In the past few decades the role of the kitchen in a home has transformed from a secluded place where food is prepared to the center of activity, conversation and social gatherings.
The way people make over their kitchens has changed over the years as well. Kitchens are the most popular – and most expensive – place to renovate in the home, according to the 2019 Houzz & Home study, which looks at trends in U.S. home renovations in 2018 and 2019.
The median investment in a kitchen renovation reached $14,000 in 2018, according to the Houzz study, which is a 27% increase from spending in 2017.
But not everyone has that kind of money to spend updating their kitchen, let alone other parts of their house. But there is good news. If you’re part of the 19% of U.S. homeowners spending less than $5,000 on a home renovation, according to the report, and you’re hoping to spend the majority of it on your kitchen, you can still make a difference.
How you feel about the best use of your kitchen matters outside your simple budget as well. Mischa Fisher, chief economist for ANGI Homeservices, explains that compared to other projects like replacing a garage door or roof, renovating your kitchen has a lower return on investment when it comes time to sell your home. In deciding how you’ll update your kitchen, be concerned with how you’ll use it, “not just what you might sell your home for in the future,” he says.
Here are seven ideas for remodeling your kitchen on a budget:
- Change the paint color.
- Update appliances.
- Paint or reface the cabinets.
- Bring in more light.
- Upgrade or remove doors.
- Focus on organizing.
- Keep an eye on the accents.
Change the Paint Color
One of the simplest projects to transform any room is to change the paint color on the walls. If your kitchen is still rocking its 1990s look, or even has the all-white palette popular in recent years, pick a new color that can help update the space. Warm neutrals are always a safe option, but if you’re looking to break up a kitchen that’s all one color, provide some contrast with the paint.
Anticipated cost: HomeAdvisor reports that the average cost to paint a room that’s 10 feet by 12 feet ranges from $380 to $790.
“If your appliances are white – or they used to be white but now they’re taupe – you might want to think about spending your money there,” says Leneiva Head, owner of Welcome Home Realty, a real estate management company in Nashville, Tennessee.
Appliances can get pricey, but Head recommends visiting big box stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot, which offer kitchen appliances at a bundled price. Plus, if you visit on a holiday weekend, like Labor Day or Columbus Day, you may see those bundled appliances discounted even more.
Rather than having to shell out the larger share of cash for new appliances right before selling your home, take care of this upgrade when you know you plan to live in the house for a few more years. Updating these bigger-ticket items is best done “when you’re still living there, and you’re still enjoying it,” Fisher says.
Anticipated cost: Appliance packages including a refrigerator, range, dishwasher and microwave can save you a couple hundred dollars per appliance, but you should still expect to pay between $2,400 and $3,500 for all four pieces outside of a sale.
Paint or Reface the Cabinets
New custom cabinetry in your kitchen is often one of the biggest costs of a kitchen renovation. But when you’re working with a smaller budget, you can still achieve a whole new look with a much smaller project. “Spruce up and refresh what you already have,” Head says.
In lieu of new cabinets, many homeowners opt to either reface their existing cabinets or paint them. When it comes to a tight budget, Head says having the cabinets professionally painted can make the space look completely different, and you won't have to shell out more money for customized carpentry work.
Anticipated cost: Angie’s List reports refacing laminate cabinets can cost between $1,000 and $3,000, and refacing wood cabinets is much higher at $7,000 to $9,000. HomeAdvisor reports that the typical range to paint kitchen cabinets is between $382 and $1,064, though the price rises if you need to remove existing stain.
[Read: The Guide to Home Renovations.]
Bring in More Light
An old kitchen will look even more dated if you don’t have the additional lighting to help make the kitchen feel usable at all hours of the day. Under-cabinet lighting can make a big difference for preparing a meal when there’s not a lot of natural light, and lighting along the top of cabinets can make the empty space feel more intentional.
Anticipated cost: There are a variety of under-cabinet lighting options available starting at $21 at Home Depot, though you should expect to need more than one light strip or set of lights to brighten up all your cabinets. Most of these options can easily be linked and plugged into a nearby outlet as an easy DIY project, or they can be wired directly to a switch.
