DIY WITHOUT FEAR

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I wish I could go back and tell my younger self to stop trying to transform spaces with quick fixes as a home improvement strategy. Do you know how many bedspreads/comforters we’ve owned since we moved into this house because I wanted to ‘fix’ our bedroom? Tooooo many. If I had just gone ahead and set aside money to actually fix the glaring issues, I would have saved a ton of money in the long run, and felt much less guilt throughout the process.

Don’t Waste Your Money On Quick Fix Home Improvement

Quick Fix Home Improvement
One of many duvets that I bought on a whim for a quick fix.

Let’s be real: here’s how a lot of us ‘renovate’ (and I’m totally guilty of it, too):

  • There are some things in here that I don’t love, but I can put up with them for now’
  • Okay…I can’t stand this anymore. I have to do something before I start spontaneously tearing down walls’

And then? Well, a lot of us run to Target/Lowes, looking for that ‘quick fix’ with the cheapest solution we can find, and then feel guilty when it doesn’t pay off. I think that ‘quick fix home improvement’ mentality is the reason that I’m so rarely satisfied with impulse buys in the long run…they are a band-aid, not the medicine the room actually needs.

How do I know quick fixes aren’t the answer? Because I’ve made those same mistakes in the past. I’d go to Target, buy another duvet cover because obviously, THAT will fix the ceiling fan (the thing I actually hated in the room), come home, make the bed, and surprise surprise…disappointment. I’d feel guilty for spending money on a purchase that didn’t solve anything, and defeated that I’d still have to stare at that ugly ceiling fan every night.

Quick fixes aren’t the answer to the issues in your room. If you have ugly green shag carpet, don’t buy a new lamp and expect to love your space again.

Chip Away At The Big Issues FIRST

Quick Fix Home Improvement
Installing hardwoods made a huge impact in our room, and let me finally see our bedroom’s potential.

While I sometimes do a ‘phase one’ renovation where I put band-aids on a problem area (and even then, only if they’re REALLY bad), I actually think waiting until you can properly fix the big issues is usually better. I’ve found that I tend to make silly compromises and spend too much energy when I try to find a way to fix things in the interim. I could be using that energy to drive a room’s momentum towards what I actually want in the end by fixing the big things first.

Take the ceiling fan in our master bedroom for example. It was gold, ornate, dusty, and b.r.o.k.e.n. It clicked at around 110 bpm, non-stop. And it didn’t jive with our style at all. It was the biggest issue in the room – I looked at it every time I walked in and out throughout the day, and every night while I fell asleep. It was the most distracting thing in the room and made it so that I couldn’t appreciate anything else around it.

So I finally came to my senses and decided to replace it – to chip away at the biggest issue in the room instead of looking for another quick fix. And then we repeated that process with replacing the floors. And again when I switched out our cloth drawer storage units for dressers with actual drawers and handles. Each big fix let me peel back a layer of the room, to see it’s potential beyond those distracting elements.

Quick Fix Home Improvement
The bedroom with a much calmer ceiling fan, real bedside tables, and gorgeous hardwood floors finally got it to ‘netural’

Get Your Space To Neutral

When I was staring at stained carpet, or a ceiling fan that belongs in Versailles, it was hard to imagine what the room would look like with those things gone. I had to chip away at the big issues in the room before I could actually see what it needed. In other words, you have to get your space to neutral before you can even think about designing it.

After a few rounds of fixing the major things, you’ll end up with a blank slate where you can actually think, be creative, and give the space what it needs to really shine. You still probably want to have a general sense of direction from the beginning, but let’s be real – ceiling fans and flooring choices are pretty neutral and will go with almost anything you choose down the road. Pick what you like, and move on.

Now that our bedroom is ‘neutral’, I can actually see where I want it to go. Some of the things I have planned now I never would have considered before I chipped away at the big issues, and having a blank slate to work from is so much easier than trying to see past stained carpet or an ugly ceiling fan.

So if you’re considering quick fix home improvement – maybe don’t do it. Put that money into a savings account instead, and use it to take on the most egregious offenders in your room first. You’ll be able to see the space’s true potential, and you won’t waste time or money in the interim trying to cover things up with a band-aid.

The Case Against Quick Fix Home Improvement

Master Bedroom

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I know, I know, you love your murder mystery/real crime drama podcasts. S-Town is your…well…S. Listen, me too. BUT – I really love listening to home design/DIY podcasts as well. There’s something about listening to someone talk passionately about something home-related that makes me get all excited. It’s like listening to someone describe the person they love…you end up kinda loving them too.

And here’s the thing. Design and DIY can be extremely visual.  You wouldn’t think podcasts would be a good fit, but they are. Describing visuals with words instead of images can let your mind fill in the blanks instead, flexing your creative muscles in the process, and learning new home renovation skills from experts can only make you a better DIYer. The only problem is actually finding great design/home podcasts to listen to. Lucky for you, I’ve already rounded up 10 that I love (and I think you will, too!)

1.  Good Company

Hosted by Grace Bonney from Design Sponge (‘nuff said, right?), this is one of the newer home and DIY podcasts (started in September of 2018) in the lineup, and I’m in love. It digs DEEP and doesn’t shy away from the hard questions. It’s a great one to listen to if like me, you’re always trying to understand others and incorporate more diversity into your home (and life). Seriously, give it a listen…you won’t be disappointed. Plus, Genevieve Gorder (from Trading Spaces) is on the first episode and is fantastic, as always.

https://www.designsponge.com/category/good-company

2. Young House Love Has a Podcast

I’ve been a reader of Young House Love for a LONG time (they actually inspired me to start this little blog of mine.) Probably all the way back to around 2010, if not a little earlier, but somehow I fell even more in love with John and Sherry when they started their home and DIY podcast. I was still a little devastated from when they decided to step away from blogging, but Sherry’s musical impersonations and John’s constant quest to automate everything in their home routinely has me laughing out loud during my commute. It’s definitely light-hearted, and a great way to start my Monday mornings.

https://www.younghouselove.com/category/podcast/

3. Chris Loves Julia (no longer produced, but still a good listen)

While this podcast isn’t produced anymore, there are a ton of episodes to listen to and they’re worth your time. I love Chris and Julia’s style, and it’s really interesting to listen to their take on design, life, etc. It’s an interview(ish) style home and DIY podcast with Preston Pugmire as the host, and I’ve definitely learned a lot listening in. They tend to tackle a topic a week, but there’s lots of life thrown in, too.

https://www.chrislovesjulia.com/category/podcast

4.  The Style Matters Podcast (Little Yellow Couch)

If there was a mother of home and DIY podcasts, it would be Zandra from Little Yellow Couch. It’s been around longer than (I think) all of the other ones on this list, and there’s a ton of episodes to listen to. While I listen to most of my podcasts through an app, it’s worthwhile to click over to the archives on her website. You can sort by topic, and it makes it much easier than normal to find what you want. I wish every podcast had a website like hers!

https://littleyellowcouch.com/podcast/

5. Home: On

If you want to channel your inner Bill Gates and automate your home, this is a great one. It’s a podcast all about DIY home control and automation, and there’s lots of interesting interviews to listen to. It’s amazing how much home automation news there is out there, and I always enjoy learning about products from the people that make them.

