DIY Flooring – Is It Worth the Money Saved?

Is DIY Flooring Worth the Money Saved?

The Mrs. and I don’t like carpet. We bought our current home in 2015 with the intention of replacing the carpets with hardwood flooring. I was prepared to “embrace the suck” of DIY flooring.

After we moved in, our steam-cleaned carpets no longer smelled like they were steam cleaned. A serious funk started permeating the house and I knew the carpets were to blame.

Rather than pay an arm and a leg to get hardwood flooring professionally installed, I decided to learn as much as I could by taking the DIY flooring route.

Let’s be honest, though. Many people don’t install flooring themselves because they enjoy it (except for Mr. Money Mustache) or just want to learn.

The purpose of DIY flooring is to save money.

DIY Flooring – Lessons Learned Installing 1550 Square Feet

Is DIY Flooring Worth the Money Saved?

I didn’t want to put in wood flooring because, eventually, I’m going to rent this house out. Plus I wanted something that was reasonably easier to clean and maintain than wood, so I decided to put in luxury vinyl plank flooring downstairs and laminate flooring upstairs.

1. Competence Can Be Developed

I had never replaced carpeting or installed any kind of flooring in my life. When I was a teenager, I did rip out some old purple … that’s right … purple carpet from my bedroom. The floor underneath was finished oak. It was beautiful! Why would anyone want to cover beautiful oak flooring with purple carpet?

Anyone who thinks carpet is okay needs to remove old carpet and padding to see what it looks and smells like underneath. The dust (consisting of millions of dead bugs), hairs and stains in the carpet and padding are absolutely disgusting. Most people will never go back to carpet.

I did leave carpet on the stairs because I have little kids and am afraid they might slip on them. Additionally, installing hardwood on stairs is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. The stairs are a challenge that I’m saving for a later date.

Even though I had never replaced any flooring before, I was confident in my ability to follow instructions and properly use tools. YouTube and Google are great instructors. 🙂

DIY Flooring Laminate
View from 2nd floor hallway outside guest bathroom. That linoleum floor is a future project!

2. Get Help from Others

I have a friend at work who has replaced carpet, laminate, and wood flooring before. He offered to help me on my project but I politely declined. It’s great to have friends who know things I don’t know. I’m not ashamed to admit when I don’t know something.

Had I been more pressed for time, I would have taken him up on his offer. I didn’t ask for any help because I allowed myself several months to complete my DIY flooring project.

My father-in-law did help a few days when he visited but realized quickly that I was a bit more meticulous about doing quality work than he was. I still appreciated his help, though, and thanked him for it. He ended up watching the kids occasionally…

3. Time is Critical

DIY flooring takes a lot of time, especially if you don’t have the help of someone who’s done it before.

Typically, the only time you’ll have to replace the existing flooring is in between rentals, immediately after your last tenant has moved out. Obviously, time is of the essence because the sooner you get your floors done, the sooner you can get new tenants in.

The Summer is when people move most often so you’ll want your leases to start and end during this time, ideally. Unfortunately, this is also the busiest time of the year for contractors. Unless you’ve coordinated for contractors in advance, you may have a hard time getting everything done when you need it done.

I chose to go the DIY flooring route because we lived in our home and had plenty of time to spread the work out over weeks, months, or years if necessary. Unfortunately, my DIY flooring project has become a multi-year undertaking because I’m not done with the kitchen floors.

I did not track how many hours I’ve spent doing all this work but I’ve easily spent over 120 hours with my DIY flooring project. Could I have better spent my time elsewhere? Absolutely, yes. Did I save 120+ hours in money? Not even close. But this is the price I’m willing to pay in order to learn … even if it’s the hard way.

4. Prep Work Sure Is a Lot of Work!

If you’re in between rentals, prep work will not be too big of an issue. If you or your tenants are currently living in the house that needs new flooring, all that furniture might be a problem. Where will it be stored and who’s going to move it? If you’re using contractors, they will most likely charge extra.

