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- Going the DIY route on home renovations can help you save considerable sums — as much as three-fourths of a project’s costs.
- Not all DIY projects are created equal in terms of cost-effectiveness: Generally, ones with large labor costs and that require strength over skill (adding landscaping, replacing windows or insulation, building decks) work best.
- When determining whether to DIY a project, consider not just money, but your time investment, level of expertise and the legal requirements of your town or HOA.
- Even DIY project costs can add up, so if you can't pay out of pocket, there are financing options to consider.
Some do it for the love of it. But many people undertake DIY projects to save money. And doing home remodels, renovations and repairs yourself can, indeed, save thousands of dollars. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest American Housing Survey (AHS), the average home improvement project costs $6,352 when professionally done — vs. $2,502 for do-it-yourself.
But not all DIY projects are created equal when it comes to being cost-effective. Theoretically, you could tile your floors yourself for one-third of what the pros cost, for example. But given the additional need for expensive equipment, a skilled touch, and lots of time to do the job right, the savings often add up to less than you anticipate.
Here is a guide to identifying the most useful DIY projects that actually save money, along with some examples.
Home renovation data
While economic concerns have slowed some homeowners’ renovation plans, many are still going forward with their projects – or opting for DIY alternatives. Here’s some insight into how Americans are approaching home improvement.
- 55% of homeowners said they renovated at least one part of their house within the last year.¹
- Among American adults who expected to receive a federal tax refund, 8% said they would put all or most of it into home improvement.²
- 25% of American adults reported in a 2022 survey that they delayed home improvements or renovations because of the state of the economy.³
- On average, remodeling projects have a 69% return on investment (ROI).⁴
- In 2022, the national median spend for home renovations was $22,000.⁵
- American homeowners’ spending on remodeling and repairing their homes in 2023 is projected to increase 2.6% from 2022.⁶
- 73% of Millennial homeowners are DIYers.⁷
What types of DIY projects save you the most money?
In identifying which home renovation projects offer the most economy, look to the labor costs — and specifically, where labor costs make up the bulk of the overall expense. Painting a house is one example: The painters’ services run between 70 to 85 % of your total cost. In contrast, when you’re installing granite kitchen countertops, the biggest expenditure is often for the stony stuff itself; the labor adds $35 per square foot for the job (less than half, depending on the type of granite involved).
Bathroom/kitchen renovations or remodels often will save you the most money of all home improvement projects because of the higher (and often specialized) labor costs involved. For example, hiring workers to rehab a bathroom can cost you as much as $75 per hour, and comprise up to 60 percent of your budget. Highly skilled pros or specialists often cost even more per hour.
Of course, some jobs do require a licensed professional’s services — typically, those involving electrical wiring or plumbing (that’s why people often leave sinks, bathtubs, stoves and dishwashers in the same spot when remodeling). Even so, doing the less specialized parts of the renovation yourself can save you half of the project’s costs.
DIY projects for home: DIY costs vs pro costs
The price tag on a DIY home improvement project is almost always lower, saving up to 83 percent on a comparable contractor’s job, according to AHS data. Here are some examples of common projects and their costs.
|Project||% of jobs done DIY||Professional job cost (mean)||DIY cost (mean)||Amount of savings|
|Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Housing Survey|
|Rec room addition/reno||42.62%||$24,410||$9,013||$15,397|
6 DIY projects that offer big savings
With so much uncertainty in the economy and housing market, it’s easy to understand why DIY projects – rather than professional renovations – appeal to homeowners right now.
Between high home prices and soaring mortgage rates, many homeowners are intent on staying put for some time to come, necessitating those home improvement projects that had previously been put on the back burner.— Greg McBride, Bankrate Chief Financial Analyst
So, what are some renovations that offer a lot of bang for your buck? Here are six DIY home improvement tasks that provide particularly juicy savings over hiring a professional. (Note: There are other projects that could save you even more if you do them yourself, but they require a fair bit of expertise and/or a permit that only professionals can obtain.) All costs and savings estimates are based on AHS figures.
1. Adding new landscaping
- Professional cost: $4,702
- DIY cost: $1,191
- Cost savings: $3,511
- Savings: 74.67%
Combining beauty and function, landscaping also offers major savings if you do it yourself. Plus, installing features like sprinklers, patios and lighting can boost the value of your home by 15 to 20 percent, according to the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).
2. Re-doing a bathroom
- Professional cost: $11,080
- DIY cost: $3,776
- Cost savings: $7,304
- Savings: 65.92%
Remodeling a bathroom provides your home with more functionality, energy efficiency and of course, a nicer look. A midrange bathroom renovation typically recoups as much as 68 percent of its cost, according to Remodeling’s Cost vs Value Report (the more you splurge on expensive materials and amenities, the less of a return you’ll get). Bear in mind that, while our savings figure applies overall, it’s mostly cosmetic changes and fixture upgrades that are in a DIYer’s purview. If you want to rearrange the layout and placement of the toilet, sink or tub, or add a freestanding shower, you’ll probably need the services of a professional plumber, and possibly an electrician too.
