How Much Will It Cost?

Before starting a project we always want to know — or at least have some idea — how much will it cost to build?  If you’re like me, resources are limited, so knowing how much you’re going to sink into a project is smart.

So, if I buy these cool _________ * fill in the blank * (trailer, crane, press, …) plans, what will it cost to build?  Then the other big question, how much time will it take?  (My wife wants to know when she’ll see me again.)

However, before jumping into the areas that affect cost, let’s first ask a higher level question:  Are you building this (instead of buying one) only to save money?  If yes, then please read this other article first:  “When Should I Build?  When Should I buy?”  Because, the value in building is really not about saving money.

First, How Much Will It Cost?

This is a great question, and we get it a lot.  Sadly, that’s on the border of impossible to answer.  I wish I could tell you.  There is so much that goes into the cost.  Yes, the materials, components, finishes, options, man-hours, and maybe some outsourced labor.  Yet, these vary a ton from person to person and from project to project.  For that matter, in context of the pandemic, these vary from month to month.

Cash RequiredFor trailers, it first depends on which trailer plans you buy.  The same is true for cranes, presses, etc..

Since, steel and aluminum are world market commodities, prices fluctuate pretty drastically.  So do the respective material prices that you and I have to pay.  The plans contain a detailed material list, so take that to your supplier for a firm quote.  That’s what I do, because information from the source is the only way to know.  Here’s a trailer example.

Next, most of our plans have many options.  Which ones will you choose?  Some are cheap to add in, others are more expensive.  Those are choices you’ll need to make before building — or buying materials.

When choosing, there are always different levels of components to buy.  For instance, when building a trailer, you can choose cheaper Chinese parts, or you can choose higher quality.  You can choose simple parts, or more elaborate parts.  The cost is different, and performance as well.  (But, that’s another story.)  Your choices for components definitely affect how much the project will cost.

For a good guess at prices for components, find them online and see.  You might pay a little more or a little less when it finally comes time to buy — depending on where you buy.  Anyway, a quick search will give a good point of reference.

Hidden Costs

Let me also inject — there are always hidden costs.  For instance, the cost to build may also include buying necessary tools.  It seems there is always something else we need.  Things like building a trailer frame will require a welder and a lot of large clamps, which you might be able to rent or borrow instead, but keep that in mind.

What about the cost of consumables?  Things like another tank of welding gas, welding rod (or wire), and grinding discs, saw blades, etc..  And don’t forget the extras like delivery costs — especially for the big, or heavy items?

How will you finish the trailer?  The cost of powder coating is quite different than rattle-can painting.  And, will you prime it?  Or galvanize it?  Will the final project be kept outside?  Or maybe in a garage?  All these things have an impact on how much a project will cost.

Finally, what is the labor cost?  Will you need to hire out some of the build?  Are there custom parts (like water jet cutting) that are required?

What Is The Value?

While cost is important, value is the real question.  Our moto “Build It Better than you can Buy It” says it all.

First, you can build something in ways that you can’t buy.  You can build in quality with attention to detail that you can’t buy from a dealer.  That has value.

Next, your unique customizations and the quality of your work has far more value than just dropping some cash.  Third, the experience and education you get from a project is something money can’t buy.  Don’t discount or ignore that.  Fourth, there is significant pride and confidence that comes from successfully completing a big project.  Again, that goes way farther than the project, and it’s something money can’t buy.

Finally, if you have children (or friends that hang about), sharing your project with them gives a priceless gift that can last generations.  I don’t want to make too big a deal about this, but I also want to emphasize the importance.  My father taught me a lot.  My sons (I was not blessed with daughters) now know a ton about tools and building.  They know how to weld and how to think “fix”.  One loves it, and builds a lot himself.  Another son doesn’t do much with it, but he shows friends how to fix things.  Knowledge is a blessing, and learning together is a forever legacy.

Value goes far beyond the actual things you build.  It’s fun, and please don’t ever forget — Experience is Priceless.

