Important Considerations Before Starting a DIY Home Improvement Project

Doing a DIY home improvement project can be satisfying and improve your home or property; however, reflect on these important considerations before tackling a home improvement project. If you don’t think these things through, you can waste time and money and possibly ruin your home or property.

Background:

Neal and I do A LOT of projects together. Neal worked a construction job when he was in college and we have renovated a few houses over the years. He has the real skill and I am typically the helper (i.e. fetcher, holder, and encourager). Initially, we started small, and then our confidence grew over the years. We have installed tile, simulated stonework, basic brickwork, crown molding, quarter round, hung doors, refinished furniture, built furniture, framed walls, and landscaped.

For us, we enjoy working together. In addition, we also enjoy the results – – improving our home and the feeling of accomplishment as a result of our labor.

We have learned projects go better if you consider a few essential things before starting a DIY Home Improvement project. So please allow us to offer some advice about considerations before starting a DIY home improvement project.

Skill Level:

man painting wall with roller on a pole

What is your skill level? Assess your skills honestly. Make sure you have the necessary skills to complete the project or be willing to learn along the way. Start with smaller, simpler projects if you’re a beginner – – such as painting a room, chalk painting furniture, painting door hinges, etc. Then maybe progress to a little more challenging projects. In other words, don’t start with building an outdoor fireplace when you don’t have basic construction skills (framing and installing simulated stone).

We are brave and have tackled some major projects. Over time, we have developed our skills to tackle more complex projects. For example, if you have some skills and want to learn to tile, start on a smaller project like a laundry room before tackling a larger project like your kitchen. Be brave, but not stupid! You will be better off to hire an expert when a project is beyond your expertise. For example, we employed a professional to dig footings and build retaining walls; it was well worth the money!

Once you get comfortable with smaller projects, gradually add projects that require a little more skill.

Tools/Equipment:

a three-side box constructed with wood and building with a nail gun

When considering a Home Improvement project, ensure you have the necessary tools and equipment for the project. Having some basic tools is helpful if you are going to start doing home improvement projects.

If you are not going to need a tool long-term, it might be better to rent the tool. It really depends on how often you will use these tools for future projects. There have been occasions that we have purchased a tool knowing this might be the only project for which we will use the tool but it was worth the expense because we were saving money by using our labor. We have also sold tools after using to recoup some of our money.

For example, when you are installing tile, you can’t skimp on having a trowel, spacers, buckets, tile cutter, tape measurer, sponge, drill, and paddle to stir thin-set and grout. Take the time to do your research and purchase or rent the appropriate tools. It will save you time, money, and frustration in the end.

Over the years, we have accumulated quite a collection of tools. However, you might want to start with basic tools and then grow your tool collections (as we did) when also growing your skill level.

We have been guilty of not having the right tool and trying to make it work using something else. Typically, this does not work out well. So get and use the right tools.

Space:

numerous pieces of quarter round on saw horses

Do you have a designated area for working and preparing materials? Having the right space to work is essential. There is nothing worse than tripping over materials while you are working or ruining another space because you did not have an appropriate location to cut lumber, mix concrete, cut tile, clean paintbrushes, etc. You don’t want to clean paintbrushes next to your new car or mix concrete near your prized flower bed.

We have a storage building in which we keep all of our tools. Our hope is to one day have a workshop. Until then, we drag out all our tools from storage and work in our driveway. Sometimes we use a canopy or work on our porch when it is raining or to protect us from the scorching sun.

These projects make a mess and you need a place to create that mess.

Time:

man cutting tile at night under a tent by a porch

Before considering a home improvement project, understand the amount of time the project will take. Consider your schedule and whether you have the time to dedicate to the project from start to finish or can divide a project into phases over time. We did this with our porch renovation and our basement renovation projects.

We have learned this the hard way. Neal is better at allocating how long a project will take — me not so much. I tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in a day. I have learned to S-L-O-W down and more accurately allocate time. However, almost every project takes us longer than we originally thought it would. So allocate extra time — sometimes days or weeks depending on the scope of the project.

It is when we have rushed that we have made mistakes and on some occasions, had to rip out and redo work. The picture below is evidence that we rushed on one of our projects!

Take your time and pace yourself so that your work is not sloppy and you don’t make big mistakes that are costly in time and money. Appropriately pacing yourself also makes the project more enjoyable because you are not so exhausted. Enjoy the journey!

