The do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to home improvement has been around for centuries. But it’s grown in popularity thanks to TV shows, the internet, and social media empowering homeowners to take on new projects.
A recent Today’s Homeowner survey found that nine in 10 American homeowners have home improvement projects planned for 2023, and many are thinking of DIY-ing these projects. While many enjoy the hands-on experience, that’s not the sole reason homeowners are looking to DIY. Factors like higher materials and labor costs, inflation, and heightened interest rates have homeowners thinking twice about calling a professional.
But there is a question: Which home improvement tasks should you DIY, and which are best left for professionals?
In this study, Today’s Homeowner researched 19 common home improvement projects and ranked them based on six factors, including average time to DIY, cost savings of DIY vs. hiring a professional, level of skill required to complete the task, potential safety hazards, level of damage risk to your home or materials, and overall project feasibility. From there, we determined the top five easiest and hardest home improvement tasks to DIY. Check out our Methodology section for more details on how we collected and analyzed the data.
- The top five most DIY-friendly home improvement projects are: updating toilets, wallpapering, indoor painting, adding flower beds and updating kitchen fixtures.
- Grading, carpet installation, gutter guard installation, adding or updating trim and replacing or installing a shower/tub enclosure are the hardest projects to DIY.
- Though you can save the most by installing your gutter guards, it ranks as the third-hardest DIY task because of the risk it involves and the damage you could cause to your home.
- By choosing to paint interior rooms yourself, you can save an average of $2,200 per room.
Pros and Cons of DIY Home Improvement
We applaud the do-it-yourself mentality here at Today’s Homeowner and love to teach the skills you need to tackle home renovations independently. There are many advantages to tackling your own home improvement projects, but there are certain DIY projects homeowners should avoid, too. Let’s discuss some of DIY home improvement’s biggest pros and cons.
Top 3 DIY Advantages
- Saving money: Cost is one of the biggest driving factors for DIY projects, although it certainly depends on the project. Many projects are simple enough for the average homeowner to complete, and you can save hundreds of dollars on labor and material costs by doing it on your own.
- Complete customization: As the old saying goes, “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” Admittedly, this phrase won’t ring true for every home improvement project — there are some tasks that only a professional will get right. But when you do a project independently, you can carry it out exactly how you envision it. (Assuming you have the skills to do so, of course.)
- Sense of accomplishment: This may not be the biggest DIY advantage that comes to mind, but accomplishing home projects on your own can improve your mental health in ways you’ve never imagined. Successfully completing DIY tasks allow you to become more self-reliant and confident in your abilities. And you’ll be reminded of that accomplishment every time you see it.
Top 3 DIY Disadvantages
- Damage and safety risks: Certain home improvement chores are better left to the pros, even if you consider yourself pretty handy. Some jobs require special tools or specified training, and tackling these on your own could be a huge risk to your well-being and home. There are small risks, too, like the job looking janky because you’re not as skilled as a professional.
- Time consuming: If you don’t have much experience completing the project you’re tackling, it will likely take you some time to complete. You have to consider the learning curve you’ll undergo to “get the hang” of the project, as well as trial and error and — let’s be real — a lot of frustration. In some cases, you might find that the extra cost of hiring a professional is worth it just to avoid the time and effort of completing the job yourself.
- Potentially losing money: Depending on the project, choosing to DIY can lead to losing money. For example, if the project requires a lot of tools, you’ll have to factor in the cost of buying all those tools on top of the materials to complete the project. And if you don’t have a reason to use those tools again, it’s likely not worth the purchase. You may also make a mistake while DIY-ing your project, leading to more money spent on replacement materials or paying a professional to fix your hack job.
Best Home Improvement Projects for DIY
1. Updating Toilets
For those of us who aren’t plumbers, replacing or connecting a new toilet may seem daunting. But truthfully, it’s one of the easiest tasks for the average homeowner to complete. All you need is a new toilet and a toolkit.
There are no big safety concerns for anyone installing a new toilet. And as long as you shut off your water source and drain the existing toilet (if applicable) before installing the new one, you run a very small risk of damaging your home. But it can get stinky! Be ready to shove an old towel into the PVC pipe that runs into the sewer to avoid that smell coming into your house.
