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Which DIY projects save the most money?

DIY drywall with protective clothing
Jean-Francois Cardella/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

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Most people undertake DIY projects to save money. And home remodels, renovations and repairs yourself can, indeed, save thousands of dollars. You can install a new roof on your home for $2,500 to $5,000 versus the $5,000 to $10,000 average to hire a professional, according to HomeAdvisor. Or replace your home’s insulation for around $962 on average, compared to $2,937 if you contract the work out, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest American Housing Survey (AHS).

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 best money-saving DIY projects, along with some examples.

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 for the stony stuff itself; the labor adds only $5 to $10 per square foot for the job.

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% of your budget. Highly skilled pros, like plumbers or electricians, 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 savings by project type

The price tag on a DIY project is almost always lower, saving anywhere from 50% to 80% 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
Bedroom addition/reno 52.69% $36,600 $6,653 $29,947
Bathroom remodeling 46.15% $9,904 $3,131 $6,773
Rec room addition/reno 47.67% $22,480 $10,760 $11,720
Kitchen remodel 44.98% $17,320 $6.867 $10,453
Siding addition 34.15% $7,926 $2,897 $5,029
Roof replacement 17.49% $9,079 $5,036 $4,043
Kitchen addition 45.86% $44,590 $11,870 $32,720
Driveway addition/reno 33.61% $5,097 $1,597 $3,500

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Housing Survey

5 DIY projects that save you the most money

These home renovations offer particularly juicy savings when you do them (or at least a good part of them) yourself.

1.  Adding or replacing a shed

Professional cost: $9,149

DIY cost: $3,883

Total savings: $5,266

Installing a shed or garage can add some much-needed storage to your home. 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. But it’s a relatively simple construction job.

2. Adding or replacing windows

Professional cost: $5,097

DIY cost: $1,493

Total savings: $3,604

Adding new windows injects fresh life into a room in your home. And replacing windows with energy-efficient models can help you reduce your energy bills, adding more savings to the project. Again, this is the sort of job that doesn’t require super-specialized skills.

3. Installing a deck

Professional cost: $10,730

DIY cost: $2,995

Total savings: $7,735

A deck creates an additional room you can use when the weather behaves. And it can add appeal should you consider selling your home in the future. If you plan to install one, note wood decks yield the best return on investment. While you may need a pro to undertake some aspects, doing certain parts of the job — like demolishing an old deck and cleaning up after the new one is in — can still save you money.

4. Bathroom renovation

Professional cost: $19,130

DIY cost: $5,720

Total savings: $13,410

Adding or upgrading a bathroom provides your home with more functionality. It recoups at least half its cost, according to Remodeling’s Cost vs Value Report, and Opendoor estimates it increases your home’s value by 5.7% on average. Bear in mind that if you want to rearrange the fixtures in an existing bathroom, you’ll probably need to call in a professional plumber.

5. Adding a fence

Professional cost: $3,765

DIY cost: $1,457

Total savings: $2,308

A fence is not as big a savings in terms of sheer dollars (as it’s a fairly cheap project) — but percentage-wise, it’s pretty good: DIY cost is nearly one-third of the pro cost. And, given its simplicity, it is a wise project to undertake even if you’re a novice DIY-er.

Will a DIY project save you money?

DIY projects do save dollars, the stats 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 permit requirements. Many jobs require work permits. Some permits are only granted to professional contractors. Some associations require you to hire a pro, for yours and others’ safety.

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 money — can help you determine their worthiness.

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Written by
Sean Jackson
Contributing Writer
Sean Jackson is a contributing writer at Bankrate. Sean writes about budgeting, saving money and more.
Edited by
Senior homeownership editor