How to Plan a DIY Home Renovation Project
If you’re planning a major DIY project in your home, read these tips for how to plan a DIY home renovation project, including questions you should ask yourself before you begin remodeling.
You’ll also want to read 6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start Your Next Project and How to Choose (and Use) a Whole Home Color Scheme.
As a self-taught DIYer, I’ve planned and executed a number of DIY home renovation projects.
Here on Remodelaholic, I’ve shared a few, including
Today I’d like to share some thoughts on planning DIY home projects, including questions to ask *before* you start and some myths about DIYing.
Things to Think About Before You Start a DIY Project
So You’re Thinking About DIY?
I have four kids.
When trying to teach them a life skill, I’ll often say, “When you’re out on your own someday, you’re going to wish you’d taken the time to learn this!”
To which my teenager responds, “But, Mom. There’s YouTube. If I need to do it, I’ll watch a video.”
Not the response I was hoping for, but yes! We have YouTube and a million blog articles and Pinterest pins telling us we can do it ourselves and how.
Only, it’s not always as straightforward as it seems.
Even with good instruction, there’s often more to a DIY project than we think.
Be realistic . . . not so intimidated that you never give it a try, but not so naïve that you take on more than you can handle.
Here are a few things I’d encourage those considering a DIY project to think about before jumping in . . . some truths, some myths.
DIY Home Renovation Project Planning: Myths & Truths
Truth: DIY projects can be enormously rewarding.
That’s why there are so many of us who proudly claim the title of Remodelaholic!
- There’s a lot of self-satisfaction to be had in doing something yourself.
- You can potentially create something you couldn’t find in a store.
- You get to bring to life the vision in your head, just as you want it and just as you see it.
- You can acquire new skills that you’ll be able to use in lots of different ways and on future projects.
See how I transformed my kitchen with just a few small details and easy DIY projects.
Myth: If you can DIY it, you should.
Truth: DIY is not always the way to go.
Sometimes the toll on your time and energy, or when it’s a project that is beyond your skill set, means it would be better not to do it yourself.
Technical expertise is sometimes required to do a job and do it right. Some things are better left to a professional.
The old adage “you get what you pay for” is true, but so is “you get what you can do.” Consider the quality and feasibility of the desired outcome when deciding whether to go it alone or hire some help.
Especially when undertaking large-scale DIY projects, the impact on your home and your sanity is not insignificant.
And, when calculating cost, don’t just consider time-to-execute and cost-of-supplies, but also the time to prepare and plan, the time to clean-up afterwards, and all the catch-up work you’ll have to do in other areas of your life when you’ve been prioritizing a DIY project that’s taken up all of your time and energy.
Myth: Doing a home project myself is always cheaper and saves me money.
Truth: Sometimes DIY isn’t actually cheaper than buying it at the store or paying someone else to do it.
Before you channel your inner HGTV star, some things to consider:
Economy of scale is a true principle.
Manufacturers have a proportionate saving in costs gained by an increased level of production.
In other words, it costs them a lot less to buy the materials, and their process is much faster and more efficient than yours is going to be.
Sometimes it really is cheaper and more practical to buy it ready-made than to make it yourself.
Your time is worth something. Time is money. Your time is money.
Opportunity cost = “the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.”
To give your time and energy to a DIY project means you’re not giving your time and energy to other things.
So the cost of the DIY project is not just your time and supplies, it’s also the cost of all the other things you’re not doing with that time and money.
Say you earn $20/hour at your day job.
If you build a bookcase yourself and it takes you 20 hours to do it, your labor costs are essentially $400.
And that doesn’t take into account the above mentioned opportunity cost for other things in your life you didn’t spend that time on, or the cost of supplies. So, yeah, maybe not worth it.
But if you’re learning a new skill set along the way or if it’s providing a creative outlet for you, well, then, yeah, maybe it is worth it.
See how I saved thousands of dollars installing my own trim work and moldings.
Truth: DIY = hard work and a lot of it.
Even “easy” DIY projects take hard work and even the simplest makeovers can turn into larger projects with unexpected outcomes.
It takes a toll to add a DIY project to your to-do list.
Every project I’ve ever taken on has had unexpected set-backs (hello, real life) and has taken longer to complete than I had planned on.
DIY projects, especially home renovation, are physically intense.
You’ll be sweaty and dirty and tired and your muscles will ache from your head to your toes.
You’ll have blisters and splinters and paint-splattered hair.
Depending on the project, the work can be very physical. Lots of heavy lifting, crawling into tight spaces, climbing up and down ladders, working outside in the heat, etc.
Consider your health and fitness when thinking about a DIY project.
