DIY projects must be planned and budgeted for. Of course, that goes for any home remodeling, but in this case it’s especially true, because saving money is a major reason why homeowners do their own renovations in the first place.
Here’s how to calculate the cost of a DIY renovation, planning all aspects of the project.
What does a DIY project budget entail?
When it comes to budgeting for your DIY project, it’s important to anticipate and map out all possible expenses. Of course they will vary, but here are some of the key elements of just about any job.
You often need to get permission from your site before starting a project — a fact many DIYers don’t realize — so building permits are a good place to start. According to HomeGuide, construction permits cost an average of $50 to $300 for small jobs and $500 to $2,000 for larger ones. So total spending can get pretty expensive, notes Mindy Jensen, community manager of BiggerPockets, an online real estate resource platform that helps investors with topics ranging from finance to DIY projects. Jensen also hosts the BiggerPockets Money Podcast.
“When I was working on upgrading my house, the permit fees ended up costing us $7,500,” she says. That included post-project inspections for the completed job. “It should not be the case that inspections of completed work in the [permit] pay, so it’s worth going to the permit office and asking questions,” adds Jensen.
Materials will make up a large part of your DIY budget – in fact, they will probably make up the bulk of the cost. Jensen says you need to think carefully about all the supplies you’ll need to get the job done. Sounds obvious, but there are many things that a non-professional can easily overlook. For example, if you are installing tiles, you will not only need the tiles themselves, but also grout, mastic and sealer.
So study the ingredients list or consult someone at your local hardware store to make sure you know what materials are needed and in what quantities. Also don’t forget to factor in delivery or shipping charges – even import duties, if you’re spending money on that exotic granite from Brazil, for example.
Tools and equipment
Many remodeling projects require special tools (or at least make the job much faster with them). And this can be a small investment. For example, a high-quality manual tile cutter — vital in the tile-laying project mentioned above — can easily cost a few hundred dollars.
Buy smaller tools or equipment that you know will be useful for more than one project (think drills or extension ladders). However, if it’s for a one-time job — like laying a hardwood floor or replacing roof shingles — you may be able to rent them, which can save you some money. Examples of such equipment include a cement mixer, deck sander, blower, air compressor, or wet tile saw.
If you go this rental route (you can usually do this by the hour, day or week), be sure to provide a security deposit. And maybe for a few late fees, just in case your timeline gets thrown out.
Finally, don’t forget the waste containers. If your job involves a lot of debris, you’ll probably want to hire one to clean everything up.
Extras and surprises
Few jobs go 100 percent according to plan. Tools break, materials run out or go bad, or you find everything has gone up in price since your first guess – or it takes longer to do. Whatever the reason, build some extra in the balance. Jensen suggests budgeting an additional 20% as a buffer.
Other Costs to Consider When Planning a DIY Project
Aside from the money you spend on materials and tools, here’s what else to consider when preparing your DIY master plan.
Knowing how well prepared you are to tackle your DIY project is key: You may have to pay to educate yourself. If it’s a small project, you may be able to get by with free resources, such as YouTube videos or chatting with someone in the hardware store. For more complex or skilled projects, you may want to set aside money for a book, a Blu-Ray, or even a lesson so you know exactly how to get the job done right.
Jensen strongly recommends homeowners research all the moving parts of a DIY renovation job, not only to understand how to do it, but also to know how long it might take. Outline an estimated schedule, and digress to the long side, building in time for refurbishments and potential delays.
Also, take the time to practice skills and master the equipment before starting the project itself.
The services of a professional
Depending on your project, you may need to pay for a licensed professional to perform certain tasks — usually those involving electrical wiring or plumbing, or both: installing a new washer/dryer in your remodeled kitchen, installing a freestanding shower for the enlarged bathroom or cables in the newly finished basement. Some jobs require specialized skills, and it can save you time and money in the long run to pay someone else to do it because they can just go faster than you can. Jensen notes, “If you knew the project would take 47 hours, but a professional could do it in five, it might be worth hiring.”
You may also want to pay for a demi DIY job, working under the supervision of a contractor: you do most of the heavy lifting while the pro guides you along the way. While you may spend more — a general contractor typically adds 10 to 20 percent to the total tab — it can be worth doing right the first time (avoiding mistakes and expensive overruns).
The Bottom Line on Budgeting for a DIY Project
Planning and budgeting for your DIY home improvement job serves several purposes. “Knowing what goes into a project can be the deciding factor in whether or not you want to do it, let alone make it yourself,” says Jensen.
Even if you want to do it all yourself, it pays to get an idea of your costs – your actual costs, not just the immediate savings on labor. To that end, you can also boost your DIY project budget with a quote from a contractor, just to make sure it’s worth doing it yourself.