While some homeowners hire a contractor to get the remodel they want, others toy with the idea of doing the work themselves, acting as their...

Share story

While some homeowners hire a contractor to get the remodel they want, others toy with the idea of doing the work themselves, acting as their own contractor.

After all, you aren’t required to hire a contractor to make improvements to your own property. The law allows you to do it yourself.

However, keep in mind that every community has its own rules regarding owner-builders. Always check with your local building department or permit office for specifics.

As an owner-builder, you may not need a contractor’s license, but you are expected to get a building permit where required and to comply with all applicable building codes and ordinances.

Many people believe that getting a building permit is like sending an engraved invitation to the tax assessor. In reality, if an assessment is made, it is usually on the improvements and not on your entire property.

Being your own remodeling contractor can be exciting and gratifying. As an owner-builder, you are guaranteed control over every aspect of the project. You decide on construction methods, materials, scheduling, budget management, hiring and firing, payroll, pickups and deliveries, safety meetings and equipment — you name it.

By the same token, there is no one else to blame when things go wrong. When you become your own contractor, you instantly assume important responsibilities you might not even have known existed. When someone is injured while working on your property, you may be held responsible. Have you looked into the workers compensation laws in your state lately? Check your homeowners insurance policy to be certain you have the proper coverage and plenty of it.

If you decide to go with a pro


The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries has tips on how to hire a contractor, report unregistered contractors, make sure a contractor is registered with a bond and insured, and other information for consumers, at www.lni.wa.gov/TradesLicensing/Contractors.

For more information about working with a contractor, see the stories at www.seattletimes.com/homegarden.

Make sure you weigh your potential for risk against your potential for return. Some things to ponder in calculating how much money you will actually save by doing it yourself: Time off work means lost wages. Not knowing which subcontractor is responsible for which part of a job can set up the project for failure. And what if a subcontractor accidentally causes a fire?

Experts say an owner-builder can expect to save about 10 percent of the construction cost. That takes into account the cost of repairing mistakes normally made by a novice, and lost wages (figured at $10 per hour). The greater your personal earning power, the less potential for profit.

Also, know when more than one trade is needed to complete a task. For example, a central, gas-fired furnace may be installed by four contractors: A plumber installs the gas line, an electrician provides power to the unit, a heating contractor does the ducting and installs the furnace, and a carpenter cuts through the floor so the thermostat line can be run. Might a heating contractor do it all? Maybe. These are the kinds of questions you need to ask every person working on your project.

The best advice we can offer anyone who is considering acting as an owner-builder is to do as much advance research as possible. Some excellent books are available on the subject. And talk with people who have done it. Only then will you be able to determine whether you should replace the Blackberry on your hip for a tape measure.