7 Unexpected Costs That Can Break Your Remodel Budget

My husband and I purchased our first home in April: A three-bedroom, two-bath 1939 fixer-upper with tons of potential and a self-contained, unfinished basement. Gears began to turn as soon as we saw the house: Why not convert the basement, which had a separate entrance, into an apartment? We could rent it out, pay for our mortgage, and live on the main level for free. Brilliant, right? We sure thought so. 

Both of us are handy, so we made the decision early on to cut out the middle man and do most of the work ourselves (but also decided to bring in individual contractors for the things way outside of our skillset). 

I’m here to tell you: It IS possible, but be ready for a wild ride. 

Cute, right? 

Before starting the project, we sat down and made a budget. Two weeks later, said budget was torn up and tossed out the window. So, in an effort to save you some cash and quite a few headaches, these are the things I wish I’d known to add to the budget during a do-it-yourself remodel.

1. Food 

Source: Studio McGee

While our kitchen was torn apart, my husband and I ate out, three meals a day, every day. Even when we were trying to be frugal and eat fast food (which my body is still angry with me about) we’d spend at least $20 per person, per day on food. $40 per day during a months-long remodel? You do the math. 

2. Gas and/or Truck Rental

Source: Domino

You pay plenty for labor when you bring in a contractor, but you save on the cost of hauling stuff around. Not only did our regular car gas bill DOUBLE during the initial stages of the remodel (we made 4+ daily trips to various home improvement stores), but we had to shell out on 5+ occasions for a truck rental to haul drywall, appliances, baseboards and trim, as well as various tools. This ended up amounting to hundreds of dollars. 

3. Tools and Supplies 

Source: Elizabeth Lawson Design 

Opting to do a remodel yourself can be a real money saver, but you’ll want to consider the cost of tools before foregoing the contractor. We already had the basics (stocked toolbox, drill, table saw), but we had to make trips to Home Depot and Harbor Freight almost daily to pick up all sorts of other tools and supplies (tile saw, sledgehammer, extension cords, ladder, etc.). Even small things like nails and drywall screws really add up. Oh, and you’ll need to rent an industrial-sized dumpster for all of your waste if you’re opting to do the demolition yourself (which can cost about $200 a week). 

So if you’re considering not hiring a contractor, budget an extra $1,000 for tools and supplies—more if you need that dumpster. 

4. Pet Boarding

Source: House of Jade Interiors

If you have a skittish pet (or one you can’t trust alone with construction materials) you may want to invest in pet boarding or daycare while the rough work is in progress. Bringing our dog to daycare a few days a week set us back well over $700 during our multi-month remodel. 

5. Code Laws

Source: Domino

This is an especially important factor to consider if you’re purchasing an old home. My house was built in 1939 and is chock-full of old charm (hi, arched doorways and round-cornered ceilings!) but that also means it’s changed hands many times over the years—with plenty of homeowners cutting corners and breaking code laws. On one especially upsetting day, we discovered a previous owner had routed a live gas line through the hot-air return near the furnace, making our house prime for an explosion should the line ever leak. Dandy, right? Plumbers charge a premium to reroute gas lines, which we had no choice but to shell out. 

6. Demo Day

Source: Marta Perez for The Everygirl

Chip and Joanna Gaines make tearing down walls look easy, but it turns out busting a sledgehammer through drywall is the only easy part. 

Chances are you’ll have electrical work, air ducts, or plumbing to reroute once the wall is knocked down. Definitely take a trip down into the basement or up into the attic to get a better idea of exactly what is in your walls before you have that iconic “demo day” moment. Get estimates from the professionals about how much those reroutes will cost before you take down the wall so you avoid an unknown dollar figure as you bust on through. 

7. Fixing Mistakes

Source: MyDomaine

While trying to move a wire over so we could install some under cabinet lighting in our rental unit’s kitchen, my husband drilled straight into a water line. Queue the hysteria as we frantically searched for the valve to shut off the flood of water soaking through our freshly installed drywall and laminate wood flooring. This was just one of the many (MANY) mistakes we made throughout this grueling process. On another occasion, we failed to correctly measure (and we measured twice) the primary wall of the kitchen by a little less than inch, forcing us to custom-order a cabinet and a slightly-smaller fridge. I wish I could say the list ended there, but it definitely doesn’t. The fact of the matter is, unless you’re a skilled and licensed professional, you will probably screw up at some point during your remodel. It will probably cost you hundreds, if not thousands. 

The moral of the story is to take a hard look at your finances before embarking on the perilous, heroic journey that is remodeling a home. When you’re certain you’ve come up with a reasonable number, go ahead and add a cool $5,000 (or more) to it, and then wait until you’ve saved up the funds in cold hard cash before you start. The last thing you want is to come face-to-face with a crisis (and when it comes to remodeling, there is always a crisis) and be forced to drain your savings or put thousands on a credit card in order to deal with it. Trust me—I would know. 

Would you dare take on a remodel yourself? Or have you already? What items busted your budget? 

  • NB

    Oof! Stressful. I admit I am also a sucker for old houses, and can easily romanticize the fixing-up process in my head. Thanks for the reality check. Cute house, and congrats on surviving the remodel!

  • Emma

    Great article and tips. Another aspect that might make cause mistakes (it did for us when we remodeled): there are no exact 90 degree angles in old apartments – keep this in mind before setting up standard measure cabinets. You might need to saw off a piece here and there to make it fit.

  • I work for a subcontractor and we primarily do work for a big box store. It is not cheap to do whole bathroom and kitchen remodels. Simply swapping out a tub can run $5k labor and materials while an entire kitchen remodel can be $35k or more. You definitely need someone experienced to guide you through the process so you meet code – things like moving electrical require an electrician. My ex told me about a guy who built a house without ever getting any permits. So when he was ready to have an electrician put in the electrical he was out of luck because he missed every single step he needed to get permission for prior. He never got a bldg permit and missed multiple inspections that had to take place at different parts of the project. He ended up with an unlivable house and a huge loss.