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As somebody who is interested in improving my home, learning things and acquiring tools, I would like to know if there is an existing market for professionals advising and supervising DIY projects.

In my naive opinion, it seems like it should be a good way for customers to save money and a good way for skilled professionals to make money as they won't need to manage a labor force on the site, and ideally they could take on more of these kinds of jobs in tandem.

I'm imagining a process consisting of consulting & education sessions, and clearly decided stop-point inspections for critical matters like electrical work, demolition, framing, etc.

I would also love to see this sort of business model play out for workers & supervisors in under-served neighborhoods.

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    If somebody with the required privileges agrees that "education" is a valuable tag, I would appreciate it. – andyortlieb Dec 13 '17 at 14:10
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    The skilled professional would be using his time and his skill (er Knowledge) the same as if he was doing it himself. Find a good friend that knows what he is doing, read a book and a few other articles - take a course at a vocational school in your city - In the USA some high schools have after hours vo-tech offerings check around. Also Home depot has saturday morning DIY classes .. – Ken Dec 13 '17 at 15:23
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    There are some 'open shops' that promote learning and fund themselves on classes and consulting sessions. I've also heard it referred to as a 'tool library'. The one example I know of is Station North tool library in Baltimore MD. Habitat for humanity also checks some of your requirements. – jmathew Dec 13 '17 at 18:33
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    I've heard of plenty of cases of contractors doing the work and using the person paying them as a labourer, with a little training as well. But this has always relied on an existing connection (friend-of-a-friend). (UK BTW) – Chris H Dec 14 '17 at 9:59
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    Best way to ensure a poor quality output, getting one pro to supervise X monkeys. You'll get a better result and cheaper just paying the pro to do a higher standard of work in less time. Throwing more unskilled at a job generally doesn't improve the efficiency or lower the cost, it just increases the number of mistakes,do-overs and corrections required by professional people.You'll also reach a situation where it doesn't matter how skilled the supervisor - labourer monkey simply hasn't the muscle control/skills to e.g. cut a sheet of drywall straight, no matter how often a supervisor tells him – Caius Jard Dec 14 '17 at 12:08
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DIY projects, probably not. The price would negate any financial benefit of doing it yourself in many cases. That said, I've resorted to the beer-for-services approach many times for electrical and plumbing consulting visits from friends and relatives, which is usually win-win.

Major remodels and builds, yes. In fact, my family's company offered such a service at one time. We'd make regular trips to your jobsite and create reports of progress and areas of concern. You'd be the general contractor of record. It was a way to save tens of thousands of dollars on a project, yet still have peace of mind that it was done well, and it helped grease the wheels with inspectors and sub-contractors. The service probably falls under the umbrella term "building consultant", but there may be others.

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    I have a mechanic friend that does car work "for free." By that, of course, I still pay for all the parts and rental for any equipment (cherry winch, etc), but they supervise the work while I do it. It's a fun arrangement! – phyrfox Dec 13 '17 at 19:58
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You may wish to start or join a group that focused on that principle. Case in point:

In my area, there was a church that surveyed their community:

  1. Many of its low-income parishioners needed home repairs they could not afford.
  2. Many parishioners were older skilled tradesman, but either were too few in number or physically incapable of doing all the work themselves. They also had plenty of tools.
  3. Many parishioners were young people who were eager to help others, but did not possess the skills, nor the tools, to help

From this realization, the church formed a committee that would gather church donations and repair a house. The older generation would pass on skills, and the younger generation would perform the grunt work.

The group has since disbanded in favor of supporting Catalyst Partnerships NW, which carries the same principles on a bigger scale.

Regardless of your principles or background, you could start or find something similar through your community, meetup.com, etc.

  • This is a great example of a community effort. As an answer though, it is based on free training and equipment supplied by the tradesmen - a contractor can't make a living this way. – brichins Dec 13 '17 at 23:24
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    To your point though, a small group could potentially pool resources to have tradesmen come do hands-on classes, but one on one training wouldn't be cost effective. – brichins Dec 13 '17 at 23:46
  • How is liability addressed? – dotancohen Dec 17 '17 at 9:07
  • Many volunteer organizations require a signed liability waiver from participating volunteers, and (depending on state laws and the organization) have comprehensive insurance with volunteer accident insurance. In some cases, the homeowner's insurance policy may cover the volunteer. – Mr. Mike Jan 3 '18 at 4:54
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Answer:
It's not done because the market won't support it - there is far less profit and demand for training (which actually takes longer) than for performance. Also, there is too much specialized knowledge involved to pass on easily and quickly enough to make it cost effective for a small or even medium project, and organized teaching is not a core competency of most tradespeople.


