Renovation on the Cheap
Summer is only a few weeks away now, and chances are that the warm weather will have you spending more time barbecuing, relaxing, and socializing outside in your yard. Wouldn’t it be great to make some improvements to that backyard for the lowest possible cost, while still bolstering its curb appeal and possibly increasing the value of your home?
From the landscaping to the lighting to the furniture, how can you save money on backyard renovations? What parts of the yard should you update? Do you dare take on the project by yourself or is it wise to hire a contractor? MainStreet asked some design experts for advice.
Photo Credit: mikeatqazam
Set a Budget
Backyard renovations can cost a few hundred dollars or tens of thousands of dollars – it depends on the type of renovation you’re looking for.
If you plan on building a swimming pool or a deck, projects that will be very costly and most likely require a contractor, be sure to get price estimates from several different contractors. And always try to negotiate with the contractors for a better price.
Unless you have the cash to finance your renovation, don't do it. Avoid home equity lines of credit, even though interest rates are at extreme lows. These loans are secured debt — your home is collateral, so if you lose your job and can’t afford to pay back the line of credit, you stand a chance of the lender taking your home.
And it doesn’t make sense to get into credit card debt for something as nonessential as a backyard renovation, so save what you can and pay cash!
Photo Credit: Andres Rueda
Should You Hire a Contractor?
You’ve probably heard contractor horror stories from friends and neighbors, but when all is said and done an intensive backyard renovation may require the skill and expertise most licensed contractors possess.
Licensed contractor Kia Ricchi of TheContractress.com, warns against taking an outdoor lighting project into your own hands: “Don't take a shortcut here, because electrical malfunction can be serious,” she says.
According to Ricchi, some projects will require a building permit – especially projects that involve major tools and equipment (power saws, electrical tools, bulldozers, etc.). Unless you are qualified to operate these tools, you may end up hurting yourself or further damaging your backyard, costing you more money in the long run. For bigger projects, have a licensed professional on your side.
And if you’re considering renting a bulldozer to clear your backyard, make sure you know how to drive one.Photo Credit: goodeye03
Plan the Design
Walk around your backyard and plan how you’d like it to look after the renovation. Perhaps you’re not fond of the landscaping – figure out what plants and flowers would make your yard look better. Fixing up the yard without a clear plan and vision is a huge mistake. You’ll end up buying plants or materials that you may not need. A design plan will ensure a stress-free construction project.
Also, take inventory on the plants and materials you already have. You may not love the shrubs around your deck, but instead of replacing them, try trimming them or adding flowers around the bushes to add to the design. Not everything has to be replaced.
If you're not a landscape artist, don't worry. Consult design magazines and websites, or take pictures of your yard and show them to the design specialists at your local landscaping or home supplies store.
Photo Credit: rosshuggett
Hit the Deck
Wooden decks tend to crack easily and get worn out in a short time if not protected properly. Unless you have a deck made of plastic, the typical wooden deck requires diligent upkeep.
Painting or staining your deck is a very inexpensive way to make the deck look newer and hide imperfections. Consider painting your deck each year – it will make a dramatic difference. Plus, paint and stain protects the wood from weather damage, so it's a simple renovation that will last a long time.
You'll also likely want to buy an electric sander to ensure the deck is smooth and doesn’t give anybody splinters.
Photo Credit: Shmoomeema
Outdoor furniture must be durable and able to withstand harsh weather conditions. Snow, rain and heat can damage furniture in just one or two seasons, depending on where you live.
Instead of buying furniture every summer, which will cost a bundle, you can in most cases restore your deck chairs even if they are old and worn out.
Skaie Knox of the DIY website Diggerslist suggests repurposing old or used furniture: “Take that old wood table or bench and clean it, sand it down, then revitalize it with colorful outdoor paint or stain,” she says.
You can find wood stain at your local home supply store and many will even offer to rent an electric sander to expedite the job. (If you haven't already opted to buy one.)
Photo Credit: John Loo
Buy, Sell and Trade
As the adage goes, “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure,” and the saying applies to lawn furniture. You may cringe when you look at your old, worn-out deck table, but instead of throwing it out take a shot at selling it online on services such as Craigslist or eBay – you never know who might want it.
While you’re at it, consider buying a table from someone else online, or arranging a trade. A great one-stop shop for this is Diggerslist.com, which allows users to buy, sell and trade home improvement items.
Whether you’re looking to buy or sell outdoor furniture, accessories, lighting or appliances, check out Diggerslist or similar services; Selling your unwanted backyard items is a great way to earn cash to put toward the renovations you can't just trade for.
Photo Credit: Daquella manera
Pick Up the (Smart)Phone
We use our phones for everything, so it only makes sense that you can renovate your backyard with one. As the commercials say, "there's an app for that." Take a look at some of these inexpensive apps to help make your yard renovation easier:
- Landscapedia: This 99-cent app allows you to search the characteristics of some 35,000 plants to see what will work best in your area.
- IHandy Carpenter: Instead of buying tools, here are five commonly used ones right on your phone. For $1.99 you get a protractor, ruler, plumb bob, bubble level and surface level.
- Handy Man DIY: This $1.99 app allows you to make shopping lists, calculate square footage and figure out how much your renovation will cost.
Photo Credit: kennymatic
If a heat wave hits while you're away on vacation, chances are the grass and plants will die if you didn't ask your neighbor to stick around and water them.
Consider installing a sprinkler system with a timer to go off automatically twice a week, ensuring the grass and plants around your home get the proper amount of water.
Although it's a pricey backyard accessory, having a sprinkler system is a renovation that will increase the value of your house if you plan to sell. This is a project you should let a licensed professional complete, so use a site such as AngiesList.com to read reviews of different contractors in your area.
Sheri Silver of the gardening site FioriGarden.com suggests installing a drip irrigation system. “It pays for itself by conserving water and delivering it exactly where needed — at the base of the plants — and in the appropriate amounts depending on prevailing weather conditions.”
Photo Credit: Siddy Lam
Avoid These Mistakes
Mistakes in construction can be costly and permanently damage your backyard. Artist and designer Pablo Solomon warns homeowners about some of the most common mistakes: Not doing things in the proper sequence (for example, not leveling and sloping the ground for good drainage before planting or building something) and not using rot- and bug-resistant materials, which cost more in the short run but save a bundle in the long run.
With a clear-cut plan, the right contractors and proper tools, there’s no reason why your backyard renovation shouldn’t turn out to be a success.
Photo Credit: ewen and donabel
It’s a Team Effort
One of the biggest costs in any renovation project is the labor. While you can find a good landscaping team to do the heavy lifting, try to entice your friends and family by treating them to dinner in exchange for their help. When the work is completed, your friends and family will be begging to stop by for a barbecue.
Also important is to set a strict timeline. You want to make sure you finish the project in time to take advantage of it this summer, or what's the point?
Scott Gamm is the founder of the personal finance website HelpSaveMyDollars.com. He has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, MSNBC, Fox Business Network, Fox News, ABC News and CBS. Follow Scott on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo Credit: surlygirl