Updating a 90s Home

As the prospect of owning a home has become harder and harder to come by in the United States, many of us have purchased older, less desirable houses. This isn’t to say that the house you bought is any less valuable, just that people overlooked it because they don’t have the vision that you or I do! In this post, I’m going to talk about how to update a house built in the 1990’s – I’ll highlighted the ups and downs of homes from this era and how to make the most of them.

Updating a 90s Home

90s Housing Growth

Almost 3 years ago my wife and I purchased the home we live in now. It’s a single story, three-bedroom home that was built in the 1990s. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I’m willing to bet half of the homes in Charlotte (my city) were built in the 1990s!

Aging Homes in Need of Update

My neighborhood, like many others built in this time period, is chock full of fading roofs, cracked driveways, and the tell-tale faded vinyl siding – all definitive characteristics of a 1990’s suburban neighborhood. And just as you’d expect, many of these homes have that same 90s charm on the inside as well.

The List Goes On

Our house was built in 1997 and we purchased it in 2020. The list of original amenities in our home included countertops, cabinets, carpets (yes, your heard that right), ALL original light fixtures and fans, toilets (not too uncommon), and windows. Oh yeah, lets not forget the mechanicals – original air conditioner, gas furnace, and water heater as well! Understanding what you’re getting into when buying a home is another important story. Take a look at “Manage Unexpected Home Costs Through Knowledge and Understanding“.

As I mentioned before, the difference in my wife and I, (and I’m assuming you) and the other buyers is that we had vision for this home. We knew with a little hard work and TLC, we could update our 90s home on a budget.

Advantages of Homes Built in the 90s

Before I talk about the things that you should change about your 90s home, I want to outline some of the great things about it. After all, we bought a 30-year-old house for a reason! Plus, modernizing a 90s home doesn’t mean erasing history, just touching up some of the less desirable features.

Larger Properties

The suburbs of many cities were expanding in the 1990s, and the land pinch was not as apparent as it is today. Take for instance neighborhoods in Charlotte, NC suburbs that were built in the 1990s – it’s not uncommon to have 0.3 to 0.5 acre properties and live within 15 to 20 minutes of the city! This is in contrast to newer neighborhoods boasting 0.2 to 0.25 acre yards. This doesn’t sound like much, but the difference in one third and one fourth of an acre is around 3,600 square feet! Every square foot makes a difference when you live in a neighborhood of 200 homes.

90s Sprawling Floorplans

Another cool part of owning a 90s home is the floorplans – many homes sport two sitting rooms! And I’m not talking about a custom home here – your run of the mill track homes have some great floor plans with plenty of space. Even though the floor plans are not as open as some are today, in my opinion many newer home floorplans focus too much on open floor plans. This can leave you with one big kitchen-living-room-garage on the first floor – 90s floorplans give you an out when you want to watch football and someone else in the house doesn’t.

Established Neighborhoods

The last big plus I want to talk about is the fact that you now live in an established neighborhood. The trees, grass, and neighbors’ kid that lives in the basement are all 30 years old now! Take a look at newer neighborhoods – those trees won’t shade a squirrel for at least 10 years. Take advantage of this and enjoy your shade trees!

Updating a 90s Home on a Budget

Now we get into the meat and potatoes – how are you going to make this 90s time capsule bearable to live in? Keep reading below, I’ll lay out some must do updates as well as some nice-to-haves and give you some realistic budget expectations (based on my own recent experience!)

Replace Brass Light Fixtures

outdated light fixture, carpet, and dog

I can see it now – your ceiling is lined in tarnished, brass-plated light fixtures and fans (or at least my house was when we moved in). This is one of the easiest and impactful updates you can make in a 90s house that has not been updated. We bought our light fixtures and ceiling fans from Lowes, but you can find great deals for this type of hardware at any hardware store, specialty lighting stores, or even Amazon. On average we spent between $50 and $150 on lights and about $200 for a large ceiling fan in the living room – totaling about $550 to replace all of the fixtures in the living area of our home. The bedrooms could wait – it’s not like guests spend much time in them anyway.

old brass light fixture
updated light fixture

Replace 90s Carpet

Our house was carpeted wall to wall in a worn out, loose, beige colored carpet that had seen its fair share of foot traffic. We knew the carpet had to go, but we were worried about the cost of replacing 2,000 square feet – rightfully so, even the cheapest floor covering at around $1 per square foot would cost us $2,000! So needless to say, this project was postponed about a year after we moved in. This gave us time to save $$$ as well as shop around for an affordable replacement for the gross carpet we were subjecting our bare feet to for a year.

Install LVP Flooring

LVP flooring

Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP) flooring is an excellent replacement in your older home – it’s affordable, durable, and super easy to install. You can get LVP as cheap as $1-$1.50 a square foot and it will withstand the beatings of large dogs and toddlers. We spent a little bit more on our flooring, about $3.50 per square foot, but I made up for the extra spend by installing it myself. After all was said and done, we replaced ALL of the floor in our outdated 90s house for LESS than $8k. With some of the more favorable prices out there, I estimate you could do this for $3-$4k for a 2000 square foot home if you do-it-yourself.

