The reno plan: Where to save and where to splurge

Kitchen island
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A renovation journey.

Join us for a continuing series as we bring a relatively untouched, tired-looking 1960s builder’s-box bungalow into the 21st century.

. . . . .

By Jenny Kennedy

It is easy to have eyes bigger than our wallets regarding home renovations. However, with so many dynamic and energy-efficient innovations on the market, it may take time to determine what is necessary and what is worth splashing out for.

In some cases, the price tag determines your answer. However, there are ways to make concessions to save money and splurge to add functionality, style, and even property value.

After all, if you renovate your house, you want to feel like it was worthwhile! So, while you are in the planning stage, take note of the following tips to see where you can make the most impact with your reno budget.

Kitchen cabinets

One of the most impactful upgrades to any home is replacing dated or worn kitchen cabinets. Yet, when you realize that it can be one of the most significant renovation expenses, you may need other options to help with your upgrades.

➔ Get quotes to replace only the door fronts if the cabinet bases are in good shape.

➔ If your uppers don’t go all the way to the ceiling and you need more storage, install small cabinets between them. You may opt for glass door fronts with puck lighting to show off collectibles or dish displays.

➔ Solid wood door fronts can be stripped, sanded, and restained to freshen their appearance. Note: veneer panels are too thin to sand and refinish, so consider coordinating stain colours. Replacing with new veneer panels is possible, too.

➔ Painting cabinets are the least expensive and most significant result available. Fill and sand to smooth the surface, use an oil-based primer, and topcoat with durable latex paint. Then, for fun, paint the island in a contrasting colour!

➔ Upgrade your hardware in coordination with your lighting and fixtures. Keep in mind that old handles may leave obvious wear patterns. Besides selecting hardware that covers the area, you may need to refinish the door fronts.

And if you decide to replace the kitchen cabinets, you can save on other cabinet upgrades with the above options.


Hand-in-hand with cabinets, flooring is also one of the primary renovation costs homeowners must face. So, it is no surprise that people often opt to splurge on the main level, then save in spare bedrooms and the basement.

But did you know that when it comes to solid hardwood flooring, you are paying top dollar for a product that is more susceptible to varying humidity levels? As a result, while you may strip and refinish your hardwood repeatedly, you will likely only do it a maximum of two times and never “use” the ¾ inches of the wood.

Instead, save with a hybrid flooring called engineered hardwood. It uses a single layer of the desired wood species on top, then uses overlapping plywood layers glued opposite the prior wood grain. It comes in varying thicknesses and stain options, preventing the wood from expanding and contracting like solid hardwood floors.

Other, more affordable options are hardwood lookalikes such as laminate and vinyl plank. All have varying durability ratings, and installation requirements, yet are considerably less expensive than hardwood. Unfortunately, tile is the most costly to install, even if you find a whopping good deal on the tile itself.

Tip: It is worth the splurge to have your flooring professionally installed to prevent gaps and the floor from shifting. To ensure the floor looks natural, they will also avoid installing pieces with the same grain pattern side-by-side.


You likely have many magazine clippings and dream boards dedicated to tile options. Who could blame you, with hundreds of shapes, colours, and textures to choose from? So, where to splurge and save when it comes to tile?

The following are where you may end up spending more or saving when it comes to your backsplashes, showers, and decorative accents.

  1. Marble and other natural stones, like slate or travertine, will cost more. You will pay handsomely for them, though. There are plenty of marble-like options in porcelain and ceramic to help your budget. They are easier to use for colour consistency and matching various countertop options.
  2. Now, sheet tile has a mesh backing and is easier to install. It is priced per square foot but doesn’t always come in a handy 12x12 piece. Watch sample sizing, as you may have to order more. Tile with paper backing is incredibly difficult to install, and your labour costs may exceed your budget.
  3. Save the more expensive accent tiles for places such as under the rangehood, kitchen sink, or niches in the shower. Then, use less expensive tile for the remainder of your backsplash or shower walls.
  4. Installing tiles at different angles or with varying patterns will cost you more in installation fees, however, if done in moderation in the right places, it is worth splurging!
  5. Sometimes, you will find a fantastic deal on your tile. Still, you must ensure you purchase enough to finish your project with pieces to spare. If not, you will likely run into out-of-stock, discontinued, or dye-lot issues. Then, all of a sudden, where you thought you saved, you now have to start over and spend double.

One last thought about tile. Porcelain is fired through, whereas ceramic is only fired through the top layers. Therefore, porcelain tile is more durable than ceramic and worth spending more on regarding walking surfaces. To tell the difference between the two, when examining the tile from the side, it is likely ceramic if you see a colour variation. Otherwise, watch for labels on tile sample boards as you browse.


Lighting is like jewellery for the home, is it not? It glitters and shines, adds definition, and draws the eye. Yet, its basic form provides functional light at various intensities to illuminate our space.

And just like jewellery, lighting can have a gorgeous price tag to go with it. So, instead of conceding, choose a statement piece for the dining room and front entrance, then use coordinating pendants over the island and recessed pot lights in the ceiling to provide the home with adequate light.

Pot lights are worth splurging on, yet even they can be expensive in terms of installation. Instead, opt for dome lighting in hallways, storage areas, and bedrooms. Of course, it never hurts to splurge on the master bedroom!

Exterior puck lighting mimics the look of interior pot lights and helps illuminate the home’s perimeter. They are worth the splurge for several reasons:

● LED lighting is more energy efficient and last 50,000 hours, on average.

● They are customizable for different seasons, so you don’t have to worry about climbing a ladder to install the Christmas lights.

● Puck lights help to prevent break-ins and other crimes and can be operated from your smartphone while you are away.

● It makes your address easy for guests and emergency vehicles to see from the street.

● Plus, they are a modern and stylish upgrade!

One more splurge-worthy lighting fixture is reserved for the master ensuite or dressing room. Treat yourself to beautiful sconces or a unique statement piece that makes it easier to get dressed or put make-up on and adds some personality to an otherwise functional room.


Of all the things to splurge on, you likely didn’t think of soundproofing your home. While planning and expanding with your renovation, consider insulating the outer walls, the walls between rooms, and each floor’s joists.

Not only will this help with energy efficiency throughout your home, but it will also help isolate noisy music, game nights, or noisy sleepovers from permeating and disturbing people in other areas of the house.

Note: New energy-efficient windows also help buffer street noise, making it easier to enjoy your home without loud disruptions.

Saving or splurging… the real value

No matter what you decide to save or splurge on, it must provide significant value to your property, your comfort level, or your home’s style. There is always a way to stretch your budget, but it comes down to what makes the most sense for your wallet and the space itself.

So, the best way to decide on each design element is to do it slowly, with a set number in mind. Ensure the designer or salesperson shows you only what is inside your limit, and be flexible to affordable options when you realize your first choice is out of range.

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Watch the renovation journey unfold at

In today’s pandemic-era environment, world-wide supply chain issues and construction delays are a reality, so plan your renovation well and be prepared. As things get underway, we’ll be sharing exciting before, during and after content, including a video series featuring top experts, and you’ll be able to virtually tour the project at various stages of completion.

Photo: Photo by Im3rd Media on Unsplash

Jenny Kennedy of Kennedy Literary Agency provides written copy and content for the design-build industry and is the author of “Launch Into Interior Design.”

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A Renovation Journey. Join us for a continuing series as we bring a relatively untouched, tired-looking 1960's builder's-box bungalow into the 21st century.

22 articles