By Mary Boone

SEATTLE (Zillow) — Sitting by the mailbox, waiting for your tax refund? Stop waiting and start thinking about the best ways to invest that money in your home.

In 2012, the average IRS tax refund was about $3,000. Your home is likely one of your biggest assets, so it makes good financial sense to take care of it. Keeping your home up to date will contribute to its longevity, heighten your enjoyment and help you sell your home if you ever decide to. So instead of a fleeting ski weekend, why not consider investing at least a portion of your refund in your home?

Even modest investments can improve your home’s value and make it more livable. Here are five home improvement projects you may want to consider, all under $3,000:

New entry door

First impressions mean a lot. A new front door can enhance curb appeal, improve security and lower utility costs. According to Remodeling magazine’s Remodeling 2012-13 Cost vs. Value Report, a $1,137 steel entry door replacement project returns 85.6% of your investment. Fiberglass doors are generally more expensive, but they’re still a smart investment. According to the same report, a $2,753 fiberglass entry door project will yield a return of 65.9%.

Even better? Certain energy-efficient exterior doors are eligible for federal tax credits of up to $500, excluding installation costs.

Garage door

The appearance and condition of your garage door also plays a big role in your home’s overall appearance. According to the Cost vs. Value Report, an uninsulated, 16-by-7-foot garage door costing $1,496 will increase your home’s resale value by $1,132, a return of 75.7%.


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For just a couple hundred dollars, a do-it-yourselfer with the most basic of skills can install insulation, caulk and door seals, reducing household energy consumption by almost 35% in the typical weatherized home. Willing to invest more? Windows can allow major losses of heat in the winter and cool air in the summer, requiring more energy — and money — to keep your home comfortable. Replacing old windows with Energy Star-qualified windows can reduce household energy bills by 7% to 15% and will shrink your home’s carbon footprint.


This may be the perfect time to kiss your dated mint bathroom or mauve rec room goodbye. A gallon of paint costs less than $30 and will provide one-coat coverage for about 350 square feet. If you think you might be putting your house on the market sometime soon, opt for neutral colors that have more universal appeal. Even if you’re staying put, a fresh coat of paint can update and personalize your space for a fraction of the cost of a total remodel.

Let there be light

Updated home lighting can enhance your decor, save on energy costs and increase your safety. Even if a new chandelier isn’t in your budget, dimmer switches will allow you to control the intensity of light throughout your home while saving electricity. A basic dimmer costs less than $10 while fancier, remote-control and programmable dimmers can be bought for $40 and up.

Metal can or recessed lights will brighten dark corners, while under-cabinet light strips can add much-needed light to kitchens, craft rooms and laundry rooms. Unless you have knowledge of electrical wiring, you’ll need to hire a pro to handle the installation.

More from Zillow:

What Your Front Door Is Saying About You

High Energy Bills? Fix Air Leaks in These 4 Areas

5 Home Upgrades You Should Avoid