Web app idea of the day: estimate and manage home-improvement projects

September 30, 2007 life 4 min read

Seth Godin and Ze Frank both tell of the importance of getting your ideas out, either by executing them, or simply telling others about them. The more you do it, the better you will be at it. Very few of the ideas we come up with will ever get executed, so I decided I might as well just get the ideas out and see where they go.

As a new homeowner, I’ve joined the scores of people that have realized that the home-improvement game is one that never ends. I have a long list of improvements that I want to do: new kitchen counters and flooring, windows, a new patio… it goes on and on.

The cost for home improvement is simply cost of materials + labor. Figuring out how much it will cost to replace all the windows in my house is as easy as adding up the cost of the windows, the tools and other materials required, and decided whether I will hire someone to do it, or do it myself.

I want an application that estimates the cost of the projects I’m thinking about doing that includes the required materials and tools.

There are a lot of “project cost estimators” out there, but all of them seem to be provided by contractors, which inherently makes them biased. They also do a very poor job of breaking down why a project actually costs as much as it does, and all of them seem to make the assumption that I will be hiring the contractor to do the work.

The application would allow me to add all of the projects that I want to do, giving a template for each type of project that includes the required materials and tools.

For example, I want to tile my kitchen floor. I could create a new project that would be populated with the common materials required for tiling floors, including the tools (I’m a new homeowner, every project requires a couple new tools). I could then go through the list and customize the materials that I want, or mark off the tools or materials that I already have, removing them from the total cost. Here is a partial list that it would create:

Item Unit Cost Quantity Cost
Tile $1 per sq. ft. 200 sq. ft. $200
Grout $50 per 100 sq. ft. 2 $100
Tape Measure $6 $6
Tile/wet saw $100 $100
Chalk line $10 $10
Total $980

Anyone that has ever done a project also knows that it’s not as simple as just choosing the material that you want. There are always options! Do I want the cheap $1 per sq. ft. tile, or do I want the nice $5 per sq. ft. tile? Do I want to buy a tile saw, or rent one? So, as an added bonus, I want the application to allow me to configure different options for the materials and tools, and show me how each option would affect the cost.

Since this would obviously be a Web 2.0™ app, it has to be have a social networking aspect. You could browse other peoples projects, getting ideas for your own. You could use someone else’s project as a template for your own. In time, the app could integrate with other APIs, pulling in photos from Flickr to show the results of the project, or get building materials and costs from online stores. Oh, the possibilities are endless!

So, either someone go build that and let me know when it’s done, or someone with a lot of extra money send it this way and I’ll spend a couple months building it.

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avatar of Brandon Keepers I am Brandon Keepers, and I work at GitHub on making Open Source more approachable, effective, and ubiquitous. I tend to think like an engineer, work like an artist, dream like an astronaut, love like a human, and sleep like a baby.