Upgrades to Consider

I know full remodels, big overhauls, and before and after room reveals are incredibly fun and exciting to see-in our own homes as well as on tv shows and web sites.  Sometimes, it’s easy so feel bogged down or inferior because real, lived in homes are never perfect.  Even if you can’t start a full remodel, there are minor upgrades you can add to increase the function of your home.  The following are my favorite additions, none of which are style related, but most are easy to implement.

  1.   Tubular Skylight/sun tunnel: Prices start at $170 for materials, labor/install prices will vary.

In dark, windowless rooms in the center of a home, consider installing a tubular skylight/sun tunnel.  It adds all the benefits of a traditional skylight, but are smaller and easier to install.


Ben installed ours, so we saved the labor costs, so ask a contractor for a total cost.

2.  Rain Shower Head:  Prices vary widely based on extension arms, shower head size, and brand.

Another minor change that we adore is the ceiling mount rain shower head.  In fact, we love it so much we suggested it to our friends in their new build home.  The day after move in, they said they love it so much more than a traditional wall mount shower head.


If you don’t want to move plumbing, don’t worry, there’s a similar option.  Hit up your local Home Depot to pick up a wall mount shower arm.


3.  Outlets with Integrated Guide Lights:  GFCI Outlets cost $20, SnapPower covers are $15

Another quick bathroom upgrade is a GFCI outlet with integrated LED guide lights.  A small sensor turns the lights on or off automatically and provides enough light to navigate in the dark.  This style keeps outlets free and is perfect for rooms kids use.


If swapping outlets is out of your DIY realm, check out SnapPower guidelight covers.  After nearly two years of use, I can attest to the greatness.  Not only are the covers simple to install (literally unscrew the old and screw in the new), they’re great for illuminating main walkways.  We have sever throughout the house, near the back door, top of the stairs, and halls on both levels.


4.  Junction Box Mount LED Lights:  $30.00 per light with easy install

Speaking of lighting and the basement, let’s discuss a cool new lighting option.  Since the ceilings are a bit lower than the standard eight feet, we chose recessed lights.  During our kitchen remodel, we installed traditional can housings, then popped LED lights inside.  Each housing and light cost about $40.  After the remodel, we learned about a new style of LED light.  It gives the look of a recessed can, but installs in a standard junction box.


Everything you need comes in this little box, and costs about thirty dollars per light.  A standard junction box costs around a dollar and accommodates this light, making install quick.


5.  GE Bright Stik LED Bulbs:  Cost $10 for three

While you’re stocking up on LED lights, look for GE Bright Stik LED bulbs.  Some LED bulbs are still expensive, but the prices are steadily dropping as more come out.  After getting annoyed by the CFL bulbs in our main bathroom, I looked for a better option.  When I spotted a three pack for $10, I didn’t have much to lose if I didn’t like the bulbs.  What a difference!  Unlike CFL bulbs, LED lights don’t have a warm up time and are even more energy-efficient and long-lasting.  Look for the soft white to avoid a blue tint.


So, those are the cheapest and easiest functional upgrades we’ve done, but I have a few more that we love.

6.  Central Vacuum:  Prices vary based on house size, vacuum system, and accessories package, but pipe materials are somewhere around $300.

If you’re building a house, or have an unfinished basement, I can’t recommend a central vacuum system highly enough.  Pipes are run through the walls, similar to plumbing, but come out to outlet sized receptacles that the hose plugs into.


In our first home, Ben installed the system before we finished the basement, while we still had easy access to everything.  This house came set up, but Ben installed another system at a friend’s house.  Once the pipes are inside the walls, replacing or upgrading elements is straight forward.

7.  Whole House Fan:  Units start around $200 and go up depending on CFM


If you don’t have central air, or even if you do, take a look at whole house fans.  On cool summer mornings, we open several windows, turn on the fan and let it run for a while to pull the cool outside air in.  Depending on the high temperature, it either delays or eliminates the need for air conditioning.  By placing ours near the kitchen, we are also able to nix a big, low hanging vent hood over our cooktop.  If the kitchen gets smoky, we crack the window over the sink, flip on the fan, and it’s cleared within minutes.

What are your favorite upgrades that increase the function of your home?  Do you have any of my seven favorites in your home?

16 thoughts on “Upgrades to Consider

  1. I want to replace a bunch of my outlets with ones that have USB ports. Are outlets easy to replace or really left to an electrician?

    I’m going to look into those Bright Stik bulbs! I want to be energy efficient but I also find CFLs annoying. I think their disposal is more complicated than LEDs as well.

