Yes, You Can Remodel on a Tiny Budget

Photo: dvs/flickrIf your home no longer fits your needs, it may be time to think about remodeling. Even with a limited renovation budget, there are a number of very practical ways that you can improve your house's appearance and functionality. Find out how.


Start by brainstorming all the changes you'd like to make in your home. When you look at the ideas that you've come up with, you'll find that most of them (the practical ones, anyway) can be organized into one of three categories. These could be described as:

1) What drives you crazy. It may be a hideously old-fashioned master bathroom or a kitchen with the traffic flow pattern from Hell. Whatever it is, you want it fixed … yesterday!

2) What you need. Two bedrooms and a single minuscule bathroom were fine when you bought the house as newlyweds. But at this point, a decade and four kids later, you're feeling awfully strapped for space.

3) What will add curb appeal. Whether your home is actively listed with a real estate broker or you are just starting to toy with the idea of selling, you know that certain upgrades -- garage door replacement or revamping your shabby front porch, for instance -- are important if you want to attract buyers.

Now review your wish list and decide which are absolute priorities. You may well realize that you are focused on one or two things that desperately need improvement but are happy with the rest of the house as is. In that case, changes like simply finding space for an additional powder room might turn out to be within your budget. Talk with local home remodeling contractors and see whether the work is affordable. On the other hand, if you are irritated and unhappy with your home in general, it could be time to start a "sanity saving" fund to pay for larger scale remodeling costs (or a move) further down the line.

DIY -- to Do or Not to Do?

Doing part of the home remodeling yourself will help save you money. Consider the free time you have available, your physical capabilities, and your DIY skills to determine whether your share of the project will include kitchen remodeling and climbing ladders to put up sheetrock or will be limited to tasks such as hunting down bargain tile and fixtures, for example. Bear in mind that the trickiest remodeling jobs, such as major electrical or plumbing work or structural repairs, should always be left to the pros.

Small Changes

Taking care of small changes, either by yourself or with the help of a professional, can make a surprisingly large difference. Repairing broken door handles or creaky steps is a cheap, quick fix that will help you feel more at home in your home.

Painting is a relatively easy job that immediately adds to your home's appeal, interior or exterior. Beyond refreshing the color of your walls, consider using a paintbrush on outdated kitchen cabinets, ugly concrete floors, or even a dingy bathtub. In all three cases, painting is cheaper and simpler than replacing.

Improving the lighting in your living room or home office or adding under-counter electric outlets are other small modifications that may have a big impact on the functionality and appearance of your house.

Think Money

"Green" improvements that appear at first glance to be beyond your means may pay for themselves in the long run, through the money they save you through tax credits and lower utility bills. Crunch the numbers carefully to find out the true price of an Energy Star qualified HVAC system, for instance.

While we're talking money, look into turning your basement or the bonus room over your garage into a rental property. In addition to material and labor costs, check your local laws regarding zoning, landlord-tenant relations, and building code (just one example: basements used as living quarters must have a second egress in most areas) so have a clear picture of what you might be getting into. If you are fortunate, this one reno could finance the rest of your remodeling job.

Laura Firszt writes for

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