Ultimate Guide to Home Improvement Project Ideas Under $500

Kitchen Remodel Plan

Home improvement is the solution to millions of mid life crisis world wide. It’s inevitable that you’re going to want to start switching up some details of your life once you’ve been around the block a few times. Well, lucky you, I have the perfect guidebook containing all the recipes to your quickest, easiest, cheapest DIY home improvement projects.

Crappy Commode?

There’s a reason we tend to refer to our toilets as “porcelain thrones.” In the place where you are the most vulnerable, you need to feel comfortable. You need to feel like you own the room and like you’re in control. Well, I hate to break it to you, but no kingdom would ever settle to have a throne that looks the way your’s probably does (and the way mine definitely does!).

Simple solution: restroom revival!

We’re going to go over how to improve a full size bathroom, but if you have a half bath, you can take the same advice, just adjust the prices accordingly.

First Step: Mold is NOT a Good Shower Mate

It’s easy to forget about the mildew founding little colonies in the cracks of your shower. We probably spend a total of five hours in the shower a week, and if you’re not wearing your contacts, you’re lucky if you pick up the shampoo instead of the Nair, let alone inspecting the bacterial growth along the base of your shower tiles that looks like that thing from Ghostbusters.

Well, while leaving mold unattended might have led to the discovery of Penicillin, it certainly shouldn’t be staking a claim in your sanctum sanctorum. So the first order of business is to re-grout the shower. Although this isn’t necessarily difficult or expensive, it’s going to take some time, so buckle up!

(Honestly, you could hire a contractor to do this for you for under $400, and you get the added bonus of the contractor providing all of their own materials and equipment, but come on, this is a DIY guide, not a “sit back and relax” guide.)

Demolition

Don’t freak out, you’re going to have an intact shower during this whole process. You just have to strip it down first.

Remove all the caulk with a utility knife. You can use a utility knife to help remove some of the grout as well, or you could use a grout remover (about $10 on Amazon.com). Get a shop vac into the shower to suck up all the dust, dirt, caulk, and grout bits.

You don’t have to actually remove all of the grout, but if there is a particularly nasty section of the shower, you are going to want to just scrape at the grout to remove the worst of it.

Clean Up

Use a stiff bristle brush (sorry, your kid’s toothbrush isn’t going to cut it this time) to scrub the spots where mildew has formed. Use a solution of bleach water, or vinegar. And then just go to town. Make Cinderella’s cleaning skills look amateur. 

Reconstruction

Now it’s time to get your shower looking back like its old self. I would recommend using SpectraLOCK grout to reseal the tiles. SpectraLOCK is available in just about any hardware store, and if you can’t find it there, the internet always has everything you need. A two pound container is about $38 on Amazon.com.

You want to use SpectraLOCK because it is made specifically for wet environments. And make sure to get the right color so it matches your shower and the rest of the bathroom.

Follow the instructions on the product to mix and prepare the grout. Then just use a mold rubber float (yes, that is the actual name) to reapply grout. They are about $11 on Amazon.com.

Apply the grout in a smooth motion, moving downwards at a 45 degree angle. Work steadily but quickly, because grout starts setting in about 20 to 30 minutes.

Once you’ve filled all of the joints, wipe off the excess grout from the tiles using a wet (but not sopping) grout sponge. These are about $9 for a two pack on Amazon.com.

Let the grout set for about half an hour, then use a grout finisher to add the groove between the tiles. A set of grout finishers is $10 on Amazon.com. You can also use your finger if you want. If at any time during this process you end up removing some grout on accident, just reapply with your finger or the rubber float.

After a few hours, when the grout is dry, it will leave a powdery film on the tiles. Use a clean cloth to wipe it up.

Sealing

Now you’re going to have to seal the shower again. You’re going to need to re-caulk the gap between the shower and the tray. This is important because the tray will likely move slightly through use of the shower. 

