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Should you DIY or hire a professional for your next home renovation project?

couple does home renovations

Home improvements seem to be a popular choice for how many Canadians are spending their summer. The question many owners are battling is whether do-it-yourself (DIY) home renovations are the right move to save on costs. Considering the increase in lumber prices, making it harder to get the pressure-treated materials most commonly used to build decks and a 58% increase in project leads for home service professionals over the summer, it might not be a bad idea.

That is if you know what you’re doing. For my family, 2020 felt like a good time to put these DIY home renovation projects on hold, unless we found a more affordable way to get them done.

When we debated whether to complete our planned backyard renovation project, my first thought was “home improvements in this economy? I’d better not chance the expense.” Of course, it didn’t seem fair to throw the idea out entirely. To find a happy middle ground, we did consider eliminating the cost of a contractor and doing the project on our dime. The question is, what home renovations are realistic enough to tackle – and are we willing to take on the challenge?

Things to consider before you start any home renovation or upgrade

If you’re the type of person that brainstorms an idea and starts to move ahead before thinking everything through, consider these few essential needs before you knock down any walls.

First off, be sure to consider whether the renovation is worth the cost. Candace Osmond, an award-winning interior designer, says a couple of options to invest your money are kitchen and bathroom renovations. 

In Osmond’s opinion, because both the bathroom and kitchen are the most used area in the home, they are typically a good investment. To keep things cost-effective, Osmond suggests refacing existing cabinets or countertops to modernize the room.

Once you know whether the renovation idea is for your family or purely for resale value, it’s time to consider the financial implications. 

How to budget for the renovations

couple painting

Any step of owning a home should always start with the financial side of preparation. Before you jump in, it’s essential to create a budget covering all of the costs of a renovation and some buffer room for incidental expenses. 

As a rule, Rick Orford, a financial blogger and former Realtor, recommends budgeting an additional 2% for each year of the home’s lifespan. A contingency fund that protects a homeowner from going over budget usually ranges from 10% to 25% maximum, but it’s always a good idea to aim on the higher end, particularly if you are inexperienced working on your first-ever DIY home renovation. 

“You never know what’s lurking below,” says Orford.

If you’re not sure where to start, try going old school. “Take a pen, paper, and a calculator to the hardware store and shop around,” says Osmond. From there, you can make a list and track the costs to help plan out your project as a whole before you spend any money. 

It’s also good to speak to a professional contractor to get their opinion on the project cost with them versus on your own. Doing the prep work offline can help you gain a clear picture of prices rather than researching estimations online, which don’t always reflect the cost of materials in your location. 

Once you have a solid breakdown, you’ll know what parts of the project you can manage on your own, if not the entire project. Compare your price of hiring a contractor versus the price you’d pay on your dime — and be sure to include the time it will take to complete the project in your comparison.

Where to buy materials for home renovations

home repairs

One way to take on parts of the home renovation project without having to do the heavy-duty work is by picking out and purchasing all of the materials you need before you begin construction. 

Orford says at a high-level, there are two simple factors that go into the cost of every renovation: materials and labour. “In general, the more you pay for either, the better the finish.”

Hardware shops like Home Depot, Rona and Lowes will have all of the materials you need to complete your project. For the most part, these shops have knowledgeable staff and well-priced materials.

If you’re on a tighter budget, you can also keep an eye out on second-hand or gently used materials from Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace. Another great place to look is at a recycling center. Like Habitat for Humanity, some organizations operate locations nationwide that have salvaged construction materials for half the price of a hardware shop.

Keep in mind that you want suitable materials that don’t have too much wear and tear – especially if the renovation requires mass structural work. 

Ask yourself the right questions

couple working on home renovation

Before you start any DIY home renovation, consider asking yourself the tough questions that examine every aspect of the project. 

1. Do you have the skillset to accomplish this task?

If there are some more difficult components to the project, can you outsource these tasks to someone more suitable or knowledgeable? It’s essential to be honest with yourself when deciding to tackle something that requires strong technical skills. 

“Always watch for electrical, have a wire tracer handy if you’re going to be drilling or demolishing any walls,” says Osmond. 

2. Do you have enough time to complete this task?

One of the significant issues that many DIY home renovations can lead to is underestimating the amount of time and work a project can take. From the planning stage to the actual construction, be prepared to overestimate the timeline, so you don’t feel crunched to complete it.

If you have a hard deadline that you can’t afford to miss, how can you ensure you hit this deadline without rushing? Try to create a backup plan so that this isn’t an issue down the road. 

3. Do you have the appropriate tools on-hand?

Another important consideration is whether you’ll have to worry about the additional expense of buying or renting tools that you don’t have on hand to complete a DIY home renovation project. If you need multiple drills, machinery, and safety equipment, note how much these additional materials will cost you. 

4. Is it safe for you to do this job on your own?

Not every home renovation project is safe to do as an amateur. Although you can do some home improvements with minimal experience, others require professional expertise and a solid grasp of the potential dangers. When it comes to electrical wiring or plumbing, you may find it safer to hire a professional to tackle specific tasks. Your safety is never worth the risk. 

5. Are you really going to save money doing it yourself?

Once you have a solid idea of how much this home renovation will cost, it’s time to do a cost-benefit analysis. Compare the total cost to the possible profits you’ll gain upon completion of the project. 

After every consideration for our backyard home renovation project, the best decision was to put the plan off by another year and wait until we could find a trusted professional to finish the job. The amount of time we would spend researching and learning and the materials we would have to rent or buy to complete the project safely did not add up to be a good return on investment, compared to the outcome if we hired a professional. 

It’s okay to take your time to consider every possible outcome with a DIY home renovation before you jump into something that might not make sense for your lifestyle or your financial situation.

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Alyssa Davies

Alyssa is an award-winning personal finance blogger and founder of MixedUpMoney.com. She writes about being a mom, overcoming personal debts, and how to get away with affording your ridiculously expensive latte habit. A new homeowner, Alyssa brings her real-life knowledge of the Canadian real estate market and smart money matters to this growing brand.