Reader Story: How I Saved $4,200 on Our Basement Renovation

I was thrilled when reader Karen from Cincinnati, Ohio, sent me this guest post. Knowing that Karen works full time while raising three children gave me new faith in the d0-ability of home improvement well-done. 



When we purchased our current house, it was “perfect.”  The size was right, the wall colors didn’t need changing, and it had a finished basement! We were thrilled because we merely moved in our furniture without changing a thing. We figured this gave us at least a five-year hiatus from any modifications, updates, and expenses. So here we are six years later, and the renovations are beginning.

Our finished basement is the first project.  So perfect when we moved in, but it has taken a beating!  It’s the place where toys are stored and played with, where movies are watched, crafts are made, and sleep-overs happen. In our house, when a toy eventually breaks, wears out, or is missing too many pieces, we say, “That toy has really been ‘loved.'” Three children (now ages 8, 13, and 16), two dogs, and two cats can really make a finished basement feel “loved”, if you know what I mean.

Get a Workout While Doing Some Demo Work Yourself

So we set our sights on making our finished basement more usable for kids who are now six years older, we parents who are also six years older, and our pets. The first thing to go?  The dark green wall-to-wall carpeting.  Ripping out stained and stinky carpeting can change the entire feel (and smell) of a room.  In order to save money on labor costs, I ripped out all of the carpeting, pad, and tack strips myself. This can be done by you too.

It doesn’t take much time or many tools but does take a little muscle. Don’t let this scare you away, however, because I don’t even work out regularly and did it with no problem. You simply need a sharp utility knife and Wonder Bar. The knife to cut the carpeting in strips and the Wonder Bar to pull up the tack strips. This was a Saturday-Sunday job for me and, at $35 per hour on labor, doing it myself saved me $560. The added bonus? Toned arms.

Get Out the Paintbrushes After the Kids are Tucked In

Next my husband and I prepped and painted the entire room bright white, with the ceiling and walls painted in the same shade and finish. This gives our basement a very bright and cheerful feel, which is much better than the prior drab color of beige. Painting is a very easy project and should not intimidate anyone. Again we saved $840 dollars by doing it ourselves, which we did in the evenings after the kids went to bed.

Apply Inexpensive Beadboard to Hide Imperfections

A low-cost but charming architectural detail that we added to the walls was beadboard.  Beadboard can be purchased at any big home-improvement store and is very cheap.  Not only does it add old-world charm, it also supplies a layer of durability to a highly used room.

Create a Built-In Look with Decorative Moulding & Off-the-Shelf Furniture

Because we wanted to “hide” toys and games behind doors to give the room a less cluttered feel, we bought the least expensive white “Billy” cabinets at Ikea. (Billy bookcases for $50 each, and Billy Olsbo cabinet doors for $30 each.)

But in order to give the cabinets a more luxurious feel, we paid our contractor to trim the cabinets out by adding beadboard to the ends, shoe mould to the bottom, and crown moulding to the top. Cabinets pre-made with this detail started at $400 each! Instead we paid $100 for each bookshelf and an extra $100 in materials and labor to trim them out, which saved us $2,000. People have told us that they just love our “built-ins.”

Use Wood Laminate for Cheap and Low-Maintenance Flooring

We knew the floor was going to take a beating over time, so we splurged and replaced the carpeting with a high-quality wood laminate, which we found on sale at Lumber Liquidators. (Kensington Manor 12mm Glacier Peak Poplar Laminate, $2.79 per square foot at the regular price.)  The beauty of the laminate floor is durability and the ease of cleaning. Already we’ve experienced spilled juice and doggie do-do, but we had no problem getting it all up — without stains or odors trapped in a rug!

Spice Up Old Furniture with Inexpensive Accessories

Last but not least, we moved our old furniture back into the newly renovated room. But in order to freshen up the furniture to match the room updates, I replaced outdated drawer handles with stylish new ones from Anthropologie (Gardening Indoors drawer knobs from Anthropologie for $8 each). It makes a big difference!

Find an Affordable Handyman to Help With Complicated Jobs

Of course we are lucky to have found a competent, reliable, and affordable contractor, who has done two projects for us now. (In case you are in the Cincinnati area, you’re welcome to contact him at

The best way to find a good contractor is by word-of-mouth. Ask your friends and family if they have hired a contractor they were happy with. If that is not possible, I suggest asking contractors for references from his/her other customers. Feel comfortable asking to see photos of completed projects and how the contractor bills. Some charge an hourly rate and others charge for the project. Make sure materials are included in your bid.

Keep Track of Time and Prices to Know How Much You Save

In the end we saved $4,200 by doing much of the work ourselves and preventing purchases of new furniture by freshening up the old. Here is how we did it:

  • Saved $560 in labor costs by ripping out the carpeting
  • Saved $840 in labor costs by painting
  • Saved $2000 by buying basic cabinets and having our contractor add the details
  • Saved $800 by buying our flooring at Lumber Liquidators instead of paying retail prices elsewhere

I love hearing from you all about your projects, tips, and ideas. Please consider sending in your own story to me at amy @ Or leave a comment for Karen at the end of this post!

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  • Lisi George April 25, 2012, 8:05 am

    I always knew you were really good at saving money but that is an amazing transformation! Love the photos and great explanation.

  • Madeleine April 24, 2012, 12:57 pm

    Send your bookshelves into, a fun site that shows all the crazy things people do with Ikea merchandise.

    • Anonymous April 24, 2012, 4:31 pm

      Great idea! I will check out that web site.

    • Karen April 24, 2012, 4:33 pm

      Thanks for that information. I didn’t know that web site existed. I will check it out.

    • Amy April 26, 2012, 10:28 pm

      Thanks for the great tip, Madeleine! I’d heard about that site, but hadn’t actually checked it out. Great idea for Karen to submit her pics and ideas.