Tangent:
On a tangential note, your needs as a homeowner are very different from the needs of a contractor trying to make a living. The construction industry is weird; construction customer's expectations are completely unacceptable in almost any other industry. Clients expect a retain an expert with extensive training and specialized tools to provide a service, while also expecting to negotiate rates, receive training, perform work themselves, take control over the supply chain, act as project management, and change the scope of the project after it starts - without taking any responsibility for the outcome.

Imagine walking into a restaurant with a raw steak, asking them to teach you to prepare it in their kitchen with a knife you brought, and then allow you to seat and serve yourself - all for 1/3 the menu price because 'I bought the food' and 'the staff didn't really do anything to it'.


Discussion / rambling:
While I see the potential benefit of a "DIY advisor" to both parties, it would be very difficult to implement. Few homeowners want to actually learn trade skills, and a full-time contractor can't survive on the few 'advisor' jobs they might get. Their most profitable path is to getting the projects they specialize in, not branching out into learning how to be a teacher and traveling to multiple job sites without being able to spend the day there earning revenue.

You're asking someone who has spent a lot of time learning a skill, focusing on learning how to evaluate and perform a wide range of tasks needed to complete a project, to instead undercut themselves by evaluating the project, passing on the knowledge needed for a project, and help with managing the project - while working with someone who doesn't know what they're doing, and without getting paid for doing the project.

They can't do this profitably without charging a premium for their management skills and domain experience (which is what you're really paying a contractor for anyways) - but since residential-scale projects are nearly always priced as 'time and materials', you buying the materials and providing 'all' the labor leaves nothing to hang a price tag on. And the project will take longer to do because the labor involved (you) is inexperienced. So an 'advisor' job is going to be the same or more work to get the project kicked off, with none of the pay for doing the work.

Now, viewing such an arrangement as "education" sounds reasonable - but I doubt most homeowners would place a reasonable value on the education. They don't want to put in the time and money for a trade school education or get hired on as an entry-level employee, they want to hand over an hour's fee to a contractor in exchange for the knowledge to guide them through several days of widely varying tasks. Nobody teaches or learns that quickly.


Contrived Example:

I realize the numbers below are all very squishy and can be adjusted to show whatever you want, but writing this helped me think through the pros and cons so I decided to leave it in.

Imagine a bid for turning a fair-sized DIY task from a performance project into an advising project - for example, adding a small bathroom into an unfinished basement. The contractor travels to the site, talks through the project, creates a task list of the various stages, specifies the exact type and quantity of materials needed, explains the relevant sections of the plumbing and electrical codes in detail. Then at each stage of the project, they travel back to demonstrate the technique and check the work done (and probably explain how to correct it), until the project is finished. The only thing the contractor hasn't done is purchase and transport the materials, or stand there and do the "work" with their own hands.

Now if the homeowner is a fast learner and working on this full time, maybe they knock the actual work out as fast as the contractor would've, say, 10 days. At this point the contractor has been by 4-5 times on his rounds and managed all of the project's overhead tasks. In total, call it only 3 days of planning, travelling, teaching, and overseeing a project that would've also taken 10 days for them.

Now let's run the numbers. Call it a $10K bid as a regular project for easy math, $5K each for labor and materials (including acquisition, markup, and transportation), so an average $500/day for the contractor's expertise and labor after material expenses.

Instead though, this is now an advisory job because the homeowner wants to pay themselves instead. From that same $10K, the homeowner is going to spend $3500 on materials (and ignore their personal cost of time and vehicle mileage to the store), and expect to pocket $1500 there. On the labor side, the homeowner expects to pay nothing because they are doing the 'work', but maybe this homeowner is reasonable and allocates themselves only 60% of what the contractor would have charged, or $300/day, for those same 10 days, or $3000. This leaves $2000 from the labor budget. So for the contractor's 3 days involvement, as much as $667/day to 'boss the job'. So the homeowner ends up paying only $3500 + $2000 = $5500 for the project, and the contractor made an extra $500 over the three days he was involved. Hooray, everyone wins!

Wrong. The homeowner also spent those same 3 days learning the job and working with the contractor besides the 10 days of actual work, and probably had to buy $500 in tools they didn't already own for plumbing/electrical/tile/cabinetry (again ignoring their own cost of wear and tear on personal equipment). 13 days @ $300 = $3900, plus tools = $4400 out of the $5K labor budget, leaving $600 for the contractor, who now only made $200/day = $600 for 3 days, instead of $1500, a $900 loss. Even taking tools out of the material budget instead is $1100 over 3 days = $367/day, or $400 less than the original fixed fee rate.

And that's before anything goes wrong with the project and the homeowner changes their original scope, or cancels halfway through, or takes 20 days instead of 10 and pushes the remaining billable consults out past the day the contractor needs to make payroll...

