How a data geek approaches DIY home improvement projects

I started 2021 by purchasing a massive 1885 home, unseen, with a vision to restore it to its former glory. In almost two years I have restored three of many rooms and tackled several smaller projects on my own.

Do-it-yourself jobs can save a lot of money, but that’s not the only reason to get involved. One in four homeowners has gotten involved in home improvement projects in the last two years because they enjoy doing this type of work themselves, according to the latest NerdWallet Home Improvement Report. I count myself among them. The joy of this work was instilled in me at an early age by my father, a former industrial arts teacher (craft class) who has now become a school administrator and hobby carpenter. I joke that I’m the only kid I know who has built their own Barbie house. It was a one bedroom blue ranch.

Between my current house and the one I used to live in (also about 100 years old), the only jobs I paid professionals to do were the urgent and the massive: a new roof, demolition of outbuildings, new heating and and cooling system, and the time the oak floor in front of my bedroom gave way enough to open up into the filthy crawl space (a virtual nightmare). The list of DIY projects, on the other hand, is extensive and includes jobs like removing wallpaper, carpeting, and popcorn ceilings; surface coating of walls and ceilings; refinishing of floors; Restoring and replacing trim work; Rewiring of push button light switches and original lights; and stripping and restoring an original coat.

In most cases, I take as much time planning these projects as I do doing them, and the first step is deciding whether it makes sense to do it yourself. I tend to say, “Yes, of course it does” every time. But deciding to do it yourself when a professional would have been wiser can cost you peace of mind, a lot of time, and far more money than you could possibly have saved in labor.

A note: It’s tempting to compare the estimated cost of a DIY kitchen renovation versus a professional using an online tool. It’s okay to use these tools to get a general overview, but not as a guide to how much you’ll actually spend or save. Typical project costs, as determined by various surveys, including U.S. Census Bureau, are not a benchmark for project specifications. Yes, do-it-yourselfers save money, but it’s also possible that they choose cheaper materials and do less extensive projects overall. Also, these estimates are rarely specific to a geographic location, and costs vary widely across the country.

Consider these three variables carefully before you put on your goggles and get to work.


Having the ability or skills to take on a project has as much to do with what I already know as with what I can learn. This may interest you : Homeowners in these states take out the highest rate of home improvement loans. Yes, you can learn pretty much anything on YouTube these days, but what you’re really looking for is what you can learn to do well with minimal chance of screwing up.

Talk to someone who has done this type of work before. If you don’t have a friend with a home improvement resume, have a contractor or two come in to provide estimates and use these visits as an opportunity to gather information. Ask them how the project would turn out, what permits might be needed, what could go wrong, and how many people will be involved. This visit can serve multiple purposes – it will help you understand the skill level of the project and determine how long a professional would take and what their cost would be.

Unless you have no alternative, do not rely solely on Internet strangers and sophisticated websites for this information. And if that’s the case, gather numerous sources to find a consensus. Even if a site gives a 3 out of 4 hammer difficulty rating, those step-by-step instructions and well-edited photos don’t convey the amount of swearing and mess that could go into the finished product, let alone the cost of the fix any errors.

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It can take longer for a contractor to get started on a project, but no doubt it will take you longer than them to get the actual work done. It can be difficult to estimate exactly how long it will take you. Instead of a deadline, set a target date range to avoid disappointment. On the same subject : No Limits on the Number of Cannabis Dispensaries in Ontario. Home improvement projects often take – well, usually – longer than you’d like. Trying to rush it can result in sloppy work.

Break the project down into manageable steps and be generous when estimating the time to complete each one.

Now is also a good time to think about how this time will affect daily life. The inconvenience of a four to six week project in your only bathroom, for example, is probably justification for paying a professional on an expedited schedule.

I live alone in a big house, so the time I spent renovating an extra bedroom doesn’t affect my daily life much. If my nephew had a baseball tournament, I could take the weekend off without breaking a sweat on my timeline. However, when I started the conversion of my home office, I wasn’t that flexible: I wanted to be back at my desk as soon as possible and not at the dining table for Zoom meetings.

In a few years I’m planning a complete kitchen renovation – I’ll hire professionals for that, precisely because of time constraints. I pay a premium to limit how long I cook dinner in a microwave in the laundry room.

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The potential for saving on labor costs can tempt people into home improvement — 15% of homeowners who have tackled home improvement projects in the last two years said they did it because they can’t afford it, according to the Home Improvement Report survey able to hire a professional. But if you don’t properly balance the previous two factors – skill and time – your home improvement project could end up being more expensive than hiring skilled labor in the first place. Read also : Curbio is expanding in Richmond (VA) with Fix Now, Pay Later Home Improvement Solution. And doing it yourself just because it’s cheaper could make it hideous.

Figure out base project costs 

Here we are talking about materials and tools. Make a list and collect prizes. Depending on the scope of the project, your tools can be as simple as a couple of brushes and rollers, but when you get into more than just painting, equipment costs can quickly add up. (And even paint doesn’t come cheap these days.)

If you need a tool that you don’t already own, consider borrowing it. Even though I have a fairly extensive collection, there are still times when I need something I don’t have. If it is a tool that I use again and again, I can buy it directly. However, if it’s something really special, I borrow it from a family member or rent it from a hardware store. Yes, you can rent pretty much any power tool you need from a major hardware store.

Knowing I had a house full of work ahead of me, I spent a hefty chunk of money on power tools during my first year in that house, buying them as needed. But now that I own the tools, most of the project cost is just materials and I see significant savings over hiring a professional.

Add a budget buffer

There’s a good chance your cost will exceed that initial estimate – you forget something, prices go up, or you accidentally punch a hole in the wall behind you while swinging a sledgehammer during an aggressive blast. Give yourself a buff; I suggest 20%.

Outline your funding plans

If your project is small, you can probably pay for it with cash. According to the NerdWallet survey, 42% of homeowners who undertook home repair and improvement projects in the last two years were able to afford most easily without drawing on savings, going into debt, or making other sacrifices. However, if your project is more expensive, you should carefully consider your home improvement financing options and their costs.

Let the estimated total of the project and the time it will take you to pay off:

Using an existing credit card can be a good option if you need all of the financing up front. It’s a good idea to pay off the balance quickly to save on interest and protect your credit score from the negative effects of high occupancy.

Opening a new credit card with an interest-free introductory period can buy you extra time to pay at a small additional cost.

A personal loan can often offer fast financing and extended repayment terms.

When you use your home equity to borrow in the form of a loan or HELOC, interest rates can be lower but financing takes longer. So, for larger projects and balances, it’s better if you want to set aside some time to cash out.

Devise an ‘oh crud’ plan 

If you’ve chosen your project carefully, based in part on your skills, the chances of you having to pay someone to fix your mistakes are pretty slim, but it can happen. If you have a plan, you can act quickly when the dirt hits the fan. Have an idea of ​​who to call and how to pay if things go wrong.

I’m currently doing a mini makeover of my downstairs bathroom including paint, new fixtures and a ceiling upgrade. When I took out the 1980’s light fixture to replace it with something more appropriate, I discovered some issues that I knew would require a cut in the drywall and possibly some wiring updates. These tasks would increase the oh-so-gross risk factor in a rather risky project at a time when vacationers are just around the corner. Could I watch enough YouTube to find out? Probably. But I’d rather pay for a few hours of someone else’s skilled work here.

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