Best Money-Saving DIY Projects (and Tips for Doing Them Right)

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

Image: Liz Foreman for HouseLogic

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.

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 learning home improvement skills that’ll last a lifetime.

Here’s a rundown of some top money-saving projects, using cost and recovered costs data from the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report” from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

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.

Related: Save 20% When You BIY Instead of DIY

The Best Money-Saving Projects With Great ROI

New Steel Front Door

Few replacement projects have as much upside as a new steel entry door. Not only will you recover about 75% of the cost of having an entry door professionally installed, but you’ll spruce up your curb appeal big time. Want proof? Ninety-six percent of homeowners responding to the “Remodeling Impact Report” say they are happy or satisfied with their new front door.  

Of course, you’ll save even more if you tackle this project yourself. 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 Hire If You DIY 
Recoup at sale$1,500Recoup at sale$1,500
% recoup75%% recoup600%

This is a good one to have a friend 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.

Related: Choosing an Exterior Door

New Garage Door

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 Hire If You DIY 
Recoup at sale$2,000Recoup at sale$2,000
% recoup87%% recoup235%

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. Then stand back and admire along with 95% of homeowners in the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report” who said they were happy or satisfied with their new garage door. 

New Vinyl Windows

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 Hire If You DIY 
Cost (per window)$556Cost (per window)$250
Recoup at sale$444Recoup at sale$444
% recoup80%% recoup178%

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.

New Wood Flooring

Few projects are as satisfying, while recovering such a high percentage of your investment, as new wood flooring. According to the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report,” 96% of homeowners were happy or satisfied with their professionally installed hardwood floors. Combine that with a 91% return on your investment, and you’ll likely be a very happy homeowner.

For the DIYer, installing hardwood flooring is a bit labor intensive, but the techniques are fairly easy to master. Once you get the hang of it, installing prefinished hardwood flooring should go smoothly.

If You Hire If You DIY 
Recoup at sale$5,000Recoup at sale$5,000
% recoup91%% recoup282%

Related: Should Your Refinish Hardwood Floors Yourself?

Insulation Upgrade

OK, maybe it’s not the sexiest project. After all, it’s tucked out of sight in your attic. But you can feel it with increased comfort, and see the savings on your energy bill. Those are big pluses. 

Upgrading an under-insulated attic space can save you up to 50% per year in energy costs. With a pro cost of $2,100, it’ll take at least a couple of years to pay off your investment with savings. Do it yourself, however, and you’ll only spend about $700 for enough 10-inch-thick fiberglass batt insulation to cover a 20-foot-by-40-foot attic space. You’ll pocket the savings much sooner. 

It’s also an awkward project, it can be messy, and you’ll need to bundle up behind protective clothing. However, insulating your attic is a low-skill project that most DIYers can pull off. Just be sure not to stick your foot through the drywall under the attic floor joists!

If You Hire If You DIY 
Recoup at sale$2,000Recoup at sale$2,000
% recoup95%% recoup286%