Contractors swear by these cheap tricks to make your house look better & save you money

Give your home a facelift without tons of time or cash.

ByCassandra Seale and K. Megan Lawrence
Originally Published: 
We may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.

Give me your painters, plumbers, electricians, and landscapers. Then, have these experts share their favorite budget-friendly tips for making a home look its best. Add some simple products to help achieve these goals, and you have the wide-ranging list below. Whether you want to update the kitchen backsplash or light up the whole backyard for cheap, you’ll find the expert tips and truths below.


Using these real wood planks that you can peel & stick

If you want the look of a rustic farmhouse but live in a home built in the 2000s, consider these peel-and-stick barn wood planks. Jay Sanders, contractor and owner of Baltimore-based Castle Dream Construction, recommends them as a way to add texture to walls.

“This home additive costs about $5 per square foot and can be customized with many styles and colors to create a whole new look for any room in your house,” he says. “They are made of real wood and don't require any tools or experience, you won't even have to put holes into your walls.” Just peel the backing of each plank, and apply to your wall. Each pack comes with 10 pieces.


Brightening stairwells & dark corners with motion-sensor lights

“As a professional electrician, I think a great way to improve a home and save money in the process is by adding motion controlled lighting,” says David Nicholas, professional electrician and founder of SparkyBase.

This three-pack of LED motion sensor lights more than fits the bill to add lighting to stairs or under cabinets, and the installation is fairly easy. Just use the provided adhesive tape or screws. The lights detect movement up to 10 feet away and turn off automatically.


Opting for a durable area rug that you can machine-wash

“When replacing carpeting in your home, use less expensive options in bedrooms such as polyester carpet,” Kristopher Ayoub, floor covering expert and owner at Maryland’s Ayoub N&H, tells Mic. “There usually isn't as much traffic as other areas of your home.”

This area rug is 100% polyester and, most excitingly, machine washable. Reviewers say it’s “perfect for a house with pets” and “so durable, easy to wash and dry”.


Insulating around the AC for increased efficiency

For city-dwellers, the area around the sides of the AC is often stuffed with whatever’s on hand. Getting proper about it and “[adding] insulation [will] help reduce costs and protect the environment,” Harrison tells Bustle.

These air conditioner insulation panels have a universal design and are made to cover or replace the traditional rigid side panels. They work like a window seal helping keep out bugs, pollen, dust, and drafts. The cushy and durable foam also helps reduces noise.


Protecting your drains with simple, hair-catching covers

Harrison also suggests you “[invest] in drain protectors,” as “these cheap products will eliminate a ton of clogs and worry about the health of your drains.” To use, she says, “Simply place them in your sinks and shower and clean them every so often to avoid any blockages.”

This is a five-pack of drain hair catchers that are made of flexible, thermoplastic rubber in soft colors that help beautify a less-than-glamorous role. They’re extremely durable and work for drains that are flat, open, or slightly domed. Simply swipe off the hair that collects and rinse to clean.


Sealing out drafts with a simple door draft stopper

To save money around the home, Harrison says, “You can also seal drafts around doors and windows.” That task couldn’t be simpler than with this cut-to-size door draft stopper you simply stick onto the base of the door. The flexible silicone material ensures that drafts are stopped without damaging your floors, and it can even help reduce noise. It works indoors or out.


Using a powerful clog dissolver that’s safe for pipes & septic systems

When it comes to preventing pricey calls to the plumber, Little recommends regularly “[cleaning] the drain [to] help prevent clogging and backups, which can be costly.” He likes this drain clog dissolver because it’s “a rapidly dissolving formula that will remove hair, grease, and other clogs in as little as 5 minutes.”

The brand says its biodegradable formula is noncorrosive so is safe for pipes, toilets, sinks, tubs, and septic systems. To use you simply pour the premeasured amounts into your drain, let it sit 30 minutes or overnight, then flush with water. Clogs shouldn’t stand a chance.


Getting clever with mirrors to make your space look bigger

Kyle Leman, the owner of Crossroads Foundation Repair in Indiana, recommends incorporating more mirrors into your space. “Mirrors can make a room appear larger and brighter, and they are a relatively inexpensive accessory,” he advises. “Hang them strategically to reflect light and create the illusion of more space.”

This macrame mirror adds unexpected texture to a wall; place it over a dresser or as part of a gallery wall arrangement.


Using peel-&-stick subway tiles for a quick backsplash refresh

Anna Karp, CEO & co-founder of NYC renovation firm Bolster, swears by a few choice items to “make your home look luxe and high-end without breaking the bank.” Among these are simple peel-and-stick tiles in classic subway style. This version comes with 10 per pack, and each is backed by a strong adhesive so no grout is necessary. They’re resistant to heat and moisture and wipe clean.