https://www.thedigitalmediazone.com/category/podcasts/home-on/

6. Fix It 101

This is a pretty cool one – though it’s really more of a recording of a call-in show than a traditional home and DIY podcast. Hosted by MPB Think Radio through NPR, it reminds me of Car Talk, one of my absolute favorite shows of all time (even though I don’t care about cars at all), and it’s fun to listen along and try and figure out what the issues are and hear how the hosts suggest to fix them.

https://www.npr.org/podcasts/486075865/fix-it-101

7. Ask a Clean Person

If you like lighthearted DIY home cleaning advice in the form of a podcast, this is the one for you. Jolie Kerr has a bright, bubbly personality that makes me smile every time I listen to her. While it’s definitely more cleaning and organization centered, what homeowner doesn’t need a few tips on that? I know I do. She also has monthly challenges that I find really interesting.

https://play.acast.com/s/askacleanperson

8. Making It

Hosted by Jimmy Diresta, Bob Clagett, and David Picciuto, Making It is a fun home and DIY podcast for people that enjoy making things with their hands. I really love the woodworking tips, and learn so much every episode. It’s clear that the hosts enjoy talking with each other, and I like exposing myself to ‘makers’ from different backgrounds and different passions. The more you know, the better a DIYer you’ll be.

https://www.makingitpodcast.com/

9. The Modern Craftsman

Hosted by Nick Schiffer, Tyler Grace, and Johnny Hourihan, if you want to learn what it’s like to be a contractor or tradesman, then this is the home/DIY podcast for you. I’m the homeowner that’s always talking my tradesman’s ears off, so I LOVE this one. I’ll often ask my plumber or electrician how something works, and love hearing them explain it, so while some of what they cover in this podcast is over my head, that’s great – I get to learn so much.

https://www.themoderncraftsman.org/

10. Ace On The House

Imagine a carpenter that got fed up with working on houses, who then turned into a comedian, and started a call-in/write-in podcast. That’s Adam Carolla’s and Eric Stromer’s Ace On The House. There are lots of nuggets of knowledge, and it’s always interesting to listen to them tackle caller’s home improvement questions.

https://www.podcastone.com/ACE-On-The-House

Home-related podcasts tend to be one of the hardest genres to discover new things in – there are gems, but they’re often buried deep in podcast players, and every recommendation list is the same. Not this list though – I’ve searched high and low for podcasts that I LOVE, and I’d bet there are one or two you haven’t heard of before here. Enjoy listening, and tell me if you find anything I’m missing out on!

Home design and DIY podcasts are hard to find, but I've got you covered with 10 of my favorites to refresh your podcast feed.
Home design and DIY podcasts are hard to find, but I've got you covered with 10 of my favorites to refresh your podcast feed.

10 Design and DIY Podcasts For The Home Enthusiast

Tools

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When I was in either late high school or early college, my parents and grandparents put together my first toolbox for me. It had all the basics – screwdrivers, hammers, a stud finder…you name it and it was in there. It was SUCH a neat gift – they personalized it just for me, and I truly cherish it. Think of this post like that toolbox. I wish I could give every single person in this world a basic set of tools and get them started with DIY! Until I win the lottery (and some serious frequent flyer miles), I can at least get you pointed in the right direction, so here’s my list of basic tools every DIYer should own.

Here’s the thing…in DIY life, there will be many runs to the home improvement store. Probably (definitely) more than you want. Maybe you’ll even get to know your cashiers by name and ask how they’re doing (not that I spend that much time at Lowe’s or anything)! But there is NO REASON for you to have to run to the store for one of the items on this list. These are the basics of the basics, nothing fancy or frilly. Make sure you have at least everything here before you even think about starting a DIY project, (depending on the project of course).

You (like most DIYers) have a toolbox containing a bunch of different tools, usually handed down to them by friends and family. But do you have these 10 tools every decent DIYer should have? I've been DIYing for over a decade, and these are my picks for the most basic of the basics tools everyone should own. You can build amazing furniture, fix things around your home, and make big improvements with JUST the tools on this list. #DIY #DIYer #Renovation #Tools #Ryobi #List

Basic Tool #1: Cordless Drill and Drill Bit Set

Why You Need Them

If I could only take one item with me to a remote island, it would be my cordless drill and drill bit set. On the list of basic tools every DIYer should own…it’s number one. I put the drill and the drill bit together because there really isn’t a reason to have one and not the other. I have seriously used my drill on every single renovation or even regular household project I’ve ever done. Even if you don’t like DIY (which…why are you here then?), you need this.

What To Look For

  1. Tool-less bit changer (really nice for switching bits quickly)
  2. Variable speed and torque (I usually keep ours on the slow, high torque setting, but it’s nice to have the variety)
  3. Magnetic tray (though I ours was a little stronger)
  4. Ergonomic grip
  5. LED guide light (though I wish I could turn it on all the time if I wanted to)

What I Have

The Ryobi One+ 18V Drill/Driver with Keyless Chuck and Ryobi 90 Piece Drilling and Driving Kit. I love them. The drill is lightweight, heavy duty, and has worked flawlessly for what I’m sure is hundreds of hours at this point. And investing in a large set of bits to go with your drill is a great idea – you will spend way more (in gas to the store and for the actual items) trying to piece together what you need.

Where I’ve Used Them

From unscrewing outlet and switch plates, to drilling holes to run new wire, to drilling into our subway tile backsplash, during our custom desk build, when we installed door hardware, to putting together all kinds of furniture, etc, etc, etc we’ve used our drill. Every single project, guys. Seriously. It has been there for us through thick and thin, and I can’t think of a tool that I would rather spend long days spelling out HELP in rocks on the beach with.

You (like most DIYers) have a toolbox containing a bunch of different tools, usually handed down to them by friends and family. But do you have these 10 tools every decent DIYer should have? I've been DIYing for over a decade, and these are my picks for the most basic of the basics tools everyone should own. You can build amazing furniture, fix things around your home, and make big improvements with JUST the tools on this list. #DIY #DIYer #Renovation #Tools #Ryobi #List

Basic Tool #2: Rubber and Regular Hammers

Why You Need Them

It doesn’t get much more basic than this tool – hitting things is fun. Plus, if you don’t have a hammer you can’t do simple things like hang a picture or pull out those picture hanging nails when you measure wrong (not that you ever would…you’re perfect!). Having a traditional metal hammer as well as a rubber mallet is actually the perfect combo – when they team up, they can tackle almost anything.

What To Look For

  1. Single piece hammer (not two pieces put together) for the claw hammer and a nice, dense rubber head for the rubber mallet hammer.
  2. Rubber, ergonomic grip
  3. Fairly solid and large (I’ve never needed/wanted a smaller hammer, but am sometimes wishing for a larger one)

What I Have

A basic Stanley hammer, though I definitely intend to upgrade someday when I need something heavier duty. I also have a cheap rubber mallet that has worked just fine for those times that you need a gentler touch.

Where I’ve Used Them

Framing a new wall in our kitchen, installing our new floating bamboo floors, refinishing and installing a runner on our stairs, and many more projects. This is another tool, while not as near and dear to my heart as my drill, that I would never want to give up. It isn’t sexy, but it sure is functional.

You (like most DIYers) have a toolbox containing a bunch of different tools, usually handed down to them by friends and family. But do you have these 10 tools every decent DIYer should have? I've been DIYing for over a decade, and these are my picks for the most basic of the basics tools everyone should own. You can build amazing furniture, fix things around your home, and make big improvements with JUST the tools on this list. #DIY #DIYer #Renovation #Tools #Ryobi #List

Basic Tool #3: Tape Measure

Why You Need It

Every DIYer should own this basic tool. Slanted bookshelves aren’t pretty or safe, and the most important mantra of DIY is ‘measure twice, cut once’. You’ll use your tape measure time and time again, but it’s definitely worthwhile to invest in a nice one with as many features as possible. I’ve used cheap ones and more expensive ones, and definitely prefer the heavier, thicker ones with more features.

