The 15 Most Popular Home Upgrades – and What They Cost

Couple painting a room in their home
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Hearing a lot of hammers and power saws in your neighborhood lately? You’re not alone.

The home remodeling market has grown by more than 50% since the recession ended, according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS).

That translates to almost $425 billion spent on remodeling in 2017 — and not just for high-end upgrades like granite countertops, according to the JCHS 2019 Improving America’s Housing report. Some of the most common home improvement projects are also among the most mundane.

The reasons for home improvements are varied. According to JCHS, they include:

  • Aging homes: The national median age of owner-occupied homes increased to 39 years in 2017 — up from 32 years in 2007 and 29 years in 1997, according to the report. This stems from homebuilding activity remaining below historical averages.
  • Aging homeowners: Older homeowners are increasingly seeking to improve the accessibility of their homes for the elderly or disabled. According to the report, nearly 3 million homeowners reported doing at least one accessibility-related home improvement project in 2017 — and more than 72% of them were age 55 or older.
  • Rising home prices: As home values have increased, so has home equity — meaning homeowners have more equity to tap to fund renovations.
  • Natural disasters: In 2017, 6% of home improvement spending went toward disaster repairs — up from 5.6% in 2007. And this type of spending may rise further in the two to three years following the major hurricanes and wildfires of 2017 and 2018, according to the report.

Following is a look at the most popular home improvement projects of 2017, the latest year covered by the JCHS report.

15. Driveway or sidewalk improvements

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Number of homeowners who reported doing this type of project: 1,929,000

Homeowners spent an average of $3,220 per driveway or sidewalk improvement project in 2017 — for a collective total spending on such projects of about $6.2 billion, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies’ 2019 Improving America’s Housing report.

14. Kitchen remodel

Newly remodeled kitchen
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Number of homeowners who reported doing this type of project: 2,092,000

The average homeowner spent $12,255 on a kitchen remodeling project in 2017.

According to the JCHS report, 11% of all money spent on home improvement projects that year was spent on kitchen remodels. Minor kitchen remodels were much more common than major kitchen remodeling projects — the latter of which the report defines as “professional home improvements of more than $30,000.”

Incidentally, major kitchen remodels tend to offer a low return on investment. As we detail in “The 10 Worst Home Renovations for Your Money,” midrange and upscale kitchen remodels offer some of the lowest returns of any home renovation.

A midrange minor kitchen remodel on the other hand, offers one of the highest returns of any home improvement project, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2019 Cost vs. Value Report.

13. Security system replacement

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Number of homeowners who reported doing this type of project: 2,143,000

On average, homeowners spent $628 replacing home security system equipment.

According to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, homeowners typically pay for small projects like this with cash, as opposed to using a credit or retail store charge cards or a home equity loan, home equity line of credit (HELOC) or cash from mortgage refinancing.

In fact, of all the homeowners who did a security system project themselves, 90% paid with cash. By comparison, 84% of all DIY home improvement projects were paid for with cash.

12. Heating equipment replacement

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Number of homeowners who reported doing this type of project: 2,224,000

The average homeowner spent $3,790 replacing built-in heating equipment in 2017, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies’ 2019 Improving America’s Housing report. That made this type of project less expensive yet less common than replacement of central air conditioning in 2017.

11. Fencing or wall improvements

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Number of homeowners who reported doing this type of project: 2,225,000

Of all the types of improvements to a yard or lot, fencing and walls were the second-most common, according to the JCHS report. On average, homeowners spent $2,356 on this type of project.

10. Electrical replacement

Men looking at electrical panel
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Number of homeowners who reported doing this type of project: 2,244,000

For projects involving replacement of electrical wiring, fuse boxes or breaker switches, homeowners spent an average of $1,473 per project — which likely went to a professional.

“Even homeowners skilled at common DIY projects like painting, tile-setting, and deck laying are likely to hire professional contractors for projects such as electrical, plumbing, and roofing upgrades,” states the JCHS report.

