DIY & the Value of Time (Thoughts from a DIY Deck Rebuild)

You may have noticed that I was AWOL from this site for, well… the entire summer. That wasn’t originally planned, but in retrospect, it was necessary. Smashing keys on my laptop needed to take a backseat to other areas in life – primarily health, travel, recreation, and a massive (for us) DIY project.

We finally decided to take on the big deck rebuild project that we’ve been dragging our feet on for years. The large (20′ x 14′) walkout deck attached to the back of our house had entered an embarrassing state of decay and disrepair and was no longer safe for guests (or even ourselves) to venture out on. Rails hanging on by a thread, gaping holes in rotted-through boards, stairs crumbling under foot, hungry insects colonizing under rotted fascia – it was a mess.

We had taken on some fairly big DIY projects (roof replacement, kitchen remodel, complete re-landscaping, drywalling our garage) in the past, but this was the single biggest project we decided to take on to date. Aside from most of the joists and posts – everything would need to be torn off and completely rebuilt/replaced. We had no prior deck-building experience or knowledge going in.

If that wasn’t a big enough challenge, right after delivery of mountains of materials, we were hit with a quadruple whammy of:

  • I came down with a really bad case of COVID that lasted for weeks and hit my lungs pretty hard.
  • The Canada wildfire smoke blanketed our area for weeks, resulting in horrible, red-alert, cough-inducing air quality (not great when you have COVID).
  • It rained about half of the days over the next 6 weeks – probably the most rain I’ve ever seen in Michigan this time of year.
  • Most days hit 90+ degrees, with swamp-like humidity (I ended up completely changing my clothes about 3 times per day).

It took a lot longer than expected, but we got it done.

Here’s a few before photos:

DIY deck rebuild 1

DIY deck rebuild 1

DIY deck rebuild 1

DIY deck rebuild 4

And here’s a few after photos:

DIY deck rebuild 5

DIY deck rebuild 6

DIY deck rebuild 7

DIY deck rebuild 8

The deck decay started long before I left full-time employment. I knew it would be a fairly time-intensive project back then, which is why I neglected taking it on. I simply didn’t think I’d have the time. No longer being employed, I had run out of excuses to get the job done.

After weeks of 14+ hour days, I realized that if I had tried to take on this project with the few remaining weekly hours of free time I had left after working full-time and running this site, it would have taken me a year to get it done. And with materials filling our garage and sprawled all over our front and back yard, the stress of having something incomplete and obtrusive for that long would have driven me insane.

If someone with deck building ambitions were to ask me, “Knowing what you know now – would you do it all over again?”, I’d say “Sure! But not if I was working full time.”. If I were working full time and had another deck that needed rebuilding, I’d pay someone else to get the job done.

The project induced some stress, but I also learned a great deal and feel a lot of satisfaction in getting it done. The intensity of it all really did get me thinking a lot about the value of time when it comes to taking on larger DIY projects like this and whether they are worth it or not.

In our case, financial independence and having the flexibility to shift hours away from self-employment projects afforded us the privilege and opportunity to DIY this project.

My educated guess is that we saved somewhere in the ballpark of $7,500 – $10,000 in labor costs in DIY’ing the deck. However, if I were working full time, there’s a strong likelihood that I could have earned enough after-tax income to fully pay someone else to do the deck within the hours that it took us to complete it. So, the opportunity cost savings of DIY’ing the deck was roughly a wash for us. However, in paying someone else to get it done, I would have lost quite a bit:

  • The knowledge and self-confidence gained in taking on, overcoming, and completing a big project like that.
  • The peace of mind knowing that zero corners were cut (yeah, I might have overdone a few things).
  • The satisfaction I feel every time I look at the deck in knowing that “I did that”.

On the negative side, I did:

  • Get punctured by 3 nails (I was relieved to discover I was up-to-date on my tetanus shots).
  • Take a gash to the head and developed quite the colorful mural of bruises and scratches (but no falls, thankfully).
  • Breathe in a bunch of stuff I probably shouldn’t have (while battling COVID).

Still worth it… I think. You can (and should) run your own similar assessment before taking on a big DIY project like this – whether employed or not.

For those who’ve asked, here are the effective, yet inexpensive tools that I used for this deck re-build:

So, that’s primarily what I’ve been up to. And, I will say that stepping away from the computer for a summer was so nice that maybe it will become an annual thing? For now, back to regularly scheduled programming.

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  1. Warren

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