Category Archives: Low Cost Home Improvement Ideas

low cast ideas to add space and function to your home without spending a fortune.


Did you ever wonder how you can add more space to your home for far less than it would cost to have an addition built? Many people who were hoping to ad onto their home have had to postpone those plans due to the current economic climate. However if you still have the need for additional space but find that the 800 square foot addition you had been planning is just not feasible at this time don’t give up just yet.

There are ways to greatly expand the usable living space inside your home without going to the expense of hiring someone like me to design and build an addition for you. (Darn it! There I go telling everyone how to save money by not hiring me. I hate it when I do that!) You just need to start thinking inside the box! By this I mean looking inside the existing walls of your home at poorly used space and improving its function through design modification and/or disciplined editing of the contents.


I recently added a two car garage to my home and it didn’t cost me any money at all. Actually, I profited around $1,500 when all was said and done!

In my case, the garage space was there all along, it just wasn’t functioning as a garage. It had evolved over the years into a storage area that hadn’t seen a car cross its threshold in a long time. So this time when it became too cluttered to tolerate I decided to do more than just re-organize, which in the past had always yielded an amazing amount of additional space. I realized that I had moved many of these same items into a more orderly arrangement numerous times over the years and still hadn’t found a use for them. I decided it was now time to let some of this stuff go.

While getting rid of stuff doesn’t cost much money, it will require some time and elbow grease.  Start by organizing things into the following four categories;

  • For sale – craigslist and eBay are a great way to turn your clutter into cash! Don’t be too discriminating about the items you put up for sale, you would be surprised at what others will pay god money for.  This is how my garage cleaning project turned into a net gain of $1,500!
  • Give it away – items you no longer have a use for could have a positive impact if it were donated to the Restore at Habitat for Humanity (517 374-6235), the Salvation Army (800 562-3834) or St. Vicnent DePaul (517 484-5395). They will take a wide range of items including clothing, household items, appliances and furniture, even used building materials and tools.  Call to have them pick up your donations at your house or direct you where you can drop them off.
  • Recycle – before you send it to a landfill, think recycle. Take the time to learn about what can be recycled and how to do it properly. For more information you can go to the “Michigan Recycling Guide” or, for a quick summary, go to the “Worlds Shortest Comprehensive Recycling Guide”
  • Toss it – This is the last resort when all of the above has failed. Even then, some things that you were unable to sell or even give away, will magically disappear when left out at the curb over night. So put these items out a day early with a sign labeling them as “free” and you may be amazed when they mysteriously disappear. For information on what cannot be sent to landfills and how to properly dispose of these items you can read the State of Michigan DEQ brochure “Banned Landfill Materials” .

WARNING! As surely as the sun will rise tomorrow, that item you have been saving for 15 years will finally be just the thing you need – within two weeks after you throw it out! Don’t sweat it, this is a small price to pay for the overwhelming feeling of joy that a well organized garage or basement will bring.


When I first wrote this, I had this point as number one, but after thinking about it I decided it was more beneficial to de-clutter and clean first. This will make it easier for you to see the possibilities and if you decide to go no further than clearing out and cleaning certain areas of your home it would still be a very worthwhile endeavor.

When beginning to think seriously about making changes to your home you should first make a list of the things you do not like about your current home as well as the things you do like or would like to have. Prioritize this list by dividing it into things you need and things you want. Then take a careful look at all the areas of your home that are seldom used or that could perform a higher function.

The first thing that I do when helping our clients plan their home improvement project is to look at what is already there and determine how well it serves their current and future needs. You may find the fresh perspective offered by an experienced designer helpful in finding solutions that you may not have thought of. A carefully planned and well thought out project will not only go more smoothly during implementation but also reduces costs by minimizing waste and shortening the length of time it takes to complete your project.

Including universal design principles just might be the smartest thing any homeowner can do when modifying or renovating their home today. Homes that accommodate those with disabilities make it possible for people to stay in their home as they age and avoid or postpone the steep costs of assisted living or nursing care facilities. Universal design features also make a home rise to the top of homes on the market at resale time by appealing to the 78 million aging baby boomers and the other 50 million people in the United States who currently have a disability. Homeowners who are concerned about the resale value of their home should pay close attention to these numbers.


By carrying the finish quality of your home into currently unfinished areas you can not only expand the habitable floor space but also ad features and amenities that previously were not possible. Basements are a prime example of an area that can be turned into premium living space by changing the function for far less than the cost of an addition. The image of a dark, musty, damp basement belies the comfortable family rooms, play areas, home theaters, bedrooms and bathrooms that can be created in lower levels. Other potential areas for adding premium living space are attics, breezeways, enclosed porches or garages.