    1. Hi MEL!

      It really depends on your skill level. I wouldn’t say they’re left for electricians only, but it might be best if you asked someone for help. Anyone that you know that has replaced outlets can help you, and possibly show you exactly what to do. 🙂

      Yes, look for those bulbs. I don’t like CFL’s and these are great.


  2. Great tips! I definitely want to get some of those Snappower light covers, so cool! Thanks for sharing that I hadn’t seen those before. Here are a few other ideas we implemented in the new house that we are really enjoying. During our house build, our electrician gave us the tip to use the retrofit LED can light kits (~$19-25 @ Lowes/HD) that have an integrated bulb & cover instead of the new construction LED housings ($65-80, bulbs alone for those were $25!). We’ve had them for over 2 years now and they’ve been great, no complaints. Not sure if that’s what you used, but just thought I’d mention that ours were marketed as retrofit kits. (Ours screw into the standard socket where you would normally put your can bulb and then you flip the springs to get a tight seal–for a true retrofit you’d just remove your existing cover). We also added LED sensitive dimmer switches–we have them practically everywhere (kitchen, front porch, bathrooms, bedrooms, etc.). We also put a motion sensor light that has a timer on it for the laundry room–makes it easy to walk in and out carrying baskets without leaving a light on. We also added a light switch-timer for the kids’ toilet room and fan timer for our master bath. Sounds complicated, but we moved from a 1900 sq ft house to a 3500 sq ft house and our electric bill is less than what it was before (both houses are gas heated so we are pretty confident it has a lot to do with switching to all LED lighting and less waste). We have integrated USB/electrical outlets throughout the house including one in the guest room so we don’t have to use our chargers anymore, just the cords. One other thing we LOVE is our central vac. We got a HIDE-A-HOSE system (http://www.hideahose.com/) and couldn’t be more pleased with it. The hose pulls out of the wall (so no more carrying it around) and reaches 50 ft. With just a box upstairs and downstairs it covers the whole house. We also installed one of the floor sweep central vac dust pans too–so nice to use for a quick sweep in the kitchen when we don’t want to pull the house out to get crumbs. Next on our list is a NEST thermostat once we save up for it…

    1. Hi Karyl!

      The SnapPower covers are such a great option for any standard outlet. I think the light kits you’re talking about are similar to these. This kit includes the housing, bulb, and cover.

      The motion sensor is on my list for our laundry room, too. I’m sure it’s so convenient for carrying baskets.

      That hide-a-hose looks so cool! I don’t think it’d work for our pre-existing layout due to the turns in the wall. 😦 Such a neat design!!


  3. What a great post!! My dad put a central vacuum in our house when I was a teenager and it was so awesome! Also, we rented a house with a whole house fan and I had no idea how to use it! Now I’m bummed that we didn’t use it more.

    1. Hey Ashley!

      We love our central vac. If you’re ever debating installing one, at the very least, install the pipes. That way, you can easily hook up a unit if you want it.


  4. Love these ideas. I never thought of most of them. Definitely looking into the junction box mount led lights to replace some remaining boob lights. Also really like the lights on the outlets and I’ll be keeping in mind that rain shower head for when we redo the bathroom.

    1. Hi Gabrielle!

      Yes, definitely look into the junction box LED lights to replace surface mounted ones. They’re so simple and look like a recessed can light.


    1. Hi nchilescole!

      The blue is Templeton Gray from Benjamin Moore. I love how this color kind of changes throughout the day. 🙂 And thank you so much for the sweet compliments!


  5. I love the LED outlet covers! I’m going to do those in the kids’ bathrooms. We are in the process of a kitchen update (just counters, sink and backsplash, plus a gas cooktop to replace the flat electric-no cabinets). One upgrade we did in our old house that I can’t wait to implement here is to get custom closets-they increase the function of each space so much that it makes the money worth every single cent. We started with our master closet and went through the house to laundry room/pantry, entry closet and bonus room. I miss it so much! When everything has a place you don’t end up with messy closets.

    1. Hey Sara!

      The SnapPower covers are great in kids rooms. You don’t have to worry about a plug in light getting in the way.

      Ooh, good call on the closets. We always customize ours to make best use of the given space-totally worth it! We helped our friends plan and install custom closets in their new house and one thing I added were 18 inch wide shelf stacks with 6 inch spacing between shelves for shoe storage. They recently moved in and said they love these shelves. I’m considering adding a few more shelves in our closet to hold more shoes.


    1. Hi Diana!

      Ha, that’s funny that they had the same one. It’s been in my stash for 7 or so years and finally found the perfect spot for it a few years ago.


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