Karp says even “a humble white tile can look amazing,” and to make things more luxe, to “think about a herringbone pattern.”


Using motion-sensor night lights with adjustable brightness levels

“Not only do they help keep energy bills lower, by turning lights off when not needed, they also add a modern feel by turning on as soon as they sense presence,” Nicholas continues. With these motion-sensor night lights, you won’t have to worry about fumbling around for a light switch when you wake up in the middle of the night. Coming in a pack of four, they plug into standard outlets and have adjustable brightness settings.


Using weatherstripping to seal the edges of windows

Another of Harrison’s cash-saving suggestions: “install weatherstripping.” Deploying foam insulation tape around the edges of drafty windows and doorframes helps create an airtight seal that can keep your energy expenditures solidly inside. It’s weather-, water-, thermal-, and corrosion-resistant, and provides sound and heat insulation. It’s flexible with a strong adhesive backing and can be cut to custom fit your project.


Staining your scratched-up, damaged cabinets & doors

Between natural elements like sunlight and the wear-and-tear of daily life, doors and cabinets can begin to look pretty banged up. “One tip I give homeowners to save a bunch of money on a contractor is to use Old English or similar stain touch-up product on their doors, cabinets and trim,” Matt Stone, painting contractor and owner of All About Wood Stain, recommends.

Old English Scratch Cover is a low-cost method to stain woodwork and cover nicks and scratches without having to call a professional. “Just make sure to get the color that most closely matches your current woodwork,” he adds, also recommending this shade for lighter woods.


Housing your greenery in chic plant pots at an affordable price

Says Karp, “Plants always make a place look better, and plant pots are an affordable way to uplift a space.” As far as what pot to choose, she suggests “[white] ceramic plant pots” as they “go along perfectly well with the black and white trend this year.”

This set of two ceramic plant pots is simple and chic, with a clean white glaze balanced by a stripe of natural texture. There are drainage holes inside to encourage healthy greenery and the pots are waterproof. Choose from several elegant shades and shapes to complement your space.


Making a statement with this easy tropical wallpaper

As an insider tip, Karp tells Bustle, “Tropical wallpaper is a favorite in the interior design industry.” Not to mention it looks smashing when paired with the above “white ceramic [and] plants.”

This boldly printed tropical wallpaper makes a statement, and is also peel-and-stick so you can make that statement easily. The brand says it’s easy to reposition if needed while installing and can be peeled up to remove. Reviews are peppered with phrases like “easiest project ever,” “beautiful results,” and “FUN.”

Karp adds, “Wallpaper can be placed strategically in an area of the house that needs an accent; it does not have to be installed along full walls.”


Elevating the bathroom with a nautical shower curtain

For a simple and ultra-budget friendly refresh, Karp says “a marine theme can make a bathroom look more ‘nautical' and as such ... more high-end!”

This striped shower curtain is soft and comfortable to the touch and is water-repellent so you can use it with a liner or on its own. The classic, navy striped design gives it a timeless and elegant feel. It’s machine-washable and dries quickly for super simple care.


Incorporating round mirrors as a fun decor element

Karp tells Bustle, “Round mirrors can make a space look fun and they also won’t break the bank.”

This wall mirror is perfectly round, edged in gold, and hangs from a sturdy golden chain that adds to the look. It ranges in size from just under a foot wide to about 16 inches, and each makes an affordable choice to elevate any room’s decor with a modern — yet timeless — look.


Enhancing your shower (& wellbeing) with a filtered shower head

“One thing I always suggest to homeowners is to use filtered showerheads,” says Andrew Miles, master plumber and CEO at WaterFilterCast. “While this doesn't necessarily make your house look better ... [it’s] a really cheap way to improve your overall well-being while being in your house.”

Miles is a fan of this filtered shower head made by Brondell, which delivers a rain spray that’s powerfully filtered of chlorine, lead, copper, and mercury. The filter also inhibits the accumulation of scale and reviewers say it works wonders with hard water. Installation is as simple as screwing it on.

In addition to the potential body benefits, Miles says making the switch “will probably lead to you wanting to make those [additional] upgrades you have been putting off.”


Opting for a budget-friendlier (but highly effective) shower filter

If you want to save a few bucks on your shower experience, this shower filter helps soften hard water and purify water using a powerful, intensive 15-stage filtration system. The filter also removes odors from your water and helps prevent dry hair and skin. The added ingredients of vitamins C and E help condition your body, too. “My skin and hair haven't felt this good since I lived out in the country and had country water,” one shopper wrote. “[...] With this water filter, my hair feels lighter, has more volume and shine, and is soft as can be.”


