In this economy, many people are opting to stay in their homes rather than trade up for a model with the bells and whistles they're craving. That means homeowners are investing in remodeling projects to add resale and lifestyle value.
What hasn't changed is that homeowners still want to get the most with their money. Return on investment is always an important consideration when deciding which projects to tackle.
We're looking at a sample of smaller projects that boast big impact. These can be DIY endeavors — with the right attitude, some time and patience, and a good supply of tools. But they're not too small to commission a professional for help (and in many cases, that ends up being not only the easiest, but also the least expensive way to do it).
Some pros from the Great Big Home and Garden Expo tipped us off to five small-scale renovations that will make a large-scale impact in your home.
The kitchen still ranks at the top of any renovator's list of best remodeling investments. But you don't have to do a full gut and replace to get big results. Just adding some flair with a new countertop can be the beginning and end of the project.
"Replacing existing countertops to stone — granite or quartz — and replacing the backsplash will make the most difference, visually," says Jeff Daso, owner of Daso Custom Cabinetry & Remodeling.
There is a caveat: Your cabinets need to be in decent shape first. "You don't want to put fantastic counters over ho-hum older cabinetry. It'll just make the cabinets look worse." If this is your situation, at the very least you can upgrade the doors.
"People love granite countertops," says Anthony Slabaugh, owner of Anthony Slabaugh Remodeling & Design. "They truly make the kitchen."
He offers advice on choosing a cabinet upgrade: "Often, people will choose a middle-of-the-road cabinet box but add an upgraded door." Woods and finishes such as cherry and hickory qualify as high-end, maple is middle grade, and oak is entry level, he says.
"But when you're topping off with granite, it can't hurt to go as high quality as you can afford."
If there's a little extra in the budget, then upgrade the lighting or redo the floors, and you'll have a whole new culinary headquarters.
Bathrooms are high-visibility spaces that get lots of use by residents and guests alike. As with a kitchen, an updated bath can lend a youthful attitude to the whole house, and an outdated one can drag the atmosphere down.
"You can do a partial or entire room remodel in the bathroom and get great impact either way," Slabaugh says. He adds that this room is a manageable-scale project for most people but can still take time to complete. Intricate tile work, complex plumbing systems and tight spaces can add to your time and budget, so be patient.
It is possible to do a full makeover in the bathroom without changing the room's footprint, Daso says. "Redo the floor; change the paint; install a nice new tub; surround and update the cabinet hardware and lighting fixtures. You'll be pleasantly surprised at the huge impact the sum of these small changes can have."
If you want to update the look of an older home, opt for a floor plan changer: removing a wall or opening up a room (think pass-through). But do your research first.
"Opening up a wall can lead to a snowball effect," Slabaugh warns. Joining rooms that had been visually separate may require some decor changes to make the new space work.
"The most popular reason for wall removal these days is to combine a kitchen with an adjoining family room to create a great room," Slabaugh says. "Great rooms are very popular in modern home design."
Painting is an old standby, and it's probably one of the cheapest home improvements that also makes an impact. A gallon of paint can cost around $20 and will give a room and its existing furnishings an entirely different look.
For a complete transformation, try upgrading the trim work, too. Painting the trim in white adds a modern touch.
"You can freshen your trim or change the color completely," Daso says, "especially if you have a home with oak trim. Painting over it in white or off-white will change the appearance entirely."
This project can be small in terms of cost and time, but it makes a big difference in the look and feel of any room.
"Modern interior design has moved totally toward wood floors and away from carpeting, especially in the main living areas of the home," says Slabaugh.
It can be a budget-friendly move, too. There is a lot of selection in color, style and price. You can choose hardwoods, laminate, vinyl, engineered wood or even sustainable options such as bamboo and cork.
Cost Vs. Value
Anthony Slabaugh, of Anthony Slabaugh Remodeling & Design, advises his clients to visit costvsvalue.com. This site is annually updated with a cost-versus-value analysis of popular home remodeling projects. It's a great resource for making that final decision on where to spend your home-improvement funds. Plus, it is city specific, so the information is relevant here.
At The Show
When you visit the Great Big Home and Garden Show be sure to talk to contractors and collect flyers and business cards, and don't forget to ask for references of people who had done the exact projects you're thinking of doing.
The interior design exhibits are a great resource of inspiration for your own projects. Check out the student model-home design contest rooms, designed by students in grades 10-12 taking building trades classes.
Also, check out the celebrity designer rooms, designed in partnerships between Northeast Ohio celebrities and professional designers.