20 weekend projects for under $20 

How to make the most of limited time and resources

It’s Friday, and men in work pants and flannel shirts scrutinize the array of kitchen cabinets, sinks and light fixtures that line Home ReSource’s cluttered aisles. Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away” plays on the radio as locals pick over decorative electrical plates, locally milled lumber and discount-priced wall paint. Though it’s a busy morning at Missoula’s recycled building supply center, store staffers take time to share their tips on inexpensive yet transformative home improvement projects. With their help, we compiled this list of 20 weekend projects that can be accomplished for under $20.


Replace overhead light fixtures

For months, you’ve been staring at that ugly overhead light in your bedroom. It’s a yellow globe that casts a sickly glow. Because replacing it is easy—mostly a matter of turning off the power and loosening a few screws prior to attaching a new fixture—there’s no reason to keep it. If the project seems intimidating, check out how-to guides available online. Home ReSource sells a range of used fixtures, from basic white globes to elaborate candelabras for between $5 and $20. “So, you’d be able to switch out a few,” says Home ReSource manager Simon Deter.


Tile a sink backsplash

Tiling behind a sink gives a kitchen or bathroom an artsy flair. To get started, you’ll need to hang a waterproof backerboard. Use carpenter’s glue and galvanized screws to affix the backerboard to the wall, drilling the screws into wall studs. From there, use mastic tile adhesive and grout to attach the tile. “That would be under $20 here,” Deter says.


Paint

Among the easiest ways to transform the feel of a room is to give it a new coat of paint. Using premixed hues, or “oops paints,” as they’re called, will cut supply costs by 75 percent or more. Home ReSource sells gallons of exterior and interior wall paint in assorted “oops” colors for $5.

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Make a chalkboard wall

Home Depot sells 30-ounce cans of Rust-Oleum Specialty Black Flat Chalkboard Paint for $9.67. That’s enough paint to cover 110-square feet of wood, metal, concrete or masonry and provide tons of space for your household to express itself in ways that can be erased.


Refinish a coffee table or desk

A hand sander helps with this project. Take an old wooden table or desk and clean it with mineral spirits. Sand it. Select a wood stain and apply to the piece. A quart of stain at local hardware stores typically costs about $10. For an extra polish and to better ensure that the furniture isn’t damaged by spills, seal it with polyurethane, which will cost an additional $8.

Build a tipi for vining plants

You’ll need three poles (or long sticks), steel wire and grapevines. Prop up the three poles. Use wire to tie them together at the top, making sure that the three legs are splayed at the bottom. Weave wire and vine at intervals from the tipi’s top to its bottom. You’ll be left with a natural-looking trellis that’s ready for this spring’s sweet peas.


Make a coat rack from barn wood

Select a piece of barn wood and a handful of doorknobs, maybe four. (Both are available at Home ReSource). Stain or paint the wood. Place a doorknob spindle on what will be the front of the coat rack and using a drill, insert a screw through the rear, pushing the screw all the way through the wood and into the doorknob spindle. Apply wood glue where the spindle and plank connect. Apply the doorknob. Repeat.

click to enlarge Missoula Independent news
  • Cathrine L. Walters

Transform a chandelier into a backyard fountain

We got this idea from HomeReSource’s Abe Coley, who steered us to the store’s chandelier selection while explaining that it wouldn’t take much work to gut the fixture’s wiring, use silicone adhesive sealant to seal gaps and bring water to it with a slender tube. Home ReSource sells chandeliers for between $5 and $10. “That’s a crazy project,” Coley says.


Replace bland electrical plates

Why keep those boring beige electrical plates when you can replace them with Michelangelo’s “David” or Botticelli’s “Spring?” At Artplates.com, those plates and others like them sell for $9.95. Local stores like the Artists’ Shop offer handcrafted ones, too.


Install dimmer switches

Dimmer switches allow you to adjust brightness to suit your mood. Home Depot sells them for under $10.


click to enlarge Missoula Independent news
  • Cathrine L. Walters

Switch out kitchen cabinet hardware

There are a ton of different types of hardware out there, everything from pink “bubble glass” cabinet knobs, which evoke a contemporary feel, to classic brass pulls. This is a good project for DIYers looking for an easy and inexpensive undertaking.


Make a bulletin board out of corks

This project may motivate you to drink more wine. To get started, you’ll need roughly two dozen corks. Once that task is accomplished, purchase a picture frame and use wood glue to affix the corks to the frame’s backing board. The undertaking should cost less than $20, not including the wine.


Build a stone walkway

The path between your home’s front door and its parking area is perennially muddy, making it all too easy to track funk into the house. To help remedy the problem, build a stone walkway. At Home Depot, $20 will buy you enough red 12-by-12 walkway stones to cover just more than 12 feet. Home ReSource also sells the stones, when available, for between 50 cents and $2.

Plant an indoor garden in old dishes

We frequently find ourselves coveting the banana trees, Christmas cacti and creeping Charlies that belong to our friends. Rather than going out and blowing a bunch of money on replica houseplants, we’ve found a free alternative: trimming pieces off he coveted plants to grow new ones. Once you secure a trimming, place it in a glass of water for a few weeks until it grows a root system. Once that happens, put some dirt in a funky dish and start your new indoor garden.


Caulk around windows and doors

A tube of latex caulk costs less than $2. It’s a good investment, considering that applying a good seal around windows and doors will protect your house from water damage, while better ensuring energy efficiency.


click to enlarge Missoula Independent news
  • Cathrine L. Walters

Transform a shower curtain into window shades

Purchasing window curtains can be pricey. A good alternative is to buy a fabric shower curtain and, with a bit of sewing, transform it into something appropriate for a living room, kitchen or bedroom. Measure window size and cut the curtain to fit. When calculating the dimensions, make sure to leave extra room so you can fold over all four edges, which will enable you to hem three of the edges to prevent future fraying, and slip a curtain rod through the top fold.


Make a river rock boot tray

If you’re sick of the puddles that snow-covered boots leave by the front door, make a river rock boot tray. To get started, purchase a serving tray that’s at least 1.5-inches deep (Target sells them for under $20). Then, harvest stones from the banks of a nearby river—stones are important, because they elevate the shoes and provide drainage, aiding moisture evaporation. Once you have the supplies, line the base of the tray with plastic wrap, which will make future cleaning easier, and apply the stones.


Make a magazine rack with plywood and upholstery fabric

A magazine rack can help a household get organized, and it only takes a piece of plywood, some upholstery fabric and a staple gun to make one. You’ll need to secure a piece of plywood that’s roughly 4 x 1 and track down upholstery fabric—JoAnne’s in Missoula sells it for $12 a yard and up. Use the material to cover the plywood and a staple gun to secure it. Cut three or four strips of fabric that are wide enough to wrap around the plywood and long enough to fold over to make pockets large enough to accommodate magazines.


Replace baseboards

Replacing beaten-up baseboards and wall trim will make a room feel cleaner. To remove the old ones, use a utility knife to cut through paint or caulking that separates the existing boards from the wall. Once that’s done, gently pull it away with a putty knife before switching over to a crow bar or hammer. New baseboards and molding can be purchased at Home ReSource for between 15 cents and 50 cents per foot and applied with finishing nails.


click to enlarge Missoula Independent news
  • Cathrine L. Walters

Mulch your trees

Trees like it when you nurture them. Among the best ways to care for a tree is to mulch it. Half a cubic yard of mulch should run in the neighborhood of $20. That’s enough for a 3-inch-thick application across 54 square feet, and enough to give your tree the nutrients it’s been craving.

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