Not every worthwhile upgrade requires years of savings. These ideas will enhance your home without breaking your bank account.
It’s understandable if you, like many Americans, associate home improvement projects with money flying out your door. After all, the average bathroom remodel tops $16,000, according to Remodeling Magazine’s 2014 Cost Vs. Value Report. Replacing your windows runs $8,000 on average. Kitchens and master bedroom projects usually run many times that amount.
Turns out, though, that some smaller projects can add instant curb appeal, make living in your abode more pleasant, and come with a manageable price.
Here are some simple enhancements to consider.
Remember that good modern lighting can make a room look larger and warmer. Thus switch out any old-fashioned fixtures and update them with new energy efficient models. To find stylish replacements, home retailer websites will update you on the latest lighting trends, such as copper or bronze fixtures. Pendants or chandeliers in attractive metals and designs can change the look and feel of a room more than you might think.
Expected cost: Fixture prices vary widely, and can range from $20 to $1000. If you need to hire an electrician, you may want to choose less expensive lighting to offset your costs. Simply spray painting your current fixtures can cost as little as $20.
One of the best ways to improve the look of your home from the street is to make your front entrance livelier and more attractive. Replacing the front door is an obvious way to achieve that goal. Perhaps try a new solid door with contemporary fittings or locks. Or update your existing door with paint and new handles (keep in mind you may still need to budget for a handy man even if you’re only switching the knobs).
If your front door is in good condition and you simply want to spruce up the porch, potted plants, a new exterior light, new house numbers and a new rug can instantly add charm, and be done quickly.
Expected cost: a new front door will run about $1,000 (a fiberglass door will likely run more). Expect to pay around $30 to $100 for supplies if you paint it instead.
Since bathrooms are generally small rooms, $1,000 can go a long way. For example, you can replace the toilet and sink- plus pay a plumber to install them- for less than $1,000. You’ll find the best prices on discontinued models. Another possibility: painting the room, which can typically be done in one weekend. If you like to DIY, and have a plain, frameless mirror, called a builder’s grade mirror, try updating it with a frame or learn how to tile.
Expected cost: New toilets and sinks can be found for around $100 to $300 each. Vanities run about $500 to $900.
A thorough cleaning not only enhances the look of your home, but also makes living it in more pleasant. While you can certainly do it yourself, there are good reasons to sometimes hire a professional. Carpet cleaners, for example, use high tech and powerful machines that suck out more dirt and water than you could get with a hand-held version. As for windows, they can be difficult to clean yourself when they’re in hard-to-reach locations, tempting you to skip some. Professional pressure washers can clean moss and mold off of driveways and walkways, making them cleaner in appearance and safer for walkers.
Expected cost: Professional carpet cleaners can do the job for around $200 to $500, depending on the size of the area. Professional pressure washing machines can be rented for $100 to $200, or you can hire someone to tackle the job for less than $1000.
A room can feel much larger if you add some wall decoration. Aim to use your walls from the floor to the ceiling, giving the eye a reason to move up and down, tricking it into thinking the space is larger than it is.
Adding decor such as open shelving gives you a place to pop in splashes of color and decorative or meaningful objects. Try installing simple shelves in a symmetrical pattern, or moving your artwork from one room to another. If you’re lacking items to hang, take a vintage piece of fabric and stretch it over a canvas, or frame bits of your favorite designs on paper. Both are easy, inexpensive ways to add pizazz to your home.
Expected cost: Expect to pay anywhere from $20 – $100 for a single shelf or decent-sized frame from a big box retailer.
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Understanding these common contractor phrases can minimize hassle and save you big bucks.
Home improvement contractors talk a good game—sometimes without saying what they actually mean. So until someone invents an app for translating contractor-ese into plain English, here’s a handy cheat sheet of the hidden meaning behind several common contractor words and phrases that every homeowner should understand. (If you have other examples to share, please send them to email@example.com.)
When He Says: “I” or “We”
He Really Means: My crew. I don’t actually do the work myself. I spend my time bidding future jobs, organizing them, and sailing my boat.
What You Should Say: “Who will be doing the work, you or someone who works for you?” Unless he says it’ll be him, ask if he will be there at the start of every day to direct the crew, especially if it’s a complex improvement project like a full-house renovation or addition that involves numerous tradesmen. If he says yes, hold him to that promise. If he says no, hire someone else.