Can Light Replacement Ideas

Changing out lighting is important when updating a 90s home. Another wonderful home feature that was prevalent in the 90s is the can light. These one hundred and fifty degree temperature, 120 watt light fixtures exists IN your ceiling to give you that natural SPOT LIGHT in a junkyard feel. Thankfully the lighting industry as done wonders with new designs all while making it super easy to replace. Do yourself a favor and pick up these flush LED replacements for your existing can lighting.

They come with 5 different light settings (from soft to bright white) and only cost $15 a piece. There is absolutely no re-wiring necessary and they fit in the existing ceiling can. We had 10 fixtures – coming in at a whopping $150 for the upgrade. Money well spent if you ask me. Replacing old lights with LEDs is one of my favorite pass times – check out this post!

Paint Your Walls

This is a no-brainer if you ask me. Even if your walls have been painted in the recent past, repaint them to fit your style. If your anything like my wife, you’ll be paring the paint colors with the light fixtures, flooring, furniture, dog, etc… Paint runs about $50 per gallon. Plan on buying at least 10 gallons if you’re painting your living area, kitchen, dining, and bathrooms. $500 is a reasonable estimate for four or so rooms (if you DIY of course). I’ll mention again, if your doing this on a budget, focus on the living areas of your house – the places people spend most of their time. This isn’t a race – take your time and it’ll all come together as you plan!

Replace Formica Countertops

Yep, those 30 year old countertops are not complimenting all of the other work you’ve done in your home – I would know because I haven’t replaced them yet. Its tough to look at all of the hard work you’ve done and then pan over to those faded, yellowing, countertops with random rust stains from the last owners that didn’t know how to clean properly. No big deal though, just like all of the other projects, it’s on the to-do list and will get done in due time. I’ll have more to elaborate on when I finally get this done – and I’m going to hire a contractor for this, I don’t trust myself cutting granite. I’ve seen granite prices around $25-$35 per square foot, installed. I’ve seen average prices can be around $3k. Again, I’ll let you know more when I tackle this project.

Bathroom Updates on a Budget

Take a look at this post where I cover specific bathroom upgrades and bring you in around $500 for a bathroom refresh. This is well worth a read if you’re interested in getting the most bang for your buck in your outdated 90s house.

Finishing Touches

Now that I’ve schooled you on how to update a home built in the 1990s, I have one last thing to cover. Replace every hinge and door knob in your house with whatever style you like – black, oil rubbed bronze, etc. This small detail will tie together all of the other updates you’ve made and give your house a crisp, updated look. Hinges and doorknobs cost me about $350 for the entire house and I cannot stress this enough – this is a must do!

Refreshed 90s Home

Your 90s home has now been brought into the 21st century! This is the vision you had when you decided you would make it your own. The best part of it all is, if you stuck to my gameplan, you just spent about $5,000 completely updating your home. I’ve seen contractors take that much money from a homeowner to paint 3 rooms! Again, take a look at my post covering bathrooms, and leave a comment or questions if you have one! Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing about your budget remodels!

Update 90s Bathroom on a Budget

A full bathroom remodel is not always accessible or necessary to update your old or boring bathroom. If your house was built in the 90’s like mine, a full remodels can cost thousands of dollars, and lets be honest, bathrooms are not always on the priority list! Below are some ideas to update your 90s bathroom on a budget.

Photo by R ARCHITECTURE on Unsplash

Bathroom Style

Before you start painting or replacing things in your bathroom, have an ideas of what you’d like it to look like when you’re done. Just because this refresh isn’t a full remodel doesn’t mean you shouldn’t focus on the details. Plus, anything is better than that tarnished brass color that was so popular in the 90s.

Some things to think about include –

  • Wall color
  • Color of fixtures (faucets, lights, door knobs, door hinges, towel bar, etc.)
  • Floor color

While the floor may or may not be part of your bathroom refresh, changing the color of your fixtures or walls very well may be part of the plan. Again, as you read through these ideas, consider your options – maybe settle on a theme. Now is the perfect time to brainstorm those bathroom ideas before actually starting the work.

Is everything in your bathroom that 90’s brass color? Maybe you want to replace it with oil rubbed bronze or black? Remember, this is 100% possible on a budget and you don’t need to hire a contractor to get the results you’ve been dreaming of.

Establish the Bathroom Theme

After you’ve made some decisions and are ready to start on your DIY bathroom remodel, start with the small details. If you’ve decided to replace that old brass look, start with door knobs and hinges. This is low hanging fruit when it comes to updating your bathroom. The big box hardware stores have tons of options (style and price) for door accessories. Personally, I like the cheapest brand of door knobs at Lowes – they make them in many different colors and they look just as good as the top brands. After all, it’s a door knob – as long as you think it looks nice and it operates as advertised, its good! These small details really tie the finished product together in the end.