Foregoing the overhead lights & going with lamps

For Zac Pepper, electrician at Your Electrician Bayside, lighting is one of the simplest ways to an enhanced home. “I always recommend people to install indirect lighting using table lamps and floor lamps,” he tells Bustle, as going with the installed overheads can feel “stark” and “harsh.”

This bedside lamp is simple and shapely with a frosted lampshade over a classic metal base. The included LED bulb emits a soft, warm glow and has a lifespan of over 10,000 hours. The base is a touch control and you tap it to select one of the three brightness levels. In addition to generally being affordable, Pepper says indirect lighting creates “a much more ambient and warm space.”


Choosing a floor lamp to cozy up the ambience

A simple floor lamp is another Pepper-approved means of improving lighting. This one features a chic linen shade and a lamp head that adjusts horizontally as well as vertically so you can direct the light beam. Tap the floor pedal switch to power on and off and customize the brightness.

Pepper says, “At night you can turn your floor lamps, table lamps and wall lights on to create a cosy, homey atmosphere.”


Using LED bulbs to help save on electricity

Pepper advises, “In terms of saving money, make sure you use LED globes instead of halogens. LED's are roughly 75% more efficient. Your light globes will also last for up to 10x longer.”

This six-pack of LED bulbs manages to maintain the vintage look of an Edison with the electrical savings of modern LEDs — in fact, these bulbs are said to burn for up to 25,000 hours. They’re low heat so are safe to touch, and the amber hue of the globes adds to the charm.

Just be sure to “[always] choose warm white,” Pepper adds.


Installing a faucet aerator to give you spray capability

“When it comes to enhancing the look of your home, you don’t need to drain your wallet,” shares Allison Harrison, co-owner Goodbee Plumbing and Drains. “With creativity and resourcefulness, there are endless ways to transform your living space without spending a fortune.”

One of her favorite transformations is to install a faucet aerator. She advises, “This product will help reduce your overall water consumption without compromising the water pressure.”

The version here will set you back just 10 bucks and lets you convert a soft stream into a strong spray with the press of a button. It installs in seconds, and if it doesn’t work for your space, the company will refund you.


Fixing leaks ASAP with an all-purpose putty

Matt Little, co-owner of Damien McEvoy Plumbing, says, “Fixing leaks in your plumbing system is one of the most efficient ways to save money on water bills.” If you don’t, he says the results can range from “a large amount of water being wasted” to “harm to the environment.”

To help prevent that fate, Little recommends this versatile epoxy putty. This is a multipurpose formula good for metal, plastic, fiberglass, concrete, wood, and more. It applies easily, hardens in minutes, and can be sanded or filed down. Little says, “It is simple to use, and you can rectify the leak in a couple of minutes.”


Insulating water heater pipes to help prevent heat loss

Little also advises, “To reduce heat loss and increase the efficiency of your water heater,” you should “[install] insulation [around] heating pipes.”

He likes this pipe insulation kit by M-D Building Products because “[it’s] easy to install and helps reduce heat loss by up to 50%.” It has pre-cut, self-sealing slits that make it simple to put on, and it can be used on hot or cold pipes. Many reviewers tout how extremely easy a project this is.


Opting for a minimal (& less expensive) rug pad in low-traffic areas

“Carpet padding can also be less dense (and less expensive) in bedrooms,” Ayoub says. “Padding quality matters in high traffic areas, but not so much in rooms that aren't used as often or have furniture covering most of the floor.” This 5x8 rug pad gripper — also available in other sizes — is affordable padding for rugs in bedrooms. It’s under $20 but still has an extra-strong grip to keep rugs in place on hard-surfaced floors.


Installing vinyl flooring that mimics hardwood without the cost

Hardwood floors have an elegant, timeless look that can be expensive to achieve (unless you inherit it as part of an older home). To get the look for less, Ayoub recommends using vinyl planking like the above floor tiles instead of opting for real hardwood. “It costs much less, is easier to install yourself, and is more resistant to damage,” he notes.

With 36 faux-wood planks to a pack, one reviewer wrote: “I absolutely love this flooring. [...] We've received so many compliments. No problem with adhesion over top of the old linoleum either.”


