13 Builder Upgrades You SHOULDN’T Do

A few weeks ago I wrote a post called the 37 Builder Upgrades You SHOULD Do.  Today I am going to share 13 Builder Upgrades You SHOULDN’T Do.  Most of these are things that are easy DIY’s, don’t save you money in the long run, or are better personalized on your own.


13 Builder Upgrades You Should NOT Do

When your builder asks if you want the following tell them you Don’t want:

  • Accent paint-I have done a lot of painting in my time, and now I can plan on about one day to prep, paint, and clean up an entire room.  It usually costs under $100 and can completely change the feel of a space.  Check out my favorite wall mural HERE.
  • Drawer pulls-Usually a builder has a limited selection of drawer pulls or cabinet door knobs.  Don’t rush, check out retailers like Home Depot (especially their Martha Stewart special orders), Lowe’s, Restoration Hardware, and Pottery Barn.  They may be less expensive than the builder’s basics and add a lot of character and style that your neighbors won’t have.  Plus, they are a simple DIY.  Check out these awesome drawer pulls from Anthropologie, and my classic pulls HERE, and vintage style Pottery Barn HERE.
  • Carpet-This one might be controversial, but, I think most carpet is gross after a couple of years.  I “upgraded” our family room carpet and it is still garbage.  I hate it.  The cheap berber that I put in all of the bedrooms is my favorite.  It has held up great, cleans great, doesn’t show vacuum marks (so no one knows if I just vacuumed or if it’s been a while), it cleans up like new after a carpet cleaning service comes to visit, and didn’t cost me a fortune.  As for the family room, I wish I had just done wood from the beginning.  Check out my family room carpet (from afar) here and my cheap berber in my nursery HERE.
  • Louvered blinds-These can be very very very expensive.  While I have one in my entry and love it, I don’t think that they are necessarily perfect for an entire house.  Unless you want to open and close them every day they can leave your home feeling dark and dreary.  I prefer curtains.  They are much less expensive, especially if you make them or purchase them from Ikea.  Curtains can add a drama, feeling, texture etc. that blinds can’t. There are a few exceptions like over the side light by my front door where a curtain might be overpowering but for the most part, I’d skip the expense.
  • Fancy windows-I used to work as a leaded glass artisan (fancy way of saying I made stained glass windows).  I love the look of beveled, leaded, and stained glass and even installed them in the entire front of my French Cottage house.  BUT, did you know you can add them at any time?  Don’t feel rushed or like you must do it now or else.  Sometimes you can even get a better deal if you contact the leaded glass company directly and ask about having them installed after you move in.  Check out the amazing stained glass windows in my French Cottage house HERE.
  • Painted door-Kind of the same as accent paint, just do it yourself, of course I only recommend this if you have a small paint gun (we have an inexpensive one from Harbor Freight).  Do not try hand painting or a spray can or you might have a major mess on your hands.  Check out my front door HERE.
  • Light fixtures (allowance)-This one is a HUGE one for me.  When we were building our current home the builder had put together a lighting package.  I found it repulsive!  I asked if instead they had an “allowance” we could spend and they said yes!  Of course their hideous “package” only cost $1500 so I didn’t have a lot to work with and it all had to be spent at their chosen lighting store.  We started by choosing all of the lighting that would be difficult for us to install like under cabinet lighting, exterior flood lights, two story family room ceiling fans etc.  Once we burned through the $1500, we asked the builder to cap all of the other fixtures.  Then I went shopping.  I went to discount centers like Home Depot, Lowe’s, Lamps Plus and even brought an antique crystal chandelier from our old house.  I highly recommend this.  We installed all of our own fixtures (they really aren’t that difficult) and created a feeling with each spaces lighting.  Read about my entry DIY barrel shade chandelier HERE , my favorite antique crystal chandelier HERE, Rewiring CFL’s HERE, turning a can light into a pendant HERE, Star Wars Ceiling light from Ikea lamp HERE.
  • Built in cabinets-When I looked at our mud room I realized that I really wanted cabinetry in the form of lockers.  My husband promised to build some for me at a later date but instead I found some prefab lockers from the Land Of Nod catalog that would fit great.  I purchased them from a local discount store called Down East Home for a fraction of the price.  I love that they are moveable.  I can re design the space depending on the ages of my children and my needs and it only cost about $300.  Check out my mud room and laundry room.
  • Tile flooring-Unlike wood flooring, tiling is a pretty simple DIY.  The variety of floor tiles at a local home center will be much greater than what a builder will offer (note: check around at different Home Depots.  The one closest to me doesn’t have as great of a selection or style as the one about 20 min. away.  The Home Depot rep. told me that the designers pick different tiles for each store!).
  • Fancy mantle-Once again, picky me did not love any of the mantle options my builder offered me.  Instead I asked that they just lay one square foot of tile around the fireplace for code and I would remove them and install my own mantle when I found one that spoke to me.  My husband found one that we both love and he installed it himself.  I love how huge it is and up on the hearth it weights the room and gives a great focal point when you walk in.  Check out a few photos of my mantle HERE, HERE and HERE.
  • Tile backsplash-You can do this.  A tile backsplash is easier and probably less expensive than you think.  Again, like the tile floor, the options in tile for a backsplash are huge.  Pick something you love, in my case it was timeless white subway tile.  Check it out in my kitchen HERE.
  • Delete cheap closet organizers.  Our current home came with cheep particle board painted with stationery shelving.  We had the builder completely delete all of these “organizers” and then went and purchased our own from Home Depot and Lowe’s.  With an Ikea near by now, I could find a great system there as well.  I love the melamine (sounds weird to say I love plastic) surface for all of my clothes.  I also love the adjustable shelves and smooth rolling drawers that come with these systems.  I also asked the painter to paint all of the closets the same color as the bedroom instead of the glossy trim paint.  This makes the closet feel like an extension of room rather than a closet (read about my master closet HERE).
  • Fancy Light Switches-These are another easy 15 min. project that you can do yourself.  Lowe’s and Home Depot have a lot of different options that we have installed including remote light switches for our master bed, timer light switches for our exterior lighting, and dimmer light switches which I have in my master, living room, and dining room.

