Old house renovations: Is DIY becoming the only option?

By: Conrad Neuf , Contributing Writer
In: Home Improvement Tips

Old house owners know a big decision must be made before any renovation project can get started: is it a DIY job or should you hire a professional contractor? Performing the job yourself can give you the satisfaction that comes from working on your own home and it's hard to beat the low labor rates.

Experienced house painter needed

DIY or hire a contractor?

However, old house renovations can be complicated -- you never know what's going to be found once the aged sheetrock or plaster has been removed. The knowledge an experienced old house contractor can bring to the project is often worth the extra cost and could even end up saving you money. Unfortunately, the recent downturn in the construction industry may be making the decision for you.

Are experienced contractors becoming a vanishing breed?

The residential construction industry has long had a reputation as a cyclical career field. As a young construction manager during the early '80s, I was told to save my money during the good times as it would be needed to tide me through the bad. It was good advice as I know of very few contractors who haven't experienced some very lean years during their careers -- at least those who chose to remain in the field. It would appear that number is dwindling.

According to a recent article on cnbc.com, one of the biggest hurdles homebuilders in recovering markets are facing is finding skilled workers to do the many tasks required to build a house. The shortage of sub-contractors and experienced labor is adding months to home construction schedules and decreasing builders' profit margins that were already very tight. While there could be many reasons for the vast migration away from the construction career fields, without a doubt the lack of work over the past five or six years played a big part.

Beware the unlicensed and unskilled contractor

Another result of this trend that can affect old house owners planning renovations is the large number of questionable contractors jumping in to fill the void. Tracy Meade, a co-owner of Meade Construction in Charlottesville, Va., has been losing quite a few jobs to competitors using unlicensed and uninsured contractors.

Homeowners are selecting the low bids and finding out later that "the work is often poor quality and any damage to their house isn't covered due to the lack of insurance." She is attempting to steer her company away from having to bid on remodeling and new construction projects as much as possible.

Experienced painter required

Does your painter have the skills to paint old wood siding?

What does all this mean to an old house owner contemplating a renovation? You might want to hone your DIY skills, but if the job requires hiring a contractor, figure on the project taking a little longer than planned. And most importantly: make sure the contractor has proper credentials and that they and their subs have the skills needed for the project.