DIY Flooring Vinyl Plank
View of the dining room with TrafficMASTER Allure Ultra Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring. Okay…

By taking the DIY flooring route, I was able to install the flooring one room at a time at my convenience. I moved furniture from one side of the room, finished the opposite side, and then move the furniture to the finished side so I could complete the room. This saved me a ton of hassle but also extended the time required to complete each room.

Prep work consisted of removing carpet, padding, tack strips, and nails. Additionally, I had to make sure all the subfloors were clean and level. Prep work for vinyl plank flooring is critical because, eventually, every imperfection in the subfloors will show. I’m not crazy about the look but it’s much better than carpet and, better yet, it’s almost indestructible.

Eventually, I’ll replace the vinyl plank flooring on the first floor with higher quality laminate flooring when we move and rent our home out. I’m not planning on using vinyl plank flooring again because it feels cheap.

5. Know How Much Everything Costs

I’m not going to list specific prices of labor because there are too many variables like location, contractor, flooring type, etc…

DIY Flooring Laminate
View from hallway outside 2nd floor guest bedroom. No t-caps here or outside my kids’ bedroom. The laminate flooring here looks much better than the vinyl plank flooring in the dining room.

On the first floor, I installed vinyl plank flooring because so many real estate investors or landlords touted its resilience and cost-effectiveness.

I bought Home Depot’s TrafficMASTER Allure ultra luxury vinyl plank flooring in November 2015 for $3 per square foot. That’s not very cheap–I just noticed that the price dropped to $1.75 per square foot as of September 2017. Oh well!

A general rule of thumb is to add an additional 10% of flooring to your actual required square footage. You waste a lot of materials to install flooring in closets and to stagger your boards which makes your floors look good. The first floor needed 770 square feet (700 x 10% = 770) of flooring for a total of $2300.

The kitchen, bathroom, or laundry room floors are not done yet. Remember, this is a multi-year project.

On the second floor, I installed laminate flooring and padding that I picked up at Home Depot for $1.60 per square foot (padding included). Because I left the guest bathroom and master bathrooms floors intact, I only needed 935 square feet (850 + 10% = 935) of flooring for a total of $1500.

DIY Flooring Laminate
View of 2nd floor hallway from my office bedroom. I tried to continue the flooring straight into my office but didn’t want to completely disassemble my door frame in order to angle the 7.5″ wide flooring underneath. T-caps are okay…

Total cost of materials so far for 1550 square feet of flooring was $3800. Had I chosen to hire contractors, I would have spent well over $10,000.

Why I Chose DIY Flooring Over Professionally Installed Flooring

I’m a landlord and need to know as much as I can about home improvements and repairs. My wife and I didn’t invest in real estate. We moved out of the homes we previously bought and rented them out rather than sell them. We’re accidental landlords.

Luckily, we’ve had enough sense to buy single-family homes that are universally desirable:

  • 3 or more bedrooms
  • 2 or more bathrooms
  • in good condition
  • reasonably close to work
  • in a good school district

The most desirable homes don’t usually make the best long-term (rental property) real estate investments because they cost more relative to rents. However, they’re good for inexperienced real estate investors like us.

I’m going to buy my next single-family real estate investment property intentionally, not accidentally.

Read Why You Should Not Invest in Real Estate before you decide to invest in long-term residential real estate.

In the future, I’ll hire contractors in order to find and build a reliable and competent team. At least, I have a better understanding of what it takes to install flooring.

I also thought I might enjoy remodeling homes but I don’t!

Do you know the real reason why I chose DIY flooring over professionally installed flooring?

To save money!

People choose DIY flooring to save money. Period.

Do you have any experience with DIY flooring?

Are you considering DIY flooring in the future?

Please share with others and comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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18 Comments

  1. Great job! The floor looks really nice plus you get to keep all the tools. I haven’t done DIY flooring. We replaced carpet with hardwood at our rental and I hired a contractor to do it. I wanted to turn the unit around quickly and I just wrote off the cost.
    Next, we need to replace the carpet in the upstairs unit when it’s empty. I’ll probably hire that out too.

