18 cheap and easy D-I-Y home improvement projects

Teresa Mears

You bought a new home, and the list of projects that need to be done is larger than your bank account. Or, the home you bought years ago is looking a little dated, and you don’t have the money to hire someone to give it that much-needed face-lift.

Many easy do-it-yourself projects that will greatly improve the look of your home can be completed by an amateur in only a weekend. Not sure how to do something? You can find detailed instructions online for nearly any project and probably a video showing step-by-step how it’s done.

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But, what looks like a simple project can often escalate into a more complicated one if things go wrong – and even professionals often find unpleasant surprises when they get into a job.
Start with simple projects and know your skill level. Many projects that appear easy at first glance, such as changing the towel bars in a bathroom, get more complicated if a piece of plaster gets ripped off the wall when the old towel bar is removed. Plumbing in particular often is harder than it looks.

Before getting your hands dirty, you should have a basic set of tools: hammer, tape measure, X-ACTO knife, utility knife, adjustable crescent wrench, joint and screwdrivers, both flat-head and Phillips. An electric screwdriver, for example, makes an enormous difference if you’re assembling furniture from Ikea or elsewhere. For projects that require expensive tools you’ll only need once, consider borrowing or renting what you need. Do the math on each tool. Are you going to use it once or once a year? If so, buying secondhand could be a good idea.

A number of decorating projects don’t even require you to pick up a hammer or screwdriver. You can freshen a bedroom with new bedding and a bathroom with new towels, rug and accessories. Adding lamps, changing lamp shades and experimenting with different kinds and wattage of light bulbs will also significantly change the look of a room. Hanging artwork and adding or changing window treatments makes a big difference, although you may have to use a hammer or other tools to make this happen.

One project that doesn’t require tools but can really have a big impact is decluttering and organizing. Projects that make better use of existing space are usually a good use of your time.

Remodeling magazine’s annual Cost vs. Value Report tells you which home improvements deliver the best payoff when it comes to resale value. But before you think about the next owner, what about enjoying life in the home you have now? The good news is there are lots of small, less expensive projects that can help you get the most enjoyment value out of your home.

Homeowners often make two major mistakes when they redecorate, and one is remodeling for resale, rather than for themselves, says Spike Carlsen, a contributing editor at The Family Handyman magazine, which has lots of do-it-yourself projects on its website. And when homeowners do remodel, Carlsen says, “they remodel for guests. It’s great when they have 10 people in the house, but it’s not great for how they live.”

Ideas are easy to track down, as decorating and remodeling projects are everywhere. The Internet has become practically a catalog of DIY remodeling and decorating ideas. Some of the more popular sites are PinterestHouzz and HGTV, plus décor blogs and sites abound. If you’re looking for step-by-step instructions, you can probably find a video on YouTube or elsewhere. Just type your project into a search engine, and you have everything you need. Houzz allows you to create vision boards for each room in your home and collect photos of rooms or products you like.

You may also find some useful apps, such as one that turns an iPhone into an instant level. You can also find apps that help you design or lay out a room.

Here are 18 cheap, easy do-it-yourself projects that will boost your home’s looks and value:

Paint. You can paint your entire house or you can paint just the trim, interior or exterior. Or, paint an accent wall inside. Can’t afford new kitchen cabinets? Paint the old ones. The key to painting is in the preparation work, including taping around windows and cutting in around the ceiling. Keep that in mind when budgeting the time a project will take. It’s important to use the right paint. If you put latex paint over oil paint, for example, it won’t stay long. Good brushes also make a big difference. Do some research on the proper type of brush before buying a new one – good brushes are expensive, so you want to choose wisely.

Change your kitchen or bathroom hardware. This is one of the easiest projects you can do to freshen your kitchen or bath. Before you start, make sure the new hardware will fit the existing holes, or the project will expand to include filling old holes and drilling new ones. To ensure the new pieces will be a snug fit, measure the distance between holes for pulls and bring an old knob to the home improvement store for comparison. Before you buy hardware at a store, check online. You may find a significantly better price.

Reorganize a closet. You can buy a closet-organizing system at a home improvement store and install it, or you can create your own system with shelving you buy or already have.

Boost your curb appeal. Paint your front door or go all the way and paint all the trim and the garage door as well. Add fresh house numbers and a new mailbox. If you want still more curb appeal, plant new flowers and shrubs. A fresh new doormat can go a long way, too.

Turn a closet into a de facto mudroom. Many homes come with hall closets, where homeowners hang coats. That doesn’t take care of the backpacks, shoes, sporting equipment and other items your family brings home and dumps at the entrance. Consider removing the closet doors and adding hooks and shelves to make a space that better suits your family’s needs.

Install updated lighting fixtures. Changing one chandelier for another of the same size is surprisingly easy, though some light fixture changes are best left to professionals. An even easier project: Replace all your outlet and switch covers with clean new ones.

Build a stone or brick path outside. In many cases, all you need are the stones and some sand. Look for stones on Craigslist to cut the cost of the materials.

Replace your shower head. You can quickly give a mundane bath a spa-like look with a rain shower head. Plus, you’ll cut your water usage with a more efficient model. You’ll need plumber’s tape to wrap the threads before you install the new head.

Add pullouts, shelves and other organizing tools inside your kitchen cabinets. Adding pullout drawers requires some skill and tools, but inserting wire shelves or a lazy Susan for spices takes no skill and significantly increases your storage capacity.

Wheel out the pressure washer. Power wash the exterior of your house, your driveway and walkways to remove mud, dirt, mold and other grimy buildup. You can rent a pressure washer at a hardware store.

Do small kitchen updates. Many steps short of a full kitchen renovation can still make a big difference. Consider painting old cabinets or adding new doors. Use the right brush for a smooth, finished look. You can also change or update your countertop.

Install new plumbing fixtures. New faucets can significantly modernize a kitchen or bath.

Refresh your bathroom. A new shower curtain, towels and rugs instantly freshen a bathroom. You can also take other steps short of a gut remodel, such as changing the vanity or refacing the bathtub.

Redo your entryway. “The easiest thing you can do that immediately changes the way you see your house is the front door,” Adler says. If you can’t replace your front door, you can paint it.

Improve your outdoor space. Options include adding a patio or deck or sprucing up the one you already have. Adding low-voltage lighting is another easy project, plus you can add landscaping.

Change your window coverings, throw pillows and other accent pieces. These days, less is more when it comes to window coverings. If your larger furniture pieces are neutral colors, you can add splashes of a new color with pillows and other accents.

Wallpaper an accent wall or inside a bookcase. You can also paint the accent wall.

Get rid of excess furniture and clutter. We often think of projects that add storage space, and there are many creative ways to do that. But first take a hard look at what you’re planning to store and see if you really need it. Removing half the furniture from a room and clearing off surfaces can give the room a new, clean look at no cost.

For more home improvement articles:

Avoid DIY disasters

Why your home renovation won’t look like the TV shows

Home improvements that save on your heating bill

Plan for needed home repairs

How to pay for your home improvements

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