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What to Know Before You Start DIY Renovations

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If you’re even a little handy, a do-it-yourself home renovation project can be a tempting idea. It often costs less than hiring a professional contractor and also provides the sweet satisfaction of a job well done.

However, a DIY project is not always an easy task and many complications can arise. The best way to tackle a DIY home project is to know what you’re getting into, so you aren’t in over your head.

How to size up your DIY project

Before you start any DIY home renovation, be sure that you determine the full scope of the project, scan your personal inventory and figure out your budget. This will help keep you from getting in too deep.

Ask the right questions

To see if you’re up for the challenge of tackling a DIY project, be sure to take some time and ask yourself some critical questions.

What complications could you run into? Throughout your DIY project, you’re bound to run into some issues. Try to predict a few of them: underestimating costs, not having the right tools or equipment, a part that doesn’t fit where it should and realizing you don’t have the proper skills to complete this on your own. Also take into account the amount of stress this DIY project might have on you, which can cause complications on a more personal level.

Do you have the time? DIY is always time-consuming, and there’s a good chance that your project will take you longer to complete than originally thought. That’s not only because complications can form — life events can also take you away from working on the project.

What return will you get on your money? When doing any home renovation, you want to know whether this project will help add value to your home down the line. Kitchen and bathroom upgrades that involve new countertops or appliances are likely good options because these are essentials to the home. On the contrary, adding a swimming pool can have a negative impact on the value of your home, especially if you are the only ones in the area with one. Just because you wanted it, doesn’t mean the next buyer will want to maintain it. You don’t want your home to stand out in a negative way from the rest of the neighborhood with unwanted additions that can make it too expensive to sell.

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Take a personal inventory

Now that you’ve asked some important questions about your potential project, you’ll need to take a personal inventory to see if you’re up for the task.

Your skills. Do you have the right skills to power through this project alone? Are you a fast learner? Can you handle working with different tools and materials? How do you work under pressure and stress?

Your experience. You might have the skills to help you with your DIY renovation, but what about the experience? If you don’t have the proper experience, you will need to take extra time learning something new, which can potentially slow you down. It could also cause some complications, like mistakes that require the assistance of a professional. Not only will you lose valuable time, but you can also lose money.

Your free time. A DIY home renovation project can take up a lot of your time. You’ll likely want to get it finished as fast as possible so you can get your home back to normal (without the mess of construction). That means all your free time could be used on working on this project.

Your tools. Take an inventory of the required tools and equipment needed for your home project and determine what you already have. Once you know what you have, you can then decide what tools you’ll need to get this project finished, and how much it will cost you to rent or buy these items. Be sure also to consider extra time to learn how to use this equipment if need be.

Run the budget

Once you understand both the project and your skills in full, you’ll need to figure out a budget for your home renovation. Each renovation is different in terms of cost, depending primarily on the labor, materials and assistance needed. Remember, home renovations can turn out to cost more than you originally expected, so be sure to do your best to estimate potential extra costs.

How much will the project cost to DIY? Factor in the time it will take you to complete this project on your own. Will you need to take off work to complete this task? How much are the materials and tools needed to get the job done?

How much would it cost to hire out? Hiring a professional contractor might be more costly than if you do it alone, but some planning may be able to help. Once you have decided to work with a contractor, reach out to several in the area to see what quotes you get and then make a comparison. If the contractor is only a little more expensive, it might be worth it. Don’t forget, it’s essential to book a contractor well in advance, rather than waiting until last minute and risking a higher price.

The limits of DIY

Besides skill level, there are other potential barriers that can keep people from doing a home improvement project themselves. Here are a few of the most common limitations.

City and state requirements

Depending on the city and state you live in, you might find there are requirements that a contractor must work on a home renovation project once you reach a certain dollar amount. For example, a licensed contractor must be used for any project more than $50,000 in Alabama.

Projects that need a licensed professional

Many home renovations require a contractor to do the job, such as electrical work, to ensure it is done correctly and safely. Other projects that involve plumbing, structural work, and gas repairs should be left to the professionals as well, if not for safety reasons then because many areas require permits for these types of jobs. You can find out more information on permits by visiting your state’s department of consumer affairs and/or protection online.

