Estimate the Cost of Built-In Shelves

Factor in materials, tools, time and additional tradesmen's fees.

Posted by Anne Burkley | Feb 15, 2010
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Adding custom cabinets and shelves is a great way to maximize the space in a home. They add function and beauty to a room and offer high-end appeal. Built-ins range from simple shelving units built into or onto a wall to built-in desks, bars, entertainment centers and even columned units that visually and functionally divide a room. They put awkward spaces such as those beside fireplaces, under windows or under a staircase to good use.


If you are planning to do the job yourself, a cost estimate is easy. Add the cost of the amount of lumber you will need to the price of the other supplies needed to complete the project. According to, a do-it-yourselfer can create a built-in bookcase using 3/4-inch veneer plywood and trim for $200-$500. The time it takes will vary depending on your level of expertise, the size of the unit and whether you are building onto the wall or recessing into the wall. A simple project might take only eight hours to complete. If you want to use oak or some other quality lumber, you can spend well over $1,000 on materials alone for a whole-wall bookshelf.

Are your plans more involved than a bookshelf? If so, find a professional plan to guide your project. You can purchase plans, borrow them from a library or do an Internet search to get free plans online.

Another thing to keep in mind is that just because something is custom doesn't mean you can't use manufactured pieces. For example, if you are making a shelving system that includes a base cabinet for storage and bookshelves that run to the ceiling, you can use a custom-ordered or standard-size (if you can make it work) cabinet. Simply frame it out to match the rest of the room for a custom look.

Before you decide to do it yourself, take into account:

  • Whether you will need electric wiring for lighting or outlets in your unit
  • Whether you will need data connections for a computer or TV
  • Whether you will need to bump out on the other side of the wall to accommodate your new built-in. Someone will need to do framing, drywalling and finishing.

If you need to hire someone to help with any of the additional aspects of your new unit, add it to the project cost.

Paying an Expert

There are different levels of expertise available. You might consider a handyman. Depending on your location, rates range from $30-$125 per hour. Ask if you can have a flat rate for a project. A finish carpenter is significantly more expensive, but specializes in built-ins. The best way to estimate the cost is to call up an expert and ask for a quote. If you want to save money, there may be parts of the job you can do yourself to save the carpenter time and labor; ask if you can do the preparatory demolition work or the painting at the end, for example.

Also, do yourself a favor and get more than one estimate. Go on local DIY forums and ask what others paid for similar projects. Ask around the office. Word of mouth is a great resource.

If you can tackle the project yourself, there is the potential to save thousands of dollars in labor costs. Take a peek at some plans, watch some videos online and decide if you are up to the task. A good place to start is The built-in section is complete with detailed material lists and plans.

No matter how you go about building them, you will enjoy the extra storage and the beauty that a custom built-in adds to a room.

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