Dream homes are called dream homes for a reason. It might be tempting to splurge on an in-home sauna or smart technology, but these kinds of luxuries will eat through your whole home renovation fund, right?
Not necessarily. While the return value of luxurious upgrades, like adding an indoor basketball court or outdoor kitchen, might not be as high as more practical renovations, that doesn’t mean they’ll bust your budget.
From a home cinema to an indoor pool, here are seven luxurious home renovations that may cost less than you’d think.
Up your entertainment set-up
Hollywood stars have been installing home cinemas for years, but falling prices and improving technology mean you can do it too. The average price of a home projector was $869 last year, according to PCMag.com data, down from more than $3,700 in 2001. Meanwhile, oversize "home theater" televisions still cost about $2,700 on average. What's more, plenty of the mid-price options, like the $545 Optoma HD142X and the $700 Epson PowerLite 1781W, got top marks from online reviewers. Projectors might do more these days, but you'll still need to make some compromises. Though most home projector models come with HDMI, USB, and computer connection ports, connecting to cable is difficult, so they work best for cord cutters. Additionally, built-in sound is generally not as good on projectors as it is on TVs. If that's a deal breaker, consider connecting a speaker system.
Cast your home in a new light
Move your home into the future by replacing your old incandescent light bulbs with Wi-Fi- or Bluetooth-enabled versions that save energy and make your light switch obsolete. Companies from GE to Ikea manufacture these so-called smart bulbs, which often, but not always, require connection to a central hub. A starter kit of four light bulbs plus hub device from Philips Hue, one of the systems favored by gadget site Tom's Guide, is $100. Packs of four additional bulbs cost $50. Considering that the average home has close to 40 light bulbs, you can outfit your entire home with smart bulbs for $550. Assuming you haven't already upgraded to LED or CFL bulbs, you will also cut the cost of lighting your home by half or more.
Make every day a spa day
Once the province of luxury spas, it has gotten surprisingly inexpensive to put a sauna in your own home. While traditional saunas rely on hot rocks to make steam, a newer approach, which employs infrared rays that mimic the sun to heat bathers, has fast been gaining adherents in the past few years. (Lady Gaga recently sang the praises of her in-home infrared model on Instagram.) One benefit is that infrared saunas heat your body more quickly, says Mark Raisanen, general manager at Minnesota-based sauna maker TyloHelo. But that's not the biggest advantage. While a traditional, custom-built sauna can easily cost $25,000, Raisanen says many prebuilt infrared models run from $2,000 to $6,000. TyloHelo's most popular infrared option, the 38½-by-48-by-77-inch S820 model, costs $3,590.
Nearly nine in 10 homebuyers want partially or fully combined kitchen and dining areas, according to a study published earlier this year by the National Association of Home Builders. The problem: Many homes, especially older ones, lack them. Depending on the style of house you own, creating one could be surprisingly inexpensive. In ranch and split-level homes, interior walls, such as the one separating the kitchen and dining room, typically don't bear structural loads or contain heating and plumbing apparatuses, says Warren Douglas Graves, owner of Graves Design & Remodeling in Springfield, Va. Removing one of these so-called partition walls along with repairing the surrounding drywall typically costs $2,500 to $3,000, he says, although he recommends setting aside an additional $1,000 to $2,000 to patch the floors and paint. If you own a cape or colonial, the job is likely to be more complicated and expensive. Still, you can save by opting for an "exposed beam" renovation, with a structural frame (which can be covered in drywall and trim) visually separating the two spaces, rather than choosing a pricier "upset beam" project, which removes any trace of there being separate rooms. For an exposed beam project, budget $6,000 to $7,000, plus painting and patching costs, says Graves. For an upset beam, expect to spend at least $15,000.
Forget the driveway. You can practice indoors all winter like an NBA star. To be sure, a full 94-by-50-foot indoor court can run upwards of $50,000, and that's assuming you have the space. But those are the exceptions not the rule for private homes, according to SnapSports, an athletic flooring company based in Salt Lake City, which installs about 1,000 play spaces a year. A 30-by-30-foot practice area with synthetic flooring, painted key and foul lines, and a hoop costs as little as $5,000, or about $5.50 per square foot. Bumping up your budget to $10,000 gets you a 30-by-50-foot half court with wall pads and a logo. The company says it has installed courts of all sizes in basements, barns, and unused guesthouses. While 16-foot-high ceilings are ideal, salesman Jimmy Wood says SnapSports has worked with ceilings as low as 10 feet.
Trick out your cookouts
Outdoor kitchens have gotten more and more elaborate over the past decade to incorporate luxury items like smokers and pizza ovens, according to trade publication Kitchen & Bath Design News. LeBron James recently made news when he bought a $23 million L.A. mansion whose marble grilling space included beer taps and something described as a "heated dining loggia."
You can grill in style without going crazy. Assuming you have an adequate patio, a $10,000 budget should get you a straight or L-shaped island with stone countertops as well as a refrigerator and grill housed in a custom-built cabinet, according to Mark Allen, owner of Outdoor Kitchens by Design in Orange Park, Fla. The two best ways to ensure you don't overspend: Avoid top-line grills like ones by Viking and Alfresco, which cost $3,000 to $4,000 and which he considers overpriced. He recommends a $1,500 Lion-brand model instead. Also, skip the granite, which costs about $4,000, in favor of travertine, which runs about half the price. "Granite is too formal," he says. "Travertine looks better outdoors—it's a bit more rustic."
Swim all winter
With a price tag well into the six figures, installing a traditional indoor pool is going to remain a fantasy for the vast majority of us. But there are options. Swim spas—which resemble oversize hot tubs and can be installed without any ground excavation—start at $12,000 and range up to $20,000 for models with a motor to create a current you can swim against. One caveat: Spas are typically made from a single, large piece of fiberglass, meaning unless you're planning new construction or have a barn or porch to enclose the unit, fitting it into your home can be a problem.
One alternative, built by Endless Pools of Aston, Pa., comes in separate pieces that can be assembled inside an existing room. The seven-by-12-foot model with swim motor costs $23,900, although that doesn't include $800 to $1,800 for shipping and another $2,000 if you want an independent contractor to help you install it, says retail sales manager Janet Luther.