We’ve had quite a few requests for our tips and tricks on keeping costs down while renovating our Project House on a shoe-string budget. I compiled a basic list of things we did to keep our costs under control both in our project house and in other renovation projects in the past.
1. Mis-tinted paint
When I moved into my second home I had very little money to spend on paint, but I wanted to paint every room a different color. So I went to every local paint store and started collecting mis-tints in similar colors to what I was looking for. For smaller rooms 1 gallon would do the trick. For larger rooms, I found several mis-tints of similar color and actually put them in a 5-gallon bucket and mixed the paint really well. It would never be able to be matched again, but I made sure to mix enough to have a quart+ left over for touch-ups in the future. For the whole house I spent less than $30 on paint. This is also a great tip for small furniture painting projects. I found that a quart or gallon of mis-tinted paint run $1-$5 and sometimes they even have free ones as well.
I’m a huge clearance shopper. Every time I go into any sort of home improvement store, lighting store and even Target, I go straight to the clearance areas. There’s nothing like that little red sticker to make me excited for house projects. I found the glass mosaic tile that I used in my guest bath marked down 60% to 3.98/sq ft in my local Lowes.Much like mis-tints you should get enough of whatever clearance item you are buying to repair/replace areas if you are buying something like flooring or tile.
3. Floor Models & Discontinued Items
We recently found out that once a year a local premium appliance dealer – Mountain Land Design – has a Floor Model & Discontinued Model sale. We were able to go in preparation for our new home and pick up some amazing appliances for 30-70% off of the regular price. Now we ask everywhere we go when/if they replace floor models with the new year’s designs and if they have any corresponding sales. This is a great tactic for appliances, vanities, lighting, plumbing fixtures etc. Some stores like Sears & RC Willey also have outlet stores that carry this type of merchandise year round.
4. Scratch & Dent
I’m always amazed by the things you can find in the Scratch & Dent section and the killer deal you can get them for. Our fridge was marked down from $2200 to $1300 because it had two small scratches on the side of the freezer part. Not really noticeable, and easily touched-up with a little dab of appliance or automotive paint. I’ve found faucets in great condition, a black composite sink with a banged up edge – mind you this was an under-mount sink so the edges would never be seen. Toilets and tile with an irregular (but barely noticeable) finish in one spot. Mr. Project went out and bought a “cheap” steel exterior door for our old shed for $115 at Home Depot. The next day he went back to get some other supplies and found the same style door in the scratch/dent section for $35. It had one small black scuff on the front. I wouldn’t have put it on my house without repainting the whole thing, but it was totally fine for a shed! And doors tend to get scuffed anyway so for $80 savings, it was well worth it to have it pre-scuffed.
*Brand new appliances should still be under manufacturers warranty even if they have scratches/dents. Verify this if you’re buying a floor model or scratch & dent model just to make sure you are covered against any mechanical defects.
5. Shop Classifieds
Because Mr. Project likes to build stuff with wood, he is constantly scanning KSL & Craigslist to find wood and tools. He got his new table saw for a fraction of the price brand new. We find lumber all the time for 50-75% off the price of the local lumber yard. You can also find light fixtures, tile, flooring, cabinets, and other home renovation materials that people have left over from their projects, or they have removed from their home and are re-selling.
6. Home Improvement stores
I love shopping at Lowes & Home Depot. They do really have some amazing prices because they can buy such mass quantities. Lowes especially has increased their lighting department to include a lot more designer-style lighting, and both have pretty good basic tile departments. Where we were in California there was a store called HD Supply. It is owned by Home Depot, but it is more of a contractor supply store. They had great prices on doors, windows, basic cabinets, and all sorts of builder-grade type standard items. We bought all of our baseboard, trim, and casings there for a fraction of the price of anywhere else. I wouldn’t buy everything at large home improvement stores, but they are a good resource for discount goods and construction supplies.
