Home improvement projects can add to the worth of your property, enhance your living space, and provide a more comfortable and functional residence. Whether you plan to sell your home or simply want to enjoy your living space, consider upgrades—both big and small—you can make to provide lasting benefits and home value.
Before you start, plan your project
Whether it’s your kitchen, bath or outside living space, take the time to plan and balance what you want and love (in theory) with what you can afford and how it will add comfort, functionality and value to your home. Some steps in the improvement process are absolute, no matter what part of your home you want to enrich, including:
Prioritize your upgrades: Make a list of your must-have features and those you can live without. But don’t think in strict “must” versus “maybe.” Create categories, such as “have to have for function,” such as replacing a sink or tile floor because it’s cracked and leaks or causes falls (yikes!) and “should have for resale,” which includes upgrades that any good real estate agent will tell you are necessary for a future sale.
You can include a category for aesthetics, such as “want this look,” which can offer price-point options. Or make a goal, such as “to create a modern and minimalist feeling”—to which all your choices work toward. If your reconstruction choice doesn’t work toward that goal, strike it from your list. This will help you prioritize your upgrades and allocate your budget more effectively.
Consider the return on investment: In the mid-20th Century, homeowners often wanted to add an in-ground swimming pool, particularly in areas of the country with milder winters. But the expense of pool upkeep soon made the decision regrettable for some homeowners and turned off future buyers (so much fun, but so much expense and work). So much for that return on investment so many sought. Some upgrades simply offer a higher return on investment than others and it’s good to know what they are as you plan.
For example, replacing your kitchen cabinets or installing new countertops are upgrades that currently offer a high return on investment. But understand that a Blue Louise blue-hued granite is elegant looking, but it’s one of the most expensive slabs of granite available (at $100 per square foot) and it has a lot of personality that you may or may not want through time. Perhaps granite tiles are a choice that’s cost-effective, still lovely, but more easily changed out, if you tire of them or your home’s next owner isn’t a Blue Louise—or ‘90s granite or marble fan.
Go for quality over quantity: Rather than opting for many upgrades, focus on a few high-quality upgrades that will add the most value to your home. According to Forbes, replacement projects that continue to have value year-over-year include upgrades to roofing, siding, windows and HVAC systems.
Choose affordable materials: Opt for affordable, but durable materials, which offer a high-end look at a fraction of the cost. Back to the granite example, maybe you really want the look of granite. Building professionals like to remind granite fans that granite must be sealed annually to protect its (somewhat) porous surface from stains and scratches. And It must be kept clean. Granite is not maintenance-free.
Perhaps you consider an engineered stone countertop, or quartz, made of 93% to 95% ground-up natural quartz stone and a small percentage of other minerals and colorants. A durable resin holds it together and it’s low-to-no maintenance.
The resin creates a non-porous surface that doesn’t need to be sealed, except minimally where the countertop meets the wall. With almost anything, you can choose alternatives that deliver the look you want for less. Or not. But it’s smart to do your research on materials.
Invest in energy-efficient upgrades: Energy-efficient upgrades will not only save you money in the long run, but they will also add value to your home. See why energy efficiency matters here.
Also, currently, rebates and discounts can make choosing more energy-efficient upgrades easier on your pocketbook. Homeowners are also looking for features that match their lifestyle habits and philosophies, which—for many—extends to sustainable building materials and energy-efficiency improvements.
Consider all, or some, of these popular home upgrades:
You might want to start with a fresh coat of paint, at the minimum. A recent Zillow paint study found white is the best color for kitchens.
1. Refinish or Replace Your Cabinets
If your cabinets are looking tired, worn and old (and not in a cool vintage way), consider a contemporary look vis-à-vis a refinish, or, if you can afford to, replacement. Sand and/or stain the existing cabinets, or paint them a new color. Even just a re-fresh paint job can work wonders. Refinishing your cabinets can transform the look of your kitchen without the cost of a full renovation.
2. Update Your Kitchen Hardware
If you don’t want to put resources into a full refinish, updating your kitchen hardware is a quick and affordable way to give your kitchen a renewed look. Replace old, worn-out cabinet and drawer handles with sleek, modern hardware in a finish that complements your kitchen’s design and your aesthetic sweet spot.