If you are planning on building or remodeling and find this list overwhelming I can help.  I do consulting on house plans.  Send me an email amanda@burlapanddenim.com and we can set something up.  My rates start at $300 for up to 4000 square feet.  I will send you a detailed list of suggestions to make your home flow smoothly, easy to decorate, and full of designer touches.  And, depending on your builder, I could save you a lot of money!  Our builder charged $100 for each change order once the home was under construction.

What to DIY instead of having a Builder install

Did I miss anything that YOU would not upgrade?  Tell me about it in the comments below!


  • I am so glad that I found your blog. We are having a house built in AZ, while living in Japan.(hubs is in the military) Anyway, I am loving all the info you have here and on your 37 upgrades post. I am wrestling with tile through out the house. I know that it will keep the house cooler and I have lived in a house twice with no carpet in anyroom. I’m just not sure I want tile in my master bedroom and walk in closet.

    • Jennifer, it’s been awhile since you posted but I’m just now finding this and saw your comment. We are military currently in Japan looking for homes in AZ too, I can totally relate. I found a few builders. How was your experience building from afar? What builder did you go with?

  • I work for a high-end custom home builder. This list is not doing the average person a service. The average person simply does not have the skill to do tile work, electrical, trim, etc. My advice, have your builder do as much as possible, you will regret NOT getting it done up front.

    • Well Rose, You might be right, this is not for the average person, but don’t underestimate the readers of Burlap & Denim! We are feisty DIYers that work hard and get excellent results with our tile work, electrical, trim, paint, closet systems, etc. And my bank account might regret getting it done up front :)

      • I am sorry, but as a person who has lived in several places with what I can only assume is DIY tile work, I have to say most people apparently do not in fact know what they are doing. Some has been a lot better than others, but doing tile is really only for perfectionists. Most DIYers simply don’t take the time required. Also painting is apparently a lot harder for some people than it really should be if the drips, peeling paint, and such in some of these places is anything to go by (and please no one paint your cabinets with a brush in an afternoon). And if you are going to install your own hardware, please, please measure better than some of these people do. DIY is great, but home improvement requires a lot more attention to detail than most of today’s DIYers are willing to give. Maybe I have just gotten unlucky with my experience with other people’s DIY, but I wouldn’t assume all of your readers are able to handle it.

        • Oh my gosh, I so agree with this. Our first house has a previous owner who was a DIYer and you could seriously tell everything he did. I hated his tile work and paint jobs more than anything. It seriously drive me crazy the longer we lived there. People if you paint, make sure you don’t let drops dry and make sure the tile is straight!!

