Transforming your existing lawn into a flawless carpet of rich green grass using sod can be an appealing goal. But a major decision looms – should you pay landscaping pros to install it or take on the sod laying as a DIY project yourself?
There are compelling benefits and drawbacks to both approaches that must be weighed carefully. In this detailed guide, we’ll break down:
- The step-by-step sod installation process
- Reasons you may want to hire a professional crew
- Potential benefits of choosing the DIY route
- Cost comparison of pro versus DIY scenarios
- Key factors to help decide the better fit for your project
Let’s closely examine the procedures, costs, and decision points so you can make an informed decision on having pros install your sod or doing it yourself.
Understand the Full Sod Installation Process
Before weighing pro versus DIY, it’s important to understand the complete process for properly installing sod from start to finish:
Lawn Area Measurements
Carefully measuring and mapping out the full square footage and dimensions of the lawn area getting sod is crucial for ordering the correct amount of rolls.
Factor 10% extra to account for damaged pieces, miscuts, and seam trimming. Missing this step means paying for costly rush reorders later.
This includes pH testing, selecting appropriate amendments like compost to enrich the soil, tilling or aerating if needed to prep the existing bed, grading for proper drainage, and smoothing any bumps.
Choose a reputable supplier with premium turfgrass varieties suited to your climate. Order 10% extra for insurance based on precise measurements. Many require placing orders weeks in advance during peak seasons.
Prepping Install Area
Just before laying the sod, rake thoroughly, remove any remaining debris, and moisten the soil to improve adhesion.
Proper techniques include staggering the sod roll seams in a brick-like pattern, tamping pieces tightly together to avoid gaps between sections, trimming edges neatly to fit contours, and watering generously after installation to adhere the sod.
Now that you understand the full scope of sod installation work, let’s examine the reasons you may want to pay the pros to handle it rather than taking the DIY route.
Potential Benefits of Hiring Professional Installers
Here are some of the most compelling reasons to invest in having experienced landscaping crews or contractors install your new sod lawn:
Seasoned Expertise and Knowledge
Companies that specialize in sod installation have completed untold hundreds of projects over many years in business. They’ve mastered efficient techniques, can spot potential issues like poor drainage, avoid amateur mistakes, suggest proper soil amendments, and guide you on ideal sod types for your goals and environment based on extensive real-world expertise.
Substantially Faster Installation
With multiple team members working in perfect sync using optimized processes, professional sod installation crews can transform your property astonishingly rapidly. A DIY project that might take you several weeks of nights and weekends solo can easily be completed by a seasoned pro crew in just 1-2 days.
Access to Higher Quality Materials
Established landscaping companies frequently have existing bulk relationships and accounts with sod farms, nurseries, irrigation suppliers, and other vendors. This allows them to obtain premium harvests of fresh sod at discounted wholesale pricing, along with rock-bottom deals on topsoil, compost, fertilizer or other necessities.
Avoid Equipment Rental/Purchase Costs
Paying pros means avoiding the cost of renting or purchasing the long list of specialized tools required for successful DIY sod prep and installation. We’re talking sod cutters, turf rollers, turf staplers, plywood sheets to protect existing lawn, backpack sprayers, erosion cloth, sod staples, and much more. Those expenses add up quickly for one-time use.
Peace of Mind with a Warranty
Most professional sod installation services provide some form of standard workmanship warranty, often spanning 30 days up to a full year. This guarantees the sod takes root and thrives in the near term, replaced at no cost if issues emerge. Virtually no warranty coverage comes with tackling it yourself.
Clearly there are some very compelling reasons to leave your sod installation project in the hands of seasoned experts. But it’s not all upside – let’s also examine potential negatives.
Key Drawbacks of Hiring Professional Sod Installers
While hiring pros to install your new sod carries nice advantages, there are also a few arguments against it:
Significantly Higher Cost
Having a professional crew lay your sod typically costs in the range of $1.00-2.00 per square foot for materials, labor and any add-ons like soil amendments or grading work.
For a moderately sized lawn of 5000 sq ft, that equates to a total cost between $5000-$10,000+.
If going the DIY route, your only upfront costs are the sod itself at around $0.30-$0.80 per square foot based on variety and supplier – putting materials cost for that same 5000 sq ft lawn at approximately $1500-4000 for self-install.