Changing the form or function of existing finished areas can also have a major impact on how comfortable you are living in your home. Giving up a formal dining room that is too small or that is seldom used and trading that space for a larger kitchen with a less-formal eating area and an enlarged entry with mud room and laundry area might make your day to day life a whole lot better.

A layout with three small bedrooms and one basic bathroom could become two spacious bedrooms and a luxurious bathroom with a walk-in shower. You could take the closets in those bedrooms and swap the old hanger rod and shelf setup for a custom closet organization system that effectively doubles the storage capacity. And while you’re at it, replace that 30” wide closet door that opens into a 60” wide closet with double doors in a wider opening that allows you to see everything that is inside.

Sometimes just removing an interior wall or cutting new windows into a wall or adding skylights to introduce natural light has an incredible affect. Other times a simple 2’ addition built on a cantilevered floor system or post foundation that allows you to expand a kitchen or add a bedroom closet can be just enough to have a major impact.


The U.S. government is offering tax credits up to $1,500 on energy efficiency improvements that are done to your home through 2010, including qualifying new windows and doors, storm windows, storm doors, skylights, roofs, heating and cooling equipment, water heaters, insulation, caulking and weather stripping. Geothermal heat pumps, solar hot water heating and photovoltaic power systems and small wind systems are eligible for a tax credit of 30% of the total cost with no maximum. Learn more at the Alliance to Save Energy web site.

Local historic districts are areas that have been added to the National Register of Historic Places, of which there are over 1,000 in Michigan. Local and state government dictates what types of improvements can be done on the buildings within these districts and if your home is located in a designated Historic district you may be eligible for an income tax credit or grant. Learn more at State of Michigan Historic District web site.


There are rules that you need to follow whether you are doing the work yourself of hiring professionals. These rules protect the safety of those doing the work and also everyone within proximity of the job site. The one major complaint I have about the home improvement shows on TV it is that they seem to ignore every health and safety rule there is during the projects they do. It is so rare to see workers on these shows with respirators, safety glasses or hearing protection and they never seem to be concerned about containing dust or the harmful effects that it can have on both workers and occupants, whether it contains lead or not.

There are also building codes and laws that can result in serious penalties if ignored. The Michigan Residential Building Code requires that all finished basement have a means of egress (window or door) that meets specific criteria for size, height, etc. The Michigan Residential code also requires that smoke detectors be installed throughout the house and be hardwired together (not battery operated) if they are not present in the locations mandated in the current code.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Lead Paint Renovation, Repair and Paint rule that becomes law on April 22, 2010, requires everyone who works on a home built in 1978 or before to be trained and certified in lead safe work practices. Penalties for failure to comply with this law are stiff, but not nearly as harsh as the impact on children who come in contact with lead. To learn more go to  the the EPA Lead Paint Renovation, Repair and Paint rule web site.

Doing home improvement projects is fun, but it is also dangerous. Cuts, scrapes and bruises are part of this kind of work and with caution and common sense they can remain only minor.


There is no truth in the statement, “if you put it off right away it isn’t procrastinating”. More accurate is, “procrastination is failure on the installment plan”.  Putting things off for whatever reason makes them increasingly hard to get to as time goes on and inertia sets in.

As we know, the law of inertia works both ways, that is, things at rest will remain at rest and things in motion will continue in motion until acted upon by some external force. In this case the external force that puts the improvement of your home  into action could be the simple act of cleaning out one area of your home. Cleaning just one small area could be the catalyst that leads to a transformation in your home and in your life. I hear all the time from our clients that they wish they would have done their home improvement project years before, when they first started thinking of it, because it had such a huge impact on their enjoyment of life. Other clients who in the past have had us do smaller projects in preparation to sell their home decided after we were done that they really liked their clean, renovated home far too much to sell and decided to stay.

So now that it looks like the recent housing market downturn won’t last forever and with the primary reason to improve your home as a guide (see  “Home Improvement Still Delivers A Truly Valuable R.O.I.”), it is time to get over the fear of putting money into your home and begin to make the most of your life.

If you would like help with cleaning or removal of items you would like to recycle or dispose of we can help you with that by providing a 12 yard trailer to haul items you no longer need away and polite, trustworthy labor help to do the heavy lifting and cleaning for you.

If you need some inspiration and would like to schedule an in-home consultation I would be happy to meet with you to discuss your plans and share my ideas with you at no cost.  Just send me an email to or call me at (517) 819-2977.

So it is possible to improve your home without spending a fortune. You can find some additional space without going outside the existing walls of your home just by the power of your energy and creativity and refusing to let another day go by while your dreams to improve your life are left in a holding pattern until everything is ok with the world. Everything may never be perfect in the world, but don’t let that stop you from trying each day to make it your world better.