When to DIY or Call a Pro for the Most Common Kitchen Updates

Doing remodeling projects yourself can cut costs, but it's not always the best decision. Here's when to DIY common kitchen updates—and when to turn to a pro.

Apart from all the design choices, including paint colors, materials, and finishes, one of the biggest decisions you'll need to make during a kitchen remodel is how much of the work you're going to do yourself. Hiring a professional is almost always the easier choice, but labor costs can eat up a huge chunk of your remodeling budget. Tackling some kitchen updates yourself can be a smart move for those with the time, tools, and know-how to get the job done right. To help you decide between hiring help and doing it yourself, we asked experts to weigh in on the pros and cons of some of the most common kitchen remodeling projects. Use these tips to determine which kitchen upgrades are doable DIYs and which are best left to the professionals.

blue and white open kitchen
Annie Schlechter

1. Painting Kitchen Cabinets

"Painting a cabinet is hardly a scientific procedure," says Colorado-based contractor Richard Sands, "but it does take elbow grease and patience. A good painter spends as much time prepping cabinets as painting them." That means taking doors off their hinges, removing hardware rather than just masking around it, and sanding visible wood grain. Sands says many homeowners don't have the necessary skills to handle the tricky task of painting doors with raised or inset panels, however. Painting a flat-front door is a much easier DIY job.

It's important to paint kitchen cabinets outdoors or in a well-ventilated area, such as an open garage. Sands says a sprayer can yield a fairly smooth finish once you've practiced enough to avoid drips. Although easier to use than a sprayer, brushes will always leave marks. "If that's the look you're going for, then fine," Sands says. "But if you want a smooth finish, you need to use a sprayer or call in a professional."

Bottom line: If you have the time and patience to prep thoroughly, have flat-front cabinet doors, and are skilled at operating a sprayer, painting your own cabinets can offer considerable cost savings and nearly professional-looking results.

Kitchen wall with white tile and wooden shelving
Stacy Zarin Goldberg

2. Replacing a Kitchen Faucet

"You might bang your knuckles a bit, but replacing a faucet is easy to do," says Lance Winter, a certified remodeler in suburban Chicago. "All you need is a basin wrench and an hour or two."

Although special skills are not required, you'll have to crawl beneath your sink and lie on your back to accomplish the job. If you're installing a European-made faucet, be sure you know how to convert metric measurements to their U.S. counterparts. If you accidentally mix the threading and don't get the conversions precise, your water supply can come loose. That can flood your kitchen, washing away the $150 you saved in labor costs.

Bottom line: Replacing a faucet is a fairly simple and straightforward job you can almost certainly do yourself.

mint green kitchen cabinets
Robert Brinson

3. Installing a Tile Backsplash

Whether you'll want to hire a pro for this kitchen remodeling project depends primarily on your dedication to planning. "Your layout's got to be exactly right from the beginning," Sands says. To make sure your cuts for electrical outlets and switches will work with your pattern, Sands suggests laying the tiles on the counter in front of the backsplash before installation to eliminate surprises.

Most tile stores are staffed with knowledgeable specialists who can provide helpful advice and sell you everything needed to do the job right, such as levelers, tile cutters, and mastic. They can also counsel you on what type of tile to choose. Ceramics are the easiest to install because they can be cut with a tile cutter. Glass or porcelain tiles require a wet saw. Mosaics are the most difficult because there are so many small pieces involved.

Bottom line: Installing a backsplash is an ideal do-it-yourself job. "It's not that difficult to manage, and the payoff in terms of updating the look of a kitchen or bathroom can be considerable," Sands says.

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