Follow These Tips to Save Money on Your Renovation Projects


Boy, have times changed. Once upon a time, when people were flush with cash and home values were going through the roof, no product was too good for a renovation. Stone countertops? Of course. Home theater system? Why not! Whirlpool tub? Hell yeah. After all, home owners were certain they’d get their money back when they sell the house for $200,000 more than they paid. But a renovation today is a different deal, one that’s largely about value. Well, we love a good value here at the Q, so we’ve compiled a list of 10 ways you can save some dough on your next renovation project.

1. Get an Energy Audit

Let’s assume you’re doing a relatively major renovation, and let’s assume you’ll be staying in your house for a while. What’s the point in improving the look and not giving it an energy upgrade as well? So, before you do anything—and we mean anything!—call your local utility and ask about its energy audit program. An energy audit is like an inspection for your house, except everything focuses on how your house uses or wastes energy. A trained auditor will identify weak points and make recommendations on how to correct problems. In some cases, utilities offer free energy audits, but in most cases you get a reduce rate as low as $100. It will be the best money you ever spend.

2. Look for Rebates

There is nothing like getting stuff for free or at a significantly reduced rate. The federal government offers (or offered) many rebates for energy efficiency upgrades and Energy Star appliances, but some of those programs have expired. States and county governments, however, offer their own. Call and ask about rebates for energy home improvements, water efficient toilets, and Energy Star appliances. Some of these programs have been scaled back because of budget cuts, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

3. Evaluate What Can Be Saved

Depending on the year of your home, there could be quality products—old-growth millwork and floors, mantels, or architectural metal work—hidden in plain sight that can either (a) be reused in your remodel or (b) sold or donated (for tax write-offs) to a reuse center. Some products only look old, but a little elbow grease can have them looking like new. Older products that have been cleaned up often exude character-making patina, giving your reno a cool bohemian vibe. Plus, using old stuff means you don’t have to spend money on new stuff, which means more cash for cool tiles or that Scandinavian wood stove.

4. Visit Salvaged Yards and Reuse Centers

There is nothing worse than paying good money for inferior products at a big box store. You could avoid this by checking a good salvaged yard, which is an underrated source for such items as solid wood doors, kitchen cabinets, pedestal sinks, radiators, fireplace mantels, and much much more. Most cities have a reuse center or a Habitat for Humanity Restores that carry used and surplus building materials and products at a fraction of the retail price.

5. Always Look for Remnants and Leftovers

When stone yards and lumber mills get to the end of their stock, small pieces are usually left lying around unsold. If you only need a small piece for, say, a countertop, it’s a perfect opportunity to haggle for a good deal. Home supply stores and other stores also offer great bargains in the “as-is” section. Check often. Even companies on the Web offer “seconds” and “handy man specials” at a drastically reduce rate than their normal lines, so always ask. 

6. Find New Uses for Old Products

Molding, wood vanities, and wall paneling can be pricey, but with a little imagination, you can find affordable replacements that look just as good. For example, an old bureau makes a good bath vanity (provided you find the right size), and oak or maple plywood with a little stain or polyurethane makes great wall panel on an accent wall. Consider this: an 8-foot length of medium density fiberboard trim costs about $8 at a big box home supply store; the same length in wood runs about $10.50. But if you buy a 4-foot-by-8-foot sheet of MDF and cut 16 3-inch strips from it, the cost is $1.87 per piece. Once painted up, the trim looks just like wood.

7. Ikea is Your Friend

You certainly don’t want your house kitted out in products with funny-sounding names, but the Swedish company makes some value-oriented items that cannot be beat. Ikea’s Akurum kitchen cabinet line is a great product (for the money), its wood countertops are excellent, the Pax wardrobe system can be the foundation for cool storage solutions, and the lighting selection is totally underrated.

8. Consider the DIY Option

In most cases, the biggest expenditure you will make in a renovation or a remodel is the money you’ll pay contractors and sub-contractors. That’s because labor is costly. (Electricians and plumbers often charge about $75 just to show up to your house.) But you can drastically cut your budget by doing some or (if you’re really handy) all of the work yourself, which is why do-it-yourself home improvement shows on HGTV and the DIY Network are so popular. But beware: Your DIY results are unlikely to look as good as that of a quality professional and DIY work is not as easy as they make it appear on TV or in magazines. Mistakes happen and sometimes they—plumbing, electrical, and structural, in particular—can be costly and dangerous, so make sure you think about this option carefully.

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