Get caulk ($14 on Amazon.com) that is meant for water, a caulk gun ($15 on Amazon.com), and a dap cap ($3 on Amazon.com). A caulk gun cradles the caulk and dispenses it, much like a hot glue gun. A dap cap is a caulk finisher and can also be used to reseal the caulk after you are done.

Cut the tip off of the caulk at a 45 degree angle, and make sure not to cut too much off. Then apply the caulk steadily and smoothly. You might want to put down masking tape or painters tape to ensure a cleaner line.

As the caulk begins to set, use the dap cap as a caulk finisher to smooth out the caulk and give you a really beautiful finished product.

Let that set, and you have one pristine shower! This whole project costs a little over $100 if you’re buying everything new (minus the shop vac). Cheaper than a contractor. 

Next Up: Get Vain About Your Vanity

Even half baths have a vanity, so this applies to everyone. Once your sink starts peeling away, you know it’s time to up grade. And if you’re getting a new sink anyway, you might as well replace the mirror, counter, and faucet while you’re at it.

Go browsing through Restoration Hardware or Better Homes and Gardens to get a feel for the style you’re going for. For some reason, even though I’ve never subscribed to a homemaker’s magazine, there always seems to be one lying around. Once you’ve decided what you want, make sure you have everything you need before you start, and always check all of your products for flaws.

The Home Depot has some fairly cheap, small counter tops that you can buy ranging from $150 to $450. 

For minimal effort with maximum results, just do some touch ups. Spray paint your vanity to eliminate brush strokes. Replace the cabinet pulls with fancy brass ones. Get a polished, vintage mirror. Buy a new faucet.

Make sure that everything new you are adding is the same size as your old fixtures. If you have to knock down some drywall, that’s going to add some cost to your project.

Overall, the project should cost around $400, and should take you about a weekend to complete.

Final Touches: Decoration Central

A little pizzazz goes a long way. Just because it’s a bathroom doesn’t mean it can’t look absolutely incredible.

Add pictures on the walls. Seascapes and flowers never go wrong. And for some reason people (I’ve found it’s typically grandmothers) like vintage bathroom adds.

Get nice rugs and nice towels. While you’re at it, get nice towel and toilet paper holders. Put up a shower curtain that fits the style of the bathroom. Color coordinate. Set out an air freshener. Before long, you’re going to have to start wondering why your guests always seem to be spending more time in the bathroom than your husband.

Living Like a King

The living room is where you spend most of your time. It’s where you can binge watch your favorite TV show, entertain guests, or have a family game night. So there’s no reason why you shouldn’t make it the grandest room in your home.

Walls

There are quite a few things you can do to your walls to make them more classy, modern, or cute. And you can do it for cheap, too. No catch!

Painting

Repainting a room is pretty common anytime you move into a new house or just happen to have a teenager at home (I know I changed the color of my room probably four times in high school alone). It’s a pretty simple way add your own personality to a room and make it your own. 

The average cost for repainting a room ranges from $380-$790 if you hire a contractor. However, if you do it yourself, you’ll find yourself in a much more comfortable range of $200-$300. This doesn’t include painting the ceiling or the trimming.

You’re going to need:

  • painter’s tape
  • canvas cloth or plastic sheets
  • a ladder
  • small paint brushes and a dipping bucket (for small touches)
  • paint rollers and roll holders (with an extension arm if you want)
  • paint trays
  • paint sticks (for stirring)
  • paint (duh)
  • if you are sensitive to strong smells, get a nose plug, a face mask, or open the window.

Line the room with painter’s tape to make sure you don’t accidentally paint bits of the ceiling, base boards, or crown molding. Cover any furniture and the floor with plastic sheeting or canvas cloth to protect from dripping paint.

Most hardware stores have some pretty great ways for you to find your perfect color. I know Home Depot has a little screen that helps you simulate the colors you want in your house. They are great at color matching as well.

You’re going to want a primer and color mix because that ensures most complete coverage. If you are painting over a dark color, I would recommend getting a primer in addition. Two coats are pretty much the standard to make sure you have the best color possible.