You’ll hit a wall. (Sometimes literally, if that’s part of the renovation plan.) Especially with big projects.
It will be harder, take longer, and be more complicated than you planned on.
You’ll want to quit just to be done with it.
After all, you’ve already got a day job. A big DIY project can be like adding 20+hours to your work week.
Sometimes it just won’t work out. You’ll have taken on more than you can handle. Be honest about when it’s time to bring in the pros or ask for help. It’s okay.
Questions to Ask As You Plan a DIY Home Renovation Project
There are a lot of factors to consider as you plan a DIY project for your home (beyond “What would Chip and Joanna Gaines do?”).
Is this project and skill set in your wheelhouse?
It took me a year to convince my husband that I could do a major trim project in our home. (See HERE).
Can you blame him? At the time, I had zero experience in installing trim. Our home is our most significant financial investment.
What if I hadn’t been able to pull it off and we had to swallow the cost, or pay even more to bring someone else in to fix my mistakes?
In our case, it all turned out really well, but it’s wise to carefully consider your skill set and the feasibility of a project before committing.
In planning, consider the worst-case scenario should your DIY project not end in trails of glory. Is it worth any associated risks?
Sometimes a project can push you to learn new skills and improve existing ones. Projects that push you and stretch you are good!
But it’s unrealistic to think you can jump from building one set of floating wall shelves to single-handedly renovating a bathroom.
Take on a little at a time. Learn as you go.
How complex is this DIY project? And how complex could it *become*?
For sure, there are some projects you can watch one or two YouTube tutorials and you’re good to go. You’ll have it done in a day.
Other projects, especially home renovation ones, can be much, much more involved than you’d think they’d be.
Often, online tutorials are over-simplified and the person doing them is more experienced, so it takes them less time to complete a project than it would for you to do it.
Those house flip shows where a rambler goes from drab to fab in one 30-minute episode?
Well, a lot of the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to make that happen ends up on the cutting room floor.
And, usually, those DIY-ers are either experienced house-flippers or they’re working with professionals who are.
There are often layers of complexity to projects that you don’t see on the surface in the finished product. . . . there are building codes you have to be aware of and follow, there is wiring and plumbing in the walls that you don’t know is there, etc.
You’ll encounter unexpected issues that may not show up in that DIY tutorial you watched.
For example, you watch 10 videos on laying tile, you buy everything you think you’ll need and get to work, only to discover that the subfloor is not level so you’ll have to figure out how to fix that before you can dazzle your neighbors with your newfound tile-laying mastery.
There’s a before (the planning) and an after (clean-up) to every project . . . don’t forget to plan for that, too!
What should I plan for?
At a minimum, DIY project planning should include:
- a budget
- a timeline
- a supply list
- a plan for not just the ‘what,’ but also the ‘how’
Plan for the before, the during, and the after of the project.
Planning can sometimes take just as long, if not longer than the project itself.
Creating a budget and cost-comparing to get the best value for your supplies will take time and effort.
Trying to track down that ‘perfect’ faucet you saw in an Instagram post can be a rabbit’s hole and a time suck. You need to plan for the time you’ll spend scouring websites for ideas and supplies.
What if I’m not able to complete this as quickly as I think I’m going to be able to? What will delays impact and how? Will delays mean it ultimately costs me more?
There will be surprises, even with the best laid plans. Build in extra time and a little extra money to your plan to allow for the unexpected.
See how I transformed my hall closet and added storage space.
What tools will I need?
When calculating the cost, don’t forget to consider the expense of buying, renting, or borrowing the tools you’ll need.
And a truck might well be a needed tool—how are you going to transport 4’ x 8’ pieces of plywood from the lumber store to your house?
You’ll need a place to use those tools and store those tools. Think it through.
Annnnd . . . you’ll need time to figure out how to use all those tools or find someone to teach you.
Not just how to use the tools, but also how to change blades, etc. and maintain them properly so they operate safely.
It’s best to use a new tool for the first time on a smaller project so that you feel comfortable and confident in operating it correctly before you move on to bigger things.
Related Reading: 12 Must Have Tools for DIY Projects
How much space will I need?
This is a biggie.
Do you have somewhere to put the furniture while you replace the floors?
Do you have somewhere to store and use your tools during the project?
Do you have somewhere to keep the lumber you’re using away from the elements?
What about when you start painting all those shelves you’re making—you’re planning to set up shop in your driveway, but what if it’s raining for 3 days straight?
Will it work to park your car out in the street while your garage is transformed into a workshop?
Where are you going to put the kids’ bikes if you have to find a place for that table saw you’re borrowing from Uncle Joe?
What safety precautions and equipment do I need?