When He Says: “If I were you, I’d skip the permit and save some money.”
He Really Means: It’s a heck of a lot easier for me if you don’t get a permit, because I can disregard building codes, skip a lot of paperwork and inspection appointments, and dollars to donuts, nobody will ever even confirm whether I have a contractor’s license. So, I’m going to play up the permit fees and red tape, both of which are actually minimal.
What You Should Say: “Thanks, but I’d rather pay now than pay later.” Getting the proper permits assures that you won’t have problems when you try to sell the house later on, a situation that can arise if you do certain improvement projects without getting a certificate of occupancy, the town’s final approval on a project that has been fully permitted and inspected.
When He Says: “No problem. We can do that instead.”
He Really Means: I am happy to adjust the project as we go, but I will definitely be charging you for any change you make to the original plans I priced out for you. I’m not mentioning that now because I don’t want to discourage you from making this or other changes, because repricing the job is a hassle I’d rather put off until later, and because in the unlikely case I underestimated some other part of your job, I can make up that cost in the price of the changes if I wait to give them to you at the end.
What You Should Say: “Great, but before we make that change, could you jot down a quick description of the new work and what it’s going to cost me?” If the contractor doesn’t want to execute a formal change order, a simple handwritten notation on the back of the contract will do the trick. Then you can both initial it, and there will be no confusion about what the contractor is doing or what you’re paying.
When He Says: “Hi, I just did a driveway [or insert other job here] in the neighborhood and have a load of leftover asphalt on my truck I need to get rid of, so I will give you a sweet deal to do your driveway today.”
He Really Means: Hi, I’m an unreliable and unprofessional contractor you’ve never met before—or I might even be an out-and-out scam artist—and I’m trying to entice you into making a bad decision with the promise of a big discount. I know that you’d never normally hire a contractor without getting recommendations and doing your due diligence, but I’m hoping to catch you off guard with my surprise approach, winning smile, and promise of huge savings. When you discover my work is shoddy, you’ll also realize you have no idea who I am or where to find me.
What You Should Say: “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Since bathrooms are typically small spaces, even relatively simple and affordable changes can make a big impact. Here are 5 ways to update an old washroom without breaking the bank.
Hanging wallpaper can be an expensive undertaking. Not only is the paper costly, sometimes the walls need to be professionally prepped prior to application. To lower your costs, consider covering less space. Often you need pattern on only a single wall to achieve the look. Also, since wallpaper is typically sold in standard widths and by the roll, it’s possible to comparison shop numerous retailers for the best price. (Many suppliers can help you calculate how many rolls you need if you provide the wall dimensions.)
Self-adhesive paper that is designed for high-moisture areas is best for the room, and easiest to apply.
Pro tip: Really on a budget? Spread out the pattern and use a painted stencil or vinyl stickers that mimic a repeated pattern.
Cost: Wallpaper starts around $30 per roll but can be as much as $300 (confirm with the retailer how many square feet each roll covers). Vinyl stickers run about $10 per sticker.
Every bathroom deserves a beautiful mirror. It will create a larger sense of space, and reflect light into the room, making it appear brighter. Yet often homes include builder-grade mirrors that are plain and lack a frame. You can upgrade such a mirror fairly easily by creating a frame around it to give it a custom look. Or take your existing frame and spray paint it for a pop of color.
Pro tip: If your bathroom lacks space, consider replacing your existing mirror with a wall-mounted medicine cabinet.
Cost: Use primed molding trim from the hardware store, which will be able to cut it to size. Trim is sold by the linear foot; expect to pay around $20 for an 8-foot long piece.
A bathroom loses its functionality when it lacks quality lighting (and you lose your ability to gauge what you really look like). For the best results, you’ll want lighting overhead and on either side of the mirror. Make sure the fixtures are using the correct bulbs. If you choose to upgrade your fixtures, consider chandeliers and pendants, which can add elegance to a bathroom, particularly if your ceiling is tall. Just make sure any new fixtures are bathroom approved, and properly installed by an electrician who understands the correct UL listing for lights being installed in a wet zone.
Pro tip: the best light for the bathroom is a cool, bright white or daylight bulb with a high color rendering index (CRI). This type of bulb will most accurately reflect natural daylight.
Cost: Pendants and sconces can range from $50 to $500 and higher. Be sure to factor in the cost of hiring an electrician.
