Renovate Your Home for Less
The Rest of the House
What You Want: A family-room addition ($20,000 plus)
Save By: Knocking down an interior wall ($1,000 to $1,500).
How It Works: Instead of building a brand-new family room by adding on to your house's current footprint, you can remove an interior kitchen wall to create an open floor plan among existing rooms. "You go from having an undersized kitchen next to an undersized living room, dining room, or back hall to having one generous multipurpose space," says Rob Wennersten, a contractor in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey.
What to Think About: If the wall is bearing (that is, structural), you'd need to add a beam, raising the cost to around $4,000, and if it's "wet" (that is, it contains plumbing), rerouting the pipes could be cost-prohibitive.
Who Does the Job: A general contractor and plumber, if needed.
An Even-Lower-Cost Option: Rather than removing the wall entirely you can create a large opening in it, such as for a breakfast bar or pass-through. That way you avoid potential structural and plumbing complications (about $700).
What You Want: Custom Built-Ins ($6,000 to $10,000)
Save By: Using and personalizing stock cabinetry ($3,000 to $4,000).
How It Works: Inexpensive kitchen cabinets stocked unassembled at home centers offer plenty of mix-and-match storage solutions to create terrific built-ins -- from bookshelves to window seats to wet bars. And manufacturers even provide trim pieces that give the modules a customized one-piece look.
What to Think About: Sales reps in the kitchen department can use computer software to help you design your built-in based on your space and their selection of cabinetry. This service is usually provided at no extra charge.
Who Does the Job: A contractor, carpenter, or home-center installation crew.
An Even-Lower-Cost Option: If you're handy enough to do the cabinet assembly yourself you can reduce the installer's labor fee. Figure it'll take you about 20 minutes to assemble each cabinet unit, after the first one, which may take 45 minutes (about $1,000).
What You Want: New windows ($800 to $1,200 per window for a quality wood product, installed)
Save By: Having the existing windows "doctored" ($150 to $300 per window).
How It Works: A handyman frees the painted-shut upper sash and replaces old sash cords, broken panes, missing putty, and old hardware. He gets everything working like new and adds weatherstripping to improve energy efficiency.
What to Think About: Old windows may never be as efficient as brand-new ones but you get to keep the character of the house's original windows. (And there are more cost-effective ways to slash energy costs than replacement windows anyway, like adding attic and basement insulation and weatherizing windows and doors.)
Who Does the Job: A window installer, handyman, or contractor.
An Even-Lower-Cost Option: Do the job yourself. Order the instructional DVD How to Repair Old Windows for $22 at greenwichwindowdoctor.com ($8 to $15 per window in supplies).