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Refund redos

Tax season is upon us, and if you're like me, you still haven't crunched the numbers but are hoping for a nice refund. Good news, the odds are in your favor. According to stats posted on the IRS website, 76 percent of Americans filing individual income tax returns get refunds, and the average refund is around $3,000.

One way to put that cash to good use is to reinvest in your home. After all, a big chunk of the refund may be coming from your mortgage interest deduction. But just how far will that $3,000 get you?

If you've ever watched any home improvement reality TV shows, you've probably seen some interior design guru whisk in to save poor homeowner from a DIY renovation gone wrong.

A few weekends ago, I stopped channel surfing in the middle of one such show and got sucked into watching a bathroom renovation with a budget of $3,000.

Of course for the show, the designer called in favors for this and that, and the clients ended up with what probably amounted to a $20,000 bathroom. I would hate to be a contractor and have potential clients watch unrealistic programs like this and then call me for an estimate.

To set the record straight, I asked local builders and remodelers to suggest home improvement projects that would be in the range of $3,000 or less, including labor. From their suggestions, here are 10 of my favorites:

1. Paint. Three average rooms prepped, primed and painted will run about $3,000. Willing to do it yourself? You could probably do the whole house.

2. Crown molding or wainscoting. Add detail and sophistication to formal dining and living rooms. Hire a carpenter and save the headache of trying to miter and cope the joints yourself.

3. Flooring. Refinish up to 1,200 square feet of hardwood flooring or, depending on the size of room and grade of materials, new hardwood or wall-to-wall carpet in one or two rooms.

4. Laundry upgrade. Replace the floor in your laundry room with an eco-friendly resilient tile and install a new Energy Star-rated front-load washing machine with matching dryer.

5. Tile. Install a new tile floor or a stone backsplash in the kitchen.

6. Powder room upgrade. Start over with new stone flooring, toilet, pedestal sink and faucet, medicine cabinet and wall lighting installed. Paint the room yourself, and you've got a completely new space.

7. Granite countertops. Depending on the grade of stone, you could do a small to medium kitchen, and maybe even add a new undermount sink and faucet

8. Built-ins. Create cubbies, shelving, lockers or cabinetry for storing coats, collections, sports equipment, school book bags, laptop holders, books, TV and stereo equipment, and more.

9. Shutters. Dress up the façade with low-maintenance vinyl shutters and paint your front door in a complementary color or upgrade to six pairs of real wood or fiberglass operable shutters.

10. Outdoor structures. A pergola adorned with climbing vines instantly creates an outdoor room for dining al fresco, a hot tub or an intimate seating area.

Advice from the experts

Turns out, there are tons of small projects you can do for $3,000 or less. Here are some suggestions from the pros for big impact projects that can transform the look or functionality of your house.

Dirck Bartlett, ILEX Construction & Woodworking

His advice: "Focus on maintenance. Fix those nagging issues that never, otherwise, seem to get repaired. A trained carpenter can easily fix doors that no longer slide or operate smoothly; open windows that are painted shut, and fix a wide variety of other small problems in just a day or two on the job."

Joseph Smith, Owings Home Services

His advice: "Think curb appeal. New shutters or exterior trim over the windows, a new prefinished garage door with glass and insulation, or mudroom organization with cubbies and hanging storage will give you a lot of bang for your buck."

Gregory S. Wall, Wall To Wall Construction

His advice: "Energy-efficiency projects offer not just an immediate upgrade, they continue with … savings on your utility bill year after year. A solar-powered hot-water heater or a solar-powered attic fan/vent will put a dent in your utility bill."

Jim Molinelli, ARDO Contracting

His advice: "Curb appeal projects can be low-cost and have high return on investment — if there is a sale in the offing. If not, they beautify and provide visual impact regardless. I recommend a new front walk and/or steps, possibly with a new pole light installation."

Delbert Adams, Delbert Adams Construction Group

His advice: "Engage the services of a design professional to take a complete inventory of your existing home and exterior. Develop a set of "as-built" drawings and a master plan for future projects. This can be a wish list of renovation projects/addition(s) that can be priced and phased in over time. A master plan will outline specific work to be performed immediately and over the next 6, 12, or 18 months. It will also identify any overdue maintenance items that need to be addressed. This will be your roadmap to make your home custom matched with your needs and wants and create increased value as the work gets performed."

Tom Gilday, Gilday Renovations

His advice: "Completing several small projects can dramatically change the look of your house. Something like a roof overhang on a side or back door will offer protection from rain and snow and add another layer of visual interest to the exterior of your house.

Dennis Hockman is editor of Chesapeake Home + Living. He can be reached at dhockman@tribune.com.

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