Be Smart When You DIY Home Improvement Projects

The idea of spending the weekend working around the house or apartment isn’t new. In fact, since “who knows actually when” it has always been a part of life. Even on the “Little House on the Prairie”, Pa (Michael Landon) was always “a fixin” something all the time. And so, DIY home improvement projects have been around a long time, but they seem to be enjoying a renewed popularity these days.

These days it's a popular option to DIY home improvement projects, but you need to be smart if you want to save money. Here are some considerations for the savvy DIYer.

Whether it’s repairing something that’s simply broken or remodeling your bathroom, kitchen, or basement, I am almost positive all of us have been there at least a few times. So the question that comes up a lot is this: How smart are you when you do home improvement projects?

Never use a butter knife to install a ceiling fan!

Whiling away a weekend with the old toolbox and a few hours of sweat can get your old digs upgraded and looking pretty good. You might even think it’s fun. Be honest, you have at least done some painting or minor repairs, haven’t you? I can recall my adventures in home repairs quite clearly back in time. It’s simply amazing how much time and energy I spent on so many projects and the lessons I learned from them.

One such adventure involved buying a couple of ceiling fans and trying to assemble and install them in my home. Being without much handyman skills (I come from a long line of folks that mostly “called” for professional help to do every kind of work), I barely had any tools or knowledge of even where the circuit breakers were located to safely begin. There were two particular things I did learn the hard way the day I attempted to install those ceiling fans.

  1. Don’t ever use a butter knife instead of a screwdriver to try and install anything!
  2. If you do any work around the house, make sure the rest of the family isn’t around or else whatever goes wrong will end up being their fault!

Will DIY save you money?

While the phonebook and local ads are filled with people and businesses that will do almost anything in and around your home for a fee (or a small fortune), home repairs and remodeling have given the term “weekend warrior” new meaning. It seems if you ask someone a simple question like “hey, how was your weekend?” these days, a good number of the replies you get involve something like, “oh wow, yeah I just spent the weekend painting the living and dining rooms” or “I had a problem with our plumbing and spent the weekend between the store and the main bathroom with repairs”.

But before you tackle that home improvement project, you need to consider a few things. Do you have the skills needed to complete the project? YouTube is a great source of how-to videos that can help you do all sorts of repairs and improvements. But some projects are a matter of a safety and if you don’t know enough about how to do them, you’re better off hiring a pro.

Will DIY save you money over hiring someone to do it? Sometimes the cost of supplies and tools is so great that it doesn’t make sense to DIY. One way to save costs is to borrow or rent tools that you need for just a project or two. Another way to save is to share supplies with a friend or neighbor doing a similar project and get a bulk discount.

If you’re going ahead with your DIY home improvement, the next question is…

Should you choose Home Depot, Lowe’s, or some other home improvement store to shop and get the best deal?

*For the record, my recommendations are my own opinions and I am not being compensated in any way for them.

If you ask someone to name the leading home improvement retailer, they will most likely answer either Home Depot or Lowe’s. These two competitors have been the twin giants of their industry for decades, sharing the first and second positions in the hierarchy of the world’s largest home improvement retailers. Ironically, #2 Lowes, founded in 1946, is 32 years older than Home Depot. Sure there are others around, but the two biggies usually beat the rest with price, services, and selection.

The differences between stores are sometimes difficult to discern since they fiercely compete with each other over pricing and high-profit merchandise like tools. If you do any kind of home remodeling, whether something as simple as painting your kitchen, or on up to full-scale remodeling, Lowe’s and Home Depot are usually your safest bets.

Who really has the best prices?

Both Home Depot and Lowe’s battle prices on a daily basis. When all prices are averaged out, Home Depot and Lowe’s proved to have essentially the same prices. Of course, every week there are specials, discounts, and ads both in print and online, and you can sign up for email notices and special discount and credit card options to get even better deals. But all in all they are very similar in almost everything from brand selection, services offered, and location near your home.

It is common to find similar popular items priced within pennies of each other at these stores. But, less popular items (plumbing, electrical, HVAC) tend to have the greatest price disparity, so comparison shopping is a best way to get the best deal.

One thing I really like about Lowes’s is that they offer a 5% discount if you shop with their Lowes’s credit card, both on sale and regular prices. Both companies very often have special credit terms on their own cards that will offer no interest on purchases that qualify with a minimum buy (usually $299 or $399). By the way, that’s just one more reason to have and keep a good credit rating. Having one gets you deals like “no interest” and saves you a lot of money!

Are there brand differences?

Both Lowe’s and Home Depot carry store and exclusive brands. Each has their own branded tools. Lowe’s has Pella new-construction windows while Home Depot carries Andersen windows. When it comes to paints, Home Depot has Behr and Glidden paints while Lowe’s has a special arrangement with Sherwin-Williams.

Since both stores have their own store branded items, they are very focused on steering the customer right to them, so be cautious. It’s obvious that’s where the stores have their highest profit margins, so always keep in mind that they may not be the best for you even if they are better priced at retail. Quality usually costs a little more in a product although not every time. Do your homework before you commit your money to any big project.

One good point to know is that none of the employees at these stores are paid on commissions, so they aren’t pushing products specifically to make more money for themselves.

Online shopping and in-store pickup

Both of these two giants offer online shopping, and you can pick up in-stock merchandise at your local store if you so choose.

They both will deliver heavy items from local stores such as fence panels, masonry, landscape rock, and lumber. Smaller items such as light fixtures, electrical parts, blinds, and tools are serviced from warehouse distribution centers and are delivered by FedEx, USPS, or UPS mostly for a fee, although there are free deliveries from time to time if you take advantage of promotions.

Final thoughts

If you want to spend your money on having a contractor or handyman do some work around you house, you won’t be alone. It’s a huge business for sure. But owning a house or having an apartment sometimes involves repairs, upgrades, or just-for-fun improvements that will cause you to become a “weekend warrior” at some point in your life. Although my own days of climbing up on my roof to fix a leak or installing backyard swing sets for the kids are in my rearview mirror, yours may be just beginning.

Even if you are an apartment dweller and not planning to stay in any one place for the long term, you will still have some instances to need a visit a home improvement store.

The advantages of living more comfortably and even building more value into your living space are two excellent reasons to consider any repair or improvements. Always looking for the most cost-saving ways while still getting good quality is the goal and the big challenge. Dealing with reputable stores who stand by their products and services like Home Depot and Lowe’s is a pretty good bet.

Are you into DIY home improvement projects or being a weekend warrior? What projects have you done or need to do and which stores do you prefer? Why do you like any one particular store over another?


  1. Thanks for the tips Gary! We are planning to build a few furniture for our apartment soon. We found out that it’s quite expensive to DIY furnitures in Switzerland. But after looking for long and comparing many shops we found some good prices for wood. We’ll see how that goes.

  2. That’s true. DIY home improvement projects have been around for a long time, although now when we have so many blogs, Pinterest, it seems to be even more popular.
    The tips you gave about using a budder knife instead of a screwdriver to install something, I agree with you. That’s a bad idea!
    And DIY projects really can save you money but only if you do them yourself not ask for help from a professional but of course there are also things you shouldn’t try yourself..

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