The best and worst money-saving DIY projects

Jennifer Noonan | Improvement Center Columnist | October 26, 2015

Homeowners know that regular home improvement is a priority for preserving property value. Most have a long project wish list -- updating the bathroom, painting the porch, or upgrading to a tankless water heater. But while the options are endless, budgets are generally limited. Homeowners need to pick projects based on urgency and cash available. Invest some time and sweat, though, and you can save on home improvement projects by doing them yourself. Just be careful. Some home improvement projects should be left to professionals.

The best DIY projects for home improvement cost savings

The best home improvement projects to DIY for cost savings are those where:

  • Labor is expensive.
  • Tools & supplies are not super-specialized and/or expensive.
  • Skills are attainable by the average DIYer.

1. Interior painting
The supplies for painting the average room cost around $200 - $300. Hiring a contractor to do the job runs between $350 - $800. So, more than half of an interior painting project cost is labor. Step-by-step house painting instructions are easy to find, as are the supplies. And if you take good care of the brushes, rollers, and trays you buy, you can re-use them for future projects. If you've got patience and an eye for detail, you can give your home a valuable DIY face-lift. Interior painting is one of the best DIY projects for home improvement cost savings.

2. Bathroom renovation
About two-thirds of a bathroom renovation cost is labor, so you can save by DIY-ing your bathroom update. You should hire a licensed plumber if you're moving pipes (that's a legal requirement in most states). So plan to spend money on that skilled labor, and save money by doing demolition, setting cabinets, tiling, and painting yourself. According to Remodeling Magazine, the average mid-range bathroom renovation cost was about $16,700 in 2015. You can do the math -- partially DIY-ing a bathroom renovation is a big cost savings.

3. Installing engineered wood flooring
The variety in engineered wood flooring products has exploded in recent years. For the average DIYer, installing a new wood floor is more doable than ever. Any flooring store, or a big box hardware store, has a hearty selection of pre-finished flooring for between $2 - $6/sq. foot. Depending on the room specifications, professional installation could cost as much or more -- $3 - $10/sq. foot. Cut the cost of this project in half by installing your wood floor yourself. Just do your homework with regard to prepping the sub-floor to ensure you're up to the task.

The worst DIY projects for home improvement cost savings

The worst home improvement projects to DIY for cost savings are those where:

  • Special skills and experience are required, beyond the average DIYer.
  • Expensive and specialized equipment is involved.
  • Mistakes will cause expensive problems in the future.

1. Tree removal
Professional tree removal is expensive. And for good reason. It's labor intensive, time consuming, and dangerous. Most often, limbs need to be taken down one by one. Then, the trunk and stump need to be removed. How much experience do you have climbing trees with a chainsaw? Without expert skills, you can damage your house, or seriously injure yourself. Don't cut costs by DIY-ing this project. Call the pros.

2. Roofing
Replacing or installing a roof is on the short list of projects to contract with a professional. Like tree removal, roofing is physically dangerous. According to OSHA, an average of 40 workers every year are killed falling from residential roofs. Those are the pros. Factor in the cost if you make a mistake and it leaks? Imagine water damage, rotting beams, and mold. It's a no-brainer. Call a roofer.

3. Furnace replacement
A furnace is a big ticket item. Wouldn't it be nice to cut out the cost of labor by installing it yourself? Don't. You need specialized tools and skills for this project. A furnace doesn't plug into the wall. It's hardwired into the main electrical system. There's metal grinding and cutting involved, requiring tools most homeowners don't own. Still not convinced? An improperly installed furnace can leak poisonous carbon monoxide gas into your home. A CDC report released in 2014 revealed carbon monoxide was responsible for 5,149 unintentional deaths from 1999 - 2010. Find a qualified HVAC contractor to replace your furnace.

Doing jobs around your home can be a worthwhile learning experience, bring a sense of accomplishment, and be a lot of fun. But study the risks and rewards before making your project shopping list. Know when to call the professionals.

Photo credit Nam Phan

About the Author

A confessed DIY junkie, Jennifer writes about home improvement, gardening, upcycling, and all things do-it-yourself. She lives in Delaware with her husband and daughters, where she is ardently teaching the next generation how to use power tools.