Next, How Long Will It Take?

Projects Take TimeThe question of “hours to build” is another really good question.  Your skill, the equipment you have at your disposal, and your previous experience will definitely affect the man hours.  Look at this customer video showing the complete build of a utility trailer.  He said it took roughly four days — but, he has built several trailers, and he is a professional welder.

I don’t know if that time includes the planning, purchasing, preparing, etc., but I think it’s only the build time.  All the prep work was before.  Yet, that video does give a good idea of complexity.  (And, it’s a pretty simple trailer — well, compared to one of our deck-over trailers, for instance.)

On the other hand, a tiny house trailer is both bigger and has more pieces, so it will take longer.  If you are not as experienced with this, or don’t have all the same tools, expect to spend some time learning.  (Learning is not bad in any way, it’s awesome to me, but it does increase the total project time.)

Then, as you dive into a big project, think about who might be around to help.  I ask my wife out to help now and again, and her extra hands make a big difference in the time it takes.  (I know I’m lucky to have a great wife that will come out for a bit to help — but that definitely has its limits.)  Then, I also have my sons, and a couple friends I’ll call once in a while.  Always good to tap the abilities of another great mind — and muscles!

Keep in mind, building is not about speed.  DIY projects are a great experience, so don’t base your decision to build just on the amount of time it might take.  Enjoy it!

So That’s It?

Alright, I agree, there’s not much substance in the above text to tell you really how much it will cost to build.  Sounds sort of like a bunch of excuses.  Well, maybe reasons more than excuses, but you get the point.

The problem:  This question is kind of impossible answer.  It depends on so many choices only you can make.  It depends on your skill and tools available.  It depends on the parts you might already have.  Of course, the options you choose, etc.  Also, it depends on the ways you might acquire materials or parts.  Can you get discounts?  Do you have material left over from a previous project?

Answers to the questions of “How much will it cost?” and “How long will it take?” are really for you to answer.  The above gives a lot of perspective, so take your best guesses — then double them — and you’ll be in the right ballpark.

Ways To Save Money When You Build

If money is an issue, the best ways that we know to reduce the price are these.  (Please, if you have other good ideas, share them in the comments below.  We all want to know.)

  1. Scrounge at the scrap yard.  I have to say, all the steel for my first build of this Shop Press was scavenged from a steel processing scrap yard.  I just love scrounging through the industrial construction leftovers because they throw away so much awesome stuff.  Beam ends, left-over scraps, and more.
  2. Shop Craigslist or other local ad boards.  A lot of great stuff is available through these sites.
  3. Shop sales or ask for a discount.  I’ve had some limited success when buying a bunch of parts for a project – just asking if they will offer a discount.  If you’re buying a lot, often local shops will give you 5% or 10% off just because you ask.  Some won’t, yet, you never know until you ask.
  4. For parts you want to buy new, shop the industrial outlets rather than from typical retailers.  This article tell specifically how to save money on bolts and other fasteners.
  5. Finally, consider repurposing something similar.  Converting a trailer from something similar, for instance.  You can find lots of stuff to re-purpose if you’re open to a little creativity.

Revisiting:  How Much Will It Cost To Build

Though we’d love to tell you just how much it will cost to build your next project, we just don’t have enough information to do it.  As you can see from all the information above, there are so many variables.  Some variables you can control, some you can’t.  Anyway, I wish we could give you a good answer.  I’m Sorry.

This brings up one more big question?  And one more variable — in what country do you live?  For that matter, if you are in the USA, in what state do you live?   Cost will certainly differ in various countries, but that too is an issue — in what currency should we think about cost?  Or in what dimensions?  Best that you work with your specifics.  Hopefully we’ve given you some good information, maybe a different perspective, for thinking about cost to build.

Don’t let cost deter you.  Value is what you really want to look at when thinking about a new DIY project.

Good Luck With Your Project

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