Bathroom fixtures including hooks, handles, faucets and soap dispensers can be quickly and easily replaced and will give the space an updated feel. Most bathrooms look their best when all of the metals match in color and finish. Thus the sink faucet should generally coordinate with the shower and bathtub faucets; cabinet pulls, hooks, shelving brackets and towel racks also should have a similar style. What doesn’t need to perfectly coordinate: bathroom door knobs, which should generally match the door knobs of nearby rooms.
Consider hanging new fixtures such as shallow shelving or towel racks or bars to make the space more functional.
Pro tip: most fixtures are sold in coordinating families, which are ideal if you don’t have time to shop around or the desire to play interior designer.
Cost: Expect to pay between $100 and $200 for a new sink faucet or a shower faucet. New cabinet pulls run from about $4 to $10 per item.
Time and limescale damage the glow of your sink, shower, toilet or tub. Return the items close to their original brightness by using an over-the-counter product to remove accumulated calcium or rust deposits from ceramic surfaces. Look for a cleaning solution, like this product from Lowe’s , that specifically targets calcium, lime and rust.
If you are looking to replace the tile in your bathroom and consider yourself fairly handy, try adding a glass mosaic tile on a backsplash to create an accent.
Pro tip: If elbow grease isn’t brightening your toilet, consider replacing the toilet with a newer model. If it was made before 1990, a new low-water use toilet may lower your water bill.
Cost: A cleaning product to remove built-up calcium deposits runs about $10 per gallon. A new toilet starts at around $100.
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You may be tempted to send your trash can to the curb if it isn't functioning well. But now that new bins often run more than $100, first try this trick to improve your current can's performance.
If you haven’t shopped for a new trash bin recently, you may not know that they’ve apparently gone high-end, with prices running as high as $150. Yet sometimes removing a trash bag from even a fancy garbage can feels like a wrestling match. It seems like the bag is stuck in the can. Turns out it’s not that you overstuffed the bag, or loaded it with brick—it’s air pressure. When a filled trash bag is in the garbage can, the sides of the bag create air pressure within the can, making it difficult to remove the bag.
Fortunately, a simple solution exists. Watch this video to learn the trick. I’m sure there are many other ways you’d rather spend $100 that don’t involve your trash.
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These homeowners made every corner count with impressive top-to-bottom remodels. Here are the before-and-after photos, and the project's cost, favored by the editors' of This Old House magazine in their Search for America's Best Remodel Contest.
There's a good chance your closet has plenty of space- for improvement. Fortunately, a revamp may not cost as much as you think.
Walk through a big box home store these days and you’ll probably feel a tinge of closet envy. Right next to the gorgeous kitchens and bathroom models today you’ll likely encounter display closets showcasing numerous arrays of shelves, drawers and rods, not to mention hangers, baskets, bins and other gizmos to keep shelves tidy and shoes organized. Every sweater and pair of pumps can be retrieved within seconds in these modern closets.
So what is your best option to bring your closet up to par? Should you buy the materials and create a more functional space yourself, or hire one of the many professionals now available to tackle the job for you?
Take a look at these complete closet projects to get inspiration as well a sense of costs. Then consider these factors.
Best for: If you have a level, a cordless drill, and a tape measure, most homeowners with basic skills can handle a small closet remodel project. Buying a pre-made DIY closet system, which can include rods, shelves and drawers, from a home retailer is the simplest option. You’d be surprised at how much more you can fit into a typical five by two feet space by simply, say, putting in dual rods and adding another shelf. Updating your closet doors with a fresh coat of paint or new doors can also be a fairly easy task.
Cost: Taking on the project yourself means you can escape paying labor costs, which can total as much as the parts. When estimating your DIY cost factor in all of the materials, furniture and customized items, as well as any tools or equipment, you may need to complete the work.
You’ll pay anywhere from $150 for a basic set-up including a rod and adjustable metal shelving to more than $1000 for a space with customized features, like vinyl-coated wire systems or wood veneers and painted finishes. Organizing kits including drawer cubbies and shoe dividers can be found for around $350 and higher. Want new bifold doors? Standard models cost anywhere from $45 to $300.