Hiring a professional plumber to install a new toilet will typically cost you $200 for labor plus the cost of your toilet. Considering the average toilet costs between $100 and $150, you can cut your costs in half by choosing to DIY your toilet upgrades.
2. Installing/Replacing Wallpaper
Hanging wallpaper is a common DIY task you’ve likely seen many undertake on social media. It’s a pretty low-effort project and has become even more DIY-friendly with the emergence of peel-and-stick wallpaper. It does, however, require a good bit of patience.
If you’re using pre-pasted wallpaper, all you have to do is wet the back of the paper and apply it to your wall once it’s tacky. With unpasted wallpaper, you’ll use a paint roller to apply the paste before you stick it onto the wall. Other tools — a smoothing tool, utility knife, scissors, tape measure, and a ruler — will allow you to hang the wallpaper as evenly as possible.
The cost of wallpaper typically is about $4 per square foot. Hiring a professional may save time and effort, but it’ll bump the price to around $9 per square foot. Considering the low effort of hanging wallpaper, we recommend DIY-ing this task.
3. Painting Interior Rooms
Painting your interior rooms is another pretty simple DIY task that doesn’t require a ton of skill. It’s also a pretty safe project unless you have extremely high ceilings that require climbing high on a ladder. If that’s the case, you may consider calling in a professional. You should also consider the age and condition of your walls and whether they will need more TLC than a fresh coat of paint.
Many DIYers may be surprised to learn that painting the average 120-square-foot room takes about seven hours. But this figure takes prepping, priming, and cleaning into account. It will cost about $800 to paint your rooms, but it would be about $3,000 to call in the pros. You can enjoy significant cost savings if you don’t mind doing the work.
4. Adding Flower Beds
Adding flower beds is a great way to beautify your landscape. It’s also a great DIY task. Aside from exercising caution when using standard gardening equipment, there’s no real safety concern for planting flower beds around your home.
Depending on your vision, the size of the project, and the specifics of your yard, you’re looking at around three to six hours of work and about $1,000 in tools and plants. Hiring a professional landscaper would add roughly $1,000 to the project, so DIY-ing your outdoor decor could lead to significant savings.
5. Update Kitchen Fixtures
Updating kitchen fixtures may include installing a new sink or faucet or miscellaneous parts, such as a pot filler, bar faucet, water filtration, etc. It’s not a dangerous task and will only involve some awkward angles and wrench twisting on your part. But it does require some skill, and the fixtures can end up wobbly, crooked, or fall out of place if you don’t install them correctly.
There’s also a significant damage risk because you could flood your kitchen if you’re not careful. But we still think most will be able to tackle this task without a professional. It’ll likely take you two hours to install each fixture, but you’ll save about $135 per fixture in labor costs, so the savings can add up.
Worst Home Improvement Projects for DIY
1. Grading/Water Remediation
If you have a sloped yard, you may experience issues with water drainage. Water can pool near your foundation or even seep into your basement or crawl space, leading to water damage, rot and mold. Grading — or water remediation — involves measuring the slope of your yard and a calculated process of adding and removing dirt. The outcome will change the steepness of the “grade,” or switch its direction to allow for better drainage.
The feasibility of performing water remediation on your yard depends on the type of dirt and soil you have and the steepness of your yard. If only one small section of your home is experiencing draining issues, you might be able to tackle this task with a shovel, rake, wheelbarrow, and friend (or two). But in most cases, you’ll need to call a professional who operates the appropriate heavy machinery necessary to excavate and grade your yard.
Professional grading typically costs between $400 and $1,000 per day, depending on the scope of the problem and the number of laborers required. Of course, you can save a ton of money by DIY-ing this project, but it may be near impossible, depending on the severity of the issue.
2. Installing Carpet
Installing your carpet may seem like a doable DIY home improvement project, but it’s surprisingly tricky. You need to know how to cut and install the carpet precisely. If you mess up a roll or make an incorrect cut, you risk ruining the entire roll, leading to a higher damage risk score.
