10 DIY Projects for Empty Nesters

Once the last kid has left the nest, it's time for 'bored' empty nesters to tackle home improvement.
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NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- For parents, sending your kids off to college is a bittersweet moment. You’re excited they’re about to embark on a great journey, but you’re sad to see them leave the house. And while they’ll be home for the major holidays and during the summer, your household undoubtedly changes as you’re now considered an “empty nester.”

Parents may decide to sell the house and downsize after the kids leave for college or take the time to focus on some home improvements. Regardless of your choice, taking on a few do-it-yourself projects to spruce up the home and add value is a wise idea whether you plan to sell or stay in the home.

MainStreet asked the design pros to weigh in on DIY projects for empty nesters.

1. The garage

It may not be enough to simply clean out the garage. Your garage may need a complete overhaul.

Robert Palmarozza, President of Mr. Handyman Tri-County offers these steps for getting your garage into shape:

1. Clean everything out of the garage and wash down the floor with a dish detergent and bleach -- rinse well.
2. If you wish to paint the floor, a one-part epoxy is available from most home centers and is fairly easy to us. Follow the directions on the can and allow plenty of drying time.
3. For shelving, the last 18 inches of space near the ceiling is rarely used and is great for storing items you only use occasionally.
4. Purchase enough brackets so each shelf has at least three brackets.
5. Purchase shelves -- shelves can be simple three-quarter inch plywood (ask the home center to cut a full sheet of plywood into 16-inch by eight feet pieces, 3 per sheet).
6. Once you find a stud in the wall, use a level to draw a vertical line to mark the stud when installing multiple shelves below each other. Start at the highest shelf and work down.
7. Use one and a half inch deck screws to secure the brackets to the wall and use shorter screws to secure the shelf to the bracket (a powered screwdriver or pre-drilling holes works best here).

2. Home gym

There’s no excuse not to work out if there’s a gym inside your house. Turning a spare bedroom into a home gym is bound to get you to work out more and add value to your home if you’re aiming to put your house on the market. Palmarozza shares these tips:

1. Purchase rubber floor tiles, which provide soundproofing and some water resistance. It may be a good idea to install an extra piece of the rubber tile under any heavy pieces of equipment.
2. Consider installing mirrors on one side of the room so you can see if you are following proper exercise technique:
a. Mirrors can be installed with special mirror clips
b. Measure for the mirror location and install the two bottom clips loosely
c. Put one piece of double sided tape on the top side of the back of the mirror
d. Install the mirror on the bottom clips and push the top to the wall
e. Install the top clips while the double stick tape holds the mirror in place

3. Installing a ceiling fan

Whether you’re adding a ceiling fan in your new home gym or in another bedroom, a ceiling fan is a cost-effective way to cool down a room without having to run the air conditioning.

For this DIY project, you’ll need a screwdriver, wire cutters, a ladder and in some cases, an extra set of hands to help.

Sean Murphy, DIY specialist for Build.com provides these steps for installing a ceiling fan:

1. Before you do anything with your new ceiling fan, cut the power to the room.
2. Disconnect the wires of the old fixture and keep them separated.
3. Once the wires are disconnected, remove the old fixture.
4. If your new ceiling fan comes with a ball end socket, attach that to your junction box.
5. Attach the ceiling fan’s blades to the motor housing before you hang it. Putting it together on the ground and hanging it as one unit is much easier than trying to attach the fan blades when the motor housing is hanging from the ceiling. And ceiling fans can vary greatly by manufacturer, so be sure to follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions in order.
6. Hang the new ceiling fan. Start by making sure the canopy is in place if your ceiling fan comes with one. Then reconnect the wires according to color.

Once your new ceiling fan is installed, you’ll either have a hand-held remote or a wall-mount control. If you have a wall-mount control, all you’ll need to do is connect the wires from the switch and the remote according to color.

4. Banquette seating

Adding banquette seating (built in seats, similar to window seats) to your kitchen table area is a relatively inexpensive renovation that’s bound to transform the kitchen.

Philadelphia based Interior Designer, Ani Semerjian of Semerjian Interiors tells MainStreet how to build banquette seating around the windows of your kitchen.

1. Build the base
You can go to Ikea, Lowe’s or Home Depot to purchase the cabinets. Some of these stores will work with you for your exact dimensions so bring your measurements to pick the right cabinet widths. I recommend a 15-inch cabinet height.

In order for the doors to open, you need to raise the cabinets off the ground. Otherwise they will scrape the floors. You can do this by laying 2x4 planks of wood across the span of where you want the cabinets to lay on (similar to a train track).

2. Install cabinetry
Install cabinets on top of the 2x4s and secure them to the existing flooring with construction adhesive and screws.

Add trim work on face of the 2x4 for a finished look. I recommend using a 1x4 toe kick to be painted the same color as the cabinet. You can purchase these at any home improvement store.