Be safe! Be safe! Be safe! Online tutorials don’t always provide safety guidelines about protecting yourself when you work. Safety is essential!
Oftentimes, first-time DIY-ers are unfamiliar with even the simplest of safety rules:
- Don’t wear loose clothing or jewelry.
- Tie your hair back and make sure nothing obstructs your vision.
- Wear closed-toe shoes that will protect your feet.
- Familiarize yourselves with the safety guidelines that come with each and every tool you use, and honor those guidelines religiously.
- Particles are a big deal. You don’t want to be breathing in sawdust or chemicals when you’re working. If you’re a DIY-er, you most likely don’t have a built-in dust collection system like they do in professional workshops. You’ll need to wear a mask and a good one! And you have to wear it not just when you’re cutting, but the whole time you’re working in that space—those particles are still floating in the air and you’re breathing them in if you don’t have a mask. And, keep the space you’re working in well ventilated.
- Work slow, steady, and careful. Take a break if you’re feeling tired or burned out. You make mistakes when you’re tired or when you’re rushed, and mistakes made while operating a power saw are, well, pretty darn big mistakes.
- Use the right tools for the job! Always! Trying to ‘make do’ or jerry-rig something just to get by or avoid the trouble of doing it right is not worth it!
- Recognize when you need someone who knows a little more than you do. You can still be a DIY goddess and ask for help. Especially with stuff like wiring or plumbing where failing to do something correctly can be a really, really big deal.
What is the DIY ripple effect of this project?
When you take on a project, it’s not only a matter of opportunity cost (what you’re not giving your time to instead since you’re working on the project), but also a matter of how it impacts your daily routines and those of everyone around you.
Wood generates a lot of saw dust.
Paint can be messy and create stinky fumes.
Installing flooring means you’re not walking on those floors and your furniture isn’t sitting on them.
Think about how your living space will be restricted and how that will impact you and those you live with.
There are all kinds of expenses and delays you couldn’t possibly plan for.
Maybe your power drill breaks mid-project and you have to go buy a new one.
Maybe you come down with the flu and can’t work on your project for a week or two.
Maybe a project at your day job pops up and you’re suddenly putting in lots of extra hours at the office with no time for home projects.
Related Reading: Cassity’s Tips for Surviving Life in a Remodel
Consider the stress and emotional burden!
It is stressful to add one more item to our busy lives and lengthy to-do lists, especially if you’re a parent with young children or if you have an especially demanding career.
Your time and energy are in limited supply and you must budget how you’ll use them.
If you live in an apartment or townhouse, you can’t run your power drill at all hours of the day without disturbing your neighbors.
Also, you may have other added complicating factors, such as having to schedule the service elevator to bring your supplies up from the parking garage, etc.
You may find yourself eating out more or spending more on conveniences and services to free up more of your time to devote to the DIY project.
Those costs add up and should be taken into account in the budget for your project.
Planning a Master Closet Renovation
Here’s a recent DIY project I undertook—a master bedroom and master closet renovation. Below, I talk a little about the process behind the project to give you a better sense of what’s involved when choosing DIY.
For some ideas and info about DIYing your own closet renovation, try these posts:
- Custom Master Closet DIY Renovation
- Boutique-Style Master Closet Remodel
- Built-In Closet IKEA Hack
- IKEA Wardrobe to Built-in Closet
Related Reading: 35 DIY Closet Hacks to Create More Space and Organize Your Closet
How Did You Plan?
In advance of beginning the project, I laid the groundwork and planned everything out.
I created a DIY project plan that included 1) a budget; 2) a timeline; 3) a supply list; 4) custom build plans; and 5) a plan for not just the ‘what,’ but also the ‘how.’
I cleared all of my commitments for a solid two weeks to work on the project full-time.
(It took longer than 2 weeks, but giving myself two weeks to work full-time got the project far enough along that I could finish it part-time from there).
I located all of the supplies I would need in advance.
This included price-comparing and calculating shipping/delivery costs so that I could stay in budget.
And it meant everything from nails and screws to caulk and paint to lumber and hanging rods.
Of course there were random odds-and-ends I needed as I went along, but the bulk of my supplies were purchased and on-hand when I began my project.
I scheduled a local moving company for a 2-hour block to help me move the larger furniture items that I knew I couldn’t manage on my own in clearing out the space to be renovated.
I scheduled the delivery of the lumber I needed for my project and cleared a designated area to store it.
I spent several hours looking at pictures of closets online to get ideas. I set up a Pinterest board where I pinned ‘inspiration’ projects to refer to as I designed my closet layout.
I took all the measurements, noted where there were outlets and other potential obstacles, and came up with a design plan for both my bedroom and my closet. I drew it all up to scale.
