Tips for a budget-friendly renovation

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Tips for a budget-friendly renovation
An encaustic-style tile from Spain. If there’s an element you fall in love with, find a way to incorporate it in your renovation project. (Photo/Dawn Hoiem)
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By Dawn Hoiem

Remodeling can be daunting. The national average for a kitchen renovation is more than $20,000, and bathroom renos run anywhere from $2,500 to well over $10,000. But updating your home is an investment in your most valuable asset, and it can be done affordably.

I recently gave our kitchen a major facelift for less than a third of the national average. Here are a few things I learned along the way that might help you with your next project.

Do some of the work yourself.

Paint isn’t just for walls. Refinishing your cabinets can be an inexpensive DIY project that rejuvenates the whole kitchen. (Photo/Dawn Hoiem)

Painting and removing flooring and tile require sweat equity more than skill. Watch some how-to videos, and you might even feel confident tackling more complex tasks. There are YouTube tutorials for everything. Make a list of what needs to be done, and decide what you can do yourself.

Know when to hire a professional.

“But wait, you just said …” While you can DIY many elements, it’s important to know your limitations. Hanging a light fixture or installing a garbage disposal are simple jobs many people can do themselves. But doing complex plumbing and electrical tasks yourself can cost you later. A leaky pipe or ungrounded electrical wire can lead to serious problems. So again, watch tutorials. If you aren’t comfortable moving forward, leave it to the pros.

The cost of DIYing vs. hiring a professional also needs to be considered. Acquiring the tools to install my kitchen backsplash myself was going to cost about $200. I found a professional tiler who did the job for $350. The extra $150 for a professional finish was well worth the expense.

Get multiple estimates and references.

For that tiling job, three estimates ranged from $350 to $1,500. The low bid came with great references, so it’s worth shopping around. There are many skilled trade workers looking for jobs.

Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have nice things.

If there’s an element you fall in love with, find a way to incorporate it. For me it was encaustic-style tile from Spain. We couldn’t afford to do the entire backsplash in these tiles, but I was able to order a single tile and used that as a feature over the stove.

If you can’t do your entire kitchen in quartz, feature it on the island. Design your dream room then scale it to fit your budget, finding ways to include elements that speak to you.

Shop for bargains.

Big box stores may have everything you need, but with a little effort, better deals can be found in places you might not think to look. Craigslist and other online sale sites are a great place to start. A lot of people over-order materials for their projects, and with strict return policies and restocking fees, their loss can be your gain.

I was able to score $250 worth of high-end subway tile for $50. Some sites let you set up alerts so you get a message when items like the ones you are looking for are listed. Use this feature to make sure you don’t miss out.

Habitat for Humanity Restore and other resale shops are also good sources, especially for smaller projects like a powder room.

A $40 can of paint can make a world of difference.

And paint isn’t just for walls. Hate your cabinets? Why not try freshening them up? Again, you can find tutorials for painting just about anything, from linoleum and tile floors to tile backsplashes. I was worried after the first coat, but I absolutely love my “new” black cabinets.

Make elements you don’t replace feel clean and new.

All it takes is time, patience and a bit of effort. Try scrubbing dirty grout, applying new caulking and changing out drawer pulls and knobs yourself.

Purge and organize as you go.

While we were stuck with the existing footprint, pulling everything out of the cabinets to paint them gave us a chance to get rid of old and unneeded items. I’m not sure why we had three meat grinders, but eliminating two freed up space.

Sell your old stuff.

We sold our oven vent and hood and a couple of those meat grinders. Turns out there’s even a market for old George Foreman grills. Every little bit helps to offset the cost of the renovation.

Shop your own home.

If you’re like me, your budget may be shot by the time you get to the finishing touches. So shop in other rooms of your home. Maybe it’s a plant from a seldom-used room or a figurine from Aunt Helen’s collection that’s gotten pushed to the back of a bookshelf. Shuffling pieces you already own can bring new life to forgotten items while helping your new room feel complete.

If you’re working with a budget, be flexible, realistic and creative. With a little pre-planning, internet searching and scavenging for materials, you can have the room you’ve been dreaming of for a fraction of the price.

The writer is a communications expert who enjoys giving new life to discarded furniture and home improvement projects.

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