DIY vs. Hiring out: When is it worth the time and cost of doing it yourself?

“If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

Jeanine and I recently spent two weekends improving our garage. We’ve lived in our house for three years and despite cleaning it out several times, we still couldn’t get 2 cars in the 2-car garage. When we did make room for my 8-year-old Volvo, it would eventually get banished back to the curb within days.

About a month ago we had our first home study appointment for the pending adoption and the social worker pointed out the many violations in our garage that would require child-proofing. We decided before her second appointment, we should tackle this albatross and finally make the 2-car garage live up to its name. The social worker returned with her checklist last week and the house and garage passed with flying colors. The garage feels like a bonus in all this baby preparation.

There’s also something very family-like when I look at the house now with two cars in the garage. Parking in front always seemed a bit transient… like I’m not getting too comfortable here or perhaps I don’t belong or I’m just renting. But homeowners have rights to the garage. It’s a good feeling.

So what exactly did we do? We applied floor coating, installed shelves and made two trips to the Goodwill. I’m not sure why we thought the floor and shelves were going to be too challenging to make this a do-it-yourself venture. But the thought stalled us for years and we never got around to doing this project. We’ve had garage-envy many a times when we’d see a friend’s garage with that high-end epoxy floor coating. To have this professionally done, it will set you back about $1,500.

When it comes to DIY projects, I try to follow the same rules as Madame X at MyOpenWallet:

  • Don’t pay someone else to do what you can easily do yourself
  • Pay others to do anything that you might really f**k up!
  • If you can really make better use of the time, pay someone to do things that take up time
We always felt like the floor project might fall in the “really f**k up” category. But we started that Saturday with a trip to our neighborhood Ace hardware store. The guy in the paint department spent 20 minutes with us (you won’t find that at Home Depot) and carefully explained the directions of the Rustoleum Epoxy Shield Garage Floor Coating Kit (we needed 2 kits for the 2-car garage). This set us back about $130.

In order to prep the garage, we moved everything out and on to the back patio. Once it was empty, the shelving (installed by the previous owners) looked bulky and make-shift and the depth was one of the reasons why it was too tight to fit two cars. Jeanine and I looked at each other and made the dyke-with-a-sledge-hammer decision to demolish all four industrial-sized shelves. Now we were committed.

While phase one of the floor coating was drying we went to The Container Store and bought $525 worth of InterMetro Shelves that we had to assemble ourselves. We did and after phase two was completed we put everything back. We also bought heavy duty bike-racks for the walls. I did the drilling. I’m a wall-stud expert now and the bikes are hanging properly like civilized city people.

All the supplies, tools, etc. set us back less $800. We have a new garage (that we improved ourselves) for a fraction of the cost if we had hired out. And apparently people are hiring this project out. Curbly, a site for expert home-improvement advice writes:

Companies devoted strictly to the beautification of garages are springing up everywhere. They offer kitchen-quality cabinetry with European hinges, specialty organizers–including grid walls and bike hoists–and durable floor coating systems.

One such company, Premier Garage, bills itself as the leader in garage remodeling. Questioning one of their sales representatives at a recent home remodeling show, I was told that a standard 2-stall garage could be transformed in 48 hours for about $5,000. When all is said and done, it would probably look nicer than most people’s kitchens, and for 5 grand, it should.
We did ours for one fifth of the cost! J.D. at Get Rich Slowly has his rules too when it comes to doing home improvement projects. He suggests:

The cost and convenience of buying in the store or hiring out often outweigh the advantages of making things yourself. But don’t be duped. There are still many reasons to produce things with your own hands:
  • Superior quality of goods and workmanship.
  • Easy customization to suit your needs.
  • The satisfaction of a job well-done.
To make this worthwhile, do what you love. If you’re doing something you enjoy, something you consider fun, then the cost of your time is not a factor. If I’m planting, growing, and picking grapes, I’m having a good time. But I’d hate to replace my own roof, even if it would save me money.
J.D. also swears by the Reader’s Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual. Of course, not every home improvement project should be a do-it-yourself venture. The DIY Life site and blog have a “Don’t-It-Yourself” category in their home improvement section. You might want to take note.

But epoxy floor coating — take it from two lesbians with an ugly garage — it’s a cinch to do-it-yourself and you’ll love saving a lot of money! So what projects do you DIY instead of hiring out? And what’s been the cost savings? Feel free to comment over at Queercents.