    1. I know I’ll have to replace the carpet in one of my rentals when the tenant moves out. I may do it myself because I’ll also have to paint the place too. One month’s rent is $1725. Hiring out the labor will be at least $5K. I can finish it in a month so I’ll probably do it myself and at least know it’s done right.

      Sometimes, it’s better to have contractors do the work, I totally agree, especially if you want a quick turn-around. I may consider it too if I’m too busy with work.

      Thanks for visiting my website and commenting, Joe! You made my day! 🙂

  2. Hey Darren,

    You’re absolutely right in that competence can be developed – that has been my experience in life. I think the issue is how much time and mental energy one is willing to invest in developing that competence, be it to save money or another reason.

    As a first-time homeowner, I’ve been forced to learn a few things about how houses work. For the time being, I’m taking a “need to know” approach (I’ll learn something if I’m not willing to pay for it, and therefore need to know). For instance, I’m not willing to learn pool maintenance, nor spend the time to do it right. I’ll gladly pay ~$95 per month.

    So yes, I think it boils down to investment of time and energy vs investment of money.

    1. I’ve done pool maintenance before. It isn’t too bad but if you have better things to do, I don’t blame you for hiring someone to do it. Heck, I don’t even mow my own small back yard. I pay someone $30 every two weeks and it frees up my time so I can spend quality time with my family and on other more important things. Our front yard is taken care of by the HOA.

      Thanks for stopping by to comment, Miguel. I appreciate it, as always! 🙂

  3. Hi Darren,

    Yes Google and Youtube can be your best friends when it comes to DIY.

    Your floors look like they were professionally installed, I could never guess that they were DIY. It def shows you were very meticulous about doing quality work. Keep it up!

    1. Hi Ms99to1%,

      Thanks. I still need to finish my kitchen but have been contemplating a fairly big renovation involving tearing down walls…

      Thanks for stopping by to comment. I appreciate it! 🙂

  4. Wow great job Darren! You saved a ton of money! I would brag too if my husband did ANY DIY in the home (he doesn’t, but offers and then I get worried and call a contractor lol). He’s like your father in law, not that meticulous. I really like the look of the laminate vinyl (is that what it’s called), it looks like wood but is so durable I hear and it would be great for when you have tenants. I agree with carpet, it’s so much maintenance and stuff gets stuck in their, dust, dander, hair, skin flakes (lol) that it’s so hard to maintain. I had an area rug and ended up throwing it away so everything is just laminate now.

    We will be building a home in the near future so we’ll be considering flooring choices- thanks for the post!

    1. When we buy our “final” home, we’re going to put in hardwood flooring and tiles. Laminate flooring and tiles are great for renters who probably won’t be so gentle on hardwoods. I’m not a fan of Home Depot’s luxury vinyl plank flooring. I’m sure there are much better options in luxury vinyl plank flooring but ours are separating in certain areas.

      I will never put carpeting in any home again, ever. DISGUSTING!

      Thanks for stopping by to comment, G.Y.M. I appreciate it! 🙂

  5. It seems crazy we decide to carpet and leave it there for 30, 40, 50+ years! Your DIY looks professional! I probably would have gone the DIY route if I were in your place as well. I think the biggest blocker generally with the DIY version is the mess, though honestly it’s easy enough to clean up if you just commit yourself to the idea that the place will be pretty messy for a few days (depending on the project).

    By the way, did you purchase the planks with a credit card? Many credit cards have price protection and you can submit a claim to be mailed a check for the difference (I think the time range is generally 90 days)!

    1. You’re absolutely right about the mess. My garage is still a mess and I haven’t finished my DIY yet, because I’m considering doing a kitchen makeover. Would love to open up the walls and have a more open-concept. I don’t want to do any upgrades only to turn around a few years down the road and redo what I had done before. Wasted effort and money.