What To Look For

  1. At least 25’
  2. Auto lock feature
  3. Magnetic end
  4. The bigger the hook, the better
  5. Long standout (this just means how long it can extend without bending, and the longer ones generally found on the wider tapes)

What I Have

An awesome Kobalt (Lowe’s) brand one that I picked up on a whim and LOVE. It has tons of features, a decent stand out, and the auto lock feature is definitely worth it. Plus, it was less expensive than the competitors.

Where I’ve Used It

Every project. I feel like a broken record, but seriously, I use this thing all the time. SO much so that I actually keep it in my kitchen so I don’t have to trek out to the garage to get it. We used it when installing the new wall in our kitchen, when we installed our new floating bamboo floors, when we installed a runner on our stairs, during our custom desk build, the list goes on and on.

You (like most DIYers) have a toolbox containing a bunch of different tools, usually handed down to them by friends and family. But do you have these 10 tools every decent DIYer should have? I've been DIYing for over a decade, and these are my picks for the most basic of the basics tools everyone should own. You can build amazing furniture, fix things around your home, and make big improvements with JUST the tools on this list. #DIY #DIYer #Renovation #Tools #Ryobi #List

Basic Tool #4: Circular Saw

Why You Need It

Cutting things by hand takes forever, and isn’t nearly as accurate as cutting with a power tool is. We actually built our first bed with only a handsaw, and were sore for DAYS afterwards. It works, but it just isn’t a good use of time. Circular saws in particular are great for cutting straight lines quickly and consistently, and they make short work of most materials.

What To Look For

  1. Cordless (that way you don’t have to worry about cutting your cord or holding it out of the way)
  2. An easy blade change system
  3. A laser guide to see where you’re cutting that can be calibrated (they tend to drift with time)
  4. An on-board wrench is nice too. That way when I’m changing the blade, I don’t have to go find one!

What I Have

I have Ryobi’s 18V Cordless 6 1/2″ Circular Saw, and love it. I only want for a larger blade when I’m cutting through thicker materials, but that is few and far between. The grip is comfortable, I feel safe using it, and it cuts clean every time.

Where I’ve Used It

When we framed a new wall in our kitchen, during a few straight cuts for our bamboo floors in our bedroom, and to rip the stair risers when we overhauled our stairs. There are tons of uses for a circular saw, though, and it’s a worthwhile investment.

You (like most DIYers) have a toolbox containing a bunch of different tools, usually handed down to them by friends and family. But do you have these 10 tools every decent DIYer should have? I've been DIYing for over a decade, and these are my picks for the most basic of the basics tools everyone should own. You can build amazing furniture, fix things around your home, and make big improvements with JUST the tools on this list. #DIY #DIYer #Renovation #Tools #Ryobi #List

Basic Tool #5: Stud Finder

Why You Need It

Drilling holes into the wall, or knocking on them, just isn’t efficient or accurate. Plus, it won’t tell you where electrical or plumbing is. Having a stud finder can keep you from nicking things behind the wall you didn’t intend to, and save you time patching drywall later.

What To Look For

  1. Electronic if you can afford it, magnetic if you’re on a budget.
  2. For electronic, a screen to show you where the studs are is great, and LEDs that light up when you come across a stud can be super helpful.
  3. For magnetic, there isn’t a huge difference between products (or a lot of features for that matter), so pick the one you think looks the most rugged.

What I Have

I bought a relatively inexpensive Stanley one a few years ago after one that was passed down to me died, but I definitely want to upgrade to a fancier one when this one dies. This is a list of the basic tools every DIYer should own, so you definitely don’t NEED the extra features (I’ve done just fine with the one I have), but they’re pretty nice to have and will save you time.

Where I’ve Used It

From mounting TVs to walls, to hanging shelves in our kitchen, to hanging heavy pictures, this thing gets a workout and is in an easy to access area of my garage.

You (like most DIYers) have a toolbox containing a bunch of different tools, usually handed down to them by friends and family. But do you have these 10 tools every decent DIYer should have? I've been DIYing for over a decade, and these are my picks for the most basic of the basics tools everyone should own. You can build amazing furniture, fix things around your home, and make big improvements with JUST the tools on this list. #DIY #DIYer #Renovation #Tools #Ryobi #List

Basic Tool #6: Gloves/Goggles

Why You Need Them

The most important basic tool (that EVERY DIYer should own) is a set of safety gear. Safety is really important. Imagine going through life with one less eye, or limited vision because you didn’t feel like putting on your safety glasses…that’s just silly. You only get one body – take care of it (especially around power tools!) It takes less than a second to put on glasses/gloves/safety gear and it can truly save your life (or quality of life).

What To Look For

  1. I like flexible safety glasses that won’t break if they get stepped on.
  2. I spring for the expensive gloves with real leather and a nice interior feel
  3. Quick connect velcro straps to make sure your gloves stay on (or a fast fit elastic band).

What I Have

The gloves I use are actually Mechanix brand (just a brand, not specifically designed for car mechanics or anything), and I love them. We’ve gone through a few pairs in the past few years, but they are seriously tough. The safety glasses were just some from the home improvement store (no brand or anything, I just picked them because they matched my Ryobi tools), and I wish I had bought something without any kind of UV protection or filter – they’re DARK when you wear them indoors!

Where I’ve Used Them

Every project! Even just picking up leaves in our front yard – I did it once without gloves and my hands were completely torn up. We’ve definitely used them a ton during the rewiring of our kitchen and hallway.

You (like most DIYers) have a toolbox containing a bunch of different tools, usually handed down to them by friends and family. But do you have these 10 tools every decent DIYer should have? I've been DIYing for over a decade, and these are my picks for the most basic of the basics tools everyone should own. You can build amazing furniture, fix things around your home, and make big improvements with JUST the tools on this list. #DIY #DIYer #Renovation #Tools #Ryobi #List

Basic Tool #7: Electric Sander

Why You Need It

Sanding by hand is incredibly inefficient, and tough on your body. And if you don’t prep your surfaces before you paint/prime/finish them, the finish won’t last nearly as long. When you’re considering which tools to buy to fill out your beginning DIYer tool chest, an electric sander can cut a project’s time into a fraction of what it would be if you had to sand everything by hand.

What To Look For

  1. Pointed end for detail work
  2. An easy to hold grip because while electric sanders are way faster than hand-sanding, you’re still going to be spending a bunch of time with this little buddy.
  3. Random orbit so you get a super smooth, swirl-less finish
  4. Dust collection options

What I Have

I have the Ryobi Corner Cat Sander, and it’s awesome. The small form factor makes it light, easy to use, and great for getting into small places. It’s pretty inexpensive (I bought it back when I first started DIYing) and I’m definitely thinking about upgrading for some of the big projects I have planned for the future, but so far it has served me extremely well. Even if I do upgrade, I’ll keep this little guy around, since it’s great for detail work.

Where I’ve Used It

Fun story – our half bath on the first floor of our house had a badly applied skim coat of drywall over wallpaper. My mom was able to sand it down in a day or so with an electric sander, but it would have taken years to do by hand. I definitely should have invested in a bigger one back then, but we were TIGHT on cash since we had just bought a home. Thanks for suffering through that, Mom.

