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When to call in the experts

When money is tight, it can be tempting to tackle some home improvement jobs yourself. But how do you know what’s achievable for a capable DIY-er, and what’s best left to the experts? We give you the lowdown…

There are benefits to doing DIY. It keeps costs down and can be immensely satisfying. Plus, with YouTube and countless online guides at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to have a go at home improvements. Sometimes this is successful, and other times it can lead to disaster.

Whether you’re considering a small home hack or tackling something altogether much bigger, we’ve produced a short guide to what you should consider having a go at – and what might best be left to the professionals.

Painting and decorating

Most of us have picked up a paintbrush in the past and, perhaps excluding a few paint splashes, the potential for a major disaster is small. If you’re not too worried about the end aesthetic, this can be a good trade to try yourself.

However, decorating certainly isn’t as easy as you might think. The end result is hugely dependent on preparation – filling walls, sanding, caulking and masking. A painter’s cutting in and rolling skills have been developed over years of experience, and a job that might take them four days to complete could take you far longer.

DIY disaster rating: If you want a perfect finish, call in the experts, but if you’re more relaxed on appearances and have time to spare, the propensity for disaster is low.

Sean Saunders Painting and Decorating
A professional finish by Sean Saunders Painting and Decorating


Plastering can take many forms – from gypsum to lime, and each material and job requires its own unique approach. Much like painting, it’s hugely reliant on the preparation work. You can’t just trowel plaster onto a wall or ceiling — you need to make sure the surface is prepared, or you might find your hard work in a puddle on the floor.

It’s a mucky, time-consuming job for an amateur to attempt, and simply getting the plaster off the hawk and onto the wall can be complex enough. You can probably just about get the wall ready to paint – but achieving a good finish takes many years of practice.

DIY disaster rating: It might not be likely to land you an injury, but without proper prep, you might end up having to call in the experts anyway.

Electrics and plumbing

Water, gas and electricity are three things that can cause extensive damage to your home and land you with serious injury too. Even the most competent DIYer would be wise to leave these jobs to the experts, who spend years at college training for very good reason.

DIY disaster rating: Don’t even think about it.


Working with wood can be great fun and is an enjoyable hobby for many. But this trade covers a broad spectrum, from making a bird box to pitching a roof. There is obviously a sliding scale to what you should attempt and what might be best left to the experts.

Be guided by your own experience and abilities in this area, as well as what tools you have at your disposal (there’s a reason tradespeople talk about the importance of having the right tool for the job). As a rule of thumb, anything structural should always be left to the experts, and you might also want to consider handing over anything you plan to put out on show. DIYing a new kitchen might not land you the slick home centrepiece you wanted.

DIY disaster rating: The potential for injury is high, and you’re unlikely to come close to the finish a professional trade can give you.


For the ambitious, it could be tempting to save money by completing your own excavations. Most groundworks are completed with machinery, following careful surveys which highlight which services run underground. Hiring a digger without understanding what lies beneath could land you with costly home damage, but getting out a spade and digging by hand could be safer. This job can be time-consuming, particularly if the weather isn’t on your side – and don’t underestimate the physical stamina needed too.

DIY disaster rating: Hard work, but doable – just as long as you avoid pipes and cables. You might want to get a professional in to check the work you’ve done.


The thought of laying bricks may seem easy, but setting out, keeping everything level, and toothing in is far from simple. This trade takes years of experience to master, and like every trade, the finish is reliant on lots of prep. External brickwork is highly visible, so consider whether you really want to give this one a go.

DIY disaster rating: At best, you’ll end up with wonky bricks, while at worst, you could be looking at serious structural issues.

Structural work

Always leave anything structural to the professionals. Even experienced builders can come across challenges they haven’t seen before, and this is where experience is essential. Not to mention that many structural improvements will need building regulation sign-off.

DIY disaster rating: Don’t even think about it.


The ease of tiling depends on what surface you’re applying tiles to. A newer house is likely to have perfectly level walls, whereas an older property is likely to take quite a bit more prep. The type of tiles, along with the number of edges, corners and obstructions like plug sockets, will all also determine how easy this job is to complete.

The recommendation is to start small and see how you find it. Tiling is another highly visible job, and you need to consider how visually perfect you want the end result to be.

DIY disaster rating: It might not land you in hospital, but wonky tiles could draw a few looks from visitors.

In summary

Be realistic about what you can do and can’t do. DIY can be satisfying but know your limits and when to call in the experts. Just make sure the trade you use is suitably qualified – and not a DIYer in disguise.

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What others think of this article:

Paul Croft

I found when I was young and could not afford the professionals I would attempt most DIY jobs within reason myself, but I always had mates in the trade that would help or give advice. I never attempt gas or water DIY, but with my engineering background of 47 years with BT I was often involved with electrical wiring and would provide the odd additional sockets and lighting at home but larger jobs like consumer units etc were left to the experts. I think you learn by your mistakes what you are capable off when younger, such as plastering, brickwork, and groundwork which I also leave to the expert. I was lucky to be in a job that involved working with many tradesmen so you learnt by watching them, but the old saying for DIYers “Jack of all trades and master of none” still can refer, and knowing your own limits. The professionals do their job every day and know the rules and regulations to follow along with always learning themselves. If you make a mistake you end up calling a professional to sort it out anyway. So if you can afford it, get a professional in. They will do it in half the time.

Anthony Page

Having had an excellent 'do-it-yourself father and a Royal Air Force technical apprenticeship there are few jobs that I will not tackle myself, but large electric and all gas jobs I leave well alone even though my training has given me some confidence to attempt them. However, and through no fault of their own really, I know people who couldn't fit a lid on a biscuit tin but still 'have a go' and always make a mess of it!


Yes I found this article quite interesting. When I need a job doing I always use checkatrade and have never regretted it. Thank you keep up the good work.

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