Don't waste materials

This point may seem obvious, but it is perhaps the fastest way to erode the savings from doing your own building/renovation work. Common problems include:

  • Not calculating the amount of materials you will need beforehand
  • Breakages
  • Excessive off cuts and mistakes
  • Not shopping around
[wasting materials] is perhaps the fastest way to erode the savings from doing your own building/renovation work

Before you go to the hardware store, make sure you take some measurements. Work out exactly how much of each material (e.g. tiles) you will need and then add 5% max for off cuts. You can always pop back later if you run out.

Breakages will hit you directly in the pocket. For example, wall boards (plaster) are very fragile. DIY renovators (and some builders) often forget that they need to be handled with extreme care, especially when being cut. This can be a costly mistake.

Remember the old saying "measure twice and cut once" and try to avoid excessive off cuts by being smart about how you cut longer materials up into smaller materials. For example, say you need two 600mm lengths of timber and you have a 1400mm length and a 2200mm length. It is probably best to cut up the 2200mm length because 1000mm is a more useful off cut than 200mm.

Shopping around doesn't just mean between stores, but within the same store as well. Do you really need the most expensive item in the store, or will a lower priced (and most likely lower quality) item do the same job? Pay good money for the tools you will use often, and look for savings in other areas.

Negotiate with trades people

Even the most experienced DIY handy person will need to call in trades people from time to time, especially for jobs that involve major plumbing or electrical work. Learning how to coordinate and negotiate with trades people can save you money.

Never accept a first quote, always get more than one quote and negotiate. Trades people often build "fat" into a quote to cover the risk that the job will take longer than expected. They may be willing to trim their initial quote if you provide more information on the job such as "easy under house access" or "new plumbing under the kitchen sink, just needs two new connections and about 3m of pipe".

Paying by the hour (plus materials) can be a good option if you trust your trades person.

Also be sure to clarify what parts of the job you are prepared to do yourself. We recently got a hot water cylinder installed outside. The plumber knocked about $400 off the first quote because we were willing to lay the concrete slab ourselves. It saved him a trip and only cost me $30 worth of ready-mix and about half an hour of my time.

Don't damage your home

You should take care not to damage existing fixtures when renovating. For example, it is very easy to break a window when carrying (or throwing) large or irregular shaped items around the house during renovations.

A renovation often begins with demolition of existing fixtures. But only destroy what you can afford to replace. Once you have pulled all the wall linings off it is too late to decide you should have just painted the old ones.

Stick to a plan

Making it up as you go along is fine of you have an unlimited budget. To avoid a budget blowout, do as much pre-planning as possible. There will always be unexpected expenses, but a well thought-out plan will keep surprises to a minimum.

For example, if you are planning to renovate your kitchen, think about:

  • What floor coverings do I want?
  • How much plumbing work needs to be done?
  • Do I need to replace the wall linings or can I just paint/skim coat?
  • Do I need new joinery and, if so, how much?

Don't bite off too much at once

This mistake can cost you both time and money. Before ripping into a room, think about whether the project can be done in stages. This planning is especially important for high-use rooms such as kitchens and bathrooms. Can the toilet remain in place until the new wall linings are on?

If you tear everything out at once, it puts a lot of pressure on you to get the job done fast. If you work full time, kitchen or bathroom renovation can take weeks. You don't want to be without a sink or toilet for all of that time, so plan carefully when different parts of the project will be started and completed. Having to call in the professionals because you decide you can't do without a toilet, sink, or shower for another day can be costly.