Frugal Home Improvements You Can DIY

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This post may contain affiliate links, see our disclosure here.
That awesome floor mat on the blue carpet!? It’s covering holes in the carpet!

When we were house hunting people did not shy away from giving us their opinions. One friend even told us she liked our house, “if you like old dirty things.” She seriously said that, with a straight face, thinking she was being supportive!

Wow, the Internet world seems to be much more supportive in my few months of blogging, maybe I should get new IRL friends. 🙂 (Just kidding, my IRL friends are awesome too.)

We’ve been in our home for over four years and now have tacked a few frugal home improvements, and some not so frugal. You can learn from our success and failures!

Recommended Frugal Home Improvements

Whether you are a novice or expert YouTube can pump up your skills and make you capable of fixing most things around the house. I did not grow up in a handy home, so I basically knew how to paint a wall when we started dating. After the free home experiment, I was ready to put my skills to test in a home we own (well the bank and us)!

1. Painting

Fuzzy picture
Note the fluorescent light fixtures and handicap rails. The pictured fridge had zero functioning shelves inside of it.

Painting is a little time consuming, but it is well worth the effort. A few tips to make painting a room successful for you:

  1. Spackle, sand, and wash the walls! Painting is the fun part, but the prep work is what makes a paint job last a long time and look good.
  2. Empty the room as much as possible. It makes painting go much faster.
  3. Tape and use good tape. As much as I’d love to use the blue stuff yellow Frog Tape isn’t that much more expensive and works awesomely! We used it to paint bold stripes in our office/guest bedroom. Press down edges with a credit card and remove 1 hour after you put the last coat of paint on the walls.
  4. Don’t buy the cheapest paint. Get a good middle of the road paint, it leads to a much more pleasant painting experience…trust me. Around holiday weekends paint goes on sale at the big hardware stores.
  5. Between coats throw the used paint brushes and rollers in a plastic bag and put them in the fridge. This helps them last longer and saves you some cleanup time.

I think painting the ceiling before you paint the walls also helps make the whole upgrade look nicer, but is less critical than tips 1-5.

2. Privacy Fence

When you tackle the bigger projects you save more money. Labor and materials typically cost the same amount of money, so there’s a 50% savings.

We added the garden and the fence you can see in the background.

We installed a 6′ cedar privacy fence around our back yard, and used chain link along the woods. We have a 1/3 acre lot, with the house roughly centered front to back. We spent $2,500 to fence in the backyard, which is $1,000 less than the price our friends paid for a 4′ pine privacy fence for their <1/8 lot.

This guide takes you through the steps, but we made some frugal and labor saving tweaks.

  1. Use outdoor pressure treated 4x4s for posts and cedar for the pickets.
  2. Rent a 1-man post hole digger and plan on having four people nearby to operate it. Two people are needed to operate this in clay soils! You’ll want breaks and there are gopher tasks with fence building, so extra people are a help not a hindrance.
  3. Use cedar 1x4s instead of 2x4s for the laterals. Major cost savings here.
  4. Do not stain or treat. You splurged on the cedar for a reason. It will gray overtime, but is pest and insect resistance. If you stain or treat it once you will need to redo this every few years. A cedar fence should last 25 years versus 10 for a pine fence. It costs more upfront, but less in the long run. And you don’t have to redo the exhausting labor so quickly!

Fair warning, this is the most labor intensive project we have done! We recruited four helpers to install the posts and four to help with the pickets! The posts were a beast to install since we have heavy clay soil and some *issues* with the post hole digger rental. We rented the one man, it broke, they gave us a two man digger. We needed four strong people to use the four man digger and it was exhausting!

3. Hardwood, Bamboo, Vinyl Plank, or Laminate Floors

We have installed all of these floors, and they are a breeze. Upgrading your flooring yourself will save you more than the cost of the necessary tools you will need to buy. Ask around, you may know someone who own the necessary tools for hardwood or bamboo flooring:

  1. Nail gun – like this one
  2. Air compressor
  3. Miter Saw – we have a sliding compound one, but a cheaper one will do

    Living room
    A normal person would probably tear this out before moving in! We lived with it for 2.5 years to figure out what we wanted. Verdict: Not 50 year old orange shag carpet and green curtains. Good thing 75% of the pack is colorblind.