3. Add a Backsplash
A backsplash is a small, but visually powerful, way to add both style and function to your kitchen. Choose a material, such as tile or natural stone, that complements your kitchen’s character and provides a durable surface for protecting your walls from spills and splatters.
Consider materials that weren’t available to your parents or grandparents, such as a mortarless stone veneer or faux metal. Remember, a backsplash is a waterproof vertical surface designed to protect the wall behind the stove or countertop from oil, water, food, and soap.
Do your research on what material resists the grime of everyday sink and counter use. Want to avoid something that will look dated quickly? Interior design specialists still advocate for the cohesive look of matching the backsplash to the countertop material in a seamless connection.
4. Maximize Space with Additional Storage Options and Open Shelving
Maybe we lost you at refinishing cabinets. What about open shelving? Versatility is a huge benefit to open shelving, as open shelves go with every interior design. Country farmhouse? Check. Sleek minimalism? Check.
There are open shelves that establish that ambiance. Open shelving’s simplicity, even when it’s ornate, makes it a good choice for bringing items out in the open that traditionally have been hidden (and lost) inside cabinets. Think tiers, grids and divided drawers for additional storage that can open countertops and cabinets visually.
5. Upgrade Countertops
Go back to the suggestions on choosing affordable materials and ROI consideration. Granite? Marble? What’s the upkeep cost? Maybe prioritize zero-maintenance materials.
Also consider greener materials, such as Silestone, which offers an engineered quartz produced with 100% reusable energy. Also, countertops created from recycled glass and cement add an understated, industrial, long-lasting surface to a kitchen.
If you’re still wavering on the value of a kitchen upgrade, consider that in a recent Zillow study on the value of home upgrades, a minor kitchen remodel cost approximately $26,214 (depending on region of the country), but had a resale take of $18,927. Do the math. That leaves a 72.2% recoup on the cost.
Upgrading your bathroom can add value to your home, improve functionality, and enhance the aesthetic appeal of the space, just as in a kitchen. Whether you want to create an indulgent spa-like environment or maximize a small space, many bathroom upgrade ideas are available.
6. Upgrade Your Lighting
You can start small, with the basics by replacing the vanity or cabinet lights to create a more updated look. Adding new light fixtures or upgrading your current fixtures can brighten up the space and create a warm and inviting atmosphere. Consider installing dimmer switches to allow you to control the ambiance and switch between task lighting and mood lighting as needed.
7. Upgrade Your Shower or Tub
Re-caulk or reglaze the tub instead of replacing it. Zillow research found that listings with the keyword “spa-inspired” contributed to a 1.8% price premium, so when you upgrade your fixtures, consider fixtures that recall a spa, such as a rain shower head. (Unless you absolutely can’t stand the idea. You do you.)
8. Install Heating and Ventilation
A bathroom can be a damp and humid space, which can lead to mold and mildew growth. By installing a heater and a ventilation fan, you can control the humidity levels and prevent moisture buildup. Even small details, such as a towel warmer, can make your bathroom a delight.
9. Stone Veneer Accent Wall
As an easy renovation product that adds lasting value and character to a home, manufactured stone veneer is rapidly growing in popularity and is one of the leading choices for designers and homeowners to use on interior accent walls.
According to REMODELING magazine’s 2020 report, the most impactful return on investment when it comes to cost vs. value is manufactured stone veneer, especially in interior spaces. The magazine study echoes Zillow’s findings. According to Zillow, the average manufactured stone veneer project cost is $10,386, but the resale take is $9,571, which means a recoup of 92.1%.
If you’re confident doing a simple DIY stone accent wall, consider using a faux stone product, such as Evolve Stone. Evolve Stone is a highly-workable and easy-to-install stone veneer. Its versatility and visual appeal complements almost any home style, in a bathroom—or any other space in your home.