  • "Imagine walking into a restaurant with a raw steak, asking them to teach you to prepare it in their kitchen with a knife you brought, and then allow you to seat and serve yourself" Ever been to a fondue place? Instead of a discount, they charge you extra for cooking your own meal. – JimmyJames Dec 14 '17 at 15:19
  • @JimmyJames same at a "Korean Barbecue" where you grill your own food at a table. At a "Mongolian grill" you have to prepare your own recipe, but then they cook for you. At a sushi restaurant they give you raw food too. In all cases, you pay a premium over, say, buying the ingredients at the store yourself. – stannius Dec 14 '17 at 17:46
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    TL;DR "A full-time contractor can't survive on the few 'advisor' jobs they might get. You're asking someone who has spent a lot of time learning a skill, focusing on learning how to evaluate and perform a wide range of tasks needed to complete a project, to instead undercut themselves by evaluating the project, passing on the knowledge needed for a project, and help with managing the project - while working with someone who doesn't know what they're doing, and without getting paid for doing the project." That being said, anyone will do anything you want if you pay them enough money – Mazura Dec 15 '17 at 0:23
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    I disagree many licensed professionals do act as consultants as isherwood pointed out. I will tell home owners how to do small jobs that are just not worth my time if they ask and this usually works for great referals, I have shown folks how to frame and do tile work on several jobs and these very small jobs almost always lead to larger jobs because of trust developed in the process with the home owner though referral or another larger job they wanted me to do in less time than a DIY job. – Ed Beal Dec 19 '17 at 14:46
  • @EdBeal excellent insight, thanks for sharing. The two interesting points for me are that 1) you don't actually seek out these consultations ("not worth my time"), but that 2) they can lead to larger, paying jobs. – brichins Dec 19 '17 at 16:45
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5

The answer may be very location dependent, but my experience is that it can be done. At least, I've seen it done a couple of times in Catalonia with the complete electrical installation of an apartment.

The arrangement I've seen had involved a licensed electrician and a homeowner or a construction worker who is not an electrician. The arrangement worked fine with:

  • The licensed electrician doing the difficult parts (mostly the distribution board and connection to the main) and all the paperwork.
  • The homeowner doing all the remaining of the electrical installation of the apartment (setting conductors, installing plugs, and so) under the supervision of the electrician.

The homeowner (and the construction worker) had previous skills on electricity and electrician supervision was mostly about advising conductor sizes and layout of circuits. If he had needed to tell how to connect a plug or how to lay a conductor inside a pipe this scheme wouldn't have worked.

In both cases the installation was laid with just a fraction of the electrician's bid, and it was fine for the electrician, too, since he managed to advise with nearly the same amount of visits needed for the part of the work he did.

Of course, to do this you need a good deal of understanding and trust between all people involved, and that is not easy to get. In fact, it's harder than getting the skills needed to efficiently collaborate with a professional electrician.

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    A friend of mine had this sort of arrangement with a licensed electrician on a major remodel of their home. But the friend was a skilled DIY electrician. My friend pulled all the cable but didn't connect the outlets. The electrician was faster at doing this and anyway he'd need to inspect them to be sure they were done right. – Stanwood Dec 15 '17 at 1:41
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In Belgium there are a couple of companies that sell "do it yourself services" on the area of plumbing/heating and electricity They plan with you what you want and need. (number of radiators, how much warm water you will use, what type of boiler you need, where you electric wires should go, what fuse you need, ....) then they have all kinds of packages where the necessary supplies are in. And also bulk supplies. You buy them from them. And they have instruction books on how to connect a radiator, how to connect you shower faucet, how to connect copper tubing, how to install fuse box, ... They also rent you heavy tooling you would need for a limit amount of time. Like pipe cutters,... And they give 2 days of professional service. For example after your jobs is done, a professional comes to finish the very difficult/specific tasks (connecting main gas supply) and he/she checks what you have done.

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    Would you happen to know the name of such services? Either in English or in Flemish is fine. – Mast Dec 14 '17 at 11:29
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    selfmatic.be/nl and easykit.be – roel Dec 15 '17 at 10:24
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I have not heard of an existing marketplace for that. Getting a temp job in the industry is another approach to learning these things though. YOU even get paid [minimum wage] for it instead. I know of a prof who spends his summers building houses-- his motive is to not so much to learn but to not get stuck in an ivory tower mindset, but nevertheless, he's learning and getting paid.

My approach to gleaning from professionals is to be chatty with contractors who have come out to my place and MAN you can learn a lot just from when they come visit to do a quote. I volunteer my time to teach people how to fix their own cars and it really does double the amount of time even though I'm demonstrating too and in so doing am performing half of the work. So if I were to ask a contractor to teach me, I'd be up front that I am willing to pay them a lot more for their labor than if they did it themselves. So maybe if you find the right contractor that could work.

As others have said though, the instructions for any home repairs are all out there in friends and the internet, which is really a more workable solution for most people. Unless you're going to do drywall, painting, electrical for a living, the little bit you glean from friends and internet will get you through a basic house's worth of repairs. You don't really need to know all the finer points.

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