DIY House Addition: To DIY or Hire Out?

It is the question, but the title of this series is DIY House Addition, so it’s almost like I’ve already given you the answer, isn’t it? But not so fast kids…

There are a lot of factors that come into play when building a house, putting on an addition, and most certainly when deciding to DIY either of those things. Most commonly found on that list?

  • Time
  • Money
  • Ability
  • Sanity

Then there are other things to consider, like, how likely is it that I murder my significant other with a power drill if we don’t seek professional assistance?

When we started project planning we had a list of things we would do and things we wouldn’t:


  • General Contracting – We know enough about the building process, are using a number of subs we know personally, and are both in the process of becoming licensed general contractors in the state of Michigan, so this was a no-brianer. Project cost savings $20,000- 30,000.
  • Foundation – My family owns a foundation company and MysteryMan works for them, another no-brainer.  Labor cost savings $15,000
  • Rough Frame -We started out with the intention of demoing and rough framing ourselves, however that meant leaving part of the existing house open to the elements until we figured out how the hell to build a roof over it. Since we only have 2-3 people and weekends to work on the project, we also expected this would take around 4 months to complete. After pricing out hiring a builder for this portion of the project, we decided the three and a half week time savings was well worth the additional cost.
  • Roofing – One of us used to be on a roofing crew.  Labor cost savings $6,000
  • Siding- Neither of us have sided a house, but we’re betting we can figure it out. Labor cost savings $5,000- 7,000
  • Interior framing – We’re at least halfway proficient from other DIY projects and there aren’t a whole lot of interior walls. Labor cost savings $4,000
  • Interior finish work – This is my area of expertise. Flooring, tiling, painting, and trim? Done and done. Labor cost savings $5,000 – 10,000


  • Demo & Rough Frame- (see above) The time savings is well worth the additional cost.
  • Utilities – (Plumbing, Electric, HVAC) Framing is one thing, making sure the house doesn’t burn down from an electrical fire is another.
  • Drywall – We can drywall, but it is SO WORTH paying someone else to deal with it.
  • Insulation- It costs just about the same to DIY and it can’t possibly be a fun job. We vote for professionals on this one.
  • Counters – Tile we’ll handle, but any solid-surface counters are getting hired out.

Overall, we expect to spend around $25,000 on labor (not including materials) for parts of the project we aren’t DIYing. We expect to save around $45,000 on labor for projects we will DIY. We also expect this to take significantly longer than it would to just hire the whole thing out.

So now you know the price we put on our sanity.

There isn’t any rule on what you should do yourself and what you shouldn’t– maybe you love doing utilities and hate using a framing nailer, or maybe you want someone else to deal with building the shell while you finish off the inside. It’s a personal choice, but this is what I would suggest…

  1. Price everything out. You can start with a good project cost calculator that splits out material and labor like the one at, but you’re going to want to get actual pricing from actual subs before you even think about starting as well. If nothing else you have it as a backup in case you find out you’re over your head. Once you know what everything costs, you’ll know what’s worth doing yourself and what is best left to the professionals. Labor is most expensive for items like rough carpentry, and a general contractor adds around 10% to your overall project cost.
  2. Create a realistic timeline. For us, the part was the most time sensitive and had the biggest gap between how long it would take us and how long it would take a professional was where we decided to massage our budget and spend the extra money.
  3. Have a backup plan. If you get halfway through putting in your plumbing and realize you actually have no idea what you’re doing you need to have a plan for how to get back on track. We estimated a certain percentage of our budget for “Oh shit!” moments.  We’re insane, not stupid.

Looking for more DIY House Addition info? Check out the full series here.

9 Responses

  1. This post makes me happy that there are at least two intelligent people in this country.

    No really, you made excellent choices. I must wholeheartedly agree that drywall is totally worth the cost of hiring a professional. And even though my hardwoods look awesome (in my opinion) after our DIY, I think it’s totally worth hiring out for floor refinishing as well!

    I love that you are posting so much about the progress, I feel like I’m there watching it all happen.

  2. There’s a reason “insanity” is part of my blog name (DIY Insanity) 🙂 I did everything except the seamless gutters and recycled glass + concrete countertops myself, from design to building, including all the utilities. But I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone — knowing your limits (and keeping to them) is a good thing.

  3. Haha…I read the title as “DIY House Addiction”.

    So far, we have hired out drywall finishing (definitely worth it), asbestos abatement (not even a question) and oil tank removal (not sure it would have even been legal to DIY).

    Some things that we have DIY’d that I never want to experience again:
    1. Completing tearing off our old roof and installing a new one.
    2. Partially digging out our crawl space.
    3. Forming and pouring new concrete footings and retaining walls.
    4. Shaving all the old paint off our cedar siding. And exterior painting in general.

    Sounds like you have a good balance of what’s worth hiring out and what’s not. Sometimes it’s easy for us to put too much emphasis on costs and forget about the value of our own time and sanity! Hiring out portions can also provide a nice little break so you don’t get burned out.

  4. Great post! I’m lucky my boy can plumb and wire a house (and electrical is one of his favorite tasks) so that’s saved us a ton of money because we’ve essentially re-wired the whole house. And because I’m an idiot, I actually like doing the drywall, Chris and I have our system down: he hangs, I mud and tape, he textures.

    I think finding the balance being subbing out (when you can/want to) and doing things yourself is really important. Knowing you want something DONE FAST and being willing to front that extra cost can really give you a push and drive to get your next projects done yourself because sometimes I really just want to throw a hammer out the window I’m so tired.

    One of my favorites sayings for constuction: FAST, CHEAP, RIGHT – you only get 2.

  5. A good question to ask oneself when sorting out DIY vs. hiring a contractor is, “Am I happy to let a reasonably-skilled and competent outside workman get on with this– or am I constantly going to be up his nose because I’m the only one who REALLY knows how I want this part of the job done and I’m thoroughly convinced I’m the only one who can actually do it right?”

    I mean, not driving the contractor insane has got to be factored in, too.

  6. I think we could all hold an insanity contest!

    Gene – I can’t even imagine how long that took. In my last house it took me five years just to get trim in the bathroom.

    Lauren- Addiction = also appropriate. lol. And your pics of taking the paint off your siding make it look SO easy. I love your house colors and I may shamelessly steal them for my own. We were trying to find the right color to go with white trim and cedar shakes.

    Meryl- You ARE insane. Love it!

    Kate H. – Also a good point. Though at least they get paid for their insanity.


Comments are closed.

I'm not interested in a mediocre life. I'm here to kick ass or die.