Electrical Work: When to DIY versus When to Call an Electrician

Millions of Americans choose to DIY rather than call in the professionals when repairing and revamping their homes. It's a great way to save money, but DIY electrical work could cost you a lot more than cash. There are almost 400 electrocutions every year in the United States, and around 70 of these are fatal. That doesn't mean that you should give up your DIY dreams altogether, but it's important to know when you can do it yourself, and when you need professional help.

Call a Pro: You're Not Experienced Enough


Image via Flickr by CoCreatr

All electrical DIY jobs require a basic understanding of electricity, safety requirements, and practical skills. If you're lacking any of these characteristics, you should leave even simple jobs to the professionals.

It's important to be realistic about your skills and what you can comfortably manage. There are plenty of step-by-step guides online which will give you an idea of what the project entails. If a project's process doesn't seem straightforward to you, then it's probably beyond your skills. If you begin a DIY job but spend more time scratching your head than working, then that's another clue it's not for you.

DIY: You've Got Time on Your Hands

As with any project around your home, completing your own electrical work takes time. Since you're not as experienced as an electrician, the job will likely take longer to complete. You'll also need to conduct thorough research to ensure you know how to undertake the task safely and professionally.

If your social calendar is looking sparse, there's no reason why you shouldn't tackle a minor electrical DIY job like replacing a kitchen light. However, if your spare time is limited due to professional and personal obligation, then you should probably pass the job on to a professional. They'll replace that light in around 1.15 hours, compared to the 2.5 hours you'll probably take. Leaving an electrical job half-finished because time isn't on your side poses a serious safety risk that's not worth taking.

For many DIY jobs, functionality matters much more than good looks. No one is going to marvel at your stylish surge protector or chic occupancy sensor so you can feel a little more confident installing one of these. 

Call a Pro: Looks Matter

However, that's not the case for other electrical home repairs and improvements, such as the installation of recessed lights. These light fixtures, which lie flush against the ceiling make a minimalist statement, so there's nowhere to hide if you make a mistake. That's why less than a quarter of home handymen feel comfortable installing one themselves. Do you really want to stare at an unprofessional looking job for years to come? If your work has the potential to diminish your home's appeal, it might be worth hiring an electrician.

DIY: Your Finances Are Tight

A dwindling bank balance certainly isn't the only reason to DIY, but if your budget's tight it's definitely a factor worth considering. For example, you could fit a ground-fault circuit interrupter for just $20.

Your desire to save a dollar is no reason to compromise your safety tackling difficult jobs that are out of your league. If you make mistakes like damaging fittings and cables, it might also cost you a lot more to hire an electrician to rectify your errors.

"A small problem can very quickly grow into a huge one," affirmed Jim Rocchetta of Handyman Connection. "A sizable percentage of our business each year, in fact, involves salvaging do-it-yourself projects that have gone wrong."

But if you've got the time and skills to tackle simple jobs there's no reason to spend money on professional help.

When you're considering the cost of your DIY work, it's important to factor in your materials and any special tools you'll need to get the job done. Tools can be expensive to purchase. If you don't have a well-stocked toolkit, you may find your outlay is a lot greater than you expected. If you have a nearby tool-rental shop, you could hire the tools you need for a fraction of their retail values. All of these costs are important to factor in when you're considering DIY electrical work.

Call a Pro: You Face Red Tape

American cities and states have different regulations concerning DIY home improvements and repairs, including amateur electrical work. It's important to research the requirements in your local area before you get started.

Do you need a permit to work on your home's electrical system, or is it against regulations altogether? Failing to comply with local laws may see you incurring a large fine, or facing difficulties if you try to sell your home. If the red tape starts to get daunting or expensive, it may pay to bring in professional reinforcements.

Call a Pro: It's a Difficult Job

There are some electrical jobs that are just too difficult for do-it-yourselfers, no matter how experienced or confident they are. Wiring a new home or rewiring an outdated electricity system, for example, are such major jobs that no amateur should tackle them. Installing a major appliance like an oven or cooktop is also beyond the ability of most home handymen.
Handling high voltage wiring, performing complex wire connections to different electrical system components, and inspecting and testing existing electrical systems are also difficult tasks that shouldn't be attempted by anyone without comprehensive electrical training.

If you're not sure whether you're being too ambitious, the Do It Yourself or Not website is a good guide. The site's users give projects a thumbs up or thumbs down, according to whether they'd feel confident completing the work themselves or not. Projects that are given an overall thumbs up rating are probably easy enough for most amateurs to manage, while projects that are given a thumbs down are best left to trained electricians.

A less scientific guide is also your gut instinct. If you're nervous that a job may be too difficult to manage, it's probably best to ignore the online endorsement and enlist professional help.
Every home repair and renovation is different. Consider carefully whether you can safely DIY or whether your jobs are best left to a trained electrician.


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