23 Ways to Lower the Cost of Home Improvement

Photo (cc) by Trevor.Huxham

In 2011, the average cost of adding a bathroom was around $40,000, while a major kitchen remodel was nearly $58,000, according to Remodeling Magazine. Considering U.S. workers earned an average of just more than $45,000 in 2011, remodeling your house can cost more than an entire year’s salary.

But it doesn’t have to.

Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson shares five money-saving tips for remodeling your house in the video below. Check it out and then read on for more ways to save on that new master bath, remodeled office space, or media room…

Let’s review Stacy’s ideas and add more, from the planning stages to the cleanup…

1. Consider resale value

Once a year, Remodeling Magazine publishes their Cost vs. Value report, which shows the average job cost and resale value for typical remodeling projects. Few remodeling projects offer a 100 percent return on your investment, but some projects have a higher resale value than others. For example:

  • Cost for a home office remodel – $27,963
  • Resale value – $11,983 (43 percent of costs recouped)
  • Cost for a sunroom addition – $74,310
  • Resale value – $34,133 (46 percent of costs recouped)
  • Cost for a minor kitchen remodel – $19,588
  • Resale value – $14,120 (72 percent of costs recouped)

Check out 5 Home Improvements That Won’t Sell Your House before you start remodeling. Unless you plan to live in your house for the rest of your life, you’ll want to recoup some of your costs when you sell one day – so choose remodeling projects with higher resale values.

2. Plan around deals

Another way to plan: Look for deals before you start remodeling. Say, for example, you know you want to update your kitchen. Keep an eye out for specials on countertops, kitchen island installation, or new windows. Once you buy the deal, plan the rest of your remodel around it.

3. Plan for the unexpected

Leave a little wiggle room in your remodeling budget for unexpected costs – most remodeling projects have a few. If you don’t have the cash on hand to pay for the overages, you might be tempted to borrow the money, which can result in hefty interest. The average interest rate for a personal loan is 9.49 percent, according to Bankrate. The average interest rate for a home equity loan is 6.92 percent.

4. Don’t move plumbing

Moving drain lines is costly. According to MSNBC, relocating the kitchen sink can cost up to $2,000. Plan your remodel around the current plumbing. Adding or moving electrical outlets is also expensive.

5. Stick to stock sizes

Look for standard sizes when you purchase materials. Custom pieces cost far more than the stock pieces sold at home improvement stores. For example, RemPros, a remodeling group, says that custom kitchen cabinets can cost 60 to 80 percent more than stock cabinets.

6. Buy imitations

If you’re buying new materials, look for imitations or knock-offs – they’re cheaper. For example, solid oak hardwood flooring costs $14.26 per square foot at Lowe’s. Engineered oak flooring costs $2.98 per square foot and you won’t notice much of a difference.

7. Buy cheap materials

Many contractors mark up materials; others charge to pick them up. And big-box home improvement stores don’t always have the best prices. Buy materials yourself at resale stores like the Habitat for Humanity ReStore – there are about 400 across the country. You can also find free or cheap materials online through sites like eBay, Craigslist, and Freecycle.

8. Attend building supply auctions

Stacy once bought a new Miele oven worth $3,000 for $600 at an IRS auction. To find local building material auctions, search “building material auction [your state].” Other places to check:

Before attending any auction, however, do enough research so you know the value of the items for sale, then decide on the max price you’ll pay. Auctions can be a great way to save, but getting caught up in a bidding war can be costly.

9. Ask for leftover materials

Contractors often have extra materials from past jobs. They may not be exactly what you wanted, but you’ll probably be able to negotiate a hefty discount by taking them off his hands.

10. Haul materials yourself

Having the store deliver your materials can be expensive. If you don’t have a truck, rent one. Home Depot rents trucks by the hour. Prices vary but cost about $20 per hour in my area.

11. Don’t pay for haul-away

Hauling away the old materials gets expensive, especially if you’re undertaking a large remodel. In my area, it costs $22 to have one appliance picked up on trash day. If you’re remodeling entire rooms, you might have to pay for a dumpster to hold the trash in between trips to the dump. Instead, call up your local Habitat for Humanity. They’ll pick up anything salvageable for free – and you’ll get a tax writeoff.

