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Tips and ideas for saving money on home repairs

We loved the bones of our first home.

But the walls, cabinets and lighting? It was very Brady Bunch — too much so.

With a limited budget, we decided to overhaul the dated kitchen, paint over the salmon pink walls and upgrade electrical components.

And by doing some of it ourselves, we saved thousands of dollars.

If we can save that much money fixing up our home, so can you.

Word to the wise: Have a serious conversation about the time you're willing to spend in advance. Time really is money — and sanity. We hired professionals to do a new circuit breaker box, for example.

But here's how we saved more than $3,000 by going DIY.

Kitchen backsplash

A big way to change the look of any kitchen is a tile backsplash. It's not hard, and doing it yourself saves money. But it takes care. We spent nearly $500 on material and small tools — a mixing bucket, a float, etc. — for 40 square feet of tile. We spent time using manuals and online sources. And we saved a bundle when — enjoy this, fellas — my wife did almost all the work herself. She buttered the walls. She grouted the tile. She sealed it.

Savings: $900

Demolition

Somebody had to take the old kitchen cabinets down. To save money, we invested in a reciprocating saw for $100. Most cabinets are screwed or bolted into the wall, hopefully on a stud. With help from my father-in-law, we took out seven cabinet sections. Then I used the saw to cut down the old cabinet boxes and counter.

Savings: $700

Painting

The quickest way to freshen a house is new color. If you watch closely, most stores — not just big-box but specialty shops, too — will offer discounts occasionally. Nowadays, they even offer options to match different colors to coordinate walls, trim and other effects.

A paint service will save you sore shoulders and the tedium of laying tape along the outer edges of windows and ceilings. But DIY websites offer great ideas about how to deal with trouble, and what brushes and rollers fit which texture of walls — a big question to solve.

We did the labor ourselves, including wallpaper removal, in six rooms. We painted the ceilings, too. The total cost of painting supplies was more than $400, but we still saved a ton.

Cost savings: $1,500

Switches and outlets

Updating and changing switches and outlets can be scary. But with care, we changed seven switches and outlets in the kitchen. We also installed three dimmers in the living room. All it took was a screwdriver, wire crimping pliers and a healthy respect for electricity.

We took care not just to turn the power circuit breakers off, but to test and retest. And don't fool around. When a new double-switch for a light and garbage disposal wouldn't work, I relented and called an electrician. It turned out the previous owner had a risky connection. We saved ourselves from a future fire by having him replace the old one correctly.

Most switches and outlets sold at retailers come with manageable directions and can be purchased for $10 or less. An electrician can charge $25 a receptacle. Plus, the dimmers can save costs on future electric bills.

Savings: $250

Dishwasher

Need to upgrade an appliance? To save money, install it yourself.

In many cases, retailers such as Home Depot and Lowe's have step-by-step instructions online. DIYnetwork.com has similar help.

In our case, we wanted to invest in a stainless steel dishwasher. By eliminating the cost of hiring a contractor for installation, we could increase our budget by 10 percent for a quieter unit.

But installing it took care, a general theme for many appliance change-outs. Make sure the power is off. Take care to understand how the water service line connects — there are different sizes. And decide before you start about a crucial location: side-mounting or top mounting the anchors to keep it balanced. In the end, the savings might not be worth some people's trouble.

Savings: $75

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/decamptimes

Surviving (and thriving) with remodeling

Here are tips on how to prepare yourself for making upgrades to your house, especially if you are new homeowners:

Precautions: Read the directions closely. Take safety warnings seriously, especially if it involves work that can shock, slice, burn or stain.

It's also important to check local building codes to see if the job is so complicated a permit is required.

Changing a circuit breaker box is a lot more difficult than changing a switch.

Tools: Some essential tools for most jobs are a cordless drill, a 16 oz. hammer and Phillips head and slotted screw drivers. A paint scraper multi-tool is valuable because it can also pull nails, clear cracks and even open paint cans. Spackling or plaster patch will be your buddy on badly pocked walls before painting. If you have to do demolition, a reciprocating saw is helpful. And a mixture of unscented fabric softener and water helped remove old wallpaper with a scraper (and sore shoulders).

Neighbors and friends: We've been blessed to have good neighbors who help with advice. They've done some of the things we've done. It can help you decide whether a project is beyond your skill level or time. Always assume suggested times in DIY instructions will underestimate how long a first-timer will need.

Library and Internet: Public libraries have how-to manuals that can be tapped for insight. Big-box retailers also offer videos and instructions, although DIY websites tended to provide more details and specifics. If you go online, try to view several sites to find consensus on your approach.

David DeCamp, Times staff writer

Tips and ideas for saving money on home repairs 12/04/11 [Last modified: Monday, December 5, 2011 10:34am]
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