Wainscoting

Wainscoting is a lot like bead boarding. Wainscoting is when you have wood paneling on the bottom half of your walls. This can get expensive, especially if you don’t have wainscoting originally in your home. However, if you’re not too proud to completely fake it, I know a way to get wainscoting for a fraction of the price.

Go to the local craft store and buy a bunch of cheap, simple frames. Paint them the same color as your wall, and install them. There, all done!

You actually don’t even need power tools to install the frames. You can use something as simple as hot glue. If you want more stability, I suggest using small nails.

I recommend using a level to make sure your lines are straight, and I would use a latex based spray paint to eliminate brush strokes and get an even coat

Get Stuffed

I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time in my armchair, the curse of somebody who makes their living off of the internet. And after a few months, my poor trusty chair starts to look a little saggy (bearing an unfortunate resemblance to my post-Thanksgiving waistline).

Re-stuffing your chairs is cheap and easy, and it leaves your living room looking like a five star hotel.

Take the covering off of your cushion and examine the damage. Most of the time, the cushions start sagging because the stuffing starts pulling away from each other. Make a small incision where the stuffing is separated and fill the gap with stuffing. Sow it back up when you’re finished.

Now, you could stop right there, but then you’d have to go back and do the same thing again sooner or later, and it makes no sense to keep buying stuffing for one armchair. So I suggest taking it one step farther.

On a piece of foam and a piece of batting, trace the shape of the cushion. Cut out the shape and place them into the fabric covering along with the rest of the cushion. Your couch now has a much firmer base and it will take a lot more than eight hours blogging to make it sag again (sadly, the same thing cannot be said for my previously mentioned waistline).

Kiss the Cook

The kitchen is where the magic happens. I am a firm believer that women belong in the kitchen. So do men, the elderly, children, and occasionally the dog. Everybody belongs in the kitchen because the kitchen has food. And since the kitchen is such an important room, it should look the part.

Magnetized

A lot of the kitchen is comprised of metal. Let’s face it, if Magneto ever got angry in a modern house, the kitchen would be blasted from existence. With all of that metal, it makes sense to use magnets to help save space.

The best tip I could find from my research was ditching the bulking counter knife blocks in favor for a magnetic strip to stick your knives to. This saves counter space, gets the knives up out of the kids’ reach, can be used to store spatulas as well, and looks pretty fly.

Another great magnetizing improvement is a great way to store your spices. Most people have a magnetic fridge, and often, it’s right next to the counter where you’re always cooking anyway. So while you’re at it, you might as well hot glue small magnets to spice bottle and line them all up in plain view on the fridge.

Back Splashes

Back splashes along the counter top are great ways to add class and functionality without sacrificing your wallet.

When you install a back splash in your kitchen, you actually end up protecting your walls. We all know there are some pretty impressive kitchen disasters out there. Exploding spaghetti sauce, popping oil, clumsy kids, and spills are just the beginning. I bet you have your own horror stories.

Well, with tile along the cooking space, any spills or explosions are easily cleaned up, and your meticulous paint job is saved. Tile also doesn’t get warped like wood, so it’s the best option to go with if you’re trying to figure out what material to use.

Tile back splashes are usually around $400- if you only do about half of your wall- and totally attainable if you want to do it DIY style.

Make sure to buy extra tiles just in case you run short or have to replace them. Line up the tiles on the counter so you know where to cut them to fit. Start applying them at the center of the wall, then moving outward.

For a better set of instructions to installing a back slash, watch this video.

Related Questions

What are the best home improvements for resale?

  • Curb appeal is going to be key, so focus on your landscaping
  • Refinish your deck
  • Repaint 
  • Minor bathroom and kitchen remodels
  • Garage door replacement

Ricky Kesler

Ricky Kesler has been an avid DIYer for years. Recently he's really taken to home security, but he has a lot of experience with all sorts of projects from Plumbing to Electrical and Framing to Tiling.

Recent Content