The Surprising Costs of DIY


My husband and I are do-it-yourselfers when it comes to home improvement. This is mostly because my husband’s dad is a contractor and he often guides and helps us when we need it. That being said, we’re barely a year into owning our first home and are still newbies. We recently took on a larger-than-we-thought project and were unpleasantly surprised by how much more money, time and work was required than we had originally thought.

For anyone else out there considering a DIY project, It’s important to understand and anticipate unexpected costs before you start your project.

Product / Materials: OK – so this isn’t an unexpected cost because most people will estimate the cost of the materials to do a job. That being said, don’t assume that the material cost is all it will cost. On our recent project of putting in a paver patio, I figured it would be X amount of dollars for the pavers and that would be it. Boy was I wrong. Some other costs we ran into with our patio are listed below.

Delivery: If your material load is relatively small and you own a truck (or can borrow one) you may be able to evade this cost. We planned on borrowing a truck and picking up our pavers ourselves, until we realized that we needed 1300 pavers, which amounted to 3 pallets full. Sure they could have loaded them into the truck for us at the home improvement store, but how would we get them out of the truck once we got home? Not to mention that it would take an extra week to get the pavers if we picked them up ourselves rather than having them delivered (where’s the logic in that??) So we opted for the delivery, which was $60. That was actually a big chunk of money that we weren’t planning on spending. We also got stuck paying $45 for delivery on our sand and gravel, which was another expense that we didn’t plan for.

Tools: Chances are you will need special tools to complete your project. If you have them already, you are good to go, but not everyone has a Home Depot in their garage (we have a neighbor who claims that he does and he didn’t even have the tools we needed). Usually we borrow tools from my father in law, but he didn’t have what we needed either. You don’t want to forget the cost of renting tools in order to get your job done. And if you happen to borrow tools for no cost and you break them, you are now responsible for replacing them.

Extra Small Things: There are always extras that you need for a project and these should be budgeted for as well. Sometimes you can’t tell what they are until you need them, so it’s best to set aside some money for those unknown things in case you do need them. If you are aware of some extras you will need, be sure to research the price ahead of time, even if you think it will be just a small cost. We neglected to budget for the gravel and sand we needed under our patio pavers because we didn’t think it would be too much money (rookie mistake). It ended up costing us almost $200 that wasn’t budgeted because we didn’t research it earlier. We ended up spending another $150 on smaller items like wood for the frame, leveling string, piping, and other miscellaneous ssupplie. A quick trip to Home Depot can easily cost hundreds of dollars.

Deposits: This one actually took me the most by surprise. When we had our pavers delivered, we were charged a $15 deposit for each pallet that was dropped off, to be refunded when we returned them. Granted the charge was refundable, but we still had to foot the bill for a month while we prepared the patio area for the pavers to be laid down. Also, many tool rental companies may charge you a deposit for renting tools or equipment so be sure to research that ahead of time.

Labor: The most obvious benefit of doing a DIY project is the fact that you don’t have to pay for labor. However, even free labor can cost you. It may not cost money, but it can (and will) cost you time and energy and it’s easy to underestimate just how much. We had to dig 300 square feet down 6 inches for our patio and it was a lot more back breaking work than we realized. Especially since our yard was filled with rocks and roots from a large tree. Not to mention that we spent a couple full weekends on the projects as well as many evenings after work, which took away time that we would normally rest and do something fun. It almost felt like our project took over our lives for a month. We did have a few friends helping us at times, but we made sure to feed them adequately as a small thank you, which cost us a bit extra.

Even though there may be hidden extra costs on various DIY projects, you will still save money over hiring someone else to do it. My advice is to really research the costs and labor needed to finish your project before you start.

We looked at a few websites that explained the process we wanted to do and proclaimed that it was an easy project, but there was a huge difference between the instructions and really doing it. The best thing you can do is talk to a couple of people who have actually done the project before and get their input on it. You will save yourself a lot of pain if you are fully aware of what to expect ahead of time.

Image courtesy of esagor

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15 Responses to The Surprising Costs of DIY

  1. Fish says:

    You didn’t cover how great it feels when you are done, and you have the pride of knowing you did it yourself.

    DH and I renovated a house over the course of 2 years and did 99% of the work ourselves. Our last project was a 450 sq ft flagstone patio- your blog brought back so many memories and a few laughs. The labor involved with that particular project was so intense compared to many others. It was the only project that I said I probably wouldn’t DIY if we had it to do over. As I recall, we weren’t talking much to each other by the end of that project, LOL.

    Thanks for sharing your experience and reminding me of ours. I always enjoy your blog, it is well thought out.

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  3. gregory says:

    I always find DIY projects quite satisfying, but I have learned that they will usually cost 25% more than you originally estimate they will cost you to do and will take about 50% more time than you anticipate.

  4. Keith Lauren says:

    I know we are supposed to be all about budgeting, but I am all about not doing any DIY. It’s cheaper for me to pay a professional. When I try to do it myself it usually isn’t as god of a job, and takes longer. Instead I could have been working and earning more money. To me, and how I earn a living, my time is my most valuable asset.

  5. Ann says:

    Turns out, “how to DIY” quickly turns into “who DYK”: Who Do You Know. We need help here, there, on that, with this, and those whos don’t always get the satisfaction we do out of the finished project. Like you said, a meal is a small thank you.

    Unless…You exchange DIY services.

  6. C. Walker says:

    Thanks for these comments. I am a contractor and I often encourage my clients to attempt to do the job themselves to get a better understanding of what a project involves. You pay for not only the expertise of a professional, but also the time and energy you get to save for yourself. That being said, the reason I became a contractor is because I didn’t want to pay someone to do something I thought I could do myself. Kudos.

  7. DIYnewbie says:

    Thank you so much. What an eye opener.

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  9. Gail says:

    there is also the sheer exhaustion from some jobs that may take awhile to recover from. And if you have small children they are harder to work around. That being said, my hubby did most of the work for building our house (it took a lont time). Some of the finishing isn’t real professional looking, but the added stuff that he did makes our house unique and very personal to us–such as the heart ‘engraved’ into the plaster in the bathroom with our names in it.

    We are now at the point that much of the DIY is in my field of expertise–sewing curtains, etc. It is taking me some time but seeing curtains that exactly match the paint in one room and give us the look we wanted, I know we never could have found them for sale.

    It makes it YOUR home when you do this stuff yourself.

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  13. Laura says:

    Thanks for the insight – for me it always comes down to the “labor”. The personal stress, time I need to spend, things I need to give up always seem to far outweigh the cost to hire someone to do it. Although hiring someone doesn’t always result in less stress, having the time to focus on the rest of my life is where the value comes in!

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  15. Jill says:

    Good insight. I just got an estimate & was floored when it came in almost 3 times what I expected. I am all for DIY when it comes to mosdt projects, but a paver patio sounds like such a physically-demanding, back-breaking project. It sounds like any money I could save, would probably end up paying a chiropractor to fix me up afterwards. I guess this is one project I will leave to the pros. Thanks for your insight!


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