You (like most DIYers) have a toolbox containing a bunch of different tools, usually handed down to them by friends and family. But do you have these 10 tools every decent DIYer should have? I've been DIYing for over a decade, and these are my picks for the most basic of the basics tools everyone should own. You can build amazing furniture, fix things around your home, and make big improvements with JUST the tools on this list. #DIY #DIYer #Renovation #Tools #Ryobi #List

Basic(ish) Tool #8: Nail Gun*

Why You Need It

This is the only one on my list of basic tools that every DIYer should own that has an asterisk by it. That being said, if you were to skip one tool on this list, I’d recommend skipping this one. It’s absolutely fantastic and has saved me TONS of time, but it’s also pretty expensive. Worth it, but expensive. While you can drive nails by hand sometimes, a powerful tool can get nails or brads into much harder materials easily and quickly. Not to mention, the finished product is usually much cleaner.

While it’s definitely an ‘advanced’ beginning DIYer’s tool, I do think they should be more widely used, which is why I’ve included it on this list. Attaching boards, trim, etc are so much cleaner and easier to finish if they are done with a nail gun rather than by hand.

What To Look For

  1. The depth you need your tool to be able to drive depends on the project.
  2. I love the LED light on the end of mine.
  3. Safety mechanisms to make sure you can’t accidentally shoot nails through the air and potentially hurt someone.
  4. A low-nail indicator, which is super helpful for knowing when to reload (I used one without this once, and couldn’t figure out why it suddenly stopped working!)

What I Have

I have the Ryobi 16 Gauge Finish Nailer, but you could definitely go with something a little less expensive, depending on the project. I opted for a bigger model since I didn’t want to purchase another one in the future. You can always turn it down, but if the motor isn’t large enough, you can’t turn it up.

Where I’ve Used It

I’ve mostly used this on the stair remodel so far, but it would have been impossible without it. This is also the tool to use if you’re installing any kind of trim or baseboards. I have big plans for the backyard someday that will give this puppy a serious workout (stay tuned!).

You (like most DIYers) have a toolbox containing a bunch of different tools, usually handed down to them by friends and family. But do you have these 10 tools every decent DIYer should have? I've been DIYing for over a decade, and these are my picks for the most basic of the basics tools everyone should own. You can build amazing furniture, fix things around your home, and make big improvements with JUST the tools on this list. #DIY #DIYer #Renovation #Tools #Ryobi #List

Basic Tool #9: Quick Clamps

Why You Need Them

Probably the most overlooked by DIYers, but still basic tool on this list is the quick clamp. Holding things by hand is possible, but dangerous when you’re cutting. And? Sometimes you just need another hand (moms out there, I KNOW you can relate). These are a fast way to sturdy up whatever you’re doing.

What To Look For

  1. A decent amount of clamping force (ours have 300lbs, which is considered medium-duty)
  2. A quick grip release to move the mechanism quickly (no annoying spinning of a clamp forever)
  3. One handed operation for when you’re working by yourself

What I Have

I have several Irwin Quick Grips, and I love them. After growing up using my parent’s old style twist ones, the quick change mechanisms are a HUGE upgrade. They’re easy to use, lightweight, and a snap to store. Plus they come in tons of lengths. Maybe I’m weird, but I like all my tools to match…the fact that they have every length I could dream of is a big plus for me.

Where I’ve Used Them

These were super helpful when we installed the hardwoods both upstairs and downstairs to hold boards in place while I cut them. They’re like an extra hand. Now if only I could figure out how to use them to help wrangle my children when strangers are staring at me at Costco. Kidding. Kind of.

You (like most DIYers) have a toolbox containing a bunch of different tools, usually handed down to them by friends and family. But do you have these 10 tools every decent DIYer should have? I've been DIYing for over a decade, and these are my picks for the most basic of the basics tools everyone should own. You can build amazing furniture, fix things around your home, and make big improvements with JUST the tools on this list. #DIY #DIYer #Renovation #Tools #Ryobi #List

Basic Tool #10: Jigsaw

Why You Need It

Inexpensive, agile, and powerful, my jigsaw is easily one of my most used tools, and it makes those tricky cuts so much easier. Anytime you have to cut a curve or a knockout, a jigsaw is indispensable. If you’re going to buy ONE cutting tool, let it be this.

What To Look For

  1. A speed controller to match the material you’re cutting
  2. Variable speed grip to speed up or slow down the blade as you go through the cut
  3. A comfortable grip

What I Have

I have a Skil brand jigsaw, and while it doesn’t have many features, it has history. From what I remember, it was actually my grandpa’s, and now it’s sitting in my garage. Even though it’s corded, lacks features, and has more than a few cobwebs, it still works great. If you were to buy a new one though? I’d recommend the Ryobi T Shank Jigsaw, since it has a lot more features. When (if?) this one dies, I’ll be purchasing the Ryobi.

Where I’ve Used It

If you’ve read my floating hardwood floor installation tutorial, I actually used this thing to rip every single board. Silly. That’s definitely not the use case for a tool like this (buy a table saw!), but it got the job done. If you ever intend to cut something with a curve or strange cut-out, this is the tool to use.

So now you’ve got an idea of the basic tools every DIYer should own. If you’re a DIY newbie and you don’t have ANYTHING, this is the place to start. With the tools on this list, you can tackle almost any easy/medium project, and you’ll feel great building something yourself. And if plunking down the cash for tools intimidates you, just know that they’ll pay for themselves the first time you DIY something and don’t hire it out. I’ve saved tens of thousands of dollars with the tools on this list vs. hiring a pro – they are definitely worth the investment.

You (like most DIYers) have a toolbox containing a bunch of different tools, usually handed down to them by friends and family. But do you have these 10 tools every decent DIYer should have? I've been DIYing for over a decade, and these are my picks for the most basic of the basics tools everyone should own. You can build amazing furniture, fix things around your home, and make big improvements with JUST the tools on this list. #DIY #DIYer #Renovation #Tools #Ryobi #List
You (like most DIYers) have a toolbox containing a bunch of different tools, usually handed down to them by friends and family. But do you have these 10 tools every decent DIYer should have? I've been DIYing for over a decade, and these are my picks for the most basic of the basics tools everyone should own. You can build amazing furniture, fix things around your home, and make big improvements with JUST the tools on this list. #DIY #DIYer #Renovation #Tools #Ryobi #List

The 10 Basic Tools EVERY Decent DIYer Should Own

Tools

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I’d be willing to bet you’re a lot like me. You enjoy HGTV, dream about renovations, the what-ifs, the could-we’s. But you’re often pulled back into reality by your spouse or partner, right? It’s hard to get them to say yes to your crazy ideas, right? Except when they really need to be done. Some home renovations are because you don’t like something, and some are just…necessary. That’s why I’m going to show you how to install engineered wood flooring over our plywood subfloors. The carpet throughout the second story of our house definitely needed to be replaced (just look at those GROSS pictures below). All we had to do was teach ourselves how to install it, and we would have a brand new floor.

With a dog and two kids (though they were just a twinkle in our eyes when we started this renovation way back in 2016), I knew I didn’t want to replace stained carpet with new carpet. So after looking around a bit, I settled on a gorgeous, distressed, dark bamboo. It would be durable, eco friendly, and most of all, affordable.