You can also rent these, but they really aren’t that expensive if you plan on doing more than one room. My favorite part about installing flooring is it doesn’t make a mess. You can easily spend 30 minutes on it one day and actually make a dent in the workload (not the flooring). We casually replaced 500 sf of our orange shag carpet with 3/4″ solid oak flooring over three weeks. We were working full time and I was studying full time to get my Professional Engineering License. We could have done it in less than a week with our full time jobs normally.

The cheaper the flooring the less standard the pieces will be, but we’ve had great luck with inexpensive hardwoods. Installation takes a bit longer, but you just have to be smart with using damaged pieces.

We’ve price compared and found that Lumber Liquidators and Menards have the best prices near us, but not the best quality.

Strand bamboo is super hard flooring, holds up well, and is manufactured so all pieces are consistent (AKA easy to install). But our dogs slip on it, so we are mostly using hardwoods in our house.

Of all of these types of floors vinyl plank are the easiest to install. Our dogs slipped like crazy on them, so I would not recommend them with active puppies. But the humans did just fine walking on the floors. If we finish the basement, we will install vinyl plank.

Frugal Home Improvement Projects You Should Consider to Not DIY

In all fairness, we will DIY all of these too, we are just dreading them, or have learned we are not as skilled as we would like to assume.

1. Window Replacement

Old dirty things
Brown sink and shell themed backsplash! Heck yes!

Our ugly old house came with new windows on the main floor! Except for one 🙁

The window in the master bathroom had a metal frame and a sheet of ice would form over the window every winter. Indicating that it probably wasn’t as weather-proof as we’d like 😉

So, in the fall heading into our third winter in the house we decided we should replace it! We did some googling, watched some youtube, but mostly figured, this can’t be too hard! He took some measurements of the existing window and headed to the hardware store. As we suspected this window was not a standard size (thus it was the ONLY original window remaining, other than the basement windows). So we bought a window 1/2″ wider and quite a bit taller. It’s easier to go taller than wider since we didn’t want to have to build a whole new header.

We proceeded home, broke the existing window (after spending 30 minutes trying to un-install it in on piece), cut the hole and framed in the new window, and started the install of the new one. Almost immediately we realized we had made a mistake.

Apparently there are two types of windows:

  1. New construction
  2. Retrofit

We bought a retrofit, since, you know, old ugly house. But when you change the size of a window you need a new construction window!

Back to the hardware store, and some profanities later, the hole we cut in the size of our house was too big! Of course we couldn’t find the same size window and we had to go smaller. Nothing like fall, rain predicted, and a hole in the side of your house.

We made it work.


2. Drywall

After installing drywall at the old farmhouse I swore I would never do it again! We have a couple of patches that we will do ourselves and a doorways we are closing off. But if we had to do whole walls, we will hire this out! Especially the ceiling. Ugh, think about the neck cramp.

Plus, my drywalling skills leave all the seams visible. It takes patience and lots of sanding to make a smooth wall. Now I understand why popcorn ceilings were once all the rage.

3. Tiling

Hmm, maybe we do like old dirty things. Here’s the master bath! We did immediately replace the blue toilet seat and shower curtain.

We’ve done a few bathrooms and a family member’s basement. Our tiling skills aren’t great.

Mr. 1500 writes about his mad tiling skills and love for his tile saw. We will be trying this out again soon (maybe as soon as this fall…)! And I’ll report back on if we get any better.

Tiling is an art and a puzzle. Take a crack at it, but if you lack patience like me you may want to recruit a skilled person/professional. This is where I’d advise you buddy up to your handiest friend and buy them some beer, it’ll be a lot cheaper than a professional.

Frugal Home Improvements Wrap Up

If you are going to make the leap and buy a house (or just fix one up) try to DIY as much as you can. It fills up all your free time so you can’t even spend your money!

We have fully updated the south side of our house and will be moving onto the north side soon! I’m sure there will be lots more learning coming our way.

When in doubt check out your library, youtube, and ask your friends. Learning is so much better than lazing!

What’s your must do/won’t do home improvement project?

This post may contain affiliate links, see our disclosure here.


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