10. New Tile and Flooring
If your flooring needs replacement, consider herringbone parquet flooring, which Zillow research found could add a 5.0% premium if you sell your home. If you’re not a fan of parquet, tile is a consistent bathroom flooring favorite. Engineered bamboo, not solid bamboo, is another bathroom flooring option, because the planks are durable, it’s ideal for wet environments and it has an inviting foot feel.
Living Room Upgrades
A modern living room is a space where you can relax and unwind after a long day. It’s the heart of your home and it’s the place where you entertain guests, spend time with family and friends, and simply enjoy your downtime. But, if you’re looking to upgrade your quality of lifestyle, then it’s time to bring a touch of modern design to your living room.
11. Install New Light Fixtures
Light fixtures should add both style and function to your home. Swap out old, outdated fixtures for current, energy-efficient options to brighten your rooms and save on your energy bill. Consider adding a statement fixture, such as a chandelier, to create a lighting focal point in your entryway or living room.
But don’t stop at simply swapping fixtures. Learn to layer your light for maximum effect. According to interior designers, lighting layers are key to using your space, as well as seeing your space. A successful lighting design combines several light sources at different levels in the room, according to Architectural Digest.
To achieve your perfect combo, think of light as task (for reading or eating), accent (which highlights artwork or architectural features within your room) or ambient (which is done last to fill gaps and set a mood). Even if not a big spatial thinker, imagine a standard three-point lighting set up, which creates back, key and fill light. The combo brings life—and light— to any space. Just ask any filmmaker.
For the best balance, maintain the plan for at least three light sources for every space, including the rooms next to the living room, such as an entry room or foyer. For smaller living rooms, keep at least three lighting sources, but reduce the bulb wattage and the size of the fixtures to adjust to less square footage.
12. Consider a Stone Veneer Fireplace or Stove Alcove
If you’d like to update a fireplace or wood stove alcove (love this idea!) consider installing or refacing with stone veneer around either. A quick search on Houzz, or other home-inspiration site, will show multiple ideas for creating a cozy envelope to contain the stove’s heat and fireproof the space. (Remember, when choosing a stone veneer, adhered stone veneer must achieve a minimum bond strength of 50 psi to meet building codes.) Stone veneer can add character and depth to any space, which can ultimately add value to your home.
13. Incorporate Natural Light
Large windows or glass doors allow plenty of natural light to flow into a living room, which creates a bright and airy feel. If your living room doesn’t have enough natural light, consider installing a skylight or adding some strategically (remember the classic three-point lighting!) placed lamps to establish back, key and fill light, which creates a pleasant-looking, well-exposed room.
14. Add a Pop of Color
While neutral colors are a staple of modern living room design, it’s also important to add a pop of color to the space. This can be done through a striking statement wall, bold artwork or colorful accents, including throw pillows, lighting fixtures or a rug. The pop of color will add visual interest and create a focal point in the room.
“Grounding a room in a neutral palette gives your eye a place to rest, while purposeful pops of color move the eye throughout the room to find new and interesting elements,” according to HGTV.
15. Use Technology to Your Advantage
Technology is an integral part of modern living room design. Integrating smart home technology into your space can help you control lighting, temperature and even the entertainment system with the touch of a button. A smart TV or sound system can also be an inviting addition to the room and allow you to enjoy movies, music or your favorite TV shows in style.
But, according to HGTV, there’s no greater way to polarize people than by asking if TVs and their wires and speakers should be visible or hidden. Evidently, there are two kinds of people when it comes to showing tech and not showing tech. Makes sure you know where your family members land on the topic and plan to adjust, if their vision differs from yours.
Outdoor Living Space Upgrades
Transform your outdoor area into a comfortable and stylish living space with these innovative ideas for outdoor rooms.
16. Paint Your Front Door
Painting your front door is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to update the appearance of your home and create instant curb appeal. In a 2022 article, Zillow reported that for homeowners looking for the best color to paint their front door for resale, they should consider black. According to Zillow, “If you were to paint your front door black, the right buyer could be willing to pay $6,449 more than the typical U.S. home value.”
If you’re not feeling black, don’t worry. You choose what works for you. But understand the power color on a front door can have right now. Pick a color that complements the rest of your house and makes a statement, such as a bold red or bright blue. If possible, consult the color wheel to create color harmony.