There was a total of about 800 square feet to install, with lots and lots of corners, weird shapes, and angles to contend with.I also wanted to tackle the stairs (I’ve got a bunch of posts all about how we ripped out the carpet, dealt with the waste, replaced the risers and installed the caps, painted the risers and installed an inexpensive runner), so I made sure to order a little extra for that.

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

Required Tools

Time to talk tools! My biggest regret from installing engineered wood flooring over plywood was that we didn’t purchase a table saw sooner. I ripped (cut lengthwise) every. single. one. of the boards on the edge of each room with a jigsaw just to save a few bucks. It was time-consuming, and it’s pretty much impossible to cut a straight line with that tool. Don’t be like me! If you’re planning on tackling this project, buy a table saw!!! Below are all the tools that we used.

  • Tape measure
  • Tapping block
  • Pry bar
  • Pull bar
  • Wood or plastic spacers (3/8″)
  • Miter saw
  • Chalk line tool
  • Painter’s tape
  • Jigsaw
  • Table saw
  • T-square or straight edge
  • Multi-tool
  • Rubber mallet
  • Pencil
  • Safety glasses – seriously. Wear them.

Preparation

Acclimation

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

The hardest part of installing engineered wood flooring over plywood? – waiting. When you’re installing a naturally porous and flexible (relatively) material like bamboo/wood, you have to let it acclimate to the space you’re installing it in, so it can expand or contract based on the humidity, temperature, and elevation in your home. If you skip this step, it can lead to BIG problems down the road with buckling and gaps.

The wood sat in our daughter’s future nursery for a week or so before we ever made our first cut. It was KILLING ME to wait. I was so ready to get started, but I also knew I wanted to do it right. So I waited and passed the time dreaming about the gorgeous floors that would soon be underfoot.

Subfloors

We started with ripping out all the carpet from the entire second story, removing the tack strip, and evening out any really noticeable dips or high spots. We also opted to remove all the baseboards, mostly because they were comically small. Even if a huge renovation like this sounds daunting, demolition is pretty easy, and something you can definitely DIY to save a ton of money.

Baseboards

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

We did run into one other issue with our baseboards – they were not only nailed in (with some big mama nails), but glued in too. You can see how much we struggled to remove them in the picture above – they just splintered and did NOT want to come off the wall. I’ve never been able to figure out why the original builders chose to adhere the baseboards so permanently to the walls, but I guess it doesn’t matter. We ended up using a multi-tool to cut them away from the wall (the caulk was REAL, guys), and then used a prybar to separate them fully. Brute force was pretty much the only way, and while it did mean we had to repair some drywall, it was worth it in the end.

Door Jambs

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

The only other preparation was to cut down all the door jambs. The carpet didn’t require very much space underneath the trim, but the added height of the new boards meant we would have to make some additional room. We just used a piece of our new flooring to mark on each door jamb what we needed to remove, and cut that bit away. A multi-tool made quick work of it, and is absolutely the right tool for the job, though technically you could also do it with a hammer and a chisel. We actually did this step as we went through the installation – it doesn’t necessarily need to be done as a prep item, just before you actually lay the planks underneath each door jamb.

How To: Install Engineered Wood Flooring Over Plywood

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

Step One: Underlayment

After we prepared our subfloors, removed the baseboards, and took care of the door jambs, it was time to roll out the underlayment. Typically, underlayment provides a barrier and helps even out the subfloor and create a softer, quieter feeling underfoot. The salesman at Lumber Liquidators recommended we use something called Insulayment, but I would advise against it if you have a home similar to ours. I do like that it’s made from recycled materials, but Insulayment is actually a glue-down product (which I didn’t find out until months afterward). Our salesman said it would be just okay to put underneath with no adhesive, and while it’s been fine so far, if I could do it over again I’d choose something different and actually follow the instructions.

Generally speaking, the thicker (and more expensive) the underlayment is, the quieter and cushier your floor will feel. I’m pretty happy with the product, other than our installation method, though I have noticed one quirk. When a section of flooring hasn’t been walked on in a while, it creaks when you step on it again for the first time. Not like a scary door opening creak, but more like an oh-no-I’m-getting-old-and-getting-out-of-bed-hurts creak. You know the kind where your whole back cracks when you sit up? No? Just me? Cool.

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

We first stapled it down to the subfloor to hold it in place and then taped each piece together to create a patchwork of blue underlayment goodness. You can see what I mean in the picture above. Getting it around the weird angles required a LOT of different pieces, but it was pretty forgiving and tape does does wonders to hold everything together.

Step Two: Lay Your First Boards

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

Finally, it was time to install our first planks of engineered wood flooring over the plywood and underlayment. We decided to run it parallel to the longest main wall on our second floor, but there really isn’t one direction or another that is right or wrong – it’s really up to what you think looks the best. I’ve heard that in older homes when wood was installed near the front door, it was traditionally laid at a 90-degree angle to the door to draw your eye in visually. Since we didn’t have a door to worry about (and our house is about as historic as beanie babies are), I got to choose. Laying it that way also meant it lined up nicely with the stairs that we installed later.

Step Three: Snap and Lock Remaining Boards Into Place

Actually installing the boards was insanely easy. We just measured and cut (where necessary), and placed the new board onto the already placed one, overlapping the joints. It’s pretty foolproof actually – the boards won’t go together if you do it wrong, and once you lock them into place, they don’t really move.

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

We made sure to leave an expansion gap along each wall (you can see the spacers we used in the picture above), and staggered our seams to make sure the installation would be strong and last a long time. If you don’t leave that gap, you can get buckling and separation, and non-staggered seams can leave your floor more prone to those same issues. I also started with the tongue facing the wall, which turned out to not matter all that much.

See, for a floating floor, it’s pretty easy to install things ‘backwards‘. The main wall we started on actually splits our house essentially in two, half of it behind it and half of it in front of it. That meant we installed about half of the flooring forwards (tongue facing away from you) and half of it backwards (tongue facing towards you). This tool actually made it a non-issue (the pull bar), but if you plan to nail your floors down, I don’t think it would be possible, since there wouldn’t be room for the gun. Just something to think about!

Top 5 Tips

If you decide to tackle this project, send me an email or DM me on Instagram! I love seeing your DIYs. And I will 100% want to come help, even though my kids and husband want me to stay here. I’m addicted to DIYing, I think. But even if I can’t come help in person, I can at least leave you with my top five tips to make things go more smoothly.

  1. Spring for the table saw. It will be worth it, even if you aren’t installing as much flooring as we did.
  2. Don’t discard your waste. Keep a pile of messed up cuts, waste pieces, etc. You never know when they’ll come in handy!
  3. Don’t worry about the small chips on the edges of each board where they are cut. These will be covered by the baseboards.
  4. Get the appropriate blade for each saw. Bamboo is a very hard material, and if your blade isn’t sharp enough or aggressive enough, it will chip unnecessarily. If you are using a softer wood, this won’t be as much of an issue.
  5. If you are planning on installing new floors on your stairs as well, finish those last. The stairs were much harder than the initial flooring install, and I was really glad that I had the experience of laying 800+ square feet of flooring behind me before tackling that project.

After a long 5 months (I was pregnant at the time and pretty sick, so progress was slow going), we finally finished our floating engineered wood flooring install.

Reveal and My Thoughts

Total Cost

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

Once everything was complete for this DIY floating flooring install, we had spent around $5,000. For the amount of flooring and the fact that we tackled refinishing the stairs at the same time (they ate up almost $1,000 of that budget), I think that’s a bargain, especially when it would have easily been double that to hire a professional.

