3 DIY-friendly home improvement projects

April Dykman | Improvement Center Columnist | March 24, 2014

You know what's annoying about those home improvement shows? They make it all look so easy! They knock down walls, add rooms, upgrade everything, and suddenly make an old, outdated home look like something out of Dwell magazine. Oh, and they do all this in just one week.

But not every homeowner can afford to hire a contractor to knock down walls and add entire bathrooms. And those projects aren't the kind of thing you want to DIY on the weekends without any experience.

But that doesn't mean you have to miss out on all the DIY fun. There are a lot of projects that anyone can tackle with some YouTube instructional videos and a few rented tools from your local home improvement store.

Here are three projects that don't require a contractor's license or 10 years of experience.

1. Cosmetic upgrades.

One of the easiest places to start is with cosmetic improvements, especially if you're new to DIY.

Small, low-cost improvements can have a dramatic effect on the feel of your house. For instance, paint is a great place to start. A dark room can suddenly look much brighter (and bigger) with a lighter color of paint, and it's not difficult to do. Fill in any holes in the wall with joint compound, then hit the walls with a couple of coats of paint.

Speaking of paint, there are also ceilings, cabinets, doors, and the home's exterior.

More ideas: New plants in the front yard to improve the curb appeal, new light fixtures and fans, new window treatments, new hardware for the doors and cabinets.

These projects can be done on evenings and weekends, and you can tackle them as your budget allows.

Cost: Under $5,000.

2. Remodel a bathroom.

If you have an ugly, outdated guest bathroom, a makeover might be in order.

Simple changes include updating the wall finishes, fixtures, and accessories. Sometimes, though, bigger renovations are in order. Replacing the vanity, countertop, sink, faucet, mirror, lights, and toilet can be a bit labor intensive, but aren't terribly difficult to learn how to do.

As for the floor, if you like it, keep it. You can repair it, if needed. But if it's in bad shape or it's just not aesthetically appealing, replace the floor. Learning to tile a floor isn't as intimidating as it sounds - just watch several how-to videos first, then talk to your home improvement store expert about your project and go very slowly!

Cost: $5,000-$10,000

3. Update your kitchen.

According to HGTV, a minor (roughly $15,000) kitchen remodel has the greatest resale return, at 92.9 percent. Plus, most people spend a lot of time in the kitchen, so even if you're not planning to sell your home anytime soon, it's still a worthwhile project.

So what types of improvements should you make? New cabinets can make a huge difference. To keep costs down, stick with off-the-shelf cabinets, which cost a fraction of custom cabinets. Some manufacturers will even help you measure for a small fee, which is a worthwhile investment if you've never installed cabinets.

With new cabinets, it's a good time to upgrade your countertops, too. You can get countertops premade, then install them yourself.

Finally, if your appliances have seen better days, purchasing more up-to-date ones are a great way to modernize your kitchen, and it's not difficult to install them on your own.

Cost: $10,000-$20,000.

Wondering if you should DIY?

If you're not 100 percent sure that you can handle a project, it's best to not go it alone. That doesn't mean you have to hire a contractor for the projects above -- if you have a handy friend or family member, ask if they're willing to help out!

About the Author

April Dykman is a writer who specializes in real estate, personal finance, and entrepreneurship. Her work has been featured on MSNBC, Fox Business, Forbes MoneyBuilder, Inc. Magazine, and Yahoo! Finance.