Front door

If you're thinking about tackling a DIY project during your winter vacation, read this first.

By John Riha

When you factor in return on investment, you'd be nuts not to DIY.

You're going to save money with DIY home improvement projects. Sure, everybody knows that.

But did you know how much? Cut professionals out of the equation and you can save half the cost of a project — or more. On a minor bathroom refresh, that could be up to $10,000.

What's more, you get a great return on your investment. Meaning, the financial value you get out of a DIY project is much more than what you put in.

Of course there are projects where pro installation is going to be much faster and safer, and worth the price of a hiring a contractor. Major exterior improvements, such as replacing roofing and siding, are prime candidates.

And granted, there are tasks where a pro is invaluable. Personally, I have years of DIY experience, but I still won't touch electrical work with a 10-foot insulated pole.

Nevertheless, going DIY is the ultimate money-saving tool. You'll also get tons of satisfaction and enjoyment from creating a better home environment, and from learning home improvement skills that'll last a lifetime.

Here's a rundown of some top money-saving projects, using cost and return-on-investment figures from Remodeling magazine's annual "Cost vs. Value Report."

But before we get to that, let's swat aside some concerns. Or go straight to the projects.

What If You Don't Have the Skills?

Sorry, not buying it. How-to tutorials are everywhere. Check out YouTube for video instructions on everything from taking out a toilet to tiling your shower stall. In addition:

  • Most major manufacturers have tutorials on their websites. If you're looking to install a particular product, check out the horse's mouth for videos and PDF instructions.
  • Big box home improvement centers run clinics on installing tile, building decks, paint finishes, and more — free. Spend an hour or so at a clinic to learn direct from professionals.
  • Yes, physical books still exist. Buy new, or head down to your local library for free how-to books you can keep for weeks. (Yes, they still have overdue fines!)

What If You Don't Have the Time?

That's the trade-off. Your time (and labor) is going to stand in for cash out of your pocket. If you truly don't have the time, then DIY probably isn't for you.

The next best move is to BIY your project — buy-it-yourself. With a BIY project, you do the research, shopping, and purchasing of materials and save the contractor's markup. You need to work closely with your professional to make sure you agree on what stuff you'll be buying, and what is still the contractor's responsibility.

The Best Money-Saving Projects With Great ROI

Door interior 2
Deck Addition

A 12-foot-by-16-foot wood deck addition is a straightforward project, especially if you keep the design simple (rectangular) and use concrete piers instead of poured concrete footings (check your local codes). Even a set of simple stairs can be tricky, so take your time with measurements. If you botch your first attempt, know you're in good company, and try again.

If You HireIf You DIY
Cost$9,539Cost$1,650
What You Get Back When You Sell*$8,334What You Get Back When You Sell*$8,334
Return on Investment

87.4%

Return on Investment

505%

*Source: Remodeling magazine "Cost vs. Value Report"

You can probably build a 12-foot-by-16-foot DIY deck in three to four days over two weekends. If you're using poured footings instead of precast piers, you'll need to wait two or three days for the concrete to cure. Having a buddy definitely helps move things along, but might cost you extra for pizza and beer.

Minor Bathroom Facelift

A typical guest bathroom is about 5 feet by 7 feet, so let's bring that up-to-date by installing a new tub, toilet, ceramic tile floor and shower surround, updating the shower valve, and adding a new vanity, sink, and counter. Spruce it all up with moisture-proof vinyl wallpaper.

You'll do everything but the plumbing connections, so add $380 for a pro plumber (four hours at $95 per hour).

Installing ceramic tile is one of the more challenging — and rewarding — DIY projects. Study those tutorials first, and get the right tools. Rent an electric tile saw for $50 to $75 per day; but note that you can buy an acceptable tile saw at a home improvement center for less than $100.

If You HireIf You DIY
Cost$16,128Cost$6,880
What You Get Back When You Sell*$11,668What You Get Back When You Sell*$11,688
Return on Investment

72.5%

Return on Investment

170%

*Source: Remodeling magazine "Cost vs. Value Report"

Plan for six to eight days of work, spread over however long you can stand to be without your bathroom. You'll need the better part of two days for the tile alone, and a day to let the tile adhesive set.

Entry Door Replacement

No other project gives as much return as a new steel entry replacement door. Not only is it a cost-effective project with one of the highest returns in the "Cost vs. Value Report," but you get the added benefit of sprucing up your curb appeal.

Know your door parts (jambs, threshold, stops) before digging in. You'll be putting in a pre-hung door that includes jambs, so the old stuff has to come out. If you can, preserve the old casing (trim) that goes around the door. Otherwise, plan to buy new casing.

If You HireIf You DIY
Cost$1,162Cost$250
What You Get Back When You Sell*$1,122What You Get Back When You Sell*$1,122
Return on Investment

96.6%

Return on Investment

450%

*Source: Remodeling magazine "Cost vs. Value Report"

This is a good one to have a buddy or spouse lend a hand. It'll take six to eight hours if it's your first time. Remember the three-legged mantra of door installation: Plumb, level, square.

Garage Door Replacement

Tired of looking at that big blank billboard every time you pull into your driveway? Change out your old garage door for a spiffy new steel model and the whole neighborhood will thank you. Save some cash by keeping the same motorized opener.

If You HireIf You DIY
Cost$1,534Cost$850
What You Get Back When You Sell*$1,283What You Get Back When You Sell*$1,283
Return on Investment

87.3%

Return on Investment

151%

*Source: Remodeling magazine "Cost vs. Value Report"

A steel garage door comes in four panels that are relatively lightweight but awkward — get a friend to lend a hand and you'll have this project done in a day.

Vinyl Window Replacement

If you want to replace four or more windows, or a second-story window, then hire the work out. Being up on a ladder with an object as bulky as a window is no place for a non-professional. Pros bring scaffolding, which takes time to set up but ultimately makes the work faster and safer.

Replacing one, two, or maybe three first-story windows is a good DIY job. Anything more and the pros will get the job done with better efficiency in terms of time and hassle.

If You HireIf You DIY
Cost (per window)$998Cost (per window)$250
What You Get Back When You Sell*$786What You Get Back When You Sell*$786
Return on Investment

78.7%

Return on Investment

314%

*Source: Remodeling magazine "Cost vs. Value Report"

If you've measured your rough opening correctly and bought the right window, then one window should take you three to four hours. You'll get faster with subsequent windows.

Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

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