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How a data nerd tackles do-it-yourself home improvement projects

I started in 2021 by buying a house in 1885, Unseen scene, with visions of restoring its former greatness. In about two years I’ve renovated three of the many rooms and done many small projects myself.

Do-it-yourself home improvements can save a lot of money, but that’s not the only reason to take the plunge. One in four homeowners have taken on home improvement projects over the past two years because they like doing this type of work themselves, according to a recent survey. 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 Art (shop class) teacher turned schoolmaster, and amateur carpenter. I joke that I’m the only kid I’ve ever known who built her own Barbie house. It was a one-bedroom blue farmhouse.

Between my current house and the house I lived in previously (also about 100 years ago), the only jobs I paid professionals for were the urgent and bulky ones: a new roof, demolishing outbuildings, a new heating and cooling system, the time the oak floor outside my bedroom was warping with what Enough to open up in a dirt crawl space (a virtual nightmare). On the other hand, the list of DIY projects is extensive and included jobs such as removing wallpaper, carpet, and popcorn ceiling; cream painted walls and ceilings; refinishing floors; restoring and replacing trim work; Re-wiring, push-button light switches, and original light fixtures; and stripping and restoring the original mantle.

In most cases, I take as much time to plan these projects as I do to implement them, and the first step is determining whether or not it makes sense to do it myself. I tend to say, “Yes, of course,” every time. But choosing to do it yourself when a professional would be smarter can cost you peace of mind, a whole lot more time and money than you could have saved on the work.

Note: It’s tempting to compare the estimated costs of a DIY kitchen renovation to a professional’s using an online tool. It’s a good idea to use these tools to get a general idea, but not as an indication of how much you’ll actually spend or save. Typical project costs collected through various surveys, including those from the US Census Bureau, do not control project specifications. Yes, DIYers save money, but it’s also possible for them to choose cheaper materials and do less extensive projects in general. In addition, these estimates are rarely specific to a geographic location, and costs vary widely across the country.

Consider these three variables carefully before you don your safety glasses and get to work.


Whether I have the ability or skills to do a project has as much to do with what I already know as what I can learn. Yes, you can learn about anything on YouTube these days, but what you’re really looking for is something you can learn wellAnd the With minimal chance of tampering with it.

Talk to someone who has done this kind of work before. If you don’t have a friend with a DIY resume, get a contractor or two to give you estimates and use those visits as an opportunity to gather information. Ask them how the project will start, what permits might be required, what could go wrong and how many people would be involved. This visit can serve multiple purposes – helping you understand the skill level of the project, as well as determining how long a professional will take and what it will cost.

Don’t rely solely on strangers on the Internet and polished websites for this information, unless you have no alternative. And if so, gather several sources to get a consensus. Even if the website conveys a level of difficulty like 3 Hammers out of 4, these step-by-step instructions and well-edited photos won’t convey the amount of swearing and mess that can go into the final product, not to mention the cost of fixing any mistakes.


The contractor may take longer to start the project, but there is no doubt that you will take longer than him to do the actual work. It can be difficult to accurately estimate how long it will take. Instead of setting a deadline, go for a target date range to save yourself some disappointment. Home improvement projects often—usually—take longer than you’d like. Trying to rush can lead to a sloppy job.

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

Now is also a good time to reflect on how this time affects daily life. The inconvenience of a four- to six-week project in your only bathroom, for example, is likely to be justified in paying a professional for a quick schedule.

I live alone in a large house, so the time spent reclaiming an extra bedroom hasn’t affected my daily life much. If my nephew had a baseball tournament, I could get through the weekend without snagging my schedule. However, when I took over the renovation of my home office, I didn’t have much flexibility: I wanted to get back to my desk instead of the dining table for Zoom meetings as soon as possible.

In a few years I am planning a complete kitchen renovation – I will hire specialists for this, precisely because of the lack of time. I’ll pay a premium to limit how long I cook dinner in the laundry room microwave.


The potential for savings in labor costs can draw people into DIY—15% of homeowners who took on DIY projects over the past two years said they did so because they couldn’t hire a professional, according to a Home Improvement Report survey. But failing to properly balance the two former factors–capacity and time–can ultimately make your DIY project more expensive than hiring the skilled labor in the first place. And just doing it yourself because it would be cheaper might make it obnoxious.

Know the basic costs of the project

Here we are talking about materials and tools. Make a list and collect prices. Depending on the scope of the project, your tools may be as simple as a few paintbrushes and rollers, but if you’re delving into more than just paint, equipment costs can add up quickly. (And even paint isn’t cheap these days.)

If you need a tool you don’t already own, consider borrowing it. While I have a pretty large collection, there are still times when I find myself needing something I don’t have. If it was a tool that I would use again and again, I might buy it right away. However, if it’s something very specialized, I’ll borrow it from a family member or rent it at a hardware store. Yes, you can rent almost any power tool you need from a big box hardware store.

Because I knew I had a full working house ahead of me, I spent a good chunk of money on power tools during my first year in that house, buying them as needed. But now that the tools are mine, the project costs are pretty much just materials and I see a huge saving compared to hiring a professional.

Add a temporary budget

There’s a good chance your costs will exceed this original estimate – you forget something, prices go up or you accidentally put a hole in the wall behind you while using a sledgehammer during aggressive demolition. Give yourself a buffer I suggest 20%.

Determine your financing plans

If your project is small, you should probably pay for it with cash. Among homeowners who have taken on home repair and improvement projects over the past two years, 42% were easily able to pay for the majority without the benefit of savings, debt, or other sacrifices, according to a NerdWallet survey. But if your project is more expensive, think twice Home improvement financing options and costs.

Let the estimated project total and the time you’ll need to pay it off your guide:

  • Using an existing credit card can be a good option if you need the total financing up front. It is wise to pay off the balance quickly, to save interest and protect your credit score from the negative impact of high utilization.
  • Opening a new credit card with an interest-free introductory period can give you extra time to pay off at a little extra cost.
  • A personal loan often offers quick financing and extended repayment terms.
  • Leveraging your home equity for credit in the form of a loan or HELOC may have lower interest rates but take longer to fund. Therefore, it is best for large projects and balances that you want some time to pay off.

Come up with a “guys” plan.

If you’ve chosen your project carefully based in part on your ability to do it, the chances that you’ll need to pay someone to fix your mistakes are very slim, but it can happen. Having a plan in place will allow you to move quickly if roughhousing strikes a fan. Have an idea of ​​who you’re calling and how you’ll pay if things go south.

I am currently doing a small makeover to the main floor bathroom, including paint, new fixtures, and a ceiling upgrade. When I took out the 1980’s light fixture to replace it with something more suitable, I discovered some issues that I knew would require cutting into the drywall and possibly some wiring updates. These tasks will increase the risk factor in a high-stakes project, at a time when holiday guests are just around the corner. Can I watch enough YouTube to find out? potential. But I’d rather pay a few hours of skilled labor to someone else in this business.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Nasdaq, Inc.

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