We actually utilized Lumber Liquidator’s 0% financing and paid it off within the promotional period to help finance the project. I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t usually have $5,000 laying around without a purpose. I think as long as you can set aside a budget each month to pay off big purchases like this, it’s a great option.

And because if I was reading this post I would be wondering, no, this post isn’t sponsored at all. I bought all of the materials, tools, etc. with my own money. I’m pretty sure Lumber Liquidators has NO IDEA who I am.

As far as how I feel about them? I’m in love. Birds sing everytime I look at them. I’m magically transformed into a Disney princess and my hair gets an instant blowout. Kidding, but they are pretty nice.

Durability

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

Our bamboo floors have held up extremely well in the couple of years we’ve had it so far. We’ve had toddlers drag toys across them, babies drool on them, and our dog has dropped her heavy, sharp chew toys on them on more than one occasion.

The only place we’ve seen some wear and tear is in our office underneath the chairs. I didn’t think about the casters potentially scratching the wood, but they did. Micro-scratches, but they were enough to make it look a little hazy underneath each chair. I just applied some wood reconditioner in a dark stain color, which filled in all the surface scratches, and it looks as good as new! I also switched out the original casters on our office chairs for non-scratching ones. Super easy switch!

Sound

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

Even with two kids, a dog, and several heavy footed walkers, unwanted sound has not been an issue any more than any other hard surface material would be. Of course, carpet would absorb a lot more sound, but I never feel like the rooms feel echo-y or overly loud.

That being said, we have a lot of walls upstairs. Our first floor is fairly open concept, but the second floor is pretty chopped up. Sound just doesn’t have much room to travel before it hits a wall. That, and the kid’s rooms are really small. If you have a super open floor plan, I’d say just invest in some rugs!

Cleaning

In terms of cleaning, these floors are super low maintenance. I sweep when they need it, and use a VERY slightly damp microfiber mop to clean them when they get super dirty. We don’t typically wear shoes upstairs, so they stay pretty clean.

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

FAQ – How To Install Engineered Wood Floors Over Plywood

I get a lot of questions about our floors and how they’ve been holding up. Two years later, I can say I’m incredibly happy with them. It’s easily been the biggest change in our home, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

  • Why bamboo hardwoods?
    • I do my best to do things that are good for our planet AND good for my wallet. This particular flooring was cheap, durable, and green, so it checked all the right boxes.
  • It’s so dark! Does it show dog hair and dirt?
    • Dog hair, no. Dirt, yes. But I’m in the camp of wanting to see the dirt – I don’t want it hiding! Wouldn’t you rather KNOW your floors are clean instead of ignoring the dirt? A color that hides more doesn’t mean your floors are cleaner, it just means you can’t see it as well.
  • Is it loud?
    • Nope! It is definitely louder than carpet would have been, but I never feel like our second story is home to a herd of elephants or anything.
  • Why floating?
    • It was the easiest installation method. I wasn’t interested in renting a flooring gun or gluing anything down.
  • Where are the transition pieces?
    • I read, re-read, and read again the instructions/installation manual that came with our floors. Floating installations can tolerate a certain amount of length and width before you need to install a transition, and we came in just under that so the entire installation is seamless.
  • My installation guide says to mix wood between the boxes. Do I really have to do that?
    • I didn’t. Mostly because I couldn’t remember what wood was from what box, and partly because I just didn’t see that much variation from box to box. It might be more important in a lighter colored material, but with something as dark as what we installed, it was a non-issue.

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out! Learning how to install engineered wood flooring over plywood is totally doable for pretty much anyone. Do the research, be patient, put in the work, and installing a floating bamboo floor won’t seem so hard. It will also generally go much more quickly than ours did (since you probably won’t be super pregnant and therefore incredibly uncomfortable the whole time. Bless my husband for putting up with me during this renovation). I would do this project again in a heartbeat, and love walking on these floors every single day.

How To Install Engineered Wood Flooring Over Plywood

Blog, Emma's Room, Flooring

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Have you ever wondered if that big check you just wrote to a contractor could have been saved if you had just done it yourself? You’re smart, and can do anything if you learn! Well, I completely agree – that’s basically my mantra for life around here at DIY Without Fear: I think 99% of home projects can be completed by the average homeowner, and you shouldn’t have to hire things out if you don’t want to. But sometimes…it’s the better choice to call a professional. (Spoiler alert: I’ve never regretted it)

In the past few years of owning my home, I’ve tackled some pretty big projects – tearing down a wall in our office, installing bamboo hardwoods on our stairs and throughout the second floor, wiring new fixtures in the downstairs hallway, and now I’m in the middle of a kitchen renovation that I intend to do almost completely by myself (with my lovely husband’s help, of course.)

And I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve called a pro in. Once for a plumbing issue that I can’t even remember what it was now, a few times for our old AC unit (you often can’t DIY that legally), once for an electrician for some non-code wiring that needed sorted out in our attic, another time for an electrician when something went bad in our main panel (DON’T DIY that one…you could legit die), and once for baseboards because I was being lazy. That’s it for the 3 years we’ve lived here so far.

I love DIYing, but there are some instances when hiring it out just makes more sense, and there are some projects I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.

Deciding when to DIY and when to hire a contractor can be complicated. There are lots of things to consider, but I’ve gathered them all up in one place for you! Let’s get started!

Have you ever wondered if that big check you just wrote to a contractor could have been saved if you had just done it yourself? You’re smart, and can do anything if you learn! I completely agree - that’s basically my mantra for life around here at DIY Without Fear: I think 99% of home projects can be completed by the average homeowner, and you shouldn’t have to hire things out if you don’t want to. But sometimes...it’s the better choice to call a professional. (Spoiler alert: I've never regretted it)

Time

It took us almost 5 MONTHS to finish the bamboo floors we laid throughout our second story. Part of it was that it was a big project with a lot of mundane elements. It wasn’t exciting. Part of it was that I was pregnant and really uncomfortable, so spending my weekends laying hardwoods wasn’t my idea of a good time. A professional, though? Probably could have knocked it out in a few days.

When you’re considering when to DIY and when to hire a contractor, think about how long it will take for you to do it vs. a professional. Then double the DIY estimate – that’s more along the lines of what it will actually take. It’s not usually the do-ing that takes forever, it’s the getting ready to do it, running to Lowe’s AGAIN, cleaning up in between, taking care of kids, etc.

If you have that kind of time – great! Or if you don’t mind stretching out a renovation over a few months, that works too. But if time is of the essence, or if you’d rather spend your time doing other things, consider hiring it out.

Another thing to consider is whether or not it is possible to live in your home with a half finished project for awhile. If you’ve got little kids, pets, etc, you’ll have to think about how to keep them safe while you work on things. It isn’t realistic to live without a kitchen sink for months. It doesn’t make you a bad DIYer if you hire a contractor – sometimes the time you save when you hire one is worth more than the cost.

Have you ever wondered if that big check you just wrote to a contractor could have been saved if you had just done it yourself? You’re smart, and can do anything if you learn! I completely agree - that’s basically my mantra for life around here at DIY Without Fear: I think 99% of home projects can be completed by the average homeowner, and you shouldn’t have to hire things out if you don’t want to. But sometimes...it’s the better choice to call a professional. (Spoiler alert: I've never regretted it)

Budget

This is usually the biggest influence for me – I think if I had all the money in the world, I’d still DIY a few things but I’d hire out a lot more things than I do now. Not that I don’t love DIY, I really do, but I hate drywall, and plumbing is just plain gross. And until I’m lounging on my yacht drinking more mimosas than one should have before 10 AM, I’m happy to trade my time for more money in my pocket.