Equipment that’s too expensive to buy or rent

Purchasing equipment for only one project can be costly and often not worth the money. Mini excavators, for example, can cost thousands of dollars to buy and will likely go unused once your project is complete.

How to finance your DIY project

While a DIY home project is often cheaper than hiring a contractor, it can still be costly — so you’ll need to come up with a good way to finance it. Luckily, there are many different options to borrow money for home renovations and pay the money back over time. Just keep in mind that having good credit can help you get the best rates, so if you’re not in a rush to start a project, it might be wise to work on your credit health first.

Home equity loan

When you take out a home equity loan, you’re borrowing money against the equity in your property — or the difference between the home’s market value and the outstanding mortgage. You can typically borrow up to 85% of the equity, and receive it in a single lump-sum payment. These loans usually have fixed rates and terms, so you know how much you will pay each month and how long it will take to pay off.


A home equity line of credit (commonly known as a HELOC) is similar to a home equity loan in that you’re borrowing against your home equity value. You won’t receive a one-time payment but instead, can draw money from the loan as needed. Also, unlike a home equity loan, your rates are not fixed — so they can change and so can your payments.

Cash-out refinance

A cash-out refinance is when you take out a larger mortgage than the one you already have and use the remaining balance from those two accounts to pay for your expenses. But a cash-out refinance can come with higher interest rates and high closing fees, and can generally only be used by people with 80% equity in the home.

Renovation loans

If you’re looking for a home renovation loan tailored to your situation, there are several you can look into. One option is the Limited FHA 203(k) loan, which can allow you to borrow up to $35,000 for smaller renovations. Another option can be HomeStyle Renovation® loans, which provide borrowers the option to tack on renovation costs to a mortgage they have bought or refinanced.

Personal loan

A personal loan does not use your home as collateral, so there is no risk of losing your property if you cannot afford your payments. They also offer fixed rates and fixed payments, so you always know what you’ll pay each month. Terms can be longer, sometimes allowing you up to 20 years to repay the loan. However, most personal loans have higher rates than other loan offerings and can come with fees, such as charges for processing the application.

Credit cards

If you have a credit card with a high enough limit to pay for your home renovation, you can skip the application process and get to the project faster. However, if you need to apply for a new credit card, try looking for one with a 0% APR introductory period since credit card rates are usually on the high side. Be mindful that taking on another credit card can lead to more debt, which can cause your credit score to drop.


If you don’t have a specific deadline for your DIY home renovation, you may want to consider putting money aside in a savings account. You won’t have to apply for a loan or credit card, and you won’t have more debt to pay off once the renovation is complete. In today’s market, you can find a savings account that earns you interest just by keeping your money there.

Pros and cons of doing it yourself

A DIY home renovation can be the right move for some people, but it does have its fair share of potential problems. To help determine whether this might be the right path for you, let’s take a look at the potential pros and cons of DIY home projects.


  • DIY has the potential of saving money when compared with using a professional contractor.
  • Personal satisfaction in knowing you did the work yourself.
  • You can schedule your own timeline and work at your own pace without anyone getting in the way.
  • You’re in control with what materials, tools and equipment you use without worrying about getting ripped off or not using what you like.


  • A custom renovation can have a negative impact on home value.
  • You can’t hold anybody else responsible, legally or financially, for mistakes.
  • You have less time for your family, friends and yourself.
  • You could injure yourself on the job.
  • You need to be in-the-know about the latest building codes, which means plenty of added research.
  • You might need to learn new skills before or during the renovation.
  • Jobs can take longer to finish than expected.

The bottom line: Should you do it yourself?

A DIY home renovation can be a good option for people who want to upgrade their home while being cost-efficient. However, these projects can be very time-consuming and risky if you don’t have the right skills or experience. Smaller projects, such as painting or replacing old appliances, might be a good starting point, but bigger jobs that require electrical or gas work should always be left to the professionals. It’s best to take the time to fully consider your project before jumping into it. Not only do you want it done right, but you want to ensure you add value to the home while also enjoying the new additions during your time there.


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