Before you pick up the power tools, save yourself time, energy, money, and hassle by preventing some of these amateur DIY mistakes!

Written by Northwest Mortgage

Published on Tue, Mar 15, 2022, Last Updated on Tue, Mar 15, 2022

So you’ve decided to test your mettle by DIYing your next home renovation! Before you start, you should know that when it comes to any home project, no matter how big or small, tasks, time, and material costs can quickly get out of hand and overwhelm the unsuspecting DIYer.

Before you get in over your head, it’s always good to do a little research about all the ways that other homeowners have gone wrong - so you don’t have to repeat their mistakes! Here are 5 common ways that homeowners botch their DIY projects (often before they even begin!):

1. Working without a permit

One of the benefits of working with a contractor is that they will arrange for all of the necessary permits. When you’re DIYing, though, that responsibility falls on you.

If you don’t get these permits, you risk problems and delays or, in the worst-case scenario, having your project demolished, which wastes all the sweaty labor and hard-earned money you poured into that project. In addition, if you ever need to sell your home, not having those permits on-hand could haunt you by affecting your resale value - or jeopardizing the actual sale itself.

Prevent these scenarios by contacting your county or local municipal building departments before starting on any projects. They will be able to determine whether you need a permit, how to get one if you do, and help your project go infinitely more smoothly before you ever break out the sledgehammer and power tools.

2. Buying cheap materials

“You get what you pay for” isn’t just a pithy adage: it’s true, especially when it comes to construction products and materials.

Cutting corners on the quality of your products saves some money up-front, but you’ll be paying for those cut corners down the road with material failures and more frequent maintenance. This is doubly true for appliances, surfaces, or objects that will have frequent, intense, or heavy use (such as kitchen counters/drawers/cabinets, bathroom appliances, etc.). Frequent use, even if the handling isn’t “rough,” will wear down low-quality materials in record time.

Investing in the highest-quality materials and appliances that fit your budget will help your improvements stand the test of time - they’ll last longer (5, 10, or more years, depending on the improvement), look better, and better retain their value (which improves the value of your home overall).

3. Having unrealistic expectations and budgets

When you’re renovating, you have to be realistic. Those HGTV time frames that promise full kitchen remodels, plus plumbing changes in all the bathrooms and bedroom improvements for $25,000 over the course of a weekend? NOT realistic for a DIY project, in any aspect! So don’t use those shows as a gauge.

Remodeling can be messy, noisy, and could inconvenience your living spaces for a significant amount of time. You will need to factor in your DIY skill level and your personal schedule when determining how much time, money, and effort any given project will take. Permitting (if necessary), saving for the project, and actually planning for how that project will get done will take more time than you may think. Resign yourself to all of these facts, because knowing those facts (and acting accordingly) can save you time and stress.

Doing a little research before you start your project, whether by searching online or asking people you know who have done renovations, will clue you in about what to expect before, during, and after your project.

Another essential aspect of unrealistic expectations is budgeting. Again, HGTV is not the best place to gauge prices for materials or appliances, especially luxury materials. Do your own research at several retailers, ask your network for referrals, and be patient - making sure you know EXACTLY what you want will make choosing your materials (and, therefore, making your budget) that much easier.

4. Planning poorly - or winging it

Construction of any kind, ESPECIALLY construction on your own home, is NOT something you want to “wing” and see what happens. Having a written plan, while anticipating that improvisation and adaptations will need to happen along the way, will help you keep the project (no matter how large or small) on track. Writing out a concrete plan might also help you keep your expectations realistic (see above!).

Budgeting, workflow, materials, overall architectural vision, interior design, and more fit into this stage. Do some digging to find out how much time is needed for every step of your project and allot your time/effort/money in accordance with those estimates. Figure out if you’ll need storage for displaced belongings or furniture, communicate with friends or relatives who want to help with labor, define project milestones and deadlines (if applicable), know when you need to have certain materials on-site, and do your best to anticipate other logistical concerns. The more information you have about what you’re planning to do before you start, the better off you’ll be while your renovation is happening - and the better it will turn out in the end.

5. Focusing too much on appearance (or sacrificing function for form)

While it’s fun to figure out the aesthetic of your home and pick out colors of tile, styles of cabinets, and materials for countertops, what you use that room for (and HOW you use it) is ultimately far more important than any abstract ideal of beauty.

Instead of prioritizing how you want the room to look, think more about how you want the room to function. So when you’re doing a remodel or renovation, ask yourself how you actually live in the space right now: where are the doors and windows? Can I get to them easily? What are the traffic patterns in this room? Can people get to where they need to go, or are they constantly stubbing their toes somewhere or tripping over each other?

These questions need to be answered first, because they will be the most expensive to modify later. If you need to build a half-wall - or destroy one - you want to do that before you decide to put cabinets on that wall (or not have cabinets on that wall).

So make a list of the biggest issues with the space you want to renovate and prioritize them. Issues with foot traffic will trump a drab wall color. Make sure that whatever renovations you make will make your life easier, not harder.


While the above are some of the most common mistakes, there’s obviously more mistakes that homeowners make on the regular! Here are a few mistakes we considered that didn’t quite make the cut:

  • Updating the wrong things and/or ignoring potentially expensive problems
  • Using the wrong kinds of paint
  • Underestimating the safety risks during demolition and construction
  • Tearing down walls without knowing what’s behind them
  • Not considering a home’s long-term needs

What was one piece of advice you wish you knew when you started your home renovation? Tell us in the comments! And if you’re looking for a home improvement loan, contact us at Northwest Mortgage!