      • nice post

      • Hi!
        I am a tile designer. While i agree with just about everything on your list, the only thing i have to say about DIY-ing tile is that you should ONLY do it on walls. Due to subfloor differentiation, requirements for certain tile in the form of adhesive, and cuts, measuring, and laying correctly, is not a job for people who do not have tile experience. You can lay your bathroom floor tile, but unless you have experience waterproofing, you are going to have to call a tile installer to come rip it up and replace the entire thing since the tile is cracked from water damage, and the subfloor is all messed up now.

  • I agree with this list completely! Our daughter is in the process of building her first home now and she has done almost all of these, plus some additional things such as – her husband is good friends with a master electrician – he is doing the wiring and giving them some great upgrades – my son-in-law will assist him. Same with the plumbing. My daughter is doing all of the painting herself as she wants some specialized colors and treatments. Her contractor (also very high end) is simply giving her allowances and she does want she wants, and bargain hunts as well!

    • Chris, Sounds like your daughter has a great and flexible builder! Awesome. Thanks for reading.

  • My husband and I are owner-builders on our 2nd home. We are building a French country home in Kaysville ut. I’ve enjoyed reading all your suggestions. Thank you! Good stuff!

    • Really Tanya? A French country home in Kaysville? Did you know I built a French country house in Farmington? Small world.

  • I love this! I am going to read you post on what to do next. We are currently building and have already done the decision making and I agree with everything. I would add that we chose not to have the builder do crown – as it was very expensive and we have done it before and will most likely save at least 50% of what they wanted ;-) I already have some light fixtures planned and waiting, and I am not having them install the kitchen hardware as the choices were awful. I wish we were able to choose others within the allowance as you wrote about. I also can’t wait to do my own backsplash! Great info – and a reaffirmation. Thanks!

    • Kristina, How exciting to be building! You are right about the crown moulding. I don’t even know if it was an option with our builder, but we added it in two rooms so far in our home. Once you get that corner angle figured out it’s not too tricky of a DIY. Well done with the light fixtures and do you know what kind of backsplash you want to do yet?

  • Hi Amanda,
    While I agree with a couple of your ideas…like perhaps accent paint… Rose is correct that you are doing your readers a disservice with many of your suggestions. I have been in the new home construction industry for 30 years helping homeowners with their selections with production homebuilders and custom home builders. For one the tile offered from a builder will be more expensive, yes, but it will be a better quality than the big box stores. Additionally, the homeowner will not have to pay out of pocket…they can role the costs into their loan. This is particularly important with today’s low interest rates. Most people do not stay in their homes more than a few years. Adding upgrades to a home adds value and if a homeowner sells in a few years…they never pay for what they’ve enjoyed living with. Plus the upgrades will go to help sell the home. Also, the builder’s installation comes with warranties. Once a homeowner pulls a toilet to install tile….that toilet looses its warranty…forever. Let the builder take the liability of the installation while you sit back and enjoy your new home….That warranty issue applies to the electrical as well. Once you change the light fixture, the warranty for that wire is gone because you messed with it…Hope that makes sense.

    • That is great that you have had so much experience in home construction! 1. This post is dedicated to the DIYers out there, not your average Joe. 2. Not all home builders are the same, and trust me, my builder did NOT put in better tile, light fixtures, and upgrades than the big box stores. 3. While the builder’s warranty can be helpful, most (like mine) don’t last long and don’t cover much. 4. While wrapping all of my upgrades into a larger mortgage may sound tempting, I plan on staying in my house for many years and opted for a LARGER house that we can grow into while doing the upgrades myself. Instead of wrapping it into my mortgage, I’ve upgraded things one at a time paying cash. My home is my passion and where I spend my extra money. If you (my readers) aren’t DIYers, don’t plan on staying in your home very long, don’t mind larger mortgages, and prefer builder basic houses, then this post is NOT for you, but I’m sure you already figured that out. Thanks for adding another point of view Amy.

    • Most people have a pretty good idea of what they are and are not capable of handling. And when in doubt, I don’t think somebody building a brand new home is going to risk all the money their already spending if they are unsure of their skills. Also, most people have a good idea of how long they plan to be in a home. So perhaps if a homeowner doesn’t have the common sense to evaluate their own skills, this article may be a disservice to them. But to the rest of the normal world, good list!

