Remodeling, renovating or improving your home has never been cheap. However, with costs for labor and materials rising, home improvements can take a bigger bite out of your bank account than a few years ago. For example, the average midrange bathroom remodel cost $21,377 in 2020 but reached $27,164 in 2022 —a 27% increase.
Fortunately, you can save money on home improvements by setting a budget, comparing contractors, doing some of the work yourself and waiting for sales. Here are 12 things you can do to save money on home renovations.
1. Create a Budget
Make a list of the changes you want to make to your home and rank them by priority. Before reaching out to contractors, you can get rough ideas of costs on websites such as Angi or HomeAdvisor. Use social media sites like NextDoor and Facebook to ask neighbors who've had projects done what they spent. If you plan to purchase appliances, fixtures or other materials, price them online.
Add up your estimates to create a rough budget. Don't forget a cushion to cover unexpected costs. Typically, experts have advised adding 10% to 15% to your total for cost overruns. In today's climate, however, you may want to double that number.
2. Compare Contractors
You can get recommendations for contractors from trusted websites, friends, family and neighbors. Visit the contractors' websites and read reviews. Verify that the contractor is licensed; you can check this on your state licensing board's website.
Also make sure they have liability and workers' compensation insurance—otherwise, you could be liable if a worker is injured on your property.
3. Compare Bids
Once you've narrowed down your shortlist of contractors, get written bids from at least three of them. Low price isn't the only factor in choosing a contractor; shoddy work could cost you more in repairs than you save.
Before signing a contract, ask several of the contractor's references how satisfied they were with the work.
4. Wait for the Off-Season
Good weather is prime time for remodeling. Having work done in the spring, summer or fall can cost you a premium.
Consider scheduling your project between January and March. Many contractors are less busy at those times and may cut you a deal.
5. Be Your Own General Contractor
Many remodeling projects involve multiple skilled laborers. For example, redoing a kitchen may call for a plumber, cabinet maker, flooring installer, electrician and painter. The general contractor oversees it all—hiring and managing workers, ensuring that materials arrive on time, keeping your project on schedule and communicating with everyone involved. In return, they typically charge 10% to 20% of your project cost.
Acting as your own general contractor can save you this sum, but could come at a cost. Subcontractors typically prioritize contractors over homeowners, which could leave your project on the back burner if a subcontractor gets a big job. They may also charge you more than they would a contractor. Finally, consider whether you have the time and know-how to organize, prioritize and manage all the moving parts involved in a remodel. General contractors know how to manage problems that can derail your project.
6. Do It Yourself
The DIY approach can cut your renovation costs. Ask your contractor if you can lower your costs by prepping the space for workers in the morning, cleaning up after them at the end of the day or doing your own demolition. Most people can DIY interior painting, tiling a backsplash and other minor tasks. Online videos, home improvement stores and community colleges or adult schools can teach you to do more complex jobs, like installing flooring.
Don't DIY anything that requires a licensed contractor, such as major plumbing or electrical work. You could get hurt or damage your home. Be sure you're confident in your skills. Otherwise, you might end up paying someone else to redo the work, or injure yourself and incur medical bills.
7. Shop for Bargains
Typically, contractors buy the materials for your renovation from their suppliers. But if you're willing to put in some time, searching for bargains and buying materials yourself could save money. You can save 20% or more by:
- Watching for sales
- Purchasing floor models of cabinets or appliances
- Searching for items with minor flaws (like a scratch or dent)
- Buying discontinued appliance models and materials
8. Reuse and Recycle
Save money and the planet by reusing materials whenever possible. For example, repaint or resurface kitchen or bathroom cabinets instead of installing new ones. Refinish hardwood floors instead of replacing them.
In addition to reusing what you already have, you can find used materials on websites like Freecycle, eBay or Craigslist or in neighborhood social media groups. Salvage yards and Habitat for Humanity ReStores can be good sources of used supplies, too. Your contractor may even have leftover materials from other jobs you can purchase.
9. Be Flexible
Which items on your remodel list are non-negotiable, and which are not? Prioritizing elements of your renovation will help save you money.
Think about what will make the most difference to you. If your heart is set on a high-end stove, could you save by choosing lower-cost flooring or cabinets? Contractors should be able to suggest ways to keep the budget in check without giving up what you care about most.
10. Get Permits
Major renovations such as home additions or new construction, as well as electrical, mechanical and plumbing changes, may require a permit from your local building authority. Permits cost money, but not getting a permit can cost you more.
Without the appropriate permit, the city may force you to tear out and redo the work—and pay fines to boot. Unpermitted structures or improvements can also lower the selling price of your home when you're ready to move on. Contractors can handle the permit process for you, but if you're willing to face some red tape, you can save money by doing it yourself.
11. Avoid Major Changes
The bigger the changes you make to your home, the more you can expect to spend. Moving load-bearing walls, adding square footage and moving plumbing pipes or gas lines are complex and costly projects.
Contractors can point out such pricey modifications and suggest cheaper ways to work with your home's existing systems. For example, installing new cabinets or creating more efficient storage space in your kitchen could improve the layout without moving the sink, stove and refrigerator.
12. Minimize Food Costs
When you don't have a functional kitchen, getting takeout or dining out every night can quickly add up. Before remodeling your kitchen, set up a mini fridge, microwave and hot plate in another room or garage. You can cook more meals at home and save money.
Paying for Home Improvements
If you don't have cash to pay for home improvements, you can delay while you save money or finance the project with a personal loan or credit card. Putting a big expense on a credit card could boost your credit utilization above 30% of your available credit, which can hurt your credit score. If you do use a credit card, pay it off as soon as possible. Using a credit card with a 0% interest promotional period can save you money; pay off the balance before the introductory rate expires and you'll pay no interest.
If you have equity in your home, you might qualify for a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC). Because your home's equity serves as collateral, these typically have lower interest rates than personal loans or credit cards. However, if you can't pay the loan, you could lose your home. Before applying for any type of credit, check your credit report and credit score. Having a good credit score can qualify you for lower-interest financing—another way to save on home improvements.