that much-needed bath. "What a world, what a world..."

But what if your ego is wrong? What if your mouth is writing checks your body can't cash? Can admitting that your not up to the task possible be less humiliating than trying and failing utterly? When that wobbly chair you repaired spreads its legs like Bambi on a frozen pond, will the pain in Great Aunt Edda's broken hip be minor compared to the agony of having to pay someone else to repair your repair?

Not a fun game.

So how do you make this decision? On the one hand, there are definitely areas where, if you don't know what you're doing, then you should keep your hands in your pockets. On the other hand, if you never try anything new then how will you ever learn new skills? Where do you draw the line?

Six Signs That You Need Professional Help:

1 - Does the job require special skills?
Sure, you can swing a hammer with the best of them. You can miter a joint, rewire a lamp and paint anything that stands still long enough to get a brush on it. But can you weld? Ever laid a foundation? Do you even have the faintest idea where to start with this project?
There's no shame in calling in the pros when you are way over your head. They'll get the job done right the first time, and with a minimum of bloodshed and disaster. If you have the time, watch them do their work and you'll learn something for sure. As long as you don't get in the way, most contractors are happy to talk about their work. See them using a cool tool? Ask how much it cost and where you might buy one. By the time the job is done, you'll have gotten much more than your money's worth. And maybe next time, you'll feel more confident in tackling a similar task.

2 - Does the job require special tools?
There's a big difference between not having the right size or type of drill bit, and not having a pneumatic jackhammer. Granted, you could go out and buy a jackhammer, but how often are you really going to need it. If there is a good tool rental place nearby, you could probably rent one for a lot less money. But what if the tool you require is massive, like ... oh say, a bulldozer. Easy there, big boy... Just put down the credit card and back away from the project and nobody gets hurt, OK?

3 - Will someone get hurt if you screw up? 
I don't take down trees bigger than about about three inches in diameter. Its just a rule I have. I'm just one of those people that doesn't particularly enjoy being squashed like a bug. I've seen way too many Funniest Home Videos where the tree went a completely different direction than the do-it-yourself lumberjacks intended. Sometimes it clobbers a pickup truck. I've seen one demolish an entire garage. Of course FHV never shows the videos where someone is seriously injured, but you just know they get them anyway. "Timber! Oops. Fred? Fred? You OK, Fred?" I'm just not into that, so I don't do it.

4 - Is doing it yourself illegal, immoral or fattening? 
Some jobs should only be done by licensed professionals. Do you know the electrical or building code in your area? Are you familiar with local permitting and inspection procedures? If you're scratching your head and/or tilting your head to one side like the RCA Victor dog, then you need help.

5 - Is it really cheaper to do it yourself? 
Have you ever had a gadget like a DVD player go on the fritz and when you take it to a repair shop they laugh at you? They laugh because there is no sense in repairing some things. It is just cheaper to replace them. By the time you pay someone to take the cover off and shine a light in there, you've already exceeded the cost of a whole new gizmo. The same principle applies to hiring a professional. Sometimes, after you have tallied up the cost of materials, the inevitable new tool purchase and - lest we forget - your time, the pro can just do it faster, cheaper and (wince) better. Just like Ford can crank out a car on their assembly line much faster and cheaper than you could in the privacy of your garage, the pro has it down to a science. He can swoop in, use the right tool for the right job and has all the materials in his truck. He's probably not going to have to drive to Home Depot five times to finish the job like some of us do. He's in, done, and out like a comic book superhero. "Who was that masked electrician?" Time is money and he buys his materials wholesale. Sometimes you can't compete with that.

6 - Can you find how-to references?
There are tons of how-to books, magazines, DVDs and web sites out there that will walk you through a lot of things, step by step. They can help you avoid common pitfalls and warn you when you should throw in the towel and call for help. Use those resources. Repeat after me: "Google is your friend..." But if you can't find, in the entire world-wide-web, any instructions on how to do something, well, that's probably a good indication that it's not for beginners.

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