New year? New home improvement resolutions!

New year? New home improvement resolutions!

Home improvement doesn’t have to involve fancy contractors and big bucks.

Key tips to remember

  • DIY home improvements are within your reach and your budget
  • Maintenance and improvements are two different things, but they can overlap
  • Improving your home yourself makes you feel more comfortable and satisfied
  • There’s usually a less expensive way to make a significant change in your home
  • Home improvements and upgrades don’t have to take forever

New year? New home! It’s a whole new year, and you might be thinking it’s time for a refresh — if not in attitude, at least in environment. Why not consider a few renovation resolutions? As those old familiar feelings of new-year optimism begin to wash over you, the last thing you want to feel is stagnant. You may be wondering how to modernize your home with some budget ideas. Perhaps, like many of us, you’re spending more time around the house these days. Naturally, home improvement comes to mind as a great way to reinvigorate enthusiasm for your surroundings. However, before you put the kibosh on the idea because you think you can’t afford any expensive overhauls, think again. Do it yourself, and for a lot less.

You can do more than you think without hiring a contractor, and we’ve got some cheap home improvement ideas and cheap home upgrades that can make a big impact on your comfort and enjoyment of your home. There are a multitude of easy, affordable DIY home projects that any motivated homeowner can achieve with minimal cash and effort. When you think about what adds value to a home, think about the little home upgrades that make the biggest differences, like a new coat of paint, a decluttered living area, or cozy, draft-free warmth in the winter and refreshing cool air in the summer. Sit back, relax, and take a closer look at our overview of DIY, easy home upgrades you can accomplish on the cheap.

Decluttering

DIY home improvement begins with getting your house in order literally and figuratively, meaning you need to get organized with a plan of attack and then actively pick up stuff around the house accordingly. Before you can effectively evalwwwe a room for potential changes, you need to declutter. Getting a decluttering plan together is as simple as going room by room and dividing all the random stuff you encounter (everything you can part with) into three categories: ditch, donate or recycle. If it’s not a keeper, it goes into one of these three piles, boxes or bags. Next step, remove it all from the house and begin to revel in the joy of the purge, but don’t relax yet. You’re just getting started.

Reorganizing

Once you make the rounds throughout your entire home with a dedicated eye for decluttering, eliminating as much extraneous stuff as possible and having taken all your “ditch, donate or recycle” materials to their new homes, you can transition into phase two: shifting focus into organizing everything you decided to keep. Reorganize all your keepers with hooks, boxes, baskets, bins, benches, shelving and more. Reorganize your closets, garage, attic, basement and bedrooms. You’ll be surprised how refreshed and reinvigorated you feel.

Shelving

Speaking of shelving, anywhere you feel the need for extra storage, shelves are a potential solution that can add a little style to your decluttering efforts. Whether you add open, floating shelves to your kitchen, bathroom or hallways, build your own custom shelf solutions, or purchase any number of prefabricated modular shelving units for the den or living room, there’s a shelving solution for your sitwwwion. Shelving designed to better organize closets comprises an entire industry. You may also consider shadow boxes, cubbies and under-stair storage, all of which you can build, paint, stain and install yourself.

Painting

Arguably the most common DIY home-improvement upgrade around, a new coat of paint can do wonders for your spatial appreciation — and at a limited cost. Whether you add a lighter shade to a smaller room to open it up and make it feel larger, go a bit darker and more dramatic with a big bedroom, or even paint an old floor for a cheaper, faster alternative to refinishing, you can do a lot with a can of paint. For a refreshing blast of color, you don’t even need to paint an entire room. Try painting a single wall and see what you think.

Caulking

Even the best caulk around doesn’t last more than 25 years or so, and that’s often stretching it. If you’ve ever taken the time to look closely at the caulk around your home inside and out, you’ve likely seen the telltale signs of its gradual deterioration. The slight darkening in color around edges, the cracks slowly multiplying and, in more extreme cases, the caulk actually peels away from the gap it was meant to seal in the first place. Strip out the old stuff, don some rubber gloves and get to work. Fresh caulk, fresh seals and a fresh look can help you maintain that fresh new-year outlook, not to mention keep those gaps dry and mold-free.

Bathroom tile

Sometimes, particularly when you move into an older home from a bygone era, you encounter bathroom tile that looks otherworldly. Shades of blue, green, brown and pink that seem more appropriate for a 1980s cartoon than a contemporary bathroom are surprisingly common. If you’re OK to live with it for a while, take your time and save up for a new tiling job. Believe it or not, if you’re not ready for a job that big or expensive, you can paint tile. Just make sure you get waterproof paint. It may not be an ideal solution, but it can help you obscure the tacky colors and get you through a couple of years of saving for that bathroom overhaul on your horizon.

Kitchen islands

One way to spruce up your kitchen, especially if you have limited storage space, is to convert an old dresser into a kitchen island. It may sound a little unconventional, but it’s an inexpensive and effective way to create a useful workspace for meal preparation while adding drawers full of storage for the lion’s share of your most used kitchen tools. You can often find an old dresser for a song, if not free. With a little sanding, a new coat of paint and the addition of some oversize locking wheels, you’re in business. If you want to get a little fancier, find a thick chunk of reclaimed wood or butcher block to fix in place atop your new kitchen island.

Kitchen cabinets

While we’re still in the kitchen, we’d be remiss if we failed to mention the kitchen cabinet remodel, one of the most popular ways to inject a little excitement into a tired, old look without spending a lot of cash. Here’s where a little effort can go a long way. But take your time. Before you start spreading paint, consider sanding and priming the surfaces you plan on recoating. Paint always adheres better to clean, dry surfaces that have been adeqwwwely prepared. Of course, you can always remodel the cabinets in your bathroom or utility room, too.