3. Replacing windows
- Professional cost: $5,419
- DIY cost: $2,002
- Cost savings: $3,417
- Savings: 63.06%
Replacing windows with energy-efficient models can help you reduce your utilities bills, adding more savings to the project. Again, this is the sort of job that doesn’t require super-specialized skills, just some strength.
4. Replacing insulation
- Professional cost: $2,997
- DIY cost: $1,120
- Cost savings: $1,877
- Savings: 62.63%
You won’t see a difference in your home after completing this project, but you might be able to feel it. Not only does upgrading your insulation help make your house more energy-efficient, but it also protects it against bad weather — and of course, keeps you more comfy-cozy indoors. Be aware, though, that replacing insulation is a low-skill but finicky sort of job (you’ll have to wear protective gear, for starters), so it’s important to follow all instructions and safety guidelines carefully.
5. Installing a deck
- Professional cost: $9,314
- DIY cost: $4,103
- Cost savings: $5,211
- Savings: 55.95 %
A deck creates in effect an additional room you can use when the weather behaves — and expanding useable living space rarely does a home’s fair market value any harm. If you plan to install one, note wood decks yield a better return on investment than the synthetic variety (though they do need more upkeep). If carpentry is beyond your skill set, you can still do certain parts of the job — like demolishing the old deck and cleaning up after the new one is in — to save money.
6. Adding or replacing a shed
- Professional cost: $7,923
- DIY cost: $3,553
- Cost savings: $4,370
- Savings: 55.16 %
Installing a shed or garage can add some much-needed storage space to your home. It’s a relatively simple construction job, but keep in mind if you plan to do it yourself, you’ll need to factor in added costs and time for materials and their delivery and tools to put it together.
Source: Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University
Tips for DIY home projects
- Focus on one project at a time. If possible, try to tackle projects one by one. As a new DIYer, it’s better to put all of your energy into perfecting one thing rather than spreading yourself too thin.
- Make a supply list. Before starting a project, make sure you have a good idea of all the tools and supplies you’ll need. Otherwise, you might find yourself running to Lowe’s or Home Depot every other day.
- Start small. If you’re new to DIYing, try completing smaller projects first. It’ll help you build your skills – without taking on too much too soon.
- Do your research. To avoid potentially pricey mistakes, take the time to prepare and research your project before you jump in (tips from other DIYers can be especially helpful).
- Know your limitations, both personal and legal. For your safety, leave any DIY jobs that involve electrical or plumbing work to the experts. Also check with your municipality or homeowners association: They may require that certain projects be professionally done or subject to an official inspection.
Financing home improvement projects
Even if you’re handling it yourself, a home improvement project can get expensive. If you don’t want to pay in cash, you could consider tapping into your home equity to finance it.
With a home equity loan, you can borrow a certain percentage of the equity you’ve built up in your house over the years you’ve owned it. You’ll receive the funds in a lump sum, which you’ll pay back (with interest) in monthly installments – much like a mortgage. As an alternative, there’s also a home equity line of credit, which works like a giant credit card: You can borrow funds, repay them, then borrow them again. You only pay interest on what you actually withdraw — which can be useful for projects that extend over a long period of time.
It’s important to note that home equity loans are secured loans, with your house serving as collateral. So, if you can’t repay what you borrow, you could lose your home.
If you’d rather not take out a secured loan to pay for your renovations, you could use credit cards or apply for a personal loan (like a home improvement loan). You won’t have to put up your house as collateral with either of these options, but the interest rates are usually higher than home equity loans.
Will a DIY project save you money?
You can certainly DIY to save money, as the numbers show. But stats don’t always tell the full story.
Remember, time is money, too. When determining whether to DIY a project, consider the investment you’ll have to make on days, nights, weekends. Unless you’re pretty experienced, you’re going to move more slowly than a pro, and so your DIY project will take longer to finish — even taking into account the delays that inevitably occur with contractors.
Moreover, do you have the expertise to do advanced work? If you don’t, then trying to DIY could equate to more time and expense — especially if you have to pay someone to fix your mistakes.
Another factor to consider is HOA or municipal requirements. Many jobs mandate work permits — and those permits are only granted to professional contractors, for yours and others’ safety. If that’s the case, it’s a pretty strong sign you shouldn’t undertake the job yourself, though you might be able to work under a contractor’s supervision (maybe saving a bit of change on labor).
Finally, what’s your motive for the project? If it’s just for your enjoyment, it’s fine to DIY. But if it’s more to increase your home’s property value, especially for an imminent resale, you might think twice. Prospective buyers can spot amateur jobs easily, and they often get turned off by them.
In short, when considering DIY projects, focusing on the why — as well as the savings — can help you determine their worthiness.