A kitchen remodel may sound like an overwhelming, budget-busting project. But there are ways to breathe new life into an old kitchen without spending much money.
“A kitchen remodel can be done on any budget,” says Lowe’s spokeswoman Jaclyn Pardini. “The secret to success lies in careful planning. Conduct research ahead of time, find your inspirations, and know which projects you can complete yourself and which ones you’ll leave for an expert.”
Naturally, there are limits to what you can do on a budget. But many home-remodeling experts stress that moderately handy homeowners with just a little cash to spend can make a big difference in their kitchen. And if the work looks good, you’re adding equity to your home, says Erin Davis, lead designer for Mosaik Design & Remodeling in Portland, Oregon.
Here are 8 kitchen remodeling projects that cost $500 or less
- Spruce up your walls
- Freshen up cabinets
- Float a new look for the sink
- Update the lighting
- Renew counters and floors
- Buy (almost) new appliances
- Add a backsplash
- Install more storage
1. Spruce up your walls
If your kitchen feels old, there’s no better remedy than a coat of paint.
“Paint is by far the best bang for your buck,” Davis says. “One of my design teachers once told me that a gallon of paint is worth $500 (in terms of) the value it brings to a space. Not only does it instantly change the feel of a space, but if you do it yourself, it will cost virtually nothing.”
For about $100, a less time-consuming upgrade is to add molding to the area where your cabinets meet the ceiling.
“If you’re handy with a table saw, it would only take you an afternoon to add a chunky piece of crown molding to the tops of your upper cabinets,” says Atlanta-based DIY blogger Kelly Marzka, who runs View Along The Way. “This is an easy way to make inexpensive cabinetry feel like custom pieces.”
2. Freshen up cabinets
You may think new cabinets are expensive, but most DIYers know cabinets are one of the easiest, most cost-effective ways to revamp a kitchen.
One simple trick: Add or replace the hardware on existing cabinets.
“Hardware is like jewelry for your cabinets,” Davis says. “You’ll be surprised at how different your cabinetry looks with updated hardware.”
Changing hardware can be easy and affordable; it’s possible to choose from several styles for just a few dollars per piece.
Another, more involved, option is to paint the cabinets, which will make them look new without replacing them.
“All cabinets, even laminate ones, can be painted if you use a strong primer,” says Jay Hart, CEO of Sold with Style, a New York home design firm.
Supplies should run less than $100. But before you paint, it’s important to prep. Remove the doors from the cabinets, cover the hardware or remove it, and be sure to sand away old paint.
3. Float a new look for the sink
You don’t have to be a plumber to give your kitchen sink a makeover, but you do have to be somewhat handy, according to Jamie Gold, a certified kitchen designer in San Diego and the author of “New Kitchen Ideas That Work.”
You can replace the faucet on your sink rather easily in about an hour. But the costs vary dramatically, Gold says. “Depending on the quality and features of the faucet, you could spend anywhere between $150 and $500.”
A more dramatic option, and one that requires a little more muscle, is to replace the whole sink. The project will take a few hours and should run you between $250 and $500.
4. Update the lighting
If you’ve ever thought your kitchen might look better in a different light, you may be on to something, according to Davis.
“It is amazing what a great light fixture can do to a room,” Davis says. “Just swapping out new fixtures in the existing locations is the most affordable way to go. Another good idea is to add recessed can lights to a kitchen to improve the general lighting.”
If you’re changing fixtures, Davis says most homeowners can do it pretty quickly on their own with some basic instruction. But adding recessed cans might get a little tricky for a novice. Thankfully, each high-quality recessed light installed by an electrician should run about $150, which includes materials and labor. And if you don’t feel comfortable doing anything electrical yourself, Davis says it’s possible to hire a good electrician for up to $95 an hour.
5. Renew counters and floors
New counters and floors will probably test your kitchen remodel budget and your handiwork. But if you’re up for it, either one of these changes can have a dramatic impact on your kitchen’s appearance.
At about $2 a square foot, Hart says homeowners shouldn’t overlook vinyl flooring, which “has come a long way.”
When it comes to countertops, homeowners have even more budget options. Granite tile can give you a granite look without the price of a granite slab, says Gold, who adds that you can tile over existing tile if you rough up the underlying surface with a sander.
Similarly, Davis points out that you can install laminate countertops on top of existing counters. Hardware stores sell countertops for as little as $45 per section. And if you’re looking for an installation tutorial, the experts say you can find a lot of quality presentations on YouTube. Just remember to keep a laptop or tablet handy as a reference.
6. Buy (almost) new appliances
Replacing kitchen appliances may exceed your budget. But if you’re willing to accept minor imperfections, it is possible to pick up a new appliance for less than $500.
“You can update appliances by going to a ‘scratch-and-dent’ store where they sell new appliances at a steep discount due to minor cosmetic flaws,” Gold says.
“Cosmetic flaws” include blemishes that preclude retailers from selling the appliances as new, but when it comes to functionality, the buyer is getting a new product.
Unfortunately for your budget, unless you’re buying a new refrigerator, you may have to hire someone to install the new appliance, which could add a few hundred dollars to the project.
7. Add a backsplash
You may not think the wall space behind your sink offers a lot of design potential. But the truth is that adding a backsplash is one of those small changes that can have a big impact.
“One of the easiest ways to spruce up a kitchen is to change the backsplash,” says Christine Tse, an interior designer in New York City. “This small change will instantly change your kitchen from drab to fab.”
The cost will depend on the size of your backsplash and the type of material you choose. Coming from New York, Tse says she’s fond of subway tiles, which can run about $350 for 12 square feet. If you want something high-end like white Carrara marble, you should plan on spending about $450. But if you want to keep costs down, you can hunt around for options in the $200 range.
You’ll need to block out a day to do the job, or two days if the tiles need grout work. But the good news is you don’t have to be a tile expert to put in a backsplash. A lot of hardware stores run free weekend classes that show you how to do these projects.
8. Install more storage
If you’re running out of storage space in the kitchen, you probably aren’t doing yourself any favors in the aesthetics department.
“Clear the clutter by moving cookbooks and other clutter off of the countertops and adding some floating shelves to the walls,” says Dorothy Myers, an interior designer and real estate agent at Long & Foster in Washington, D.C. “There are all kinds of wonderful storage solutions to organize kitchen cabinets and to move those often-needed items off of the countertop and into the cabinets or onto the walls that will be functional and beautiful.”
The shelves you pick will drive the cost, but Myers says you can pick up thick floating wood or glass shelves for about $40 each. Thinner, less expensive shelves can be had for as little as $5 apiece.
A moderately handy homeowner should be able to do the project in a few hours, Myers says.
“Just make sure that you anchor the shelves to studs to ensure that the shelves can hold some weight, if your wall is drywall.”