7. Discount websites
My very favorite discount website right now is Joss & Main. They frequently sell designer lighting for unbelievable prices. They also have great home decor items, mirrors, and furniture. I’m not even just saying that because I am an affiliate, I seriously click through all their emails every single day because every day I find something I want at a price that works with my budget. Overstock is a great resource for sinks, plumbing fixtures, tile and lighting fixtures, BuildDirect (one of my Project House sponsors) is my go-to place for great deals on floor tile, subway tile, and wood flooring. Also not just saying that because they are a sponsor – they really do have great prices and high quality products. Lamps Plus Open Box & 55 Downing Street are also great sources for discounted lighting and accessories. If you can’t tell, I’m obsessed with lighting. I am constantly on the lookout for a deal and so I watch like a hawk any site I can get good prices.
9. Pre-finished Engineered Wood Flooring
In our Project House we went to Simple Floors to look at flooring and fell in love with their selection and pricing. We were on a tight budget – we couldn’t afford solid wood, and we didn’t like the feel and sound of laminate. They had something that we hadn’t really seen or considered – pre-finished engineered wood floors (and for a fraction of the price of solid wood). We got our Rococo Oak floors for $2.75/sq ft and installed them ourselves. Engineered floors are basically a ply wood (which is great for humid climates and concrete subfloors) made of different layers of wood. The top 1/8th- 1/4th inch being the Oak (in this case). According to our sales rep at Simple Floors, the oak on our floors was thick enough for one refinishing. Our carpet ended up costing more than our wood floors!
10. Carpet Remnants
Speaking of carpet… we only had to carpet 3 rooms in our house, and so we looked at remnants that would be able to do that. Sometimes remnants are surprisingly large. We were able to carpet all 3 rooms and under the stairs with one remnant AND we still had a huge piece left over for a bound rug. So don’t rule this option out if you need several rooms done.
Mr. Project is quite the talented handy man and carpenter – he built all our kitchen cabinets in our first home, and is currently working on building them for our new home. We saved a considerable amount of money with him doing the majority of the work on the house. There are lots of classes at local home improvement stores, and Mr. Project highly recommends how-to books and YouTube in learning a new skill.
12. Repurposing & Remixing
We needed a quick and cheap vanity for our Project House, but I wanted it to look anything but quick and cheap. I found a white console table on craigslist, had Mr. Project tear off the top and replace it with a wood one, and install a sink and faucet. The total cost was around $25o and he had it done in one afternoon. Bathroom vanity furniture re-mix
13. Go directly to builder suppliers and sub contractors
These are the stairs the house came with:
But we wanted stairs that looked like this:
Mr. Project didn’t feel comfortable doing the stair carpentry himself. We considered calling a general contractor, but didn’t want to pay the up-charge for him to sub it out. So we looked online and found a local stair parts supplier and just decided to go into their offices and get some advice. They were surprised to see homeowners because they normally just deal with builders and contractors. But they were happy to serve us and before we knew it, we were picking out all the design elements and negotiating the contract which included labor from their very seasoned and professional carpenter. I estimate that we saved 30%-50% over working with a contractor who would have just done exactly what they did – show us a catalog and then send over the stair supplier’s carpenter.
14. Get at least 3 quotes & ask for cash discount
If you are working directly with subcontractors and suppliers, make sure to negotiate rates. We tried to get referrals to all of our subcontractors so that we knew we were working with reputable people. In general we tried to get 3 quotes from 3 separate sub contractors, and then we negotiated as we felt necessary and also asked for an additional 10% off for paying cash upon completion.
If you are buying a large quantity of goods such as windows, doors, hardware, trim, casings, etc from one supplier, call and ask if they have “unit pricing” “volume discounts” “price breaks” or if they set up “accounts” for bulk buyers. Also find out if any retailers have special group discounts – student, teacher, senior, military are a few that you may qualify for.
