Buying a home for the first time is an exciting adventure filled with potential and possibility. And improving your first home is a fun way to make your mark and give it a unique personality. Your home purchase was most likely the result of years of planning, researching and saving, so you’ll want to be smart when it comes to making upgrades or remodeling. Should you do it yourself or dish out the cash to hire a pro? Before you dive into a home project ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do I have the patience to learn how to do this project correctly or do I need this project done quickly?

2. Are the materials required for this project expensive and will I use them again?

3. Does this project affect the structure of the home?

4. Does this project require knowledge of building codes, permits or fire safety regulations?

Hire a Pro

It’s perfectly normal to be intimidated by your first home, especially by the parts of the home you can’t see, like plumbing, insulation or electrical. There are reasons why we hire licensed plumbers, electricians, roofers and gas line installers: Mistakes can lead to hazardous conditions for the homeowner. Here are few situations where it might be better to hire help.

1. When Health Hazards Are Involved: Older homes sometimes have hazardous elements, like lead, asbestos, aluminum wiring or polybutylene piping. These will require a certified and licensed professional to expertly remove and replace. If not properly maintained, aluminum wiring (commonly found in homes built between 1965 and 1973) can become overheated and lead to electrical fires. Replacing it should always be done by a professionally licensed electrician. As a general rule, if the issue requires you to go into the “guts” of the home, leave it to an expert.

2. Removing Popcorn Ceiling: The ugly “popcorn” texture on ceilings and walls is a dated look that many first time homebuyers want to immediately change. Removing the texture is quite simple, but the reality is that removing several hundred square feet of textured ceiling, on a ladder, with water dripping down onto the floor can get very messy very fast. Professional drywallers understand how to best tape off and prepare the area and have the correct equipment to easily reach high or awkward places.

3. Making Major Structural Changes: In general, any time you add to your home, or make structural changes to the home, you’ll need to file for a permit. You may also need professional drawings, plans or verification of the designs from a licensed professional. Structural additions and changes often require changes to plumbing, electrical, heating/cooling or gas lines, and you’ll want to ensure that everything is built to code and has structural integrity.

4. Refinishing Hardwood Floors: In general, solid hardwood floors have a long lifetime, upwards of 100 years or more. But not every homeowner takes good care of their flooring and your new home may have spots, stains, scratches or dull spots. Refinishing flooring isn’t technically difficult but it is rather easy to make costly mistakes. Sanding down the top layers requires equipment rental and lots of vacuuming. Afterward, there are several applications of slow-drying polyurethane coating. Regardless whether you opt to do this yourself or hire a pro, this is a great project to get done before you actually move in.

DIY Time

Owning a home gives you a great opportunity to learn new skills, like how to properly hang a shelf, how to maintain appliances and how to check for damage. Even when you hire a professional, you’ll find yourself asking questions and gaining more confidence with bits and pieces of your home. Here are some great projects that even a novice DIYer should learn how to do to maintain a home.

1. Painting: Painting walls, ceilings and trim is a great way to instantly add personality and color to your new home. Keep in mind, the best paint jobs are all in the preparation. You’ll want to spend time to expertly tape off the area and protect the floor, move furniture out of the room or to the center of the room. Buy the right type of equipment for your surfaces and invest the time to choose the right color and paint type. Remember that even low VOC paint can irritate your lungs, so open the windows and bring in some fans.

2. Replacing Lights: Swapping out or replacing pendants or chandeliers is a pretty easy DIY. The most important part of lighting replacement is to locate your home’s breaker panel and turn off the circuit for that particular switch. Your home should have a well-labeled breaker panel, but if it doesn’t, hire an electrician to map it for you. If you have a number of lights you want to replace or want to add dimmers, fix old outlets, add sconces or have general electrical concerns with your new home, hire a licensed electrician.

3. Landscaping: One of the best places to make your personality shine is through the landscaping of the home. Your home’s curb appeal is an important part of maintaining the value of your home. Gardens take time to fully develop and seasonal changes create a constantly transitioning space. If you are a new to the craft but have enthusiasm, you’ll find no shortage of inspiration, ideas and opportunities to learn. Whether you decide to stick to plants or try your hand at produce, this is an opportunity to literally get your hands dirty and start experimenting.

4. Hanging Objects on the Wall: Properly hanging shelves, paintings, mirrors or televisions on the wall may seem easy, but you need to use the right tools for the job. Start by visiting your local hardware store. Have them direct you to the basic tools you’ll need as well as the right type of fastener for the project. It’s always helpful to bring in the item you’d like to hang and know what type of wall you’ll be affixing the object to. Most walls are made of drywall, which is rather soft. Behind the drywall are wood studs, which are placed every 16 to 24 inches apart. Knowing how the wall is put together will help you understand where to hang objects on the wall.

Do you have any home DIY triumphs or pitfalls? Share your experience with us in the comments below.