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5 DIY Home Improvement Projects: under $500, under 5 Hours

By Edited Apr 2, 2016 0 0

Decorate your ceiling with a new fan
Credit: www.sxc.hu/home/vancanjay
A trendy new faucet assembly
Credit: www.morguefile.com/jdurham

You don’t need Bob Vila’s skills or Bill Gates’ bank account to give your house a fresh look.  Here are some eminently doable DIY projects, in ascending order of difficulty.  Each can be knocked off in an afternoon (I know, I’ve done all of them, solo).  The idea is to get maximum bang for a minimal investment of time and money. 

Yes, you will need some basic tools like screw drivers, pliers and wrenches.  If you don’t already have them, they’re cheap and will come in handy for future jobs. 

One:  Rejuvenate Those Registers

If you have forced-air heating, you probably have floor registers.  Over the years, they get scratched, dented, stained.  Even if you keep to the same basic style, new registers can improve the overall look of your flooring.  Or you can opt for a much fancier version.  Floor registers come in a variety of metal and wooden finishes, some of which can be painted to match adjacent woodwork.  The design of the openings varies as well, including “wicker,” filigree and Victorian patterns.  Prices range from about $6 to $80.  Before shopping for replacement registers, lift up the old ones and measure the opening in the floor.  No hardware or skill is needed to install the replacements. 

Two:  Spiff up the Bath Hardware 

Whether you go to a specialty store like Bed, Bath and Beyond or browse through the bath section of the local Wal-Mart, you can get all sorts of ideas for updating your existing towel racks, soap dishes, toilet paper holders, shower rods and clothing knobs.  You can either buy whole sets of matching hardware or coordinate individual items yourself.  Matching sets cost from about $20 to over $200.  You won’t need much more than a screwdriver to install the new items. 

Three:  Give Your Walls an Edge 

Wallpapering a room can be a tedious job, taking far more than an afternoon.  But if the painted walls are basically in good shape and the existing color isn’t objectionable, you can relieve the boredom factor by perking things up with wallpaper borders.  They typically come
in 15-foot rolls, measuring from 4 to 14 inches in width and costing between $10 and $50 a roll.  Most are pre-pasted, requiring a brief bath in water before applying to the wall, where it meets the ceiling.  It helps to have a partner for this job, but it can be done solo.  It also helps to buy a wallpaper brush and a cheap plastic container specially made for dunking the wallpaper. 

Four:  Refashion the Faucets 

Maybe the bathroom faucets are tarnished.  Or the kitchen sink is equipped with a cheap, contractor’s special.  A fashionable new faucet assembly can breathe new life into the overall kitchen or bathroom. 

Before heading off to Lowe’s or Home Depot, look under the sink cabinet to count the holes in the sink deck.  The new faucet assembly does not necessarily need to duplicate the number of holes, but the new faucet’s deck plate must be big enough to cover any hole you don’t plan to utilize (for a soap dispenser, for example).  To make sure, measure the distance between the farthest holes in the sink deck. 

Prices for top-mounted (the most common version) kitchen faucet assemblies typically range from about $40 to $400.  For bathroom faucets, prices run a bit lower. 

You’ll need an adjustable wrench, pliers, plumber’s putty or silicone caulk, plumber’s tape, a putty knife and a container to catch dripping water.  You might also consider getting a basin wrench.  Built to fit into the tight space underneath the sink, this tool makes it a lot easier to work the nuts that keep the faucet in place. 

Shut off the hot and cold water lines under the sink.  Then open the faucets to bleed the lines.  Place a container inside the cabinet to catch drips.  With pliers or basin wrench, unscrew the nut securing each faucet on the underside of the sink.  Remove the faucet assembly and scrape off any old caulking, putty and lime-scale buildup. 

If the new faucet assembly lacks built-in gaskets, apply caulking or putty to its underside and ease into place.  Wrap a modest amount of plumber’s tape to the threaded tailpieces protruding from the sink deck holes, beneath the sink.  Reinstall the washers and nuts, tighten by hand and then secure with pliers or a basin wrench. 

Turn the water back on and check for leaks. 

Five:  Add Fan Appeal 

Replacing a boring ceiling light with a fan and light assembly can dramatically improve the look of any room -- while lowering air conditioning costs.  Before shopping for a fan, measure the room dimensions.  For a small room, opt for a fan measuring no more than 36” from blade tip to opposing blade tip.  Larger rooms can accommodate fans with diameters of 42 inches or more. 

Before you do anything else, locate the circuit breaker that governs the light fixture.  Turn it off.  Next, check the outlet box to which the old ceiling fixture is attached.  A metal outlet box, secured to a ceiling joist, can support most fans.  A box that is unsecured or made of flimsy plastic will need to be replaced or braced -- a project for another skill set. 

Ceiling fans vary widely in price.  Casablanca, manufacturer of high-end, noise-free fans, has models costing more than $600.  At the other end of the spectrum are lightless fans costing as little as $30.  The more expensive fans have such options as reverse (to recirculate rising warm air in the winter), multiple speed settings, a light dimmer and security settings to suggest an unoccupied house is occupied. 

Once you have the new fan and light fixture, turn off the appropriate circuit breaker.  Remove the old fixture.  Because fans vary widely in design, you’ll have to rely on the instructions for the specific model.  The fan may have a down rod (needed for cathedral ceilings) between the housing and the canopy, the piece that fits against the ceiling. 

At some point, you‘ll have to balance the heavy housing while lining up holes and bolts.  Some fan models include a handy hook for hanging the fan temporarily, while lining things up.  Otherwise, have a partner hold the fan in place while you tighten nuts. 

Most fans have an opening in the canopy that affords access to the outlet box, but the available space will be tight.  Locate the house wires extending through that opening and match them by color to the fan wires:  black to black, white to white, blue to blue, etc.  Once the appropriate fan and house wires are twisted together, secure each connection with electrician’s tape.  Top that off by screwing on plastic wire connectors (provided with the new fan).  Carefully tuck all the connected wires into the electrical outlet box and install the “door” to the canopy. 

Using the screws and washers provided, mount the blade brackets onto the housing.  Then mount the fan blades to the brackets. 

If the fan has its own specialized wall fixture, you’ll need to remove the existing light switch, pair the house wires with the appropriate wires in the fan’s wall fixture and fit that fixture onto the wall outlet. 

Flip on the circuit breaker and cool down. 


Many home improvement stores have their own how-to handouts and videos, available on their websites.  The installation instructions that come with high-quality faucets and fans are generally well written and helpful.



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