16. Shop Sale Cycles
This seems like a no-brainer, but it can be hard to wait for items to go on sale. We needed 13 doors for our renovation, and we kept going into the door department at Home Depot and asking them what their upcoming sale would be and when it would start. Then we waited for what we thought was the best deal and bought the doors then. You can score good sales if you’re willing to do your homework – possibly footwork – and be patient. Generally product categories go on sale in cycles. Talk to sales associates, watch flyers, and keep your eye on prices to see when the best time to buy certain items is. Big sales weekends such as labor day, and memorial day are great days to get appliances and other big-ticket items.
One of my biggest blogging inspirations for our house renovations and kitchen design was Holly from In the Fun Lane. She redid her kitchen just a few months before we did ours. I loved all the styling, and especially loved the corbels on her peninsula. But I was shocked when she said that they cost $500/per corbel! When it comes to DIY I’m a total budget shopper. I absolutely knew Mr. Project could make corbels for less than $500 – or in my case since I wanted 3 of them – less than $1500.
Here are Holly’s Corbels – cost $1500:
And our completed DIY Corbels – cost $60:
Pretty impressive! And even better looking in real life!
I brainstormed with Mr. Project on how to get them made. We talked about making a template and cutting them with a Jig Saw. He was nervous that they wouldn’t turn out perfect – especially because of their width they would need to be laminated (2 pieces glued together), and it would take TONS of sanding to make them look uniform.
We found a place called Gingerbread Man about 30 minutes away that creates victorian millwork. We decided to hop in the car and go see them to see if any of their styles fit our needs and our budget – or if they would possibly custom cut some for a reasonable price.
Once we got there, we knew they wouldn’t have what we wanted. But we ended up meeting a woodworker who had a shop across the way from them. His name is Don Juvet, and he’s awesome. This woodworker showed us all the stuff he was working on – lots of custom cabinetry – and in the corner of his workshop, he had a gigantic CNC router. We asked him if he would be willing to custom cut some corbels if we sent him a CAD file. He was all for it, and we were excited to have a solution to our problem.
I created a profile using Adobe Illustrator (that program does everything!), and we made a trip back out to the carpenter. He plugged my file into his machine and bam! we had the first (and most difficult) step of our corbels complete. Here is a video of the CNC router cutting out the corbel shape:
The carpenter cut them out of a 1.5″ heavy weight MDF board that he had already in his shop.
It took the machine less than 10 minutes to cut 12 of them out (we only used 6).
Here’s Mr. Project holding up one so you can see the profile:
If you just wanted 1.5″ wide corbels, you’d just need to sand these and you’d pretty much be done. I wanted mine 3″ wide though, so we had to do some glueing first.
Pretty basic process here, just some wood glue and a foam brush. You want a light but even coat.
Then line the two pieces up perfectly and tape to keep them together (they are kind of squishy with that glue in there).
Then use basic clamps to tighten and bond the two pieces. Mr. Project recommends keeping them in a clamp for minimum of 30 minutes on a hot day. Longer on colder days.
Tighten the clamps until you see a little glue squeezing out the sides. Don’t over-tighten or all the glue will squeeze out and you won’t get a very good bond. Wipe the excess glue away with your finger or a slightly damp towel, and let them cure.
Once they are dry (overnight should do the trick), Mr. Project recommends using a spackle compound to fill in the center seam on the front profile to make it look like one solid piece. Once the spackle is dry, you’ll need to sand your little heart out. This is the most time-consuming part of the process. You want to make the seam look smooth and uniform.
We also added a flat trim piece around the bottom of the corbels. Mr. Project mitered it on the corners and wrapped it around the now-glued corbel to give a 3D effect. He put a little bit of glue on the trim piece and finish-nailed it to the corbel. Then he also spackled and sanded that. Once everything was smooth and perfect, he screwed the three corbels into the cabinets from the inside of the cabinet and placed plywood over them, and then screwed them in from the top.
And there you have it, amazing custom corbels for a teeny tiny fraction of the price!