This Time Don't Do It Yourself
Home: It's Your Castle and You Love It - But You Can Always Make It Better
It's the classic homeowner's conundrum: Do it yourself, or hire a pro? In a recent survey, the Home Improvement Research Institute found that most of us preferred the former. Of homeowners queried, 51 percent had completed a plumbing repair by themselves in the past year, while 18 percent had contracted the job out. Of those who had added on a porch, patio, or deck, 67 percent said they had a hand in the building, and 34 percent hired the job out. The question is, should they? Should you be washing your windows when you earn $50 an hour and the window service charges $25?
It depends, says Erik Hurst, professor of economics at the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business, who has written extensively on how households allocate their time. Doing it yourself may make sense if you can work extra hours at will to cover the cost, but working overtime is often not an option for many people.
Consider that some tasks will take you a lot more time than they would someone who does it for a living. "If you're finishing a 1,000-square-foot basement and you've never done drywall before, it'll take you three weeks, but it's going to take a drywall crew three to four days," says Adam Berlin, host of DIY Network's series Sweat Equity.
Berlin recommends steering clear of electrical work because of the potential hazards "like burning down your house." Even "minor" projects like wallpapering can seem easy but can end up being surprisingly time consuming. "Even as a contractor myself, I still call other contractors to work at my house," says Berlin.
Window washing takes no skill, to be sure. But even if you're slick with a squeegee, spending Sunday afternoon with one means you're giving up something else. This is what the economists call opportunity cost: If what you're forfeiting isn't that important to you, say, watching football on TV, then washing your own windows may not be a bad idea. But, says Hurst, "it may be worth it if I pay $25 an hour for someone to wash my windows so I can go to the park with my kid instead."
Of course, there are those of us who actually enjoy doing household chores. "Even in the richest of households, lots of people make dinner when they could order out," says Hurst. "But they don't do much cleaning--and very little ironing."
This story appears in the December 25, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.