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When do-it-yourself is a good idea

Area professionals offer advice on what projects homeowners can tackle

DeKALB – Before Rachel Polly starts a do-it-yourself project, she thinks about what could go wrong.

She advises other would-be DIYers to do the same.

“They need to know the consequences if there's a mistake,” Polly said. “Are you going to have to pay a plumber $5,000 to fix something, or are you just going to have to paint it again?”

Painting, tiling and other cosmetic projects can be tackled by amateurs, local experts say, but when it comes to plumbing and electrical projects, avoid the DIY route and find a professional to do the job.

Polly and Sherrie Larkins own Urban Grace in downtown DeKalb, a shop filled with DIY projects like furniture they painted or altered. DIY has been a career for both women for almost four years and a hobby for much longer.

They also host classes on painting DIY projects at the shop, which they said are gaining popularity in part because of sharing sites such as Pinterest or Instagram or programs on HGTV or the DIY Network.

Other than considering the consequences, Polly and Larkins also take into account what tools they'll need to complete a project, if the tool is worth buying and if they feel comfortable using it. A jigsaw, for instance, does not fit into the comfortable-to-use category, they said.

“We try to be as independent as we can," said Larkins, adding painting her kitchen cabinets is her gutsiest undertaking in her own home.

A mix of comfort and skill is key, said Carolyn Tobinson, who owns Tobinson's Ace Hardware in Genoa. She sees people who will only go as far as replacing a toilet flap, to those who are doing their own underground wiring. Although the viability of a project depends on the person, Tobinson has a pretty solid test to tell how far a customer should go.

“When they start asking me electric questions and I can't answer them, that's when I tell them they should see a professional,” Tobinson said. “Plumbing, you can make a mess. Electric, someone can get killed.”

She's noticed a slight uptick in people becoming more repair and craft savvy because they can follow step-by-step instructions online. Tobinson is considering offering home and garden seminars because she sees the demand.

“There's a lot of brave and smart people out there,” Tobinson said.

But no amount of enthusiasm can compensate for lacking skills or know-how.

Redoing a cosmetic project a homeowner finished but didn't like is an every once in a while job for John Horst, who has owned Sycamore-based Horst Builders since 1988. While superficial DIY projects don't worry him, people who try to repair their own roofs, plumbing or electric do.

The repercussions from botched electrical work are likely to be much more detrimental than an unfortunate paint job, he said. He couldn't pinpoint how a plumbing or electrical DIY project gone awry would hit someone's wallet, but said it undoubtedly would.

A project's success also comes back to tools. He said professionals have higher-quality (more expensive) tools while most homeowners who attempt their own repairs often chose cheaper ones.

“If you want to try something yourself, that's fine," Horst said. "You can do your own trim or painting, but leave the mechanicals to the professionals."

Besides, the personalities on HGTV can't explain it all.

“There's things that come with building experience that you can't learn on TV,” Horst said.

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