Ask Brian: Inexpensive DIY Projects for the Holidays



Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Question from Luke in Illinois: Hello Brian. I have the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day off from work. But of course, I’m pretty darn broke from holiday spending. Can you help out with some inexpensive home projects that I can finish in about a week or less?

Answer: Hi Luke. I don’t know how it works in your home during the holidays but most people have the entire family and a few friends around the house. My first suggestion is for you to look for projects that aren’t going to interfere with people and that don’t mess up the holiday decorating. That means looking for projects you can work on in the garage or rooms that people don’t frequent. But let’s take this a step further by deciding what you want to accomplish. When deciding on a project, consider if your goal is increasing the value of your home, saving money by reducing utility bills, or just putting a smile on your face by doing something you enjoy. Here are a few projects that do a little of each.

1. Refurbish interior doors. The open style of contemporary homes doesn’t have many interior doors but older homes do. That makes for either a few quick doors to update or many doors needing attention. This is a good holiday project because doors are easily removed from the hinges to take into the garage where they can be placed on sawhorses at a convenient work height. You have several inexpensive options. You can strip old finish and re-stain existing doors or give doors still in good condition a light sanding and repaint them. You can also replace the doorknobs and any other hardware if it is old and worn or you just want a different look. If you really want to change the appearance inexpensively, you can trim doors with crown molding to give them a third dimension and a whole new look. Depending on how many doors you are doing and how elaborate you get, this project should cost less than $200.

2.  Insulate or repurpose your attic. Adding or replacing insulation in older houses can easily reduce the heating bill by 5% to 10%. Your local utility company will probably give you a free energy audit that includes a recommendation of what insulation works best. There’s a good chance this will also qualify for a tax credit to offset the cost. By doing it yourself, this should cost less than $400 depending on the square footage and the type of insulation installed.

Luke, another option is a much bigger project and will cost considerably more. If your attic is large enough, converting it into usable space is a good project this time of the year. If all of the Christmas decorations have been drug out of the attic, it’s a great time to envision creating your ultimate man cave, a playroom, a small bedroom, or anything else from your imagination. Even if cost and time are at a premium right now, you can always start with plans to work on it a little at a time during the remainder of the winter.

3. Put in overhead lights that you really want. This can’t be done in the garage but it doesn’t tear apart a room or take up much space. For energy purposes, think about replacing old fixtures with LED lights. There’s a lot that can be done with lighting. A new chandelier can appear above the dining table just in time for Christmas dinner. Also, many kitchens and bathrooms have overhead lighting that can be improved on. If you do want to stay in the garage, how about adding some quality lighting above your workbench? Other overhead and lighting improvements include fans and simply installing dimmer switches. The cost is up to you. It can be less than $100 or more than $1,000.

4. Refinish or repurpose an old piece of furniture. These make good garage projects where you take an old piece of furniture for a full rehab. Maybe you have your grandmother’s old makeup vanity or your grandfather’s writing desk. You can tackle everything from tearing it down and re-gluing weak joints to simply putting a fresh coat of paint or sealer on it so that it lasts another 100 years. Keep in mind that if it’s a true antique, this will detract from the value. Along these same lines and if you have the right woodworking tools, you can custom build a piece of furniture for your home. A custom-fit bookcase from floor to ceiling in your den will be a focal point as well as a source of pride. The cost for a basic refurbishment should be $100 or less.

5. Work on the garage itself. There are probably plenty of projects needing your attention in the garage. This can be anything from just cleaning out the garage to adding storage systems that include storage in the rafters. This time of year is also great for adding a peg board or shadow board above your workbench. Of course, if you don’t already have a quality workbench, begin by building one. You can also improve the lighting for your workbench or the entire garage. Most of these cost less than $100.

Luke, there are hundreds of inexpensive projects this time of the year. But don’t forget to take a lazy day or two during your time off. If you can’t sit doing nothing, grab a pad of paper and sit back in your recliner to make a list of everything you could be working on.

What DIY projects will you be tackling during the holidays? Please leave your comments.

Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Author bio: Brian Kline has been investing in real estate for more than 35 years and writing about real estate investing for 12 years. He also draws upon 30 plus years of business experience including 12 years as a manager at Boeing Aircraft Company. Brian currently lives at Lake Cushman, Washington. A vacation destination, near a national and the Pacific Ocean.