12. Don’t go overboard with granite

Granite countertops are nice. They’re also pricey. But if you’re set on having them, compromise. Pair your granite countertops with a cheaper backsplash. For example,

  • Granite tile = $21.42 each at Lowe’s
  • Ceramic tile = $0.21 each
  • Total savings = $21.21 per tile

13. Ignore trends

Much like clothing fads, you’ll probably get sick of housing fads in a few years. Stick to the basics instead and save. Take those popular vessel sinks for example – Home Depot sells an American Standard model for $213.23, or you could buy a traditional drop-in sink for $97.00.

14. Add solar tubes instead of skylights and windows

Solar tubes are small metal tubes installed between the roof and ceiling. The metal acts like a mirror and funnels light to the room below. They’re small, effective, and cheaper than installing a window or skylight. Houselogic says having a solar tube professionally installed will cost about $500 (compared to about $2,000 for a skylight) – or you can install one yourself. The kits cost $150 to $250.

15. Limit recessed lighting

Recessed lighting looks nice, but costs more than other light fixtures. In my area, Homewyse estimates it would cost $714 to $1,415 to have six recessed lighting units professionally installed. By comparison, the average cost to install a ceiling light fixture is $147.50.

16. Find the right contractor

Start by looking for a contractor in the off-season. Contractors charge less when they need the work – like right after the new year. Then pit contractors against each other. Get at least three different bids to find the best price.

Remember, however, that price shouldn’t be the sole determinant. How well you relate to the contractor, their experience, references and other factors are just as important. The key is to get the best value, not the lowest price.

17. Do small jobs yourself

A remodeling bid typically includes everything from consultations to cleanup. If you’re not skilled with your hands, you can still save money by doing some of the small jobs yourself. If you’ve got the extra time, ask the contractor if you can do the cleaning, painting, and light demolition yourself.

18. Work alongside the contractor

If you’re somewhat skilled as a handyman, do bigger jobs yourself and save even more. Many jobs – like appliance installation, crown molding, and flooring upgrades – don’t require a ton of experience. Never done it before? Check out the Lowe’s Video Center for step-by-step instructions on dozens of home improvement projects.

If you want hands-on experience, spend a weekend volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. You’ll work with experienced contractors, learn everything from roofing to flooring, and give back to your community.

19. Hire a coach

If you’re still not sure about doing the work alone, hire a contractor to watch you work. Many contractors will do this for a reduced rate, so you’ll still save on your construction costs. In 16 Tips to Save on Home Remodeling, Stacy talks about hiring an electrician to help him install recessed lighting in his house. He saved about 50 percent and learned a new skill.

20. Think revamp, not remodel

Your biggest savings opportunity may already be in your house. Instead of replacing everything with new materials, repurpose what you have. For example, a few years ago while my mother was remodeling she painted her brass chandelier instead of replacing it. A chandelier can cost anywhere from $50 to thousands. A can of spray paint costs about $2.50.

Consider what you already have – from lighting, to baseboards, to cabinets – and see what might look better with a little sanding and a coat of paint.

21. Save on appliances

If your remodel includes upgraded appliances, don’t pay full price. There are several ways to get discounts on major appliances.

  • Buy at the right time – Appliance retailers have big sales around holidays, and once a year when the new models come out (usually between September and October.)
  • Look for scratch and dent – Buy a pre-scratched floor model and you could save 10 to 20 percent.
  • Buy used – Search sites like Craigslist for gently used appliances. Last year I bought a $350 AC window unit for $150 this way.
  • Skip the extended warranty – Most extended warranties are never used. Stick with the basic free warranty.

Those are the basic ways to save on appliances. Check out 9 Tips to Save on Appliance Purchases for more ideas.

22. Prioritize

Do upgrades that will lower your monthly bills first. Make a list of every upgrade you’ll directly benefit from – like energy-efficient appliances, ceiling fans, or double-paned windows. These are improvements that will pay for themselves.

23. Remodel slowly

You can still add your wants even if you don’t have the budget right now. Just save up enough cash to pay for one wish-list item at a time.

Our goal was to create a top-to-bottom, blueprint-to-cleanup list of ways to save on a home remodeling project. How’d we do? Sound off on our Facebook page and give us your tips for cutting remodeling costs.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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