Upgrade or Remove Doors
A kitchen that opens up to the living room or dining space is considered standard in many homes today, but the cost to remove walls – especially if they’re load-bearing – may be beyond your budget. You can still take a step in the right direction by getting rid of any outdated doors that stand between the kitchen and the rest of the house.
You can also make the kitchen feel a bit lighter by removing the doors from a few cabinets. Open shelving is popular in current kitchen designs, but isn’t necessarily feasible for homeowners with lots of mismatched dishes or overloaded glassware. By opening up just one or two cabinets, you can get a similar look without showing off a disorganized cabinet to everyone.
Free up additional space by replacing a traditional pantry or kitchen closet door with a sliding barn door. The door doesn’t need to swing out, and the fresh design can make a big visual impact on the space.
Anticipated cost: Removing doors is an easy DIY project, especially if you already have plans to sand and paint or stain the cabinets or doorways. The expected cost to purchase and install an interior barn door costs between $500 and $1,500, depending on the type of door you choose, according to HomeAdvisor.
Focus on Organizing
If your kitchen doesn’t require as much cosmetic updating, increase the utility of the space by focusing your small budget on organization. In-cabinet racks can keep pots and pans in order, separators can conquer the ever-messy junk drawer and attractive, matching containers can make items on the counter look more purposeful.
Anticipated cost: How much you spend on organization depends on what you have in your kitchen and where you want to purchase items, but glass and plastic containers are often less than $10 each, and sliding cabinet organizers range from $35 for a single piece at Walmart to $193 for an organization kit at The Container Store.
Keep an Eye on the Accents
A new granite countertop or floor can eat your budget up quickly, but you can make your kitchen feel new without having to change out those big-ticket items.
If you have multicolored counters or tile floor that you’ve previously tied in with the wall color or bar stool seat cushions, Head recommends picking a different color in that marbling to focus on. The new accent color will make the surface stand out in a different way. “That keeps you from having to spend money to change out your floor,” she says.
Take a look at your cabinet pulls as well, and consider switching them out for something new and trendy. Brushed nickel cabinet hardware – especially on freshly painted cabinets – can make the entire kitchen look like a new design.
Anticipated cost: Sets of brushed nickel cabinet hardware sell on Amazon for as little as $18.99 for 15 handles, or you can buy single pulls for as little as $1 in stores like Lowe’s and Ace Hardware.
A renovation project for each season
Homeownership comes with a never-ending list of home improvement projects, and being able to time them right can be tricky. Ultimately, the best time for a home improvement project is when you have the time. But if you’re eager to plan projects to set yourself up for success, consider which season has the right weather patterns, minimizes future maintenance issues and makes it easiest to hire professionals. Read on for the best time of year for 12 home improvement projects.Interior paint
Best time of year: Winter
The benefit of painting inside is that you have air conditioning and heating. “We paint interiors all year-round because of that climate control,” says Tina Nokes, co-owner of Five Star Painting in Loudoun County, Virginia, which is a part of Neighborly, a network of home service providers. Your biggest concern when it comes to a quality indoor paint job is humidity – so if you’re in the middle of a humid summer, it’ll take longer for a room to dry and it will dry unevenly. If you’re worried about humidity levels inside, paint your interior rooms during the winter, when the air is driest.Electrical updates
(Paul Bradbury/Getty Images)
Best time of year: Winter
Electrical work can happen just about any time of year, unless it’s during rain or a thunderstorm, for obvious safety reasons, explains Dennis Burke, owner of Mr. Electric of Southeast New Hampshire, which is also a Neighborly company. What truly makes winter a winner for electrical updates is that you’ll be avoiding the bulk of competing homeowners. Burke says late spring and early summer see a big influx of requests from clients, as well as late summer as people go on vacation. “Labor Day to Thanksgiving is also really busy,” he says.Building a deck
Building a deck
Best time of year: Winter