Budget is the main reason that we’re choosing to DIY our kitchen remodel (and because I love a big project!). The quotes I got back from contractors were 5 figures, and not low ones. One wanted $50,000 to do it. I know we will come in WAY below that since we’re doing it ourselves. Just framing the new wall (pictured above) saved us at least $500.

When choosing between when to DIY and when to hire a contractor, there’s never going to be a time when a contractor is going to be cheaper than DIY – and there shouldn’t be. Contractors are skilled professionals that deserve to be compensated for their time. But if cost is the most important factor, buckle in and head to your home improvement store…you’re gonna DIY. Keep reading though, I get into this much more later.

Have you ever wondered if that big check you just wrote to a contractor could have been saved if you had just done it yourself? You’re smart, and can do anything if you learn! I completely agree - that’s basically my mantra for life around here at DIY Without Fear: I think 99% of home projects can be completed by the average homeowner, and you shouldn’t have to hire things out if you don’t want to. But sometimes...it’s the better choice to call a professional. (Spoiler alert: I've never regretted it)

Safety

Would you jump off a cliff with nothing attached to you? Probably not. Would you jump off a cliff with a safety rope? Maybe (still a nope for me, though!). Would you jump off a cliff if it didn’t even feel like jumping? Sure.

Look – basically every home renovation/DIY project involves some sort of safety hazard. Even something as mundane as painting – if you were to ingest the paint you would get seriously sick. But you know not to do that, so painting seems super safe, right? It’s a risk you are willing to take, because it doesn’t feel like a risk.

Think of your knowledge and skills as your safety net. Can they make it feel like you’re not even jumping off that cliff we just talked about? Then you can probably do that project you’ve been thinking about! But if you feel like your knowledge and skills are only enough to be a safety rope, then maybe take a moment to pause and consider if you are willing to take that risk.

You can only decide what you are comfortable with. If you think your skills and knowledge are solid enough to keep you safe, go for it. But if you have any hesitation, I’d say err on the side of caution. For example, a few years ago our AC unit died. You can’t legally work on (parts of) an AC unit as an unlicensed homeowner, so we called our AC guy. He came out and fixed everything, but it turns out when the AC died, it also killed a breaker in our main box.

Electrical is an easy thing to DIY most of the time – as long as you cap everything off and know your wiring diagrams, it’s hard to mess up. Plus the danger of the project can be managed since you can turn off power to whatever outlet or fixture you’re working on. The main box, however, cannot be turned off. That’s where power from your provider first comes to your house, and it’s a LOT of power. Like, touch it and you’ll be thrown back and probably die. (This got super dark, but it really is that dangerous). I knew exactly what I needed to do to fix the fried breaker, but wasn’t willing to take the risk of accidentally touching the main bus and making my hair frizzier than it has ever been before. My kids need me more than I need to save a few hundred dollars, so I hired it out.

So when deciding when to DIY and when to hire a contractor, figure out what you’re comfortable with, and if you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it – it isn’t. Don’t jump off a cliff just to save a few bucks.

Have you ever wondered if that big check you just wrote to a contractor could have been saved if you had just done it yourself? You’re smart, and can do anything if you learn! I completely agree - that’s basically my mantra for life around here at DIY Without Fear: I think 99% of home projects can be completed by the average homeowner, and you shouldn’t have to hire things out if you don’t want to. But sometimes...it’s the better choice to call a professional. (Spoiler alert: I've never regretted it)

Knowledge

YouTube is an amazing thing. My grandparents and parents lived in a DIY world where you could only look things up in books and there weren’t hundreds of videos on every topic. But we live in an amazing world where you can learn SO MUCH for free just by typing it into Google or YouTube.

That being said, just because the information is out there doesn’t mean you are going to be able to understand it. All knowledge is built on previous knowledge, and if you’re looking up how to wire three way switches before you even understand what a breaker does, you’re gonna have a hard time learning much.

Part of deciding when to DIY and when to hire a contractor is being honest with yourself. And sometimes you just suck at something. For me, it’s drywall. Every patch in our home looks like something out of a nightmare. I’m getting better, and learning a ton in the process, but…yeah. It’s not a good look. If you aren’t as stubborn as I am, it’s probably worth it to outsource the things you aren’t very good at.

Additionally, there are some things you just can’t teach yourself. In our kitchen, we’re moving a sink hookup around a vent in an exterior wall to a new location about 3 feet over. That’s such a specific job. I haven’t been able to find ANYTHING about it online or at my local library, and I don’t think it’s something that I could teach myself. So? We’re hiring it out, and I’m super okay with that.

Basically, if you have time to dive deep and learn what you need for a project, AND the information you need is out there, I’d say you’re looking at a fun weekend of DIY! If not, hire a pro. It doesn’t make you any less of a DIYer.

Have you ever wondered if that big check you just wrote to a contractor could have been saved if you had just done it yourself? You’re smart, and can do anything if you learn! I completely agree - that’s basically my mantra for life around here at DIY Without Fear: I think 99% of home projects can be completed by the average homeowner, and you shouldn’t have to hire things out if you don’t want to. But sometimes...it’s the better choice to call a professional. (Spoiler alert: I've never regretted it)

Consequences

The backsplash I recently tiled isn’t going to win any tile awards (is that a thing? I hope that’s a thing, and if so, sign me up.), but I’m still pretty happy with how it turned out. Because we did a decent job, it adds value to our home.

But just for argument’s sake, let’s say someone did a mediocre job on major plumbing installs in my kitchen. They worked okay, but not perfectly. Let’s say they leaked juuust a little bit. In this hypothetical world, they didn’t notice the leak, and covered it up with drywall and tile. A few years down the road, it starts to smell musty. Unfortunately, because they did a mediocre job installing, there are now huge consequences…probably resulting in completely remodeling their kitchen.

And it isn’t even hypothetical in our home. The sink install I mentioned above? Yeah, it’s been leaking for 20 years, which led to lots of mold (you can see some of it in the picture above). Our entire kitchen renovation was started because of the mold issue, and it could have been avoided if the water lines had been installed properly.

Pros are much more likely to install things correctly, but you also have the law on your side if they mess it up (in your insurance’s eyes anyway). Insurance probably won’t cover issues like my kitchen sink, but newer work that is done incorrectly will most likely be covered. But if you do it? Tough cookies – you won’t see a dime from your insurance and will have to foot the bill to fix it.

Have you ever wondered if that big check you just wrote to a contractor could have been saved if you had just done it yourself? You’re smart, and can do anything if you learn! I completely agree - that’s basically my mantra for life around here at DIY Without Fear: I think 99% of home projects can be completed by the average homeowner, and you shouldn’t have to hire things out if you don’t want to. But sometimes...it’s the better choice to call a professional. (Spoiler alert: I've never regretted it)

Tools

One more thing to consider when deciding when to DIY and when to hire a contractor is tools. Tools are expensive, yo. And lots of projects need very specialized (and often expensive) tools. If you’re an avid DIYer, it might be worthwhile to invest in them, but if you are just trying to fix something once? Ehhh, probably not worth it. Think about if the cost of the tool would outweigh the cost of the professional…if so, you’ve got your answer on whether to hire one or not.