5. Seat cushions

Once you’ve built your new banquette seating, you’re going to want to add decorative seat cushions, and Semerjian tell us how to install the cushions:

1. Purchase fabric and poly foam (the actual “cushion”) at a local fabric store.
2. Measure the bench to determine how much wood you’ll need for the seat and purchase plywood from a home improvement store. They will cut this for you.
3. Cut the poly foam with a serrated knife to fit on top of your wood and use wood glue to glue the foam to the wood.
4. Once the glue is dry, cover the foam with batting and trim to fit. Use a staple gun to staple the batting to the underside of the wood. Take extra caution to make sure the batting is smooth.
5. Lay the wood, batting side down on top of your upside-down fabric. Fold the fabric like you are wrapping a present around the batting to ensure no loose corners. Pull the fabric super tight and staple to the wood with a staple gun all around the underside perimeter.
6. Cut excess fabric and secure the cushion to the bench seat using construction glue.

6. Installing a chandelier

While chandeliers add a striking look to your living room or foyer, they don’t come cheap.

To save money, Murphy offers these tips to installing a chandelier:

1. Before you do anything with your new chandelier, cut the power to the room.
2. Disconnect the wires of the old light fixture, and be sure to keep them separated.
3. Remove the old light from the ceiling.
4. Install the bulbs and shades onto your new chandelier.
5. Attach the wires of the chandelier to those in the junction box, making sure to match the colors correctly. If your chandelier has a canopy, be sure to place the canopy on the ceiling before you connect the wires.
6. Turn the power back on, flip the switch in the room and to turn on the chandelier.

7. Insulation

If you’re noticing high electric bills, you might need to take a look at your home’s insulation, which helps to keep the home warm in the winter months.

Sally Morse, director of Creative Services for Hunter Douglas, offers the following tips to ensure your home is well-insulated:

1. Significant savings can be made simply by blocking air leaks. If you can rattle doors and window frames or see daylight around them, that’s a sign they leak air. Additionally,  check electrical outlets, switch plates, baseboards, fireplace dampers and air conditioners. Look for gaps around pipes, faucets and mail slots. Apply caulking and weather stripping where needed.
2. Leaks in the attic or basement are harder to spot, since they may be hidden in the insulation. Large gaps are also often found around plumbing pipes, light fixtures, chimneys and soffits. Ensure openings for items such as pipes, ductwork and chimneys are sealed with expanding foam caulk. Seal any electrical boxes in the ceiling and cover the entire attic floor with insulation. Be sure the attic hatch is insulated, weather-stripped and closes tightly.
3. On the outside, start by checking areas where two different construction materials meet, such as siding and chimney and the foundation and the exterior brick or siding.  Look for cracks and holes in the mortar, foundation and siding, and seal them with the appropriate material. Check the exterior caulking around doors and windows and ensure that exterior storm doors and primary doors seal tightly.

8. Painting doors and trims

Repainting an entire room is undoubtedly a huge DIY project. However, repainting the doors or trim is a less stressful task and is bound to update the look of the room.

Joe Kowalski, training manager at Glidden reveals these tips for painting doors and trims:

1. For doors and trims, use two coats of a latex semi-gloss or high-gloss enamel.
2. Two coats is recommended as the enamels perform better applied in thinner coats and two coats makes the finish more resistant to the scratches and dings doors receive.
3. For people preferring the look of oil on their trim, oil based finishes leave a higher sheen with a more durable finish. In either fashion, be sure to use a high-sheen paint.

9. Library

Do you have bookshelves where your kids would keep textbooks? Chances are it’s time to upgrade the shelves to add a more sophisticated look. Here’s what Semerjian advises:

1. Repaint the bookcase to a neutral color -- a mix of beige and gray is recommended.
2. Recover the old books with some craft paper -- the look of the brown masking paper from a home improvement store is one idea. It's a clean look and will make those old books you don't want to get rid of into a beautiful focal point.
3. After covering the books, use letter stamps that you can purchase from a craft store and stamp the title and author on the spine of the book. You can make it look like lettering from a typewriter for a more charming look.

10. Memory wall

Finally, instead of purchasing some new artwork for your home, consider creating a memory wall to bring back some of the memories when your children were younger.

Joanne Cleaver, who writes the "Money Mondays" blog for Bobvila.com, shares these steps for the perfect memory wall.

1. Common items on a memory wall include: photos, graduation tassels, childhood drawings, cards and report cards.
2. Arrange photo frames or timelines that you want to include on the memory wall on a large piece of paper on the floor or on dining room table. Once you have settled on a pleasing arrangement, mark on the paper the point for the nail for each frame. Now, center and level the paper on the wall in the bedroom.
3. Drill through the nail markers on the paper. Pull away the paper and hang your arrangement or timeline.

--By Scott Gamm

Gamm is the founder of the personal finance website HelpSaveMyDollars.com. He has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, MSNBC and CNN.  Follow Scott on Facebook and Twitter.