      I purchased my flooring with credit cards over a few years ago. Although I did not intend to recoup any money with price protection, I’ve been monitoring flooring prices for future projects. That drop in vinyl plank flooring took me by surprise but I noticed Home Depot has a new vinyl plank flooring line. Maybe they’re trying to get rid of their inventory of their TrafficMASTER brand. I seriously can’t recommend them because they don’t stick together well.

      Thanks for stopping by to comment, Jing. I appreciate it! 🙂

  6. Darren, I am building a strawbale house. All our timber framing has come from our site from trees cleared for construction and to meet the Australian bushfire regulations.

    From this I also had some of the timber milled for hardwood flooring to be installed in the shiplap manner. We have eucalyptus regnans and our planks look wonderful.

    I hope my progress is slightly faster than yours!

    I had a chuckle at your leaving the carpet on the stairs. When all we kids were still at home we moved into an old three storey house. The stairs would never meet requirements these days and were quite steep. I told dad they were too slippery but he said we would get used to them.

    The next day the dog slipped and fell down them. The following day they were carpeted. I guess that showed who was the important animal in our house!

    1. Hi Helen,

      That dog was an integral part of the family! I HATE carpet on the stairs but I do have peace of mind by keeping them.

      I’m going to be honest. I had to look up strawbale homes. Interesting. I’d love to see some pics of the process! Your progress will most definitely be better than mine, LOL! There were times when I would go weeks because of work. Still have to do the kitchen floor…

      Thank you so much for visiting my site and commenting. I appreciate it! 🙂

  7. 120+ hours! Holy cow, I can see why you aren’t so fond of DIY projects after that! Looks like a real success though. On top of saving some money I’ll bet you have a sense of pride in the finished product that brings a value of its own.

    I’m hoping my future DIY projects turn out as well as yours!

    Cheers!
    Cato

    1. Yes, 120+ hours, and then some. If you really know what you’re doing you might be able to get things moving faster but it takes a while doing this on your own.

      My wife brags to her friends and others that I’ve done work on our home. I haven’t really felt any sense of accomplishment because I did it more to save money and then to learn. I will finish my home DIY but may hire a contractor to update a rental property when my current tenants move out. They’ve been there two years and I’m hoping they stay a bit longer. 🙂

      Thanks for commenting, Cato. I appreciate it! 🙂

  8. Lookin’ good, Darren!

    Flooring is something I really want to learn, as well. I’m geographically separated from my rental right now, so it doesn’t make any sense for me to do it on that house. My tenant is actually installing it in exchange for concessions elsewhere. But I plan to buy a 2-3 family unit at my next duty location, and I’d like to use that opportunity to learn about flooring. I hope it turns out as well as yours!

    1. MD,

      You need to keep those tenants forever! I had tenants like that for one year. They wanted to buy my house but when I wouldn’t sell, they bought a new home in an adjacent neighborhood. Tenants who care so much about their homes (even if they’re renting) are golden.

      I didn’t want to experiment with flooring on an actual rental property so my home is my proving ground. 😉 If you need help or tips, we’ve got a great community of DIY PF bloggers!

      Thanks for commenting, MD. I appreciate it! 🙂

  9. I have done several floors (carpet/tile/wood/laminate) and in each case the prep work was the most important and the most time-consuming. I’m actually just finishing up a tile floor in our second bath, which I think went pretty well.
    Like you mentioned, I do my own work mainly to save money, but also so I get to know the house. I like to see the guts before it’s covered up. If I have a rotting sub-floor, I want to know about it and fix before it gets bad, instead of just covering it up.
    Great post. I love reading about other’s tackling DIY money saving projects.

    1. Chris,

      You’ve brought up a great point about getting to know the house better. I’m always trying to find out if I have anything defective. This is an asset so we definitely need to take good care of it.

      What is your flooring of choice for living, dining, baths, kitchens, bedrooms, etc…? I’m always curious because I hear so many people say one thing’s superior to the other in terms of price or ease of installation. I don’t think I’ll ever put carpet back in any home or rental property of mine. I’m not so thrilled with vinyl plank flooring but I’m sure I can find better looking ones if I try.

      Thanks for commenting. I appreciate it! 🙂

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