    • I completely agree with Amy. I have been a sales rep. for a large flooring manufacturer for many years. If you wish to replace your carpet very quickly then definitely do not upgrade. It will look terrible almost the whole time you have it.
      Fortunately, it works for me due to the fact that I sell Hardwood and Tile. Every person who gets builder grade carpet will replace it quickly, normally with hardwood.
      I do have some carpet in my home and it is a very good grade. It has been in my basement for almost 15 years and looks great.
      People need to remember that their flooring is the only item in their house that they walk on top of every day. Or, you can just do hardwood everywhere!

    • I am in the middle of buying a new home and researching for ideas and MUST HAVEs and AVOIDs from builders. One thing that also pops up for me: If something can be done later, it not only reduces your loan, but remember that also avoids this upgrade getting into the property tax bill that you keep paying year after year.
      These are a coupe of nice posts and I am definitely looking at implementing some of the DOs and DONTs from these blogs – I am not an avid DIYer but my friend (who is also buying the home next to me is). SO maybe I can team up with him for some reasonable items.

  • […] So you’ve decided to build a house.  What an exciting life event!  All the builder upgrades will be awesome! But wait, what if I screw it up?  What if I forget important details or my builder doesn’t have the designer’s touch?  Should I build the largest house I can or should I build the nicest house I can afford?  Well fear no more.  I LOVE the building (and remodeling) process, have been through it many many times, and am here to help.  Builder Upgrades: What you SHOULD and SHOULDN’T upgrade (because of the huge volumes of information I am sharing on this subject, this will be a mini series, so stay tuned for follow-up posts on what upgrades you shouldn’t do and what you may want to change that could cost you nothing).  UPDATE: Read the 13 Upgrades You SHOULDN’T Do HERE. […]

  • Great tips! I have built 3 houses in the past (all cookie cutter, subdivision homes) and I totally agree. Builders charge so much for upgrades. If you are building a custom home, it can pay to have them go things from the start. My builder wants to put split jamb doors up with the regular molding but we are having him install the flat jamb and just going to go on a weekend his workers are off and install our own molding. Seems silly to me to have things installed on a brand new home just to rip them off later. A few things we are going to either save money or get things done the way we want:
    1. No panel mirrors hung in bathrooms. They slap glue on a cheap sheet of mirror and its a pain to remove and damages the sheetrock. You can get a nice mirror for $50 after closing.
    2. Do not have them hang toilet paper holders. They are ugly and a pain to change out, especially if they are glued and caulked on.
    3. Stained concrete saves lots of $$. You can cover it up at a later time. They have really cool methods now and you can’t tell if its tile or concrete the way they score it.
    4. If you are building a 2 story house, have them design the floor joist for a future elevator. We did this and it cost us $2000 extra but its good to know we can add one for a fraction later than re-doing floor joist later!
    5. Although we scratched it, I saw a post where a lady had water run to her pool area for a water fountain so kids in the pool can get water without wasting water bottles or going in the house!
    6. We are finding that pavers are cheaper than concrete. To remove concrete later is a huge pain and expense, do pavers from day 1 :)

    I am sure there are many more to share but we are pouring slab next week and I have already learned so many lessons!!

  • This is a fantastic list and all things I wish we had done when building our home. But then we had a very dishonest builder and our experience was nightmarish. One thing I would add is not to ask for a different stain on cabinetry. Our builder supplied honey oak cabinets. I despise oak, nevermind honey oak! But our budget would not stretch to change to cherry or maple. So I insisted on a darker stain. While I was pleased with the outcome, we were charged nearly $500 for a different stain! And it’s not an uncommon one either. That’s just the tip of the iceberg too! Asked for upgraded underlay, paid and extra $1400 for it (our home is 2400 sq ft) only to discover years later that it was the exact same low-end underlay that everyone else got. I could go on for days about the dishonesty of our builder. Caveat emptor!

    • Wendy, what a nightmare! That is not cool that they charged extra for a different stain. I guess we just need to be sure and ASK about EVERYTHING to make sure it isn’t an upgrade and then check to make sure they actually gave us the upgrade that they charge us for, sheesh!