Hire a Pro
Best for: Let the professional closet remodelers handle your project if you aren’t sure whether, say, a walk-in or drop closet is best for the room, or you want to customize your storage space for your tie or shoe collection. A pro should also be brought in if you are looking at moving or adding walls or installing electrical systems. A contractor can address permits, lighting, and ventilation needs, a few things you may overlook when doing it yourself. For example, if your remodel involves altering your structure, or adding electrical or plumbing for a washer and dryer, you may need to obtain a permit before the work begins. A professional closet remodeler or contractor familiar with the permit process can handle it for you. The pro may also be able to suggest ways to make the most of the existing space without having to do major construction, thereby saving you time and money.
Bonus: the contractor or designer can work with you to set a schedule that adjusts around your personal life, and can complete the project in less time than if you attempt to squeeze in an hour here and there on nights and weekends.
Cost: Professional closet remodelers usually charge per project but some charge an hourly rate, typically between $50 and $150 an hour, depending on the job and the pro. You may find that some designers require a deposit, which is generally a percentage of the project.
The total tab for a larger space, such as a walk-in closet, can run between $1,200 to $3,000 or more for both materials and labor. This may not include any structural work such as moving walls, adding lighting or installing new doors. Ask several contractors for in-home estimates. And make a trip to Salvation Army or Goodwill- with anything you or your spouse hasn’t donned in the last year or two- before the overhaul begins. One thing all model closets seem to have in common is few items.
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These three houses, featured recently in This Old House magazine, can still be had for rock bottom prices, but plan to spend thousands to overhaul them. If no buyer saves the structures, they may face demolition or are at risk of deteriorating beyond repair.
A budget renovation transformed this odd space into a cozy retreat.
In a blank space, there’s a lot of room for improvement. Just ask Vel Baricuatro-Criste and her husband, Gerson Criste. After having a contractor add a windowed egress dormer in an over-the-garage room for their teenage son, they were left with an odd, unfinished nook. Vel saw it as an opportunity to create a quiet reading alcove as part of an overall update of the bedroom.
What They Did
She painted both spaces white with an accent rail of bold navy stripes to create a cohesive look. To keep things cozy underfoot, Gerson installed striped carpet tiles over the nook’s plywood subfloor. Then he built a storage bench from prepainted cabinets, using stock lumber to fill in gaps at the back and sides and painting the exposed sides white so that they blend in. Vel made a seat for the bench by stapling fabric-topped foam to sheet pine that her husband had cut to size. Gerson installed floating shelves to display some of their son’s books; the rest tuck neatly away in the storage bench. Sconces flank the window seat, and a flush-mount fixture hangs overhead, providing plenty of light for nighttime reading. Now the nook is her 13-year-old’s favorite place to unwind. “He has a whole room to hang out in, but whenever he has friends over, they’re always in that space,” says Vel. “They love it!”
The Project Tally
• Painted the room white with navy stripes $109
• Finished the floor with carpet tiles found at a big-box store $98
• Created a bench from laundry cabinets and stock lumber $110
Q: Our 90-year-old house has its original drafty windows. Should we replace them to cut our sky-high cooling and heating costs?
A: In a word, no. The energy savings from new windows don’t come close to justifying their cost. True, new high-efficiency (double paned, argon-gas filled, low-emissivity film coated) windows might offer twice the insulation value as the old single-pane units in your house, meaning they’d cut your energy loss through the windows by as much as 50%. But only about 30% of your house’s heating and air conditioning disappears out the windows, says Paul Scheckel, a home energy efficiency consultant in Vermont and author of The Homeowner’s Energy Handbook. So at best you’d really only save about 15% (calculated by taking 50% of 30%).
Thus even if you pay a whopping $2,000 a year in heating and cooling costs, your savings would only be $300. According to Remodeling magazine’s 2014 Cost vs. Value report, the average cost for replacement windows is about $11,000, meaning it’d take 37 years to recoup your investment.
This doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea to replace your windows. The study also showed that homeowners get back nearly 80% of window replacement costs when they eventually sell. Plus, new units tilt in for easy cleaning, and they open and shut with ease—no need to prop them open with a stick. You get to eliminate those ugly aluminum storm windows and can even choose units that never need exterior painting.
Just be sure to choose windows that match your home. If your 90-year-old building is an architectural charmer, you’ll want to mimic the old units’ “divided light” patterns (the small panes within the windows), and use high-quality wood windows that fit the historic look of the building. Otherwise, using an economy-grade window could actually detract from your resale value instead of increasing it.