Home Improvement: Top Projects for Under $2,500

Affordable improvements for your home at $2500 or lessA price tag of $2,500 is in the sweet spot for many home improvement projects. It represents a little more than two weeks' salary for the average U.S. household. It's also about the amount of the average federal tax refund. Projects paid with Uncle Sam's givebacks may not be game-changers, but they can still have a substantial impact in terms of comfort, aesthetics, and energy efficiency.

Here are the top 10 candidates for home improvement projects under $2,500, with average cost figures compiled from data provided by homeowners across the country who actually completed these projects.

10. Repair damaged drywall ($2,150)

Whether it's a consequence of water damage, an upgrade to insulation, or part of a larger remodel, new drywall can help give your home's interior like-new status. If you're forced to completely knock down the walls of a room, you might also think about upgrading to plaster walls. Plaster is stronger, holds paint better, provides superior insulation, and offers a more appealing wall texture. (Find highly rated professional drywall contractors in your area.)

9. Paint the house interior ($2,152)

Some people enjoy picking up a brush and roller and tackling an interior paint project. Others prefer to avoid the tedium of laying down plastic, taping edges, and cleaning up afterward. Or maybe you just don't have the time to spare. In either case, a fresh coat of paint is one of the most affordable ways to transform a home's interior. Before you suffer sticker shock, note this cost figure represents interior painting for an entire house. The average cost for smaller painting projects is $736, a price that includes paint and supplies. (Find highly rated professional painting contractors in your area.)

8. Refinish wood flooring ($1,705)

One of the biggest mistakes a homeowner can make is to install a high-quality wood floor and then neglect it. As foot traffic wears down the finish, water and moisture begin to warp the boards, and one of the most coveted and costly flooring options loses value. To determine if your wood floor might be in need of refinishing, pour one tablespoon of water on a high-traffic area. If the water beads up, you're good to go. If the water seeps in and/or creates a dark spot, it's time to consider refinishing. (Find highly rated professional floor refinishers in your area.)

7. Install a solar water heater ($2,475)
You may not have the means to install a photovoltaic electrical system or geothermal heating and cooling, but cost-effective solar water heaters have arrived. Currently coming in at just under the $2,500 budget, these systems should continue to come down in price as design and distribution become more mainstream. High-quality solar water heaters not only save money on energy bills, they also last 50 percent longer than conventional water heating systems. (Find highly rated professional plumbers in your area.)

6. Replace the front or rear entry door ($1,145)

A solid wood, cherry-red front door is something of an American icon, but there are many wonderful possibilities if you've got an old eyesore in need of replacement. Likewise, sliding glass patio doors are a great upgrade that creates a pleasant entry point into the backyard and can also bathe interior spaces in natural light during the day. (Find highly rated door and window contractors in your area.)

5. Install carpeting ($1,683)

You may be reluctant to invest in a high-quality carpet because of the extra care needed to make the investment worthwhile. Yet carpet's short life expectancy is often exaggerated. Well-maintained carpet can last 15 years or more...and look good doing it. In addition to choosing a resilient fiber, opt for dense padding that will provide the backbone for your carpet's durability. (Find highly rated professional carpet installers in your area.)

4. Replace the garage door ($1,087)
It doesn't seem like the flashiest home improvement at first, but a new garage door has multi-faceted appeal. New garage doors are more secure from home intruders, easier and more reliable to operate, and a great (if underappreciated) way to enhance your home's curb appeal. For beauty, go with wood. For security, choose steel. To keep costs down, opt for aluminum or fiberglass. (Find highly rated professional garage-door installers in your area.)

3. Blow In More Insulation--($1,590)

For less than two grand, blown-in insulation can reduce your home's heating and cooling bills by up to 20-30%. This one is a no-brainer, but before you sign on the dotted line, you need to make sure it's done right: Inexperienced contractors or DIYers may create moisture problems. Careless proximity to electrical outlets or appliances may produce a fire hazard. Worse, dishonest contractors may use deception (known as "fluffing") to install inferior blown-in insulation. (Find highly rated professional insulation contractors in your area.)

2. Add Seamless Metal Gutters--($1,082)
Today's metal gutters are a lot more reliable than in generations past. Seamless gutters eliminate the biggest vulnerability--seams between sections of gutter--offering unquestioned protection from run-off rainfall. Gutters will extend the life expectancy of your roof, siding, and even reduce basement moisture levels and the risk of flooding. For an extra bonus, you can install a rain barrels or a cistern to collect rainwater for free lawn irrigation. (Find highly rated professional gutter installers in your area.)

1. Install tile flooring ($1,912)
Few surfaces look as good as brand-new tile, whether it's for bathroom or kitchen flooring, to stand up to dirty, wet shoes in the foyer, or a shower surround. Find a reputable contractor, and this project is top dog for can't-miss status. If you're a fan of the texture and tight setting of natural stone tile, you can upgrade from ceramic and still stay within budget (average cost: $2,083). (Find a highly rated professional tiling contractor in your area.)

Trying to decide which home improvements fit your budget? Here are some AOL Real Estateguides to help, whether you're spending a lot or a little:

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