Straight Talk Articles
Should I Do It Myself?
Dear Pat and Brad:
I’d like to make my home more efficient before the cold season hits, but I’m not sure where to start. When does it make sense to take on energy efficiency projects myself and when should I hire a pro? - Chari
When Brad and I discussed your question he mentioned, tongue-in-cheek, that he’s asked that same question many times and came up with a saying: “Why hire someone to do a mediocre job when I can do a mediocre job myself?” He recently hired a contractor to remodel his kitchen and was not happy with the quality of the work. Sadly, even hiring a contractor that has good online reviews and references is not a guarantee of quality work.
One reason to do it yourself (DIY) instead of hiring a contractor is if you’re convinced you can do a better job. Your conviction may be wrong, however, unless you are very knowledgeable about the work. There are other reasons to tackle the job yourself:
If you’re unable to find a contractor that is available and reasonably priced;
If you need the work done in a very tight timeline or during odd hours;
If you’re certain you can save a lot of money; or,
If the job is one you’d really enjoy doing yourself.
There are also some good reasons not to tackle it yourself and to hire a contractor:
When specialized equipment is required.For example, the best wall insulators use something called a “fill tube”, which results in higher R-value performance.Some contractors use an infrared camera to see wall framing and air leaks;
When specialized materials are needed.Attics need proper ventilation, and contractors might have easier access to attic insulation baffles or roof vents;
When there is a safety issue.I was once moving insulation in our attic and accidentally stepped onto the sheetrock ceiling and fell through to my waist.My legs were dangling in the air and the room below was littered with broken sheetrock and insulation.I wasn’t hurt but could have been.As I repaired the damage I regretted the decision not to hire a contractor;
When expertise is required beyond the homeowner capability, like tuning a furnace or repairing holes in a sheetrock wall to match the wall around it; and,
When DIY will save little or no money.I discovered years ago that insulation contractors could install insulation cheaper than I could buy it.Doing the insulation myself was more expensive.
As you consider whether to do the job yourself research the tools and supplies you will need. Fortunately, there are amazing information resources online. If you don’t have internet access you can go to a library, or to a friend that has access.
When you search for information such as “how to insulate an attic”, or “how to airseal a home”, you will find fact sheets and videos from contractors, home improvement television shows, big box suppliers and material manufacturers. YouTube videos show experts making the installation of anything seem simple, but beware, some of these videos are aimed at other experts and not DIY homeowners. And some run counter to the best information from technical experts. To be sure you’re getting technically sound information you should look at the Energy Star website (www.energystar.gov). We often refer to this information when we write these articles, which you can find at www.collaborativeefficiency.com/energytips.
If you have a good energy auditor in your area that is probably your best source of information. Hire an energy audit, and the auditor will not only identify the measures you should install, they will provide you specifics about the materials you should look for and about local contractors and suppliers.
Our advice: Don’t install energy efficiency measures yourself unless you’ve thoroughly researched it and have become very knowledgeable. One other big benefit of doing the research is that it will help you even if you hire a contractor. You’ll be able to identify a knowledgeable contractor and hire one that knows you recognize a quality job.
This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information, go to the August 2021 more information page.
Solar panel installation is sometimes done by confident and highly-trained do-it-yourselfers but is usually best left to professionals. Source: EE Image Database.