While there’s no huge safety hazard with laying carpet, it involves using sharp tools (knives, a knee kicker, a staple gun) and hot tools (steam roller) that can lead to injury if you’re not careful.
The price of installing carpet will depend on the type and quality of material you choose. Expect to pay about $0.93 per square foot at the low end for materials. If you hire a professional, that is bumped up to around $2.50 per square foot of carpet installed. In our opinion, the cost savings of DIY carpet installation are not worth the headache. We recommend calling the pros.
3. Installing Gutter Guards
The big cost savings associated with installing gutter guards can make anyone consider a DIY installation. Depending on material and quantity, you can DIY a gutter guard installation for $300 to $600, while professional installation costs around $1,300. Plus, there are several gutter guard brands sold for DIY purposes.
The issue is that the quality of those DIY gutter guards is typically subpar compared to those requiring professional installation. Cheaply made or improperly installed gutter guards can lead to far more home damage than the cost savings is worth.
Gutter guards often have to be placed carefully under the lining of roof shingles, which leaves a huge risk of damaging your roof. And warranties often won’t cover you if you decide to DIY a project that a professional could have handled. Installing gutter guards can also be dangerous for the DIYer, as it involves getting on the roof and (in most cases) working on a ladder for hours.
Overall, we recommend hiring a pro to install gutter guards. Especially if you have a multi-story home, added height means a much higher risk of injury.
4. Installing or Updating Trim/Crown Molding
While installing trim or crown molding independently is possible, it’s one of the more difficult DIY tasks. You’ll need a good miter saw, some thin strips of wood to act as fence shims, a block plane, a utility knife, a coping saw, a hammer, and nails. Cutting the pieces to the correct size and angle can be tricky, especially if you’re not dealing with a simple room with only inside corners.
Of course, safety hazards are involved in using saws, hammers, and nail guns. But if you exercise extreme caution and have experience using this equipment, you should be able to cut and install your trim without injury. There’s also a very small chance that an incorrect DIY trim installation will cause any real damage to your home. There is, however, a high risk of messing up the angles or cutting pieces too short, therefore wasting the trim material (and your money).
The average cost of DIY-ing trim is about $1,100 per room, while it may cost you $2,200 to call in the pros. However, if you don’t have the proper tools at home, you’ll need to factor in the cost of those tools, which could even out the price. We believe having a professional install trim or crown molding in your home is worth the cost.
5. Replacing or Installing a Shower/Tub Enclosure
Bathroom remodels are one of the most common projects for homeowners. While updating your toilet can easily be done on your own, you may want to consider calling in a pro to replace or install a new shower or tub enclosure.
If you’re updating your shower or tub, you’ll likely need heavy tools to break the porcelain or tile apart. This can be a dangerous task if you’re not careful or not taking proper safety precautions, like wearing goggles and gloves. There’s also a significant risk of damaging your walls or shower pipes or flooding your bathroom.
The skills needed for this project will vary depending on your vision, but you’ll need a basic understanding of plumbing (or, at the very least, a good DIY video to follow along with). The project may also involve hauling away your old shower or tub enclosure, which may increase the feasibility for the average homeowner. We suggest calling a professional to handle a shower upgrade, but you could also see average savings between $500 and $1,000.
The research team at Today’s Homeowner examined 19 common home improvement projects to determine the best and worst projects for DIY. We analyzed each project on a 1-10 ranking system based on six criteria:
- Avg. Time to DIY: How long it will take the average homeowner to complete this task compared to a professional.
- Avg. Cost Savings: How much money you will save by choosing to DIY instead of calling a professional.
- Skill requirement: How much skill is required to complete this project.
- Safety hazard: How high the chances of injury or harm are to the person completing this task.
- Damage risk: How high the chances are that the DIYer will damage their home or materials needed by completing this task.
- DIY Feasibility: How practical the task is for the average homeowner, taking factors like tools required, weight, etc. into account.
Lower scores out of 10 are better for the three metrics: safety hazard, skill requirement, and damage risk. For DIY feasibility, a higher score out of 10 indicates the project is more feasible for the average homeowner.
Using those six factors, we calculated a “DIY rating” using the combined average score for numerical values assigned to the above categories.
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