Apr 072012

When it comes time to do your bathroom renovation, you may wonder what you can do yourself and what you need a contractor for. Since it is expensive to hire a contractor, it is in your best interest to do as much as you can yourself.

However, there are many times when you would want to hire a contractor. It may be you just don’t know how to do it yourself, or the law requires the work be done by a contractor. Below are some guidelines to help you determine when you need to hire a contractor to help you with your renovation.

Does your job require the work of a licensed contractor, as defined by your state or county?

Many home improvements require permits. Sometimes it is possible to do the work yourself and then get the necessary inspections. However, sometimes those permits require that the work be done by a licensed contractor. This will vary by state and jurisdiction. It is the responsibility of the homeowner to make sure that the necessary permits are obtained and that the work is done in a lawful manner.

Check with your local government to see if permits are needed. If they are, ask if you can obtain them, or if the contractor must obtain them. This is important because in some places, the State of Georgia for instance, if you get the permits yourself, you have legally become a general contractor. This has legal ramifications that you will need to understand before you get the permits yourself.

If the permits require that a licensed contractor do the work, then you will need to hire him or her. In that case, you want to make sure that they obtain the permits.

Permit law can be intricate, so if your job requires a permit, it is probably safer to error on the side of caution and hire a contractor rather than doing the work yourself.

Creative Commons License photo credit: dmjarvey

How extensive is the work?

While you should always check to see if you need a permit, in general, permits aren’t needed for non structural changes. For instance, changing faucets and painting. Pulling out old flooring and replacing with tile probably doesn’t need a permit either. Therefore, if you are doing a bathroom remodel by changing surface items, you most likely can do it yourself.

Gutting a bathroom and starting from scratch will probably get you in the area of needing a permit, and therefore not able to do it yourself. However, there are lots of things you can do without gutting a bathroom. Replacing everything that you have, short of tearing down walls, is probably a do it yourself job, presuming you feel confident in your ability to do the work. So, you could get a new vanity, sink, and toilet. This will make a big difference to how your bathroom looks and is generally a do it yourself project.

When it comes to installing a walk in shower, you will need to determine if you will be making any structural changes. If you already have a shower and you would like to replace it with a more modern looking shower through the use of a walk in shower kit, this could be as simple as a weekend project. If you want to give a face lift to your shower by replacing tile, you should also be able to do this yourself in a few days.

In some instances, removing a bathtub and replacing it with a walk in shower is a do it yourself project as well. This can only be determined on a case by case basis, however. It will depend on the placement of plumbing and whether walls need to be moved. A careful assessment of your bathroom and checking with your local government will tell you if you can do this project on your own.

What is your comfort level with do it yourself projects?

That may seem like a silly question, but it is a valid one. In general, you will save money by doing jobs yourself. But that is only if you do it right the first time. Have you done a similar job before? Have you helped someone else do it? How easy is the information to find on how to do it?

Aside from your local library and the internet, an excellent resource is your local hardware store. They may offer free, or low cost, classes on how to do common home improvement projects. A few hours on a Saturday morning learning how to install tile can save you hundreds of dollars. It will also be an opportunity to ask questions. It will probably also be fun!

Sure, the store hopes that you then purchase your materials from them, but there isn’t a requirement that you do so.


You may find enough information online, combined with a few classes, to do a whole makeover on your bathroom yourself. Replacing cabinets, faucets, the toilet, and tile are all common home improvement projects that are often done by homeowners, rather than contractors.

Deciding if your bathroom remodel project needs a contractor can be simple. If it’s a big job and you don’t feel comfortable with your level of knowledge, then hiring a contractor is a clear decision. The question comes in when you do feel that you can do it yourself, but you’re not sure if you should.

Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer to this. While calling government offices is usually time consuming and a hassle, it often needs to be done. You may not agree politically with those currently in government, but in general laws are there to protect you. So, really, the only way you will be able to know for sure if you need a contractor is to call and ask.

Prepare yourself ahead of time. Have a detailed plan of what needs to be done in the bathroom. Look online for information from your state or county. You will probably find they have a website, which may or may not answer your question without a telephone call. At the very least, they should have a phone number you can call to start the process.

Then, block out some time, get a cup of coffee and the phone. As is typical, you may need to talk to several people, so have a pencil or pen and paper ready. Take notes and be ready to write down multiple telephone numbers.

A bathroom remodel is fun and exciting. It’s also stressful and time consuming. So make sure that you are ready to tackle the project by determining what you can do yourself and what you need to hire a contractor to do.


  1. Residential and General Contractor Licensing Information:  When Do You Need a Licensed Contractor?

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