If you happen to have a spacious backyard and want to utilize the space to maintain an active lifestyle for you and your, otherwise Xbox-obsessed kid to enjoy, one option is to build a pool. But the maintenance cost has the potential to suck your discretionary income dry. The last thing a budding early retiree needs is a bump in living expenses.
So we’ve built a “luxury” mini-basketball court instead. With no mortgage to think about and kids’ college fully funded, we figured it’s time to splurge. Besides, neither of us wants to see an ugly portable in front of our driveway. Not to mention, it has been my long-standing dream to be able to shoot hoops in the privacy of our backyard.
The problem was nobody seemed to want our business. Biden’s Covid-relief to small businesses coupled with the warm weather has triggered a commercial construction boom that left homeowners with small projects in the dust.
I searched for concrete contractors on Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor, Build Zoom, and a few others and got very few responses. Two gave me out-of-this-world quotes. The one Hispanic contractor who gave me a reasonable estimate ghosted me after I’ve already put his name on the building permit.
I finally said, “Enough is enough, you effing contractors. I’m doing this project myself!”
DIY can save you money
That is if you already have the equipment and know what you are doing. Having finished my own basement, I’m confident of my handyman skills. But it’s not just about saving on labor costs.
When you know how to DIY, you understand the intricate details of what makes a product or service costly. Once you have this understanding, then you have the knowledge to choose what is important to you, saving money while getting something that will truly serve your needs.
For example, a major expense, is the type of concrete reinforcement that you choose: rebar or wire mesh. The price difference can be hundreds of dollars. If you know that picking the lower-priced option will work fine for you, then choosing that option would save you money.
More flexibility over time
When you’re in control of the project, you have complete flexibility to pause the process if something else comes up. You don’t need to work around someone else’s schedule, but you can easily work around your own.
Had I hired a contractor to do the concrete form, I would have been pressured to move and compact 20 tons of gravel from my driveway to my backyard, 50 feet away, in a couple of days to fit their schedule. Instead, I was able to do this task in my spare time in the span of weeks. It took longer, but it gave me the necessary time to prep the site correctly and not burnout.
Additionally, you can easily come up with multiple plans to work if one fails. This allows you to plan for any mishaps to ensure that the project won’t be affected too badly.
Fine grained control over the process
Building a basketball court in a sloped backyard is more challenging in colder climates where the freeze and thaw cycles can cause the soil to erode. I had to make sure that the subbase is at least 10 inches and uniformly compacted, and the slab drains well at a specific degree of angle.
Not that the contractor can’t do all these for you, but DIYing has given me peace of mind. I have nobody to blame when the concrete starts cracking next year but myself, especially that I’m the one who told the concrete supplier the precise mix.
DIY doesn’t mean doing the entire project by yourself. One skill that I don’t have is finishing concrete. Even if I do, it would have been a disaster had I done it in the middle of summer when the temperature can reach the 90s. I was able to delegate that task to a team of four concrete pros I found on the FB marketplace. Caveat: make sure you have proper home/ liability insurance when you do this!
Renting heavy equipment can be costly
The most costly part of the project is renting heavy equipment, especially if you can’t pick it up yourself from the rental store. Since I don’t own a trailer, I had to pay Sunbelt $100 for site delivery and pick up even if the store is only two miles away.
I initially rented a compact wheeled Bobcat tractor, which turned out to be too heavy. Big mistake! It was completely unmaneuverable in my muddy backyard— it rained heavily the week before. Good thing I’m able to return this with no rental charges but got no refund for the $200 delivery and pickup cost.
What I needed was a smaller ride-from-behind Dingo with dirt tracks. The lower weight and higher footprint would lessen the pressure applied against the ground. This results in higher maneuverability in my backyard. Ugh! How I wish I knew about this before I started the project.
I also had to rent a concrete buggy to transport the concrete from the front of the house to the backyard. A typical fully loaded concrete delivery truck can weigh up to 70,000 lbs. You wouldn’t want this monster to ruin your driveway.
You end up with tools or equipment you no longer need
It’s common sense: rent the tools or equipment that you’ll only need once. But what if you’ll need it for more than a week to fit your schedule? What if the tool costs $100 to rent, but sells for $70? Suddenly, it becomes tempting to buy.
The plate compactor that I need costs $100 a day to rent at Home Depot. I felt I needed to compact 20 tons of gravel in stages— it would take me several days or weeks to complete the job working part-time. So I ended up buying a $700 plate compactor at Harbor Freight. That sounds exorbitant expense for a homeowner, but I plan to resell this highly-in-demand item on FB marketplace in the future.
Some tools are too trivial or hard to find at rental stores: bolt cutter, post digger, metal stakes, etc. I ended up buying them hoping to be able to reuse or resell in the future.
Unfortunate accidents can happen
It’s one thing if the damage is monetary: uneven forms, bad mixtures, or a botched finish that will require an expensive redo. It’s another thing if it causes permanent injury or even death due to incompetence or ignorance. Carrying a bucket load of dirt up high with the Bobcat’s arms can result in a dangerous backflip when climbing uphill, for example.
It’s very unfortunate that a full-grown bunny had to die in the process of completing the project. I came back from our summer vacation shocked to see a dead animal at the bottom of a covered hoop hole I dug a week earlier.
She’s now buried in a shallow grave at a remote area of my backyard.