18 Cheap Summer Upgrades That Improve Your Home and Life

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father and son planting garden plants
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Are you ready to make home the center of your summer this year? Take advantage of longer days and warmer weather to knock off a few quick projects that make your home more livable and attractive.

Right now is the time to get started.

1. Add indoor plants

A happy young couple dances in their living room
fizkes / Shutterstock.com

Did you know that houseplants don’t just add beauty to your home, but they’re also good for you?

Indoor plants help purify the air in your home. Certain houseplants can remove harmful substances — formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene, for example — from your home’s airspace, according to “9 Houseplants That Remove Toxins From Your Indoor Air.”

Besides that, there’s something about being around plants that seems to promote a calmer atmosphere. Artificial plants don’t have the environmental benefits. But if you aren’t interested in keeping living houseplants, you may be surprised to find that artificial plants can be beautiful and convincing.

2. Create a cozy corner

Woman relaxing holding a coffee
Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock.com

Investing in a cozy nook or cranny where you can take a few minutes to unwind makes your house or apartment into a home.

Does your house have such a cozy spot? Maybe it’s a corner of the couch with a soft throw, a side table for your cup of tea and some soft pillows to lean into. Or perhaps all it will take is to add an inexpensive reading light to the spot with your favorite chair and ottoman.

There’s no need to spend a penny on books to read in your cozy corner. You can easily find them in “9 Sites That Offer Free E-Books.” Add a pile of magazines and leave out a few coasters for your coffee cup. Voila! An upgrade to your quality of life.

3. Install a Ring Video Doorbell

Ring video doorbell
BrandonKleinVideo / Shutterstock.com

The popular Ring Video Doorbell allows you to monitor your home and yard, keep deliveries secure and interact with strangers remotely. Control it all from an app.

That’s a lot of value for something that starts at around $100. Installing a Ring Video Doorbell is done in three simple steps. The project takes just minutes.

4. Install kitchen utility hooks

S hooks hold cooking utensils
gangis khan / Shutterstock.com

Get all those kitchen tools — the big spoons, spatulas and whisks — off the counter or out of crowded drawers with easy-to-install kitchen utility hooks.

You can even hang dish towels and potholders from these clever hooks. And talk about smart: Slide recipes into plastic sleeves (the kind in three-ring binders) and hang the one you’re using from a hook for easy viewing.

Hang the hooks from a wall-mounted rod like this one. You may fall in love with the idea of organizing with S hooks. They’re cheap and versatile — you can even hang jeans from them, as we illustrate in “13 Smart Tricks to Organize Every Room of Your Home.” You’ll find big packs of hooks at Amazon.

5. Build a raised-bed garden

Raised garden beds
Jamie Hooper / Shutterstock.com

Everyone is growing vegetables at home, it seems. With food prices soaring, home gardening has never looked better. “How to Plan a No-Waste Garden” tells you how to get started.

Raised beds allow gardeners to contain a garden and manage it more easily. Choosing the height of the bed lets you plant and weed in the position most comfortable for you.

Create an entire vegetable garden this way or add just one easily managed bed this year and see how it goes.

Build your beds with a few boards, fence posts and some chicken wire. Or use an inexpensive raised bed garden kit.

6. Make a chalkboard wall

Chalkboard wall in kitchen
Photographee.eu / Shutterstock.com

Here’s another way to add utility while making a home homier. Adding a chalkboard — to a kitchen, workshop, child’s bedroom, laundry room, playroom or even a bathroom — lets everyone express themselves. Get a package of brightly colored chalk and a can of chalkboard paint, found at many paint and hardware stores.

If you’re feeling cheap or creative, make your own chalkboard paint with latex paint and grout. The DIY approach lets you use the color you prefer — typical options otherwise are green or black.

7. Create a labyrinth

outdoor labyrinth
yegorovnick / Shutterstock.com

Unfamiliar with labyrinths? A labyrinth is sort of a meditation garden and maze-like human puzzle, all rolled into one. A stroll along its pathways promotes quiet thought and introspection.

You can design and build your own labyrinth in your backyard for little to no cost at all. Use brick pavers, stones you’ve gathered or rope laid on the ground to delineate the paths. Get more instructions and lore from the Labyrinth Society.

8. Add path lighting

Garden lights line a walkway in a yard
Grisha Bruev / Shutterstock.com

Upgrade your walkway or garden by adding path lights. This will make the area safer come nightfall and add a little romance.

Look for solar-powered lights since they don’t need additional wiring.

9. Install a programmable thermostat

lower energy bills
Phovoir / Shutterstock.com

If you haven’t used a programmable thermostat in your home, it’s time to get started. These devices let you preset home temperatures that kick in automatically to maintain a desired temperature when you’re home, away or sleeping.

Correctly used, a programmable thermostat can save a home at least $50 a year on energy bills. Some manufacturers claim $100 or more in energy savings annually, says the Consumer Reports Thermostat Buying Guide. You’ll save most by selecting a simple thermostat that you can install yourself.