I used SketchUp 3D software to design—from scratch—each and every one of the components for the built-ins I was building, and then I compiled a master list of all the component pieces and their measurements.
I drew out detailed cut plans for each piece of plywood to minimize waste.
I took an inventory of my tools and made sure I had what I needed for the project and that my tools were in good repair. I also made sure I had extra blades for my miter saw, extra bags for my wet/dry vac, etc., as well as safety gear like masks and protective eye wear.
I carefully thought through what would be involved to make sure I had the skill set and know-how to see the project through.
I created a schedule for what to work on each day, adjusting it as I went.
I kept all of my receipts and notes and plans and measurements together in a binder that I could easily reference whenever needed.
What Did Not Go As Planned?
I had originally planned to rip up the old carpet and install the new flooring myself, but as the week progressed, I realized that I would not be finished on schedule if I didn’t get a little help.
I decided that being done in time was important enough to me to justify going over budget a little, and so I hired installers to come in and do the floor.
It took a 2-man team of experienced installers a full half-day to finish, which confirmed to me that I’d made the right choice in hiring out, as it most certainly would have taken me, working on my own, at least 4x as long.
I underestimated the toll that the heat would take on me.
For two straight weeks, I worked 12- to 18-hour days. Most of that time was spent in my driveway and garage building components.
It’s grueling and exhausting work on its own, but made more so by 90+ degree temperatures and 100% humidity.
I knew that some of the project would take longer than 2 weeks, but I underestimated how disruptive the ongoing renovations would be to my family and our routines once the new school year started.
When I was no longer able to put in 18-hour days (because, hello, real life), it took me much longer to finish the last half of the project than it did the first half.
This was my biggest DIY project yet, and I underestimated how long cleaning-up-as-you-go would take.
When you’re ripping dozens of boards a day, saw dust and scrap wood builds up quickly. It took more time than I had planned on to keep my work space clean, orderly, and functional.
What Does DIY Do To You?
You know how those DIY bloggers or Instagram influencers have designer yoga pants, perfectly coiffed hair, and a full face of make-up in each of their action shots?
Yeah, well, I have no idea how to do that.
When I work, I sweat. I stink.
I’m wearing my oldest, rattiest t-shirt.
I’m covered from head to toe in sawdust and paint and wood glue.
My hair is pulled back in a frizzy pile.
And I can’t wear makeup because it drives me crazy to wear a respirator mask and protective eye gear when I have makeup on.
That, and I just sweat any makeup I have right on off!
DIY is hard work!
What Comes After the DIY?
The clean-up comes after, that’s what.
It took me hours and hours to put my garage back together. I had to rent a truck and make two separate trips to the dump with all of the leftover scraps and materials.
I had to move all of the furniture and clothing back into the master bedroom and master closet and restore order to the other parts of the house that were impacted by the upheaval.
While prioritizing a project of this size, other things in my life took a back seat and so when I finally finished the renovation, I had a ton of catch-up to do.
So, what are my best tips for planning a DIY project?
- Start small
- Plan well
- Learn as you go
- And have fun!
Read more about skills for DIY home renovation projects:
- How to Caulk Like a Pro
- Tutorial: DIY Built-in Bookshelves and Corner Bookshelves
- A Beginner’s Guide to Installing Trim and Molding
Pin this to save it for later and share with your DIYing friends
This article by Jenny McArthur is absolutely outstanding! Her excellent photos, and clear, precise,easy-to-understand and follow directions, are the best! Her personal insights and commentary also add a great deal. She is one incredibly talented and capable woman, and gives the rest of us hope. So delighted to see her and her abundant talents back on your site!
Jenny McArthur, you are amazing! I am so grateful for how much effort and skill you put into your projects. You are so thorough and think of everything I could have a question about. Thank you for sharing your expertise.
Love this! How did you match your island top to the stain on your floor?
This is a very helpful article to me. I have just purchased an RV and want to make some modifications to the inside but I know me: I usually don’t think things through and oftentimes don’t complete a project because I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. This article is very helpful in describing that I need to think through and plan each step.
Thanks for the comment, Amy! Definitely some good considerations — and if you are looking for some RV renovation inspiration, our friend Corey over at Sawdust 2 Stitches just finished an amazing toy hauler reno. Best of luck!
I think this is something I really needed to read. Thank you for such an explicit and thorough explanation of real life DIY. It made me realise that my skill set and physical abilities are not in line with my enthusiasms. Lol. I will have to pare down my Pinterest collection and face reality, with less ambitious projects for me. I love what you have accomplished though and admire your abilities.
Thanks for the comment, Maggie! Glad this was helpful.