  • One thing that we didn’t pay for and I’m very glad about is upgrading our windows to an odd color. For some reason red windows (colored vinyl not just painted) are a big trend here in higher end homes and while I personally love red, if you want to add a pop of red, I would suggest painting the door, something easily changed later. To do the upgrade in the first place would have cost several thousand dollars to just do the front street facing windows, red is a very personal choice – a love/hate kind of thing and it may really limit you on resale, but for me the biggest reason is that it is very “faddish” and will dramatically date your home and cost you thousands to undo. We went with a neutral cream color and are quite happy. We also saved money by leaving our second floor bonus room undone. We had floor joists put in that would carry the weight of using the 2nd floor and had them deck it and stubbed out electrical (including a panel to handle the add’l load), plumbing and gas for future heat/air but left it there. We probably would have had him stud the walls if we could have but we had to stop where we did or code would require him to finish it out completely. We figure we will save $20K+ doing it ourselves.

  • Don’t forget:
    1. Do your own crown molding.
    2. Get your own faucets, shower heads, light fixtures and ceiling fans.
    3. For first time home buyers: get your appliances somewhere else. Many stores offer 0% financing for a certain period of time (excluding ovens and cooktops/ranges).
    4. Only get the standard paint that comes with house.

    If you ever find yourself wondering whether you should get the upgrade; think to yourself:
    “How likely will I be to replace the item later on? Am I okay paying interest and taxes on the upgrade for the entire duration of my motgage?”
    All you’re upgrades will likely be mortgaged and will add value to you’re home which means you will be paying 3%-5% and property taxes on your upgrades. If you motgage paint then end up reprinting your house 5 years later, you’ll now be paying interest and taxes on paint you don’t even have.

  • […] I found Burlap & Denim’s 37 Builder Upgrades You SHOULD Do and 13 Builder Upgrades You SHOULDN’T DO so helpful. We’re not building from the ground-up, so a lot of the suggestions […]

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  • As someone who works in the building industry, reading this post & many of the comments makes me sad. I’m sad to hear that there are so many builders who have been dishonest, but I am also sad to hear that so many people don’t understand how the process works.

    As has been said above, once you replace or install something yourself, you void the warranty. Certain items are required by the building department in order to pass an inspection – plumbing & electrical fixtures are high on that list. If you provide your own fixtures, you run the risk of them not being covered by the warranty. If something goes wrong after you’ve messed with it, you have to eat the cost.

    We recently had a couple purchase a high-end home – brand new – and spend another $150,000 to completely change the home. They looked at the home before it was completed, and could have easily had us make these changes for a fraction of the cost! Their warranty is pretty much void at this point, because they have changed so much, and the house isn’t even a year old yet.

    If you are having a home built, talk to your builder. If you want to paint the home, work out a deal. If you want to come in & paint accent walls before the flooring goes in, but after the house has been painted, ask if that’s a possibility. It is SO MUCH EASIER at that point. If you want a specific light fixture, ask if you can provide it to the electrician to install. A good builder will allow for many of the things on this list to be done by the homeowner – it just takes communication.

    If you hate the ‘builder grade’ choices, talk to them. $1500 in lights can go pretty far if you know where to shop, & watch for sales. I have purchased several chandeliers that retail for $400-$700 on sale for under $200. If there is a faucet style that you love, ask if you can change to it. I guarantee the plumber will get better pricing for you than you can get for yourself, and then it’s covered under their warranty.

    Cabinet colors DO have different costs. It’s not the builder that sets those, it’s the manufacturers. If you add a glaze, the price just went up. Upgrade the wood? The price just went up. We cannot control that, but we can talk to the cabinet representative to see what options they have that can get you the look you love in a different cabinet that may be within your budget.

    If your builder doesn’t offer these services, perhaps you need a different builder?

    Yes, if you know you will be in this home for several years and you want projects to do later – and I mean a few years later – then settle for a less expensive option for now knowing you will eventually upgrade. But at least wait until the builder’s warranty runs out before you drastically change things. If something goes wrong, your bank account will thank you.

    A side note on flooring – wood is great if it’s humid where you live, & you don’t mind the maintenance. If you want the look of hardwoods without the price tag, check out Luxury Vinyl Planking (LVP)! I have it in my home & I may never go back to tile or wood floors. It looks like real wood (depending on the product & color you choose) and is SO EASY to keep. We install it in $500,000+ homes and people love it. We use Mohawk’s Batavia line, typically the Saddleback & Dark Forest colors (a brown & a gray). Just a pro tip. ;)

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