The labor markup professionals charge effectively doubles the total expense. But accurately weigh your cost of time and expenses of potential mistakes going the DIY route before ruling out hiring pros purely on sticker price alone.
Waiting on an Open Installation Slot
Reputable sod installation companies often book up with jobs far in advance, especially as the busy spring and fall landscaping seasons approach. Depending on demand, you may wait weeks or even months after hiring a pro before they can fit your project in. That lead time limitation needs to work within your timeline and motivation.
DIY lets you kickoff and schedule work based precisely on when your own availability lines up.
Missing Out on the DIY Experience
When paying someone else to install your new lawn, you miss out on the rewarding hands-on learning experience and deep sense of personal satisfaction that comes from managing the project yourself start to finish as a DIY effort.
If getting “dirty” in the yard with a major DIY transformation journey appeals to you, sod installation can represent the kind of large-scale, tangible project that makes rolling up your sleeves worthwhile.
So while hiring professional installers is advisable in many cases, it’s not necessarily the ideal choice in every scenario. Next let’s take a look at reasons you may want to consider installing your own sod.
Potential Benefits of DIY Sod Installation
Here are some of the most compelling arguments for why tackling your own sod lawn install can be a smart and advantageous choice:
Big Direct Cost Savings
When you provide the bulk of the labor yourself, the main upfront cost of a DIY install comes down to just the sod itself. Quality bluegrass, Bermuda, fescue or zoysia sod can often be purchased directly from a local sod farm or supplier for $0.30 – $0.80 per square foot based on turfgrass variety and order size.
That’s substantially cheaper than paying professional installers $1-2 per square foot including their labor and markup. If budget-friendly sod is a priority, DIY is likely your best bet.
Control Your Own Schedule
One major benefit of taking on your own sod install is the ability to stretch the project over days or even weeks to precisely fit your availability, energy levels, weather constraints or other schedule factors.
Breaking up the sizable job into digestible chunks on your ideal timeframe removes pressures of contracted completion dates when hiring pros.
Experience Deep Personal Gratification and Learning
Completing a major lawn renovation or beautification project yourself from start to finish brings immense pride and hands-on know-how. Tackling DIY sod installation represents the kind of satisfying, tangible project that makes getting “dirty” in the yard thoroughly rewarding.
You also gain valuable first-hand experience and learning. Next time is far less daunting.
Adaptability to Make Real-Time Adjustments
During the ongoing installation process, it’s much easier to make real-time adjustments, improvise solutions, catch mistakes early, and finetune things to your own personal preferences doing it yourself rather than trying to relay changes back to paid contractors after the job begins.
You have full control over all aspects when managing your own DIY sod project.
If cost savings, scheduling flexibility, control, and rich learning appeal to you, then taking on your own sod install can be incredibly worthwhile. But what are the potential disadvantages or downsides?
Drawbacks and Challenges of DIY Sod Installs
Though the dollar savings and hands-on rewards of DIY sod installation are substantial, there are still a few key counterpoints to consider:
Paying to Correct Any Mistakes
Even with meticulous planning and research, mistakes inevitably happen on large DIY projects. Maybe your measurements were off resulting in inadequate sod being ordered. Perhaps the soil wasn’t prepped properly. Or a faulty installation technique prevents the sod from rooting well.
Whatever the error, fixing mistakes on your own dime after the fact often proves far more expensive than having pros get it right the first time. Any “savings” quickly disappear if rush shipments of additional sod or extensive repairs are needed later to salvage a botched area of your DIY project.
Potentially Beyond Physical Ability
DIY sod installation is incredibly labor intensive. The heavy nature of soil preparation, sod laying, tamping and repeated bending means sore, weary arms, legs and back are likely by the end. Don’t underestimate the physical demands and toll.
If you lack the strength and stamina – or access extra sets of helping hands – completing the work yourself may ultimately prove extremely challenging.
Significant Tool and Equipment Costs
While specialized sod laying tools like mechanical sod cutters or manual turf rollers can be rented rather than purchased, those rental costs still add up quickly – often $100 or more for the 1-2 week duration needed for self-installs.
Other supplies like erosion control fabric, turf staples, topsoil, plywood sheets for protecting existing lawn, fertilizer, marking paint and more represent expenses that further inflate initial budgets.
Time Invested in Learning Process
Dabbling into new DIY territory means committing ample time upfront to thoroughly researching and learning proper techniques. Unlike seasoned pros, you can’t dive right in without a clue. Rushing in blindly usually ends badly.
