House renovations: When to DIY and when to call a pro

Amy Hamilton Chadwick
House renovations: When to DIY and when to call a pro

Warm weather means DIY season is nearly here – so which projects should you tackle this summer?

Here’s some tips on when to have a go, when to call a pro, and what to do when your fun DIY project turns sour.


HAVE A GO: Tiling

CALL A PRO: Plastering

Laying tiles isn’t as easy as it looks, but the potential for disaster is relatively small. If you do a great job, you’ve potentially saved yourself a few thousand dollars. As long as you have plenty of time and the right pieces of equipment (like a tile cutter and tile spacers), you can probably achieve a half-decent finish, says Gary Caulfield, quantity surveyor and general manager of Construction Cost Consultants.

If you’ve done a terrible job it will soon be obvious, but hopefully the tiles will still be intact and you can call in the experts to straighten out your mess if necessary.

Plastering and gib-stopping, however, are deceptively difficult. It may look as though your plasterer is doing nothing more than advanced cake-icing, but in fact a professional knows what compound to use, how to prep the surfaces and how to create a perfect finish that will stand the test of time.

“Gibstopping is a bit of an art and not everybody’s got the patience for it. I patched a hole at home and a week later it all fell off the wall because the compound was slightly off, so I was back to square one,” Caulfield says. “Put the plasterboard up yourself if you like, and do the painting yourself, but get someone to do the stopping.”

SEE ALSO: How much should you spend on your renovation?


HAVE A GO: Painting the interior

CALL A PRO: Painting the exterior

You can save yourself thousands of dollars by doing your own interior painting – it’s safe and simple. You can get a great result if you do the right preparation. Painting the exterior of your house, on the other hand, is a far riskier and more expensive proposition.

“When it comes to scaffolding, you have to pay to have it delivered, pay to have it put up, pay while it’s there, then pay to have it taken it down,” say Caulfield. “Even a simple scaffold tower can be $200 to be delivered then $250 a week to have there. A lot of painters will have their own scaffold tower and absorb that cost as part of their pricing.”

And don’t even think about painting your house’s exterior without scaffolding: 77 New Zealanders fall from steps or ladders every week.

Pull out quote DIY or Prop

HAVE A GO: Install a laminate floor

CALL A PRO: Carpetlaying and wallpapering

There are some fantastically easy and affordable products that make it simple to install your own laminate or click-together flooring. Detailed instructions are provided and you can watch online tutorials to create a smart-looking, durable floor at a very reasonable price.

Carpets and wallpaper, on the other hand, are harder to install than you might imagine.

“Have you ever watched someone try to hang wallpaper? You think, ‘How hard it can be?’ Then it goes wrong, in a bad way,” says Jeremy Wyn-Harris, managing director at

Wallpaper can be expensive and when you make a mess of a piece of wallpaper, you’ll have to replace it. 

The same goes for carpet; you could cost yourself a lot of money with just a few fatal errors. “It needs to be cut exactly right and it’s not always the way you expect,” says Wyn-Harris. “These are the kinds of renos where anyone can do it, but not everyone can do a good job.”


HAVE A GO: Landscaping

CALL A PRO: Tree trimming

There’s so much you can do outdoors, from building a fence to laying pavers and constructing planter boxes. Not only can you save thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars on landscaping and gardening costs, you can also add masses of visual impact and value to your home.

But tree trimming is not worth it, either in terms of money or safety.

Pruning large trees is relatively inexpensive – in the hundreds of dollars in most cases – and the professionals provide fantastic value for money, chipping all the offcuts and removing them from your property. For the ordinary homeowner, however, tree trimming is a recipe for disaster, explains Caulfield:

“Chainsaws are dangerous. Working at heights is dangerous. Climbing a tree with a chainsaw? Get the professionals. They have all the gear: the safety equipment, the earmuffs, the padded trousers.

"Also, people often try to tackle it on their own, without knowing what’s below when they drop that branch. Is there a pet walking past or are you going to drop it through a window or onto your roof?”


HAVE A GO: Demolition

CALL A PRO: Structural work

Replacing a kitchen or bathroom? Ripping out the old one can be a fun and satisfying DIY project that saves you a considerable amount of cash. You save on the price of a couple of labourers for a day, plus skip hire, if you can do your own removal; “and nobody is ever as careful in your house as you are,” Caulfield says.

His strategy is to pick up supplies from the hardware store in the morning so he can take advantage of the free trailer hire to take the rubbish to the tip before returning the trailer in the afternoon – and anything salvageable gets listed on TradeMe.

Structural work, though, is a more complex beast.

No longer are you permitted to have a go at building an extension as you once could in years gone by, says Wyn-Harris. Nor can you tackle electrical or plumbing jobs.

Before undertaking any DIY project, you need to check that you’re permitted to do the work yourself. For an outline of what you can and can’t do under the law, this is a good guide.  


When it all turns to custard

The summer holiday season is primetime for keen DIYers, but once everyone goes back to work in mid-January there’s a huge influx of job postings at People get back from their holidays and realise they haven’t done any of their planned DIY jobs.

“I think we Kiwis like to think we’re keen on DIY, but I have a feeling our lives are pretty busy these days people have less time on the weekends than they did back in the 1970s,” says Wyn-Harris. “Sometimes you think it’ll be a real adventure, to build a deck over the summer, for instance. And it’s fun for the first day or two, then it always turns out to be more involved than you thought.”

The biggest factor for most of us, he says, is time. It’s common to see job postings where homeowners are asking the professionals for help to finish a job or fix a botched project, so don’t be embarrassed about calling in the experts to help with your half-finished job. You can even specify ‘no laughing at the horrible mess I’ve made’ in the job description, says Wyn-Harris; “We do see jobs a bit like that being posted and our tradespeople are always keen.”

SEE ALSO: How much should you spend on your renovation?


Property ambitions?

Westpac has handy tips, info and mortgage calculators to help:

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