5 Easy, Affordable DIY Kitchen Upgrades To Try Now

Updated 10/19/19
An all-white kitchen with a honeycomb tile backsplash, stainless steel appliances, and marble countertops.
 Rustic Vegan / Unsplash

Although upgrading a kitchen is an investment in your home that undoubtedly adds value, the total cost of hiring a pro to tackle even the most minor project (think: painting, cabinet refacing, new countertops, and fixtures) can be upwards of $20,000. Very often, putting projects into the hands of a kitchen contractor just isn't in the cards. And perhaps you rent? There are certainly a fair many of us who wouldn't deign to make meaningful aesthetic changes (even with landlord permission) because we don't actually own our properties. Either way, updating an outdated kitchen on your own is an undertaking that will pay off tenfold; it will instantly improve and enhance your quality of life, if not your bottom line.

So whether you own, rent, or something in-between, it's time to roll up your sleeves. (A professional kitchen remodeler typically charges $3,500 to $6,000 for labor alone, so why not?) These five easy, affordable do-it-yourself kitchen upgrades won't take copious amounts of time or money, but they will make a huge impact.

Add a Backsplash: The Easy Way

A tile backsplash that looks real, featuring a Tuscan tile pattern.
Wall Pops! Tuscan Tile Peel and Stick Backsplash $27
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Although it looks lovely, a tiled kitchen backsplash doesn't only require an investment of several hundred dollars, it also calls for infinite patience and skill (one crooked piece throws the whole thing off), which, if you're like us, can be hard to muster. Take the easy way out: Install a super-realistic peel-and-stick tile backsplash in a classic, rather than trendy (aka tacky), pattern. Essentially, "tiles" consist of thin sheets of paper, resin, or vinyl backed with pressure-sensitive adhesive. Application is fairly easy and non-committal and involves cleaning the surface, taking measurements, cutting to size, and using a plastic smoother. A typical DIY peel-and-stick backsplash install will likely take you an afternoon, plus the cost of materials. Hiring a pro to install the real thing, however, can cost $10 to $40 per square foot, not counting tile and materials. Removal of a stick-on backsplash, too, is a cinch. Just peel back any corner and start pulling. (And if you still have your heart set on a real tile backsplash, this is also a cheap, clever way to see how one would look in your kitchen.)

A peel and stick subway tile backsplash with upper cabinetry and a potted succulent on the countertop.
West Elm Subway Tile Peel + Stick Backsplash $55
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Replace Outdated Fixtures & Hardware

A brass tone gooseneck faucet with one handle.
Moen Moen 5965 Align Single Handle Pullout Spray Bar Faucet $356
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In most kitchens, the sink is the focal point. But it's still easy to forget how outdated faucets and fixtures can drag down the look of the whole room. Lest you think that upgrading these elements is a lame fix that won't amount to much, rest assured it will immediately fool everyone into thinking your entire kitchen got a revamp. Replacing a kitchen faucet yourself costs only the price of the fixture, and you'll probably already have the necessary tools (a bucket, adjustable wrenches, and maybe even a basin wrench) on hand. Hiring a plumber or contractor would cost you an extra $225 to $275 for labor alone. Bonus: Replacing knobs, pulls, and light switch plates with fresh, modern versions are also economical-yet-impactful upgrades anyone can easily pull off in an hour or so.

Four brushed brass cabinet pulls.
CB2 Brushed Brass Handle Pull $25
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Refinish Cabinet Doors

An open paint can with blue paint inside.
Farrow & Ball Hague Blue $137
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Not only will refinishing outdated kitchen cabinetry add value (to the tune of 7%) to the worth of your home should you decide to sell, it's the single most transformative kitchen improvement you can make—and it will look like you spent a million bucks. Trust us: Removing doors and drawer fronts—and then sanding, stripping, and painting them—is well within your wheelhouse. Unconvinced you can refinish cabinets like a pro? Well, consider this: A contractor will charge you roughly $2,400 just for labor (or more, depending on the size of the project) and replacing the cabinets outright will cost up to four times that. Food for thought, indeed.

A box containing a paint kit to refinish kitchen cabinet doors.
Nuvo Driftwood 1 Day Cabinet Makeover Kit $70
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Add (or Swap Out) Lighting

A black pendant lamp with a half-globe shade.
Schoolhouse Electric Shelby Mod Pendant $349
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Outdated fluorescent light fixtures, bulky track systems, and laser-beam focused pot lights are dead giveaways that your kitchen's design hasn't been touched since 1990, or earlier. Fixing these eyesores is really as simple as planning and executing a new lighting plan—there's really no need for an expensive contractor (who will charge you $65 to $175) if you don't require extensive rewiring. Replacing a light fixture is as simple as switching off the dedicated electricity, screwing and unscrewing, and doing some minor rewiring. Under-cabinet lighting, too, is typically an afterthought in older kitchens. Likewise, a contractor will charge you up to $150 for something you can do yourself, in as little as 30 minutes. (All you need is a dedicated power source and some basic drill skills.) What better a way to shine a spotlight on your other awesome kitchen upgrades?

Three under-cabinet light strips with all hardware, screws, and power cords.
EShine LED Dimmable Under Cabinet Lighting Kit $50
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Refinish Countertops

A countertop finishing kit with a countertop sample pictured behind the box.
DAICH SpreadStone Mineral Select Onyx Fog Countertop Refinishing Kit $125
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Nowadays, there's no limit to the ways anyone can affordably and stylishly upgrade their kitchens without looking like they've cut some major corners. And yes, countertops, no matter how fugly, can be refinished for up to 60% less than it would cost for outright replacements. (And forget replacing cabinetry if you're not willing to shell out beaucoup bucks in $35-to-$85 per hour labor costs, plus the crazy prices of the countertops themselves.) Marble countertops can be repaired and resealed. Butcher-block and wood countertops, too, can be revamped similarly to the way one refinishes a floor. Now, even tile countertops can be painted over, and laminate countertops can look and feel exactly like expensive granite with the help of handy countertop refinishing kits that simply require one day's work and a penchant for detail-oriented cleaning, sanding, and painting. It's true: There are virtually zero reasons to live with a kitchen you don't absolutely love.

A spray bottle of Krud Kutter Prepaint Cleaner.
Krud Kutter Prepaint Cleaner $9
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