In 2012 alone, homeowners in the United States spent roughly $19 billion on home improvement projects. We all know that home improvement can be costly, but what are the best home improvements to make financially?

Whether your goal is to lower your energy bill, get cheaper home insurance, or sell your home for a higher price, certain home improvement projects are better for you financially than others. Whatever your financial goals, to find out some of the best home improvements to make this year, keep reading.

The Best Home Improvements to Make Financially

Some home improvement projects don’t make that much difference to your home’s value, while others can drag your value down. But many others do add value to your home, and also improve your family’s quality of life at the same time. The following are some of the best home improvements to make to improve your finances.

Remodel the Kitchen

For many people, the kitchen is the heart of their home, and prospective home buyers are no different. So as long as you spend your money wisely and conservatively, you may be able to recoup up to 60% or even 120% of what you invest in a kitchen remodel.

There’s a limit to how much work and money you should invest in remodeling your kitchen, however: you should avoid making the kitchen nicer than the rest of the home (or the rest of the neighborhood it’s in). You can construct the fanciest, most expensive kitchen in the world, but if the rest of the house doesn’t match its style and value, it’s simply going to be off-putting to potential buyers. But as long as you stick to simple upgrades that make sense in the context of your home and neighborhood, improving your kitchen is one of the best home improvements to make.

Install a Security Alarm System

You may not think of alarm systems as adding much value to your home, but if you consider that home buyers specifically want a place where they feel safe, it makes perfect sense. Depending on your budget and the general crime rate of your city, you may feel comfortable installing a few motion-sensor lights on the outside, or you may prefer to go all-out with 24-hour surveillance services.

Touch Up the Paint

It’s easy to pour a ton of money into things like kitchen upgrades, but one of the cheapest — yet most effective — strategies is to apply a new coat of paint. A little paint goes a long way, whether you’re enhancing the appearance of your kitchen, your bedroom and bathroom, or the shed in the back yard. Fresh paint in modern, refreshing colors can dramatically increase the appeal of any room. It’s a smart way to transform a dingy space to be more modern-looking.

If you don’t mind spending a little extra, you should consider using low-VOC paint. It’s more environmentally friendly, and it helps you and your family avoid inhaling dangerous chemicals while it dries. This is especially important in the kitchen, where you keep your food, and in bedrooms, where you have to sleep all night.

Switch to Energy Efficient Appliances

If you’re keen on saving money over the long term, then one of the best home improvements to make is replacing your old, energy-sucking appliances with new, eco-friendly models. From ovens to clothes washing machines, appliances with the Energy Star rating are better for the environment and help you save money by using less electricity. If you don’t plan on living in your home long enough to reap the energy-efficient benefits, that’s okay: house shoppers love finding homes that might help them save money on future bills. You can save even more money by finding promotions on appliances, such as electric dryer sales near you.

Add a Second Bathroom

If you’re living in a single-bathroom home, you probably know how inconvenient it can be to only have one bathroom, especially if there are more than two people in your family. Prospective home buyers will think the same way if they consider buying your house. Having a new bathroom installed isn’t cheap, but it can more than make up for the expense, not only by raising your home’s value but also by helping you get a sale sooner. And if you aren’t sure you want to sell in the near future, imagine how much nicer it will be to finally have more than one for your family!

If you decide that your home needs an additional bathroom, look around for unused rooms and under-utilized spaces. Is there a decent-sized closet no one uses, or a big empty space under the stairs? These make for excellent spaces to install half-baths in, as they only need 18 square feet at minimum to be viable options. Alternatively, a full bath with a stand-up shower will need at least 30 square feet, while a bathroom with a tub will need at least 35.

You can save money on a bathroom addition or remodel by opting for low-cost accessories. Plumbers can attest that you shouldn’t skimp the quality of your plumbing, but when it comes to things like mirrors and bathroom tissue holders, the cheapest options can be perfectly acceptable.

Reinvent an Underused Room

Most real estate agents would not recommend adding on a room as a good strategy for increasing your home’s value. Building an extension on an already-completed house is complicated and expensive, and you may not earn much of your money back if you plan to sell. However, you can easily increase the usefulness of your home by reimagining one of the rooms in it.

If you still have an unfinished basement, remodeling it to be a functional living space is one of the best home improvements to make. Setting up a bedroom in the attic, complete with great ventilation and air conditioning systems, can instantly boost your home’s sale value. Even making a spare bedroom into a fun game room can increase a home’s value, at least to your family while you’re living there.

If you try reinventing a section of your house, keep in mind that the more versatile a room is, the more likely prospective buyers are to approve. For example, if a room would work just as well whether it’s used as a bedroom, workout room, or home office, that’s a great deal.

Installing Energy-Efficient Windows

Nowadays, home buyers place a high priority on energy efficiency. As such, finding old, drafty, single-pane windows in a home is a serious turn-off. And no wonder: Energy Star says that using windows with their rating can save you as much as $500 each year in heating and cooling expenses, simply because there’s less air escaping (or getting in). So as you can imagine, replacing your windows with new, energy-efficient ones is a great way to increase your home’s value, as well as to lower your energy bills while you live there.

