How to avoid hidden DIY costs

This Old House

Remodeling is rarely without unexpected (and expensive) complications. There's no way to avoid every pitfall, but a little early investigation can help you to avoid busting your budget. Here are our top hidden DIY costs to avoid. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Check for water damage

According to This Old House general contractor Tom Silva, it is fairly common to discover water damage after construction begins. Check under-sink cabinets and under counters for dark stains before work gets under way. You’ll see warning signs and get a sense of whether you need to set aside extra cash for rot repairs, mold cleanup, and whatever else.

Identify load-bearing walls

(Photo: David Carmack)



If you plan to combine two rooms or change the dimensions of one, it is essential that you distinguish the load-bearing walls. Removing a load-bearing wall is much more difficult and costly than removing one that the structure doesn’t rely on. If you aren’t sure how to pinpoint it, have a contractor, engineer, or architect advise you.

Determine what is inside walls

Cutting into walls is often necessary during a remodel, but don’t carve anything until you make sure you won’t be hacking into ducts, pipes, or wires. Check the other side of the wall for registers and radiators, and go to the attic to see if any pipes or ductwork enter the wall from there. Double-checking this can help you avoid an expensive and dangerous mistake.

Plan your layout and be thorough with your specs

(Photo: Tria Giovan)

Nailing down a layout that works for you is important, because it saves time, money, and tough decisions down the road. Having a layout on paper will help you to commit and make it less likely for you to be swayed by last-minute bells and whistles. If necessary, an experienced designer or planner can help you maximize storage, organize for proper flow, and choose alternatives for high-ticket materials. Take the time to draw up your final plan with detailed and clear specs that cover everything from the smallest measurements to the materials being used for floors, counters, cabinets, and lights. Always remember: a good plan is the recipe for a good, low-stress job.

Don’t overcustomize

Certain upgrades may seem like a great idea, but consider how necessary they will be in a few years.  It might seem useful to have counters low enough for your children to reach (people do this!) but you don’t want to be hunching over the cutting board in a few years when they are even taller than you. And, maybe building a dog bed into the corner nook may seem like an adorable idea, but if Fido doesn’t take to it, you can’t exactly talk him into it. Especially when it comes to kids’ bedrooms, careful not to go crazy with customized built-ins—they’re going to grow, after all.

Stay focused and keep original goals in mind

Make a practical, affordable list of remodel goals—and stick to it. Nothing drags out a DIY project more than stopping and saying, “Well, while I’m at it…” Making drastic goal changes after you have already taken a sledgehammer to your walls will bring you nothing but grief and wasted money. So be realistic and keep your budget in mind when considering what you’d like your outcome to be.

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