Watching tutorials, reading guides, understanding soil preparation and ordering the precise amount of sod represents a substantial time investment when you’re new to installing turf.
So both DIY and professional installs carry pros, cons and costs you need to accurately balance. Next let’s break down typical pricing for each scenario.
Cost Comparison of Pro vs DIY Sod Installation
One of the biggest factors that differentiates hiring a pro crew versus doing it yourself is the final cost and your budget threshold. Let’s look at typical all-in costs of each:
Professional Sod Installation Costs
Sod Materials: $0.30 to $0.80 per square foot
Labor: Usually $0.50 to $1 per square foot
Add-ons like soil testing/amendments: Variable based on site needs but often $300+
Total Cost: Generally around $1.25 – $2 per square foot installed
DIY Sod Installation Costs
Sod Materials Only: $0.30 to $0.80 per square foot
Tool Rentals/Purchases: $100 – $300+ potentially
Soil Amendments: Variable based on needs
Total Cost: Potentially as low as $0.50/sq ft if you have tools already
As shown above, professional installs effectively double the project cost once you factor in labor versus just the sod itself. But accurately weigh your cost of time and expenses of potential mistakes going the DIY route before focusing solely on bottom line pricing.
Those are the monetary costs, but there are other key factors beyond money that should sway your decision.
Important Considerations Between Pro and DIY Sod Installs
Here are some of the most crucial considerations beyond just installation cost differences when deciding between hiring a professional crew versus doing it yourself:
Available Budget vs Required Time Commitment
What’s ultimately more important or impactful for your situation – saving money through sweat equity or saving time by paying Pros to complete the work quickly? Carefully evaluate this tradeoff based on your current finances.
Overall Scope of the Planned Sod Project
DIY sod installation works great for smaller 100-200 sq ft patches, repairs or accent areas. But tackling a complete front and back yard overhaul spanning thousands of sq ft may warrant calling in the experts. Don’t overextend yourself.
Prior Hands-On Experience
If you’ve successfully completed major turf projects like seeding, plugging or laying sod before with great results, taking the DIY route will be far less intimidating. But sod newbies may prefer professional hand-holding.
Access to Helpful Tools
Already owning useful equipment like a stand-on aerator/slicer machine, tow-behind compost spreader or turf roller simplifies DIY considerably. Rental costs add up quickly.
Timing and Weather Limitations
Fall is the ideal time for new sod installation in most climates. DIY allows you to work around weather delays. Scheduled pros may conflict with important sod laying windows.
Carefully analyzing considerations like scope, experience, equipment access and weather limitations will point towards the best sod installation method for your particular situation.
In many cases, a blended approach using pros for heavy soil prep then finishing the sod install yourself offers a helpful compromise.
Key Takeaways on Hiring a Pro vs DIY Sod Installs
Here are some key bottom line tips regarding professional versus DIY sod installation:
- Accurately compare the full costs including tools, rentals, and potential expenses from mistakes before deciding. Don’t just look at labor in isolation.
- Professional expertise prevents easily avoided pitfalls but also comes with scheduling constraints.
- For very large yards, hiring an experienced crew is likely beneficial. But DIY works for more modest patches.
- If tackling it yourself, thoroughly research correct techniques and processes upfront to prevent easily avoided mistakes.
- Realistically evaluate the substantial physical labor and time involved in DIY sod prep and installation.
- Weigh whether cost savings or time prioritization matters more based on your unique tradeoffs.
- Consider a blended approach using pros for heavy soil regrading then tackling the sod install yourself.
What worked best for your project? Share your own experiences and insights into going pro versus DIY in the comments!
Should You DIY or Hire Out Your Sod Installation?
When planning a new sod lawn, deciding between professional installation or taking on the project yourself as a DIY effort ultimately comes down to your specific site conditions, priorities, budget and abilities.
Both approaches come with advantages and disadvantages you need to carefully weigh before making a commitment either way.
With proper planning, due diligence and realistic understanding of the costs, both in dollars and time investment, you can achieve sod installation success through either DIY or professional means. The key is choosing the best path for your property and circumstances.
If you’ve completed your own sod project, please share any tips, lessons learned, pitfalls to avoid, or general words of wisdom in the comments to help other readers weighing their best options!