17. Add a Fire Pit for Warmth and Ambiance
Nothing says welcome to an outdoor living space like a fire pit. It can create definition on a patio or in backyard or encircle space to say, “this is where friends and family gather.” This feature not only provides warmth and light on chilly nights, but also creates a gathering place for friends and family.
Consider adding a built-in bench or seating area around the fire pit for even more comfort and closeness. Remember, whether you use stone, brick or stone veneer to add a finished layer to the exterior, a permanent fire pit will last longer with a liner or firebricks.
18. Create a Cozy Patio with Comfortable Furniture
Make the most of your outdoor living space by incorporating comfortable furniture into your design. Whether you prefer a traditional look with wicker or a more modern approach with sleek metal pieces, there’s a style to suit every taste.
When arranging your furniture, keep visual unity in mind. Create a focal point (back to that firepit idea!) with a table, or place furniture pieces facing each other.
If you’re more comfortable with a symmetrical layout, go with what Better Homes and Gardens magazine recommends, which is “be sure to leave room for traffic and an entry drop spot…position key seating pieces facing each other” and “use end tables as landing spaces on both ends” of a bench or outdoor sofa.
Make sure to choose furniture that’s weather-resistant and easy to maintain, such as pieces made with HDPE (high density polyethylene), which comes partially from recycled plastics such as milk containers and shampoo bottles. Add colorful cushions and throw pillows for extra comfort.
19. Add a Stone Outdoor Kitchen and Bar Area
Elevate your outdoor living space with an exterior kitchen, grill island or bar with nail-able, mortarless stone veneer, such as Evolve Stone. Its ease of installation makes for a DIY success and the natural look and feel complements the native elements of your outdoor space. Once the kitchen and/or bar is built, it will quickly become a pivotal point in your outdoor living space for family and friends to gather.
According to “This Old House,” outdoor kitchens have a high rate of return on investment compared to other outdoor home improvement projects. “This Old House” also suggests stone veneer as a material option for a built-in base saying, “it looks like and lasts as long as natural stone but is simpler to DIY because it’s lightweight and easy to cut.”
20. Maximize Your Space with Vertical Gardening
Consider maximizing your area with vertical gardening if you’re working with a small outdoor space. Hanging planters and wall-mounted herb gardens add greenery to your yard or patio without taking up valuable floor space. Nearly any trailing or climbing plant can be grown vertically if they’re given the right growing conditions and proper support, such as a stone veneer wall, trellis, arbor, pergola or fence.
The best plants to grow include perennial or annual vines, small perennials, sedums and succulents, ornamental grasses, ferns, annual flowers, and edibles. If you want a monochromatic look, go with a single type of trailing or climbing plant. If you want the beauty of controlled chaos, mix and match. Consult your local nursery for the best combination of plants for your specific lighting and soil conditions and your planned visual layout.
21. Energy-Efficient Upgrades
In addition to improving the look and feel of your home, there are also many upgrades you can make that will help reduce your energy costs and be more environmentally friendly.
Two of the ways to upgrade your home in this way is by adding energy-efficient windows, improving the insulation of your home and adding a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat can help you control your heating and cooling costs by allowing you to set the temperature of your home to match your come-and-go schedule.
According to energy.gov, when you plan any update or remodel it’s a smart time to consider a renewable energy system to provide electricity, water heating, or space heating and cooling and explore options for financing an energy-efficient home.
“In an existing house, the first step is to conduct a home energy assessment (sometimes referred to as an energy audit) to find out how your home uses energy and determine the best ways to cut energy use and costs,” according to the energy.gov website. “To learn more about home energy assessments and find free tools and calculators, go to Your Home’s Energy Use, the Residential Services Network, and the Building Performance Institute.
You can make nearly endless visually appealing and sensible improvements to your home to increase its value, enhance your living space and provide a more comfortable and functional home. It doesn’t matter if you want to sell your home or just want to relish your living space, upgrades can provide lasting benefits, beauty and peace of mind.