For more tips like this, check out “12 Ways to Lower Your Cooling Costs This Summer.”

10. Add a bird feeder

Hummingbird feeder
Philip Marsden / Shutterstock.com

A bird feeder will delight you and your family, and it’s a wonderful way to care for wild birds too.

Install it near a window — in the living room or kitchen, for example. You’ll find them in myriad styles and prices at Amazon.

Just be sure to read product descriptions to be certain the feeder you buy is meant to attract the types of birds you want.

11. Set up a fire pit

Teens roasting marshmallows around a firepit
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com

Admit it: You love the idea of gathering friends and family around an outdoor fire pit on summer evenings.

Do you know how easy it is to have your own home fire pit? Build your own using repurposed bricks or pavers. Or find the materials at your local lumberyard or home supply store. Ask for help and instructions from the staff.

Or use the easiest approach possible and order it from Amazon, where you can find fire pits, fire tables, fire rings and outdoor fireplaces at many prices.

Before installing, check your local ordinances to see if a permit or inspection is needed first.

12. Paint

African American woman painting a wall.
dotshock / Shutterstock.com

Giving your home a new coat of paint — inside or out — serves many functions. It makes your home look well-cared for and attractive. In fact, paint is one of the quickest, least-expensive home upgrades you can name.

Paint’s most practical role is in creating a protective layer that guards home materials from damaging UV light and moisture.

Good paint can be expensive. While you don’t need the top of the line, it’s important to do some research and choose a good quality product. Sherwin-Williams and Benjamin Moore, for example, are highly rated by homeowners, as we explain in “Homeowners Say These Are the 3 Best Brands of House Paint.

For some jobs, though, cheap or free paint will do fine. Look for it at household hazardous waste (HHW) facilities, Habitat for Humanity ReStores and suppliers of recycled and surplus building materials.

13. Build a game set

outdoor cornhole game
David Prahl / Shutterstock.com

Make your backyard fun for all age groups. Fortunately, it’s not difficult.

One idea is to set up a bean bag toss game, also known as “cornhole.” You can find them online in various prices and designs.

Or build your own. It’s not a complicated proposition. The game board generally consists of just eight pieces of wood. Here are instructions for making your own cornhole set.

14. Hang a hammock

Dudarev Mikhail / Shutterstock.com

Hammocks are having their moment. Or maybe they’ve always been around. But, today, you’ll find them made of nylon, vinyl or cotton, in reds and oranges, brilliant blues, verdant green, rainbow stripes and bold floral patterns.

Hang one securely from a tree or two in your backyard. Or install a hammock on a stand on your patio or deck. It’s a glamorous, delightful way to bum around all summer long.

Amazon has colorful camping hammocks for under $30, big double hammocks on a stand for over $200 and a lot in between.

15. Update your kitchen backsplash

NantukelPhotography / Shutterstock.com

Here’s a super satisfying weekend project that instantly upgrades the kitchen.

Your backsplash protects walls and painted surfaces from splattered grease and messy kitchen mishaps. If you don’t have one, you’ll be happy with how much easier it is to clean the walls when you have a backsplash. If you do have one, it might be time for an upgrade.

If you are confident or eager for a challenge, get advice from your hardware store about how to install a tile backsplash. If you’re looking for a simple backsplash with a great look, take a look at the impressive peel-and-stick backsplash tile options that let even novices achieve an impressive result.

16. Install a bubble window for curious pups

bubble window in fence
Murray11 / Shutterstock.com

Did you know that you can install a window in your fence that lets your pooch keep an eye on the surrounding territory from the safety of her own backyard?

You’ll find plenty of dog bubble windows on Amazon, many for well under $100. This product is made of durable acrylic. One company advises using them not just for dogs, but for cats, chickens and horses, too.

Putting one in a child’s playhouse or treehouse can give kids a thrill. Make sure your purchase includes hardware and installation instructions.

17. Mulch

Garden bed with mulch
Ozgur Coskun / Shutterstock.com

Mulching is another of those home improvement jobs that confers more than one benefit. Put down a 1- to 3-inch layer of mulch on garden beds and watch how quickly your property looks tidied and improved.

Mulching also keeps the chore of weeding at a minimum as it suppresses weeds by depriving them of oxygen and light. What’s more, it holds moisture in the soil, helping you save on water and giving your plants a consistent source of moisture.

Inexpensive or free sources of garden mulch include:

  • Cardboard
  • Layers of newspaper
  • Shredded wood or bark
  • Grass clippings — let them cool down before spreading
  • Shredded leaves — after raking, shred with a lawnmower so air and moisture reach the soil

18. Change switch plates and outlet covers

A man flips a light switch
SpeedKingz / Shutterstock.com

Here’s an easy way to modernize a room instantly. If you’ve been living with older, discolored or chipped outlet covers and switch plates, give them a new look by replacing the old light switch plates and outlet covers.

It’s also an opportunity to add a little color or style to a room. Shop for stainless steel, copper or ceramic switch plates, for example. Check out the choices at hardware stores and online.

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