Using cedar chips to help improve the look & health of your flower beds

“Mulching is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to improve the appearance and health of your flower beds,” Bryan Clayton, CEO and co-founder of GreenPal, tells Mic. “Mulch helps retain moisture, prevent weeds, add nutrients, and create contrast. You can use organic materials like wood chips, pine needles, or leaves, or synthetic materials like rubber or plastic.” This bag of cedar shavings made from 100% Western red cedar without additives can be used on indoor and outdoor plants, and even in kitty litter to absorb odors.


Improving the health & appearance of your plants with pruning shears

Yard maintenance can be all too easy to put off, but as Clayton suggests, pruning trees and shrubs at least once a year “improves the shape, size, and health of your plants, and also enhances their flowering and fruiting.” He suggests pruning around the late winter or early spring before plants start growing new buds.

These heavy-duty pruning shears are built for the job with a cushioned grip and extra-sharp steel blades that can cut through stalks up to 3/4-inch in diameter. Use them also for smaller jobs like trimming flowers for vases.

With a 4.7-star rating, one reviewer wrote, “Been using this clipper a lot the last few days, and it dawned on me that my hands weren’t hurting and knuckles not swelling.”


Creating ambience in your yard with these landscape lights

“Low-voltage lighting is a type of outdoor lighting that uses less electricity than standard lighting,” Clayton explains. “You can use low-voltage lighting to illuminate pathways, steps, decks, patios, or features like fountains or statues. You can also use solar-powered lights that don't require any wiring or batteries.” With this affordable four-pack of landscape lights, you’ll be able to spotlight trees or statues in your yard with a warm, ambience-creating glow.


Giving your trim & doors new life with latex paint

“In the house painting industry, one of the most common cheap tricks is repainting the trim around your doors, windows, and baseboards as this will give a room a clean and polished look without the need for a full repaint,” Rick Hernandez, president and owner of Miami-based Sepi Painting & Waterproofing, says. Rust-Oleum’s Painter’s Touch latex paint is a classic white gloss that loads of reviewers are fans of, with over 18,000 five-star ratings.

“Two coats of this bad boy and my front door is new and full of life,” one reviewer shared. “Great color, not too shine, super easy to paint and it dries up super quick.”


Protecting walls with a flexible baseboard trim

“On one hand, cornices help conceal irregularities in the finishing of terminations between ceiling and walls, while baseboards helps protect the wall from wear and tear,” Joe Ferguson, an architectural joiner at Skirtings R Us in Worcester, England, tells Mic.

Particularly in high-traffic rooms, this baseboard molding trim can help protect your walls — and it’s fairly easy to apply. Adhesive backing means it sticks to your walls like a super-strong sticker; just measure the length you need, cut with scissors, and apply to your desired surface. It’s also useful for concealing irregular or uneven walls.


Using a ceiling paint that lets you know when you’ve missed a spot

Paige NeJame, owner of CertaPro Painters of the South Shore and Boston, has nearly 20 years of experience in the painting business and knows the difference a new coat can make. She recommends this color-changing acrylic ceiling paint. “If a homeowner needs to paint an already white ceiling white, this paint goes on pink and then changes to white so they can be sure they’ve painted every spot,” she says. For smooth or textured ceilings, it’s formulated to dry in about two hours’ time, and it also serves as a primer — no need for extra product.


Adding glitter to your kids’ bedrooms walls — or your own — for a fun, sparkly effect

“For kids’ rooms, bathrooms, dressing rooms, and playrooms, consider adding this glitter to wall paint for a sparkly touch,” NeJame recommends. This glitter paint additive adds sparkle to paint used for walls, ceilings, or furniture.

Just add the glitter product to water-based paint or varnish, mix it in well, and paint. Formulated to be vegan, waterproof, and cruelty-free, one reviewer wrote: “It looks incredible. It can be as subtle or loud as you like, depending on how much you buff your walls afterwards.”


Turning an office wall into a dry-erase board

Another addition to the “whoa, I didn’t know this existed!” paint category, this paint kit turns a wall into a dry-erase board. Perfect for offices or playrooms, as NeJame recommends, this paint can also be used on toy chests, cabinet doors, and more. When it dries, you’ll have a hard, glossy finish that you can write and erase on.


Updating cabinets with these vintage-looking brass handles

Rick Berres, the owner of Minneapolis-based home remodeling and repair business Honey-Doers, stresses that a big budget isn’t needed to update your kitchen. “Simply painting your cabinets, and updating the hardware can make your kitchen look brand new,” he says. “Also, cabinets don’t change much, but the handles do.” These brushed-brass cabinet handles add some quick vintage glamour to drawers and cabinetry.

With 10 to a pack, you’ll be able to give your kitchen a cost-effective upgrade — and with a high 4.8 rating, reviewers say these pulls are “very thick and sturdy” and “look so high end”.