That being said, you can rent things WAY cheaper than buying. I think most people won’t need a huge industrial grade auger for anything outside of digging post holes for a fence. It definitely doesn’t make sense to buy one, but renting it would be perfect, since hand digging those holes would be a giant PITA.

Whether you buy or rent, tools are only good if you know how to use them. A pro will certainly know which tool you need, how to use it, and already have it with them. If you can learn those skills too (and the tool or rental is in your budget), then tools shouldn’t stop you from DIYing.

Have you ever wondered if that big check you just wrote to a contractor could have been saved if you had just done it yourself? You’re smart, and can do anything if you learn! I completely agree - that’s basically my mantra for life around here at DIY Without Fear: I think 99% of home projects can be completed by the average homeowner, and you shouldn’t have to hire things out if you don’t want to. But sometimes...it’s the better choice to call a professional. (Spoiler alert: I've never regretted it)

Permits

I’m gonna let you in on a dirty secret in the DIY world. A lot of the projects you see people DIY actually require permits (depending on where you live, of course). But are code officers knocking on people’s doors? No way – they just don’t have time for that. For example, in Austin (where I live), you are required to get a permit for anything not on this list. Do you really think everyone in Austin got a permit to unclog their drains when they had to remove and replace some of the plumbing? Or that a code officer would really care? I don’t. And they won’t know unless you tell someone (or a code officer happens to knock on your door).

I’m definitely not saying break the law, just to be clear. I’m just saying a lot of homeowners do work that requires a permit without even knowing it because permits tend to be really restrictive. But permits are there for a reason – to keep people safe. If you need a permit, you might need a contractor. It doesn’t mean you can’t complete the work yourself, but it should probably give you pause about whether or not to hire a pro.

Have you ever wondered if that big check you just wrote to a contractor could have been saved if you had just done it yourself? You’re smart, and can do anything if you learn! I completely agree - that’s basically my mantra for life around here at DIY Without Fear: I think 99% of home projects can be completed by the average homeowner, and you shouldn’t have to hire things out if you don’t want to. But sometimes...it’s the better choice to call a professional. (Spoiler alert: I've never regretted it)

Enjoyment

Some people (like you and me) really enjoy DIY and working on their homes. There’s something really satisfying about being able to say that you built that. Or you fixed that. It’s fun to accomplish things! If you’re going to enjoy it, go ahead! Dig in! But PS: The inverse is true, too.

When we installed the bamboo floors on the top level of our home, I enjoyed the process (mostly) but was happy when it was over. Except I never got around to baseboards. And when I went to do it, I sucked at it and it was taking FIVE-EVER. I don’t like sucking at things, and with two under two, I just didn’t have the time. I called a pro and never looked back.

Or plumbing. It’s just gross. Even clean water lines – there’s not a person in the world that likes water pouring from a mysterious pipe splashing on them. Or worse, fixing a toilet. If you enjoy those things, more power to ya (but you’re probably already a plumber!), so I’m gonna agree to disagree.

Have you ever wondered if that big check you just wrote to a contractor could have been saved if you had just done it yourself? You’re smart, and can do anything if you learn! I completely agree - that’s basically my mantra for life around here at DIY Without Fear: I think 99% of home projects can be completed by the average homeowner, and you shouldn’t have to hire things out if you don’t want to. But sometimes...it’s the better choice to call a professional. (Spoiler alert: I've never regretted it)

How To Cost Compare between Contractors and DIY

Remember when I told you to keep reading in that budget section up above? Here’s the part in this post I was talking about.

When considering when to DIY and when to hire a contractor, DIYing will always be cheaper (and in my opinion, more rewarding), but that doesn’t mean it’s always the better choice. It’s hard to compare apples to oranges, so let’s break it down. You need to know whether or not it’s worth it to pay a pro to help you complete your project. Here’s how:

  1. What would a pro charge? Have two or three contractors come out and give you an estimate (I’ve even been able to get an estimate from people over the phone or through an app with a good description and pictures). If you are just wanting a quick comparison, there’s a really cool tool developed by Fixr that can give you a ballpark. HomeAdvisor also has an estimator.
  2. How much will it cost you? Put together a budget and estimate what all the materials and tools will cost you. Subtract that from step one (the pro’s cost), and you’ll see how much you can save!

But that’s not the whole story. Your time is worth something. Think about this – even if you worked a minimum wage job, your time is worth a heckuva lot more than $0. So let’s figure out your hourly wage for this potential DIY project.

  1. How long will it take? You can use estimates from forums, home renovation books, or just your own feelings about the time you’ll spend. It also depends on your experience and skills/knowledge – the more you know and the more you’ve done it, the quicker you’ll be.
  2. Calculate your hourly wage. Take the potential savings you calculated from DIYing it, and divide that by the number of hours you’re estimating you’ll spend on it. That’s essentially how much you’re paying yourself to do the job.

The question is – are you willing to work for that rate? When you’re deciding between when to DIY and when to hire a contractor, you can justify an awful lot with whether or not you think you’re worth it, but if you don’t have the funds to pay a pro to do it? You’re gonna be DIYing it regardless. I don’t think it’s necessary to do these calculations if you know you can’t afford the bids from the pros…just go ahead and roll up your sleeves and get started. (Just like we did in our kitchen remodel)

Just to give you an idea of the kinds of things (in my opinion) that should and shouldn’t be DIYed, I’ve put together some lists below. They are certainly not exhaustive but can give you an idea of the scale of things you can tackle. BUT! Just because something is on the DIY list doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hire a pro if that’s what you feel in your gut. And on the other hand, if you feel capable of tackling something on the Pro list (as long as it’s legal and you’ll be safe), go for it.

Have you ever wondered if that big check you just wrote to a contractor could have been saved if you had just done it yourself? You’re smart, and can do anything if you learn! I completely agree - that’s basically my mantra for life around here at DIY Without Fear: I think 99% of home projects can be completed by the average homeowner, and you shouldn’t have to hire things out if you don’t want to. But sometimes...it’s the better choice to call a professional. (Spoiler alert: I've never regretted it)

Do It Yourself Friendly

  • Change out door knobs and other small cosmetic projects
  • Paint
  • Install ceiling fans
  • Change out outlets
  • Install smart thermostats
  • Install drywall
  • Simple electrical
  • Simple plumbing
  • Tile (look how great our backsplash turned out above our desk in the picture above!)
  • Installing fixtures
  • Install baseboards (I just didn’t want to!)
  • Demolition
  • Insulation
  • Hang Kitchen Cabinets

Professionals Only

  • HVAC
  • Structural issues
  • Mold/asbestos/lead/toxin removal
  • Additions/Major Remodels
  • Driveway repaving
  • Foundation work
  • Window installation
  • Tree removal
  • Major electrical work (or anything on the main panel)
  • Major plumbing
  • Roofing
  • Gutters
  • Major rodent/pest problems

Overall, when deciding when to DIY and when to hire a contractor, you just have to weigh the pros and cons. Your home is a huge investment, and it’s perfectly acceptable to want to make sure you’re making the right choice. Don’t be scared to tackle DIY projects (you can absolutely do 99% of projects in your home), but at the same time, don’t be penny rich and pound foolish. A good contractor is worth his or her weight in gold.

And if your head is spinning after this over 3,000-word blog post? Never fear. I put together a little flow chart for you to access anytime you’re considering whether or not to hire a pro.

When to DIY and When to Hire a Contractor

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