Backsplashes

Another surefire way to make your kitchen really pop is to redo the backsplash with something more nontraditional, elegant, modern, creative or unique. The backsplash is an ideal canvas to showcase your personal style, so think it over. If you’re still trying to keep this home improvement venture on the cheap, and you’re not experienced or confident in your own ability to replace tile, you have other options. You can always paint the tile as we discussed earlier regarding your retro ’70s bathroom. Other inexpensive DIY backsplash options include repurposed adhesive flooring or single-piece metal, plastic or bead-board panels.

Dishwashers

While we’re still in the kitchen, even if you’re not looking at a full overhaul of your major appliances, it’s worth pausing to consider the dishwasher. If you don’t have one, you’re wasting far too much water hand-washing your dishes. A dishwasher can save 40% of that water you’re sending right down the drain, and if you have an old one, it’s likely a prime candidate for replacement. New models are so much more efficient in terms of both water and power usage, saving you around $30 a year and about 500 gallons of water. If you’re determined, you can even install a new dishwasher yourself in a few hours, without a plumber or an electrician.

Ceiling fans

If you’re looking at DIY home improvement projects that deliver maximum impact with minimum investment, you owe it to yourself to consider installing a new ceiling fan or two. Alongside their ability to make a strong visual impact that reflects your personal taste, few additions to your home deliver energy savings quite like a good ceiling fan. It offers a nice, cool breeze in the summer, paired with significant relief for your HVAC system. A good fan also circulates heated air in winter to keep rooms warmer. As long as you have a ladder, some basic tools and the determination to DIY, you can install a new, lighted ceiling fan in a few hours.

Crown molding

Crown molding is a popular way to add a layer of style and distinction to rooms throughout your home. It can be installed around doors, windows, ceilings, entryways, and along the length of floors and walls. Crown molding has come a long way from the days when it required an experienced professional with a miter saw, expensive hardwood and infinite patience. While hiring a pro is still an option, these days there are simpler, less expensive alternatives that make crown molding more accessible to the average homeowner. From plaster-coated polystyrene foam that cuts easier and glues down fast using a joint compound to wood-and-plaster models that eliminate frustration over angles, coping and rough joints via peel-and-stick solutions, today’s crown molding options qualify as an affordable, accessible DIY home improvement.

Stair runners

If you’re used to padding around your home in socks and you have a slippery staircase that needs some attention, don’t spend thousands to have a contractor carpet those stairs. You have other far less expensive options. Instead of the carpet, consider a woven stair runner, designed precisely for this purpose and much more affordable. With the addition of a few nails and adhesive pads, installation is easy. Another option that could save you even more money involves simple grip tape, similar to what’s used on skateboards. Pre-cut sections of adhesive tape (with serious grip on the topside) work well for this simple, cheap upgrade. 

Floors and doors

Floors and doors are among the most essential and arguably most overworked parts of our homes. As such, sometimes they get a little overlooked. As you work through a variety of home improvement project possibilities, this could be your doors’ — and your floors’ — time to shine. Think restore, refinish, repaint or even replace. Depending on how much time, money and patience you have to dedicate to your DIY projects, you have a plethora of possibilities to consider. Your door is the first thing you see whenever you come home, not to mention the first thing your guests see. Why not wow them from the get-go? A little soap and water followed by a fresh coat of paint can do wonders for an old, trusty door, and an old floor that you’re not quite ready to refinish yet could also benefit considerably from the same. While you’re at it, go ahead and make sure that your doors and windows are all well sealed, keeping the hot (or cold) air in when you need it most. When extreme seasonal weather hits, you’ll be glad you did.

Interior shutters

Here’s another entry for the small effort and big results column: interior window shutters that close or open to reveal the window. Easily attached via a thin frame that fits inside or outside the window, interior shutters are wooden or plastic, come in every conceivable color, or can be built cheaply from scavenged wood. Try dismantling a pallet and staining the pieces to build shutters. You might be surprised by the beauty of the natural, distressed wooden pieces and how quickly you can achieve this look. While increasing privacy, interior shutters also add distinct style and increase your home’s efficiency by keeping hot or cold air in or out as the seasons change, further improving those door and window seals you just completed.

Deck revival

Is your deck looking pretty rough? Giving it a whole new look can add a big dose of curb appeal and make you more likely to spend time out there when the weather is nice. Start with a pressure washer before gradwwwing to a steel brush for those stubborn parts where the deck surface has become seriously discolored. After you complete these steps, it’s your choice whether to add paint, stain, clearcoat, or some combination of these common finishing solutions. We recommend a semi-transparent stain and seal combination, available in a single can, which allows some of the original wood grain to show through for an aesthetic bonus. But there are many options, up to and including thick, opaque deck paint that comes with textured grip to create a nonslip surface.

Water filters

The last thing the planet needs right now is more plastic bottles, but homeowners across the country rely on them because of concerns about their municipal water supply. The good news is even if you worry about your city’s water, the one-time installation of a simple, under-the-sink water filtration system can make your water much safer to drink and tastier, too. With a simple, single filter change just twice a year, you can get clean, safe drinking water right from your tap and stop the endless influx of plastic water bottles.

Thanks for reading our list of suggestions for the new year’s home improvement solutions! While you’re here, you may also be interested in reviewing our fall home maintenance checklist or brushing up on some reminders about how to winterize your plumbing before temperatures hit rock bottom. We’ve put together a huge library of posts on all sorts of helpful topics, and not just those related to cold weather. You can read all about how to remove carpet stains or choose the right countertops, for example. Whenever you’re wondering about home improvement, we’ll be here. Thanks again for stopping by!


The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.