An outdoor project like a backyard deck seems like a natural undertaking for summer, but it’s actually just the opposite. Deck builders and contractors report that pressure-treated wood, which is best for building a deck, stabilizes best when humidity is low. Additionally, the increased sun exposure in summer can cause the surface of a deck to crack, and cloudier winter days help avoid early damage. If you live in a particularly cold climate, aim for early winter to avoid the bulk of snowfall and temperatures that are too cold for contractors to work outside.Full-room remodel
Best time of year: Winter or spring
Remodeling or updating a well-loved room in your home can happen any time of year, but it’s best to be proactive and avoid higher labor costs or jampacked contractor schedules during the summer months. HomeAdvisor reports that July is the busiest month for bathroom remodel requests, with 48 percent of homeowners indicating they’re ready to hire and start work immediately. Avoid the rush by scheduling your remodel earlier in the year.Cleaning out gutters
Cleaning out gutters
Best time of year: Early spring and fall
The gutters along your roofline collect leaves, twigs and other debris over time. When they get too full, the drains can clog and cause water to sit along the edges of the roof and get inside the house or continue to weigh down the gutters. Avoid any problems by cleaning out your gutters in the fall, when leaves are most likely to make their way in, and again in early spring so the path for water is clear before April showers roll in. If you're not comfortable on a ladder or you have a high roofline, consider hiring professional help that will take proper safety precautions.New floors
Best time of year: Spring or fall
The best time to install wood flooring is during parts of the year with the least extreme conditions. In spring and fall, you'll avoid peak humidity and dry air, both of which can cause problems like bowing and warped wood or cracking in too-dry conditions. Plus, you can open windows to ventilate the smell of wood stain or carpet adhesive, and you’re least likely to have the heat or air cranking in spring and fall.Updating a deck or fence
Updating a deck or fence
Best time of year: Spring, summer or fall
The wood on a deck may fare better in winter, but staining a deck or painting a fence often requires additional weather consideration. “Decks and fences are a little more finicky (than painting a house exterior). We need it to be even warmer, around 40 to 50 degrees,” Nokes says. A good deck staining or painting company will recommend a timeline specific to temperatures where you live to avoid an incomplete, delayed or flawed project.Exterior paint
Best time of year: Late spring, summer, early fall
New paint will freshen up the look of your exterior walls, and painting is a doable project for a decent chunk of the year. Temperatures have to stay above 35 degrees for exterior painting, so in the early days of spring and late days of fall, weather-dependent work may be delayed if temperatures drop. For this reason, Nokes keeps clients on a watch list: “If we get a warm snap, I’ll call them right away,” she says.Home addition
Best time of year: Late spring, summer, early fall
For outdoor work, it’s best to avoid the seasons that will bring inclement weather and delay the project. Plan for the project to begin after the chance of snow in your region has passed, and shoot for a completion date before the frost returns in the fall to reduce the chances of delays. But be sure to schedule all professionals well in advance. In fact, Burke says a month to two months’ advance notice is often needed for electricians to complete an estimate, plan a contract and schedule work.Roof repair and replacement
Roof repair and replacement
Best time of year: Summer, early fall
It’s a given that you don’t want people working on your roof in icy or wet conditions. As a result, the best time of year for roof repair or replacement is also when the professionals are busiest. Be sure to plan roof replacement a month or two in advance to avoid having to wait with possible leaks causing damage to the inside of your home.HVAC care
Best time of year: Early fall
Any repairs to your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system should be done as soon as you notice an issue, but if you’re planning to do routine maintenance, schedule a professional long before you’ll need to turn on the heat. That way, any potential problems that could leave you without heat are found and fixed before the first cold nights of the season. The same goes for air conditioning in the late spring and summer.New appliances
Best time of year: Fall
Consumers can expect everything from washing machines and oven ranges to refrigerators to sport discounts leading up to the holidays. Even if you’re not updating your kitchen until May (and your home can accommodate an extra oven or fridge for five months), keep an eye out for deals. Stores that sell appliances like Sears, Lowe’s and Home Depot are known to regularly offer holiday weekend deals.Read More
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.