21 Quick and Easy Budget Upgrades
Improve the look and function of your home without spending an arm and a leg
If you're an avid DIYer, you're already on your way to saving money. But with the right planning, you can transform the feel of a whole room with a single project that only costs you a few hundred bucks. Pick from our round-up of value-boosting upgrades that all come in under the $500 mark—some well under. Not only will they be soft on your wallet now, but some of these will even save you money in the future.
You can give your drab, washed-out walls a burst of brilliant depth (or wash away your decorating sins with virgin white) just by picking up a paint can and having at them. That's the power of a coat of paint: It rearranges your reality. Which is why painting is the most oft-tackled DIY home-improvement upgrade.
While you don't have to be a pro to learn how to paint like one, there is more to a good paint job than just slathering some color on the wall. See our how to instructions to coat your walls expertly in one weekend, from the first scratch of the pole sander to the final feather of the brush.
Cost: About $150
See How to Paint a Room for full step-by-step instructions.
Crown molding makes it to the top of most remodeling lists because it adds charm and value to a home, not because people enjoy spending a Saturday trying to get the corners just right. Luckily, there's a simple way to beat miter-saw frustration.
Trimroc molding from Canamould Extrusions is a lightweight polystyrene foam coated in hard plaster. It cuts smoothly with a handsaw and it goes up in a flash with joint compound. No coping, no tricky angles, and ragged joints disappear with a dab of mud. So in just a weekend, you can upgrade a plain room to an elegant space—and still leave plenty of time for the rest of your list.
Cost: About $120.
See How to Install Easy Crown Molding for full step-by-step instructions.
Want to get a good grip on slippery stairs? Try a DIY runner. After getting a quote of $2,500 to carpet her dangerously slick oak staircase, TOH reader Jaime Shackford took the project into her own hands. Using just two off-the-shelf woven runners ($125 each) and supplies from a home center, she gave her stairs an non-slip upgrade.
Cost: About $300.
See How to Install a Low-Cost Stair Runner for full step-by-step instructions.
That old dishwasher could be wreaking havoc on your electric and water bills. Time to switch it out for a new Energy Star-qualified dishwasher, which can save you more than $30 a year on power and almost 500 gallons of water. If you don't have a dishwasher at all, you're using 40 percent more water washing by hand!
The biggest cost saver of all? You can install a dishwasher yourself in an afternoon. No plumber, no electrician—and no worries that you're squandering your retirement money on a load of clean dishes.
Cost: About $500
See How to Install a Dishwasher for full step-by-step instructions.
Many hanging lanterns from the first half of the 20th century were humble by design, looking as if they'd been crafted by blacksmiths rather than machines.
Popularized by tastemakers of the time, such as Gustav Stickley and the Roycroft crafters, these rustic lanterns exemplified a back-to-basics design sensibility. If you've scored one such find at a yard sale or have one stashed in the attic, you can invite guests to "come on in" by putting back into service a vintage lantern. It's an easy, affordable job once you get the parts.
Cost: About $140.
See How to Rewire a Vintage Entry Lantern for full step-by-step instructions.
The burgundy red floor in the master bedroom of Sara and Andrew's Massachusetts farmhouse didn't fit the fresh and energetic personality of the newlyweds. But refinishing wasn't an option on a limited budget. So to update the space, they painted the floor in a light checked pattern, using beige and white to warm up their cool blue walls.
Here we show how a little measuring and a couple of coats of durable floor paint can add a lot of personality to a room for a small price.
Cost: About $75.
See How to Paint a Floor for full step-by-step instructions.
Sunlight streaming through windows can be an annoying distraction. Not to mention the neighbors who have more evening hours to look into your brightly lit living room. You could install shades to foil prying eyes, but swinging wood shutters would definitely be more beautiful.
Interior shutters were the original "window treatments," commonly used in Southern and urban houses, and they're still a great way to add architectural and historical detail. They also help keep out winter's chilly winds or summer's oppressive heat. And they're easy to install on any window because they attach to a thin frame that either sits inside the window opening or around the outside of the casing.
Cost: About $150.
Your cavelike kitchen feels that way because the dark cabinets have sucked all the light out of the room. But a brighter makeover doesn't necessarily mean replacing those gloomy boxes with all-new one. As long as the frames and doors are structurally sound, you can clean them up and brush on some new paint—and within a weekend take that kitchen from dreary to sunny. All you need is some strong cleaner, sandpaper, a paintbrush, and a little elbow grease. What you don't need is a whole lot of money, as the transformation will cost you a fraction of even the cheapest new cabinets.
Cost: About $200.
See How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets for full step-by-step instructions.
Dividing perennials every three to six years is a great way to thin clump-forming varieties, like the daylily (shown here), which blooms from late spring to late summer. This technique can also be used to control plant size, invigorate growth, and multiply the number of specimens in a garden. A good rule of thumb is to split apart spring- and summer-blooming perennials in late summer or before the fall frost.
Millions of households have switched to bottled drinking water because of concerns over the purity or taste of their tap water. Such problems exist across the country, regardless of whether the water comes from municipal pipeline or ground well. However, there's an easier, less expensive way to obtain clean drinking water: install an under-sink water-filtration system.
Cost: About $120.
See How to Install a Water Filter for full step-by-step instructions.
It's bad enough to have to get up in the morning, let alone get up and experience the icy shock of a cold floor. What you need is some warmth underfoot, a little cushion as you pad across the house. Enter cork. Resilient yet durable, stylish yet earthy, a natural cork floor can turn any cool room into a cozy haven.
