Now so many of us are stuck at home, it may seem like a good time to tackle some of those DIY projects you've been putting off. But, be wary: choosing the DIY option on certain home-renovation projects could be very costly, potentially dangerous and even illegal if you don't have the right skills or expertise.
So here are 10 things that we recommend you call in the professionals for, plus some tips to avoid DIY dramas.
The coronavirus lockdown restrictions that apply to tradespeople currently vary across Australia, so if you do want to call in a professional, make sure you check the rules in your local area.
Can I call a tradie during the coronavirus pandemic?
That depends. With states entering various stages of lockdown at different times, it's important you check the restrictions in your local area before booking a tradesperson to visit your home.
The situation in NSW
Currently, the most strict lockdown is in NSW. This means tradespeople are not permitted to enter your home for renovations, repairs, maintenance or any other trades except under specific circumstances, such as if there is an emergency or if they are urgent works (for example, if you have no functioning bathroom or access to plumbing, or for internet maintenance).
Tips for staying COVID-safe
If you do call a tradie to your home, make sure both you and the tradesperson practise physical distancing. Under WHS law, every Australian business or employer is responsible for managing the risk of COVID-19 to prevent spread, including tradespeople.
Here are some recommendations for you to follow (and if you decide you do need to find a tradie to give you a hand, see our guide to using find-a-tradie websites).
- When you book a tradesperson, make sure they will be practising safe social distancing as much as possible before they visit your home. Check that you are both well on the day of the booking, and reschedule if not.
- Communicate as much as possible via phone or text, rather than face to face.
- Use contactless payment options when possible.
- Make sure you both wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before getting started. Supply the tradespeople with hand sanitiser or gloves if possible.
- When the job is done, clean and disinfect any surfaces in the home the tradesperson interacted with.
Installing or servicing your air-conditioning unit is one of several jobs you shouldn't try yourself. But you can and should clean it regularly, as we explain below.
If you're in the position where you want to avoid calling a tradesperson but you need a job doing, read our guide before getting started. There are some items here that you may well be able to do if you are a handy DIYer, but if you're unsure, it may be best to wait until you can call in a pro.
1. Installing an underbench dishwasher
Underbench or built-in dishwashers, designed to be mounted under your kitchen bench, can be quite complicated to install. And as they use both electricity and water, there are specific guidelines around how they should be fitted (in fact, it's illegal to undertake most types of electrical or plumbing work on your own home if you're not licensed).
"You also need to ensure these types of dishwashers are anchored properly, so they don't tip forward when you load and unload," says Matthew Steen, CHOICE's director of reviews and testing. If you have a problem with your dishwasher but want to avoid calling out an expert, read our guide to troubleshooting common dishwasher issues.
2. Installing a rangehood
Once you've bought your new rangehood, it can be fairly simple to install if you have basic DIY skills (provided there's a power point close by – if not, you'll need a licensed electrician to install one). But keep in mind it's also a job for two people, as you need someone to help you hold it and lift into place.
And be wary of potential dangers: "If you're installing a rangehood, you may need to punch a hole through the wall to vent it. You shouldn't do this yourself if you live in an old fibro house that could potentially have asbestos," says CHOICE household and whitegoods expert, Ashley Iredale.
3. Bolting an appliance such as a TV to a wall
"There are a large number of appliances that you could install yourself, but it's always better to get someone else to help if you're outside your comfort zone," says Matthew.
It's safer to have a securely wall-mounted television than a freestanding one, particularly if you have small children as they won't be able to pull it over on top of themselves.
But think before you decide to mount anything to your wall yourself, such as televisions, satellite speakers, clothes dryers or bathroom radiant heaters. If you don't do it properly (including measuring precisely and getting a couple of people to help you), you risk damaging the appliance or your wall.
If you insist on mounting your appliance yourself, be sure to use a stud finder to ensure you're bolting it to a solid wall stud, and use anchors that are appropriate to the wall type and the weight of the load you're mounting. Check before drilling, too, in case there are live wires or plumbing about.
4. Installing or servicing an air-conditioning unit
Unless you have a portable air-conditioning unit, you'll need a professional approved by the ARC (Australian Refrigeration Council) to install your air-conditioning system. These professionals are licensed to handle the required refrigerants, which can be very harmful for both you and the environment.
Air conditioner installers will also be able to advise you on the right capacity air conditioner for your needs (which can vary depending on room size, number of windows, sunny vs shady aspect etc.), and tell you what the best location for your indoor unit is – for example, for optimum efficiency, air conditioners shouldn't be installed directly over a window.
But cleaning your air conditioner is something you can do yourself, and should do regularly.
5. Installing a gas cooktop
You'll need a licensed gas fitter for installing appliances that require gas, such as a gas cooktop or an infinite supply gas-on-demand water heater.
Internal gas heaters are fine to install yourself as they plug into a pre-installed wall socket (but you'll need to ensure you choose correctly between a flued or unflued gas heater, depending on the ventilation in your home).
6. Sanding floors
It's perfectly fine to sand your floors yourself if you're happy to hire the professional equipment required, but keep in mind that sometimes it's not as easy as it looks!
"If you've ever seen someone try and use a floor sander for the first time then you know it can go horribly wrong very quickly," says Ashley. "If you don't hold on tight, it can take off across the room and punch a hole in your wall. There's no reason not to give it a go if you know what you're doing, but you'd better know what you're doing!"
If you're in need of a flooring facelift, check out our guide to buying the best timber and tile flooring.
"If you've ever seen someone try and use a floor sander for the first time then you know it can go horribly wrong very quickly" – Ashley Iredale, CHOICE electrical goods expert
7. Fixing a roll-up garage door
The tension on the springs on older-style garage doors is so great that you could do yourself serious injury if you try to repair them yourself. We recommend calling in the pros.
8. Fixing a broken phone-line socket
You shouldn't touch your phone lines.
Telstra is responsible for maintaining a functioning connection to the network boundary point (depending on the age of your property and how it's cabled, this could be a grey box on the side of the house, or all the way to the first socket), so you should contact them if you have any issues.
Likewise with the NBN – leave it up to the professionals to connect you (though plugging in the NBN modem is your job).
9. Removing or repairing chipped lead-based paint
Lead-based paint is still present in many homes in Australia that were built before the 1970s. As there are significant health risks associated with working with lead-based paint (and several safety precautions you need to take), you may like to call in a professional painter who is trained in lead-paint management.
10. Installing dashcams, reversing cameras or a car stereo
If you want to install a dashcam, reversing camera or car stereo, then you may get better, neater results if you hire a professional. This is particularly true if you want to wire your dashcam into the car's electricals so that you can film when the engine's off, as you run the risk of your battery going flat on you otherwise. You may also void your car's warranty if you modify parts of it yourself.