9. Central air conditioning

HVAC repairman working on AC unit.
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Number of homeowners who reported doing this type of project: 2,741,000

Homeowners spent $5,113, on average, replacing central air conditioning equipment in 2017. This made them more expensive yet more popular than replacement of built-in heating equipment.

8. Landscaping or sprinkler improvements

Garden bed with mulch
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Number of homeowners who reported doing this type of project: 2,770,000

Of all the types of improvements to a yard or lot included in the JCHS report, landscaping and sprinkler system projects were the most common in 2017. Homeowners who undertook this type of project spent an average of $2,497 on it.

7. Bath remodel

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Number of homeowners who reported doing this type of project: 2,869,000

Homeowners spent an average of $6,362 per bathroom remodeling project in 2017, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies report.

Minor bathroom remodels were much more common than major remodels — the latter of which the report defines as professional home improvements of more than $15,000.

If you’re looking to renovate a bathroom in hopes that it will boost your home value, steer clear of midrange universal-design bathroom remodels and upscale bathroom remodels. Both are among the 10 worst home renovations for your money, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2019 Cost vs. Value report.

6. Roofing replacement

Put the final nail in your roof maintenance or replacement plans by doing the right research. (Photo by Spok83 / Shutterstock.com)
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Number of homeowners who reported doing this type of project: 3,383,000

The second-most common type of exterior replacement project in the JCHS report is a roofing replacement. On average, homeowners spent $7,674 on this project.

Roofing improvements are also among a handful of home improvements that “have the potential to generate large energy savings,” according to the JCHS report. The others include improvements to siding, windows, doors, HVAC systems and insulation.

5. Water heater replacement

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Number of homeowners who reported doing this type of project: 3,551,000

The average homeowner spent $976 replacing a water heater. As with security systems, households typically pay for smaller home improvement projects like this with cash rather than credit or retail store charge cards or the proceeds of a home equity loan, home equity line of credit (HELOC) or mortgage refinancing.

4. Window or door replacement

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Number of homeowners who reported doing this type of project: 3,722,000

Replacement of doors or windows is the most common type of exterior replacement project in the JCHS report. On average, homeowners spent $3,442 on this type of project.

As with roofing replacements, door and window replacements are among a handful of home improvements that “have the potential to generate large energy savings,” according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies’ 2019 Improving America’s Housing report.

If you’re considering replacing your front door, you might want to go for one in a shade of black. A 2018 analysis by real estate website Zillow found that having a front door in such a color can boost the selling price of your home by more than $6,000.

3. Dishwasher or garbage disposal replacement

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Number of homeowners who reported doing this type of project: 3,734,000

They may not be the most exciting home improvements, but the replacement of built-in dishwashers and garbage disposals are certainly popular ones. They were the third-most common type of home improvement in 2017, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.

With the average replacement of a built-in dishwasher or garbage disposal costing $570, projects involving such appliances are among those that households typically pay for with cash rather than some form of credit or loan.

To get the most out of your investment, check out “17 Unusual Things You Can Clean in a Dishwasher.”

2. Plumbing fixture replacement

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Number of homeowners who reported doing this type of project: 4,096,000

Plumbing fixture replacements were the second-most common type of home improvement project in 2017, according to the JCHS report. On average, homeowners spent $1,360 on this type of project, typically paying for it with cash rather than with credit or loan proceeds.

1. Indoor flooring replacement

Young women carrying carpet.
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Number of homeowners who reported doing this type of project: 5,219,000

Replacing indoor carpeting, flooring, paneling or ceiling tiles was the most common type of home improvement project in 2017, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies’ 2019 Improving America’s Housing report. On average, homeowners spent $3,283 on this type of project.

What’s your take on the most popular home upgrades and their costs? Have you ever done, or would you do, any of these projects? Share your thoughts and experiences in comments below or on the Money Talks News Facebook page.

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