Cork is also a lot easier to install than traditional wood flooring. Manufacturers now offer products in engineered panels that snap together without glue or nails. These floating-floor systems sit well over plywood, concrete, or even existing flooring. In one afternoon you can turn a floor into a comfortable mat where your toes can roam free without fear of the big chill—or expensive area rugs.
Cost: About $6 a square foot.
See How to Lay a Cork Floor for full step-by-step instructions.
The years and the elements hadn't been kind to the exterior of this 94-year-old, thick, cypress door. Flakes of varnish still clung to the wood in spots, while the rest of the surface was rough and dried out from the effects of water and sun. Wood entry doors everywhere suffer from the same assaults, and many end up in the trash, replaced by low-maintenance, mass-produced metal and fiberglass surrogates. But you can breathe new life into your old door with a few affordable supplies.
Cost: About $50.
See How to Refinish a Door for full step-by-step instructions.
You've seen the ominous signs of aging caulk. First it was the brown tinge along the edges. Now its smooth and supple skin has turned brittle and cracked, opening the way for stubborn colonies of mildew to take hold, or for water to seep through and turn wallboard and framing mushy. Whether it's around your sink, between a tub and its tile surround, or covering the joints of your shower stall — it has got to go.
Fortunately, caulk is cheap, and applying it isn't difficult. All you need is an hour, a few common tools, and materials easily found at any hardware store. But as easy as it is, you still have to do it right, or you'll be caulking again next year, says This Old House general contractor Tom Silva.
Cost: About $10.
See How to Caulk Around a Tub for full step-by-step instructions.
By the time contractor Stephen Bonesteel arrived on the scene, the condition of this pine deck was bleak. Twenty years of harsh upstate New York weather without a lick of care had turned its once-bright boards a weatherbeaten gray, flecked with slimy algae and black leaf stains.
Still, even wood this neglected can be brought back to respectability. Over the course of a week, he power-washed and hand-scrubbed the deck back to a semblance of newness, then brushed on a protective coat of semitransparent stain to protect it from the elements.
Cost: About $80.
The newel post and balusters get all the attention, while the exposed side of most staircases is largely ignored. But with the addition of decorative stair brackets, a bland stringer can become an elegant eye-catcher. Here we used simple-to-install, affordable wood brackets that go up with adhesive and nails.
Cost: About $150.
See How to Add Shapely Stair Brackets for full step-by-step instructions.
Long before the advent of resilient sheet flooring and plastic-laminate planks, there was vinyl tile. Originally produced as an alternative to linoleum, vinyl tile grew in popularity because it was colorful, easy to clean, and crack resistant. The 12x12-inch tiles come in dozens of colors, patterns and textures, making it easy to create checkerboard designs and floors with contrasting borders. Here we'll show you the right way to put in self-adhesive tiles for a professional-looking and durable floor.
Cost: About $2 a square foot.
See How to Lay a Vinyl Tile Floor for full step-by-step instructions.
If installing a traditional tile backsplash feels a little out of your DIY league, putting up one made from a single sheet of solid surface material may just be your saving grace. Shaping, cutting, and gluing up this inexpensive stock material—available from companies such as Swanstone, which makes the beadboard backsplash shown here, in a variety of colors and patterns—is a weekend project most amateurs can conquer with confidence. And when you have your sleek backsplash in place, you'll think it such a stylish protector from splashes and splatters you'll wonder why you ever considered tile in the first place.
Cost: About $25 a square foot.
See How to Install a Solid-Surface Backsplash for full step-by-step instructions.
Installing a ventilating fan in your bath does more than just eliminate fogged-up windows, steamy mirrors and stale odors. It also helps prevent moisture-related problems, such as the growth of mold and mildew, that can be costly to remove and lead to health problems. Avoid all of that with this affordable upgrades. Here, This Old House general contractor Tom Silva shows the proper way to install a bath vent fan. In this particular installation, Tom ran the exhaust duct into the attic and through a sidewall to the outdoors.
Cost: About $125.
See How to Install a Bathroom Vent Fan for full step-by-step instructions.
Amy Paladino is a pro at juggling the demands of her job and family. But as with many of us, when it came to organizing tools for DIY projects, she needed a little assistance.
Here is a plan for a size-it-to-your-space tool-storage bench that doubles as a work surface. Though it may look complicated, the construction couldn't be simpler. And you'll be protecting your valuable tools in a custom chest, while saving on the outrageous cost of store-bought storage.
Cost: About $125.
See How to Build a Tool Bench for full step-by-step instructions.
The popularity of ceiling fans continues to grow as more and more homeowners discover dramatic, year-round energy savings. In summer, ceiling fans create cooling breezes, which reduce the strain on air conditioners. In winter, they circulate heated air to keep the room warm.
Installing a ceiling fan is relatively simple, especially if the space above is accessible from an attic. However, even when it isn't, the job is still quite doable. Here, we'll show how to replace an old light fixture with a new ceiling fan and light, in a room with no attic above. The advantage of this approach is that you don't have to run new wiring. The fan connects to the existing cable from the old light.
Cost: About $150.
See How to Install a Ceiling Fan for full step-by-step instructions.
Going digital with a model that automatically changes the indoor temperature setting is fairly easy, and it can trim about $180 off your annual heating and cooling costs. Simple models that only control heat are sold at home centers for around $25. But units like the one shown here can handle many more functions, including cooling and humidifying. Typically they're purchased through and installed by HVAC contractors, but you can get a good deal on one by buying online and install it yourself in no time.
Cost: About $475.
See How to Install a Programmable Thermostat for full step-by-step instructions.