Is Do-It-Yourself Really Worthwhile?

I think this is one of the most common questions I get asked. It’s usually followed by, “I just don’t think I could do something like that.” While it’s true that a DIY approach is a personal decision, let me show you a little project by an old college buddy of mine, Mark MacDonald, who lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons that may help swing you over the fence.

Mark was always very talented. He had such an amazing voice and still does to this day. When he sang a song, it would make the angels swoon. He makes me sick. If I had a dozen 5-gallon buckets strapped to me, I still couldn’t carry a tune.

But could he successfully approach a major home remodeling project? I just never saw Mark as a let’s-grab-some-tools-and-tear-out-this-wall kind of guy. Here’s the difference between Mark and a lot of people. Instead of saying, “I can’t do something like that,” Mark’s approach is, “I bet I could do something like that…and if I can’t on the first try, at least I’ll learn something along the way to try it again.”

When Mark and his wife Tammy purchased their home, this is what the kitchen looked like:

Now, even though there’s nothing really wrong with that picture, it is a very dated look. You’ve got sheet vinyl flooring, stained cabinets that match the wall paneling, square edge laminate countertops, a nine-light exterior door, white appliances and it looks like a 36” four-blade ceiling fan.

Now let’s take a look at the “AFTER” picture:

Can you spot all the differences?

1. Replace Flooring

Sheet vinyl has been replaced with ceramic tile.


Look for discontinued lines, overstock or partial boxes of tile for sale at bargain prices.

Mark found these beautiful pieces for less than $1 a square foot….MUCH less.

2. Paint Cabinets

The cabinets have been re-painted. The two-tone look is perfect for this kitchen. They could have easily been all painted white to brighten up the room, but I don’t think it would have had the same distinct character as it does now. New hardware has also been installed to bring the kitchen into the 21st century. Nicely done.

3. Paint Paneling

The dark paneling has also been painted over in the same bright color. It’s amazing how those brighter colors can make a room look larger. Painting over paneling is a chore, too. You need to sand it lightly to remove the gloss, or even use a liquid deglosser. The primer you use is key. I personally would recommend an oil-based, stain-blocking primer. Once the paneling is primed, you can even use drywall joint compound to fill in the grooves.

4. Concrete Countertops

The countertops Mark installed are amazing. With no previous experience, he created molds and made these countertops from concrete! And, yes, it took a couple of tries, but what a difference!

If you look closely, the base cabinets on the left have an overhang to create a bar for eating. While I probably would have looked at creating the bar at the pass-through, Mark says the drawers in the cabinet are still accessible. This eating area allowed Mark and Tammy to do away with the dinette, freeing up more room.


Many store managers will give you an unbelievably good deal on busted bags of concrete as long as you don’t mind getting messy transporting them home.

Yep, that’s exactly what Mark did. Smart move. The backsplash is also new. Look closely and you’ll see tile. In case you’re not too keen on putting mastic on the walls, you should look for a new product coming to The Home Depot this fall called Simple Mat. It’s basically a two-sided adhesive mat that you place on the wall, then stick your tiles to it. You can put up your tiles and grout it all in the same day, eliminating the need for wall mastic.

5. Remove Wall

Since I just mentioned it, there’s also a pass-through where there once was a solid wall. Are you kidding me?!?! Tear out a wall?!?! Yes…a do-it-yourselfer really can do something like that. Once again, you’ve opened up the space, brought in more light and have now made this portion of the home more “people and gathering” friendly.

6. New Appliances

The white appliances have been upgraded to stainless steel.


You can save a lot of money on appliances by hunting around for slightly damaged “scratch and dent” or floor models.

This is a major purchase, but even if it’s not in your budget, you can turn your existing appliances into stainless by painting them with a very special product called Liquid Stainless Steel. Check out their website for a couple of really cool ideas.

7. Replace Door

The exterior door was replaced with a nice full-view door, which allowed Mark to get rid of the ugly storm door. Again, this is a great way to add some natural light and brighten the room.

8. Paddle Fan

The final touch was to get rid of the dinky, old ceiling fan and put up a nice 52” five-blade model.

So let’s answer the question now. Is do-it-yourself really worthwhile? I took these pictures to our construction estimator. For a professional to come in and do all this, including the purchase of the new appliances, you’re looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000. Of course, it all depends on your area of the country, but that’s pretty conservative.

Mark provided all his own labor and paid about 1/3 of that amount. Personally, my answer to the question is a resounding, “YES!”

Before you sell yourself short on your abilities, just try it. And don’t forget to look for those special deals and the “scratch and dent” specials out there. Above all, have fun and make it a family event.

Believe me, the satisfaction of a job you do yourself is so much better than shelling out your hard-earned dough. At least, it is for me and my wallet. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a singing lesson.


  1. The new look is great however I think I would have replaced the cabinet doors with new cabinet doors that I could paint myself. Painting the base cabinets a darker color to compliment the new counter top and stay with the color they chose for the uppers.

  2. I like the changes that you made, makes the room look more open and larger. Thanks for providing these tips and letting readers know how easy some of these improvements can be. Your blog is great, very informative.

  3. I like this article its amazing what a coat of paint will do to kitchen cabinets. I own a kitchen remodeling center in Savannah Georgia and in today’s market the majority of what I’m doing are kitchen remodels. A lot of folks are wanting to update and remodel their existing kitchens but underestimate the cost of doing it. repainting your kitchen cabinets is a great way to save money while remodeling your kitchen.

  4. What a great improvement! BUT, one question…
    Isn’t the counter at the eat-in bar too short to sit at comfortably? Wouldn’t your knees hit the cabinets?


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