Also, allocate time for cleanup

scrap pieces of vinyl plank flooring

Part of the time commitment is also allocating time for cleanup.

We have learned this the hard way too. We worked on projects until late in the day, sometimes until dark, and then were exhausted while cleaning up — putting all the tools up or at least securing everything for the night. So also allocate this cleanup time when planning a project. Allocating time to clean up takes the pressure off and ends the project or at least the working day (if a project is not finished) in time for dinner, shower, and some rest at the end of the day. This is especially important if the DIY project is a weekend project and you have to go to work the next day.

Budget:

How much is your budget? Some DIY projects save money as compared to paying a professional; however, nothing is free! Take the time to create a budget, which includes all the tools you will need to purchase or rent and all the materials needed for your project.

Allocate a contingency fund to cover overages or unforeseen materials or tools. Keep in mind that some DIY projects, such as lumber, tiles, shingles, flooring, etc. naturally have waste. Take the time to research the cost of materials you will need when waste is expected. In other words, you must purchase additional materials to ensure you have enough to complete your project.

Overestimate what a project will cost to give you some cushion in your budget. It would be frustrating to begin a project and not have enough funds to complete it.

Research/Planning:

measurements for cedar shutters

Before starting any project, do your research. We watch numerous YouTube videos and read other blogs to know how to accomplish each step. This is not to say that sometimes we don’t learn along the way. We do have to problem solve in the midst of a project — especially a renovation project in which there can sometimes be unknown issues we encounter.

Depending on the project, we either list the steps and materials needed or actually sketch out the project. For example, Neal sketched out the shelves we built in the knee wall and my craft table prior to building these projects.

Aesthetic and Functional Considerations:

Think about how the project will affect the aesthetics and functionality of your home. Will it enhance your property or home? Will it add value to your property?

With Neal being a real estate appraiser, he has many war stories of people doing things to their homes that actually hurt the value. Seek expert advice if needed. Remember you will not be here forever and you or your children will need to sell your property one day. If it is an eyesore or dysfunctional, they will not speak kindly of you when you are gone. Make financially and aesthetically smart decisions.

Permits and Regulations:

If you are doing a large project, check if the project requires permits or needs to meet specific building codes or regulations in your area. Failure to comply with regulations can result in fines or having to redo the work. My father learned this the hard way when he built a garage/workshop. The county inspector showed up at his door because he did not have a permit. Thankfully, it was easily resolved.

Safety Precautions:

cutting cedar with table saw

This is the most important consideration!  Be careful on ladders (scaffolding is safer in some situations), wear safety goggles, and masks, read instruction manuals, and watch manufacturers’ videos as to the proper use of equipment (nail guns, saws, tile or stone cutters, utility knives, etc.)

It is also good to have someone help you. If one of you gets injured, the other can help or call 911 if needed. So, be safe and be smart!

Neal and I have some rules. Both of us need to be present when climbing on tall ladders, working on decks without railing, or when Neal is doing electrical. We strongly suggest hiring a certified electrician. Your safety is important.

We have had a few injuries. I hit my elbow with a crowbar and had to have surgery. Neal needed stitches in his wrist after the circular saw jerked when cutting a piece of plywood. BE CAREFUL! Some things are not worth injuring yourself or losing your life.

DIY vs. Hiring a Professional:

backhoe digging footing on a lake
excavator digging footings for retaining walls

Evaluate whether it’s more cost-effective and practical to do the project yourself or hire a professional. Some projects may require specialized skills or equipment best handled by experts.

Sometimes it is better to spend the money to hire a professional. We did this when renovating our house and when building our retaining walls and concrete path. We did not have the equipment, skill level, or capacity to fully do these projects. However, we did talk with our contractors and remove some items from the contract — such as finishing work that we were able to do.

There are also times in which you can do the bulk of a project but need a professional for one part of the project. We built our outdoor fireplace but hired a professional to install the gas line. This was not our area of expertise and was a major safety issue for us.

Final Thoughts

By carefully considering these factors before starting a DIY home improvement project, you can increase your chances of success and avoid common pitfalls.

So start small and over time grow your skill level and confidence. If you think through and plan well, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish!

dog with head on red brick

Let us know what you think or if you have any questions about considerations before starting a DIY home improvement project by commenting below.

Happy DIYing!

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