Not only do you gain the advantage of lower energy costs, but you may qualify for green energy tax credits for making environmentally conscious upgrades like this. Your utility companies might even offer incentives like this. You can discover offers and rebates that apply in your area by using the Energy Star Rebate Finder.

Build a Wooden Deck

Adding a deck to your home can really increase its value. Outdoor living spaces are highly desirable, especially as more and more people choose to stay home for vacation (refereed to as a “staycation”). The more attractive your deck and backyard, the more appealing your house will be to prospective buyers. You might even be able to reclaim almost 100% of what you invest in a new deck.

The cost of building a new deck varies greatly, but it mostly depends on the size of the deck you have built. Obviously, adding a roof for shade will set you back quite a bit more, but it’s still a good idea, especially if you don’t have much natural shade in your yard. Things like built-in seating, flower pots, and any accessories you add will also drive the cost up some. While you’re at it, you might improve parts of your home connecting to the porch, such as installing nice frameless glass doors to the backyard.

If you’ve had some experience with woodworking in the past, you can save a lot of money by building the deck yourself. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that deck construction is easy, however. You will need certain specialized tools for the task, such as a power saw, and these can be quite expensive if you don’t plan to use them regularly.

If you choose to hire a contractor to build your deck, do some shopping around before you settle on one. Try to get detailed quotes from at least three different contractors, and interview them before making your decision. Also, remember to check their references and any online reviews.

Get Energy-Efficient Insulation

Like old single-pane windows, poor insulation can significantly drive up your heating and cooling costs, and drive down the value of your home. If your house lacks basic insulation or has old doors that let outside air in, home inspectors working for prospective buyers will likely include this in their reports. To make your home attractive to buyers, it may need to be modified with energy efficiency in mind.

Fortunately, some of the best home improvements to make don’t cost much money, and many of those include upgrades for energy efficiency. Simple changes like adding extra insulation to your attic can save you a lot of money on your utility bills.

One of the biggest culprits driving up energy costs is cracks that may exist around your house. If you’ve ever noticed a draft or cold spot in your home during the winter, you most likely have air leaks in those places. Depending on the area, you can either apply caulk or add insulation to the walls in these places to significantly improve your home’s heating and cooling efficiency.

Places with leaks or a lack of insulation are usually the following:

  • Around light switches and electrical sockets
  • Near doors and windows
  • In recessed lighting
  • Surrounding the attic hatch
  • Anywhere in the basement
  • Anywhere wires or ducts go outside the house

Experiment With Other Energy-Efficient Options

Just as some of the best home improvements to make aren’t necessarily the most expensive, they can also be some of the easiest. One such easy fix is to replace all of your old-fashioned incandescent lightbulbs with CFL or LED bulbs. These use significantly less energy and produce considerably less heat than traditional incandescent lightbulbs. Not only will using them save you money, but prospective buyers will be pleased to see that the home is already fitted with up-to-date, energy-efficient lightbulbs.

Another good upgrade might be to install a programmable thermostat. Home shoppers typically expect to find programmable thermostats in houses anyway, and non-programmable ones simply make a home look dated. It can also help you save money on heating and cooling since you won’t have to worry about forgetting to change the thermostat before going to work or bed.

Finally, if you’ve been planning to replace your hot water heater, consider spending a little more to get a high-efficiency water heater. Smart home buyers know that these are very helpful for trimming down energy bills.

Enhance Curb Appeal

Investing in the way your house looks from the outside is always a good idea if you’re planning to sell. While major landscaping overhauls aren’t typically recommended for increasing resale value, landscaping services can nonetheless be incredibly helpful for increasing your home’s value by making it more attractive to passers-by. As a rule of thumb, aim for simple, classy bushes and flower beds, as well as a neat, weed-free lawn.

You should also examine your home’s siding and consider making any upgrades. At the very least, a new coat of paint, perhaps in a more modern color, could make your house stand out. If it’s been a while since any maintenance work was done, you may need to get residential siding repair for parts of your home.

Make Additional Basic Updates

You don’t need a list to discover the best home improvements to make: just look around your home and see what needs repairs or updates. As a homeowner, you should generally ensure that paint is fresh, rotting wood is replaced, and roofing upgrades are being done on time. Chores like this prevent your home from deteriorating over time, which is critical for protecting what’s probably your largest investment — particularly if you ever intend to sell. Buyers want to see a healthy, safe, and solid home, and they’ll examine carefully for signs of neglect.

From replacing old electric wiring to repainting the garage door and even trimming the grass, routine maintenance will keep your home in tip-top shape in case you ever need to show it off. Even if you don’t plan to sell, staying on top of household chores will help you save money because you’ll avoid the need for major repairs resulting from neglect.

As you can see, the best home improvements to make aren’t the most costly or even the most time-consuming. Hopefully, this article has been a big help to you in deciding what improvement projects to prioritize around your home.

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