Bathroom Paint

First things first –  if you planned on painting, get this done first. Spoiler alert – scroll down to read about bathroom light fixtures – you should probably go ahead and remove these while your at it so you can paint behind them. Remove you towel racks, toilet paper holders, etc as well – this is good because if you’re going to replace them, you’re halfway done! Get that fresh paint on the walls first and the rest is easy – if you’ve never painted a room before, take a look at Painless Painting – DIY Painting Best Practices.

Bathroom Light Fixtures

A light fixture can be a cheap and easy way to bring some style to your outdated bathroom. Depending on the size of your room, you may have multiple light fixtures – the most noticeable though is the one (or two or more) above your vanity. Again, choose vanity lighting that matches, or at least compliments the theme you’re working toward (color, style). You can find an abundance of bathroom light fixture options on Amazon, at hardware stores, or even specialty lighting stores (you can actually find decent deals at specialty stores).

As with most of the things I talk about on my blog, you can install light fixtures yourself (unless your local government prohibits such a thing, and provided your own your home). If you rent your home, I’d suggest getting permission from the lessor before making any changes.

I’m working on a HOW TO for installing light fixtures – I’ll provide a link when its ready to go.

Bathroom Faucet Updates

In this article, I’m not going to consider replacing your bathroom vanity and countertop – this is a bathroom refresh on a budget. That’s ok though, because replacing your faucets are fairly cheap and go a long way when it comes to updating your bathroom. Again, you can find faucets that are in line with your theme – whether that’s bronze, black, silver, brass, etc. The 90s are not really known for their exquisite home style…

Pay close attention to your old sink faucet – are there two handles and a spout? Or does is there one handle built into the back of the spout? You’ll want to make sure you buy the same type of faucet – The independent handle style requires 3 holes in your vanity top, the other requires only 1.

Replacing a faucet has a small list of requirements –

  1. Turn your water off – your bathroom sink may have on/off valves underneath. If these are old and break when you try to use them, or if you do not have any, turn the water off to your house at the main water valve (wherever that may be). If you cannot find it, or if you don’t have one like my house, you’ll need to use a curb key to turn the water off at the road.
  2. A couple small adjustable wrenches to remove the water lines from the bottom of the faucet.
  3. Towels to clean up the mess you will inevitably make.

Shower Tub Hardware

While you’re replacing faucets, you may want to replace your shower or tub hardware as well. Same as above, you can find handles and faucets at any hardware store or Amazon and in many different styles.

Replace Toilet

A new toilet may seem like something that is only part of a complete bathroom remodel – but let me tell you, you can replace that bad boy any time you want (to spend $100+). There are some great low-end toilets on the market. Just because it’s only $100, does not mean its not a good toilet. Personally, I’ve never spent more than $150 on a toilet, and I’m a toilet snob (I’m all about comfort and accessibility). So don’t be afraid to replace that tiny toilet from the 90s. Not to mention, new toilet bowls use much less water and will save you on the utility bill!

Replace your Toilet Seat

Maybe you like your toilet – or at least there is no reason to change it? What about the seat? There have been some serious gains made in the world of toilet seat technology over the last 20 years. You don’t need to replace it with an electronic seat that uploads data to the internet (THEY EXIST), but at the very least get one with the assisted lid close so you don’t slam the lid at night and wake up the whole house.

Towel Bars and Other Miscellaneous Fixtures

Towel bars, toilet paper holder, and towel hooks are cheap and easy replacements. Be extra careful when removing the old ones as not to damage the drywall. There are usually small set screws underneath the posts that will loosen and allow you to remove the bar from the base. Most new bars come in standard sizes so you can just change out the hardware on the wall in the same location.

I’m also working on a drywall repair how-to. I’ll link it when its ready – this will come in handy when moving the location of your hardware.

Bathroom Vent Cover

This is another one of those things that you very rarely notice, but you’re embarrassed when you do. Over the years these plastic covers tend to yellow and collect lots of dust. I’ve tried cleaning an old one and ended up just breaking it because the plastic was so brittle.

Take a picture of the type of cover you have and head on down to Lowes or Home Depot – they have replacements over in the bath section. You’ll thank me after you replace it!

Curved Shower Rod

This is one of my favorite upgrades for those of you that have a standard bathtub. Replace that old, straight shower bar with a curved one. You may have already beat me to this one because these things are amazing. The curved shower rod not only looks modern and cool, but it gives you tons of more elbow room in the shower!

Bathroom Update Ideas Finishing Touches

I’ve covered most of the things you’ll want to do if you are looking to refresh your bathroom but not perform a complete bathroom remodel. I may be missing something, but that’s what this catch-all section is for! Take inventory of your bathroom – everyone’s is different. Is there yellowing caulk along the bathtub or sink? Caulk is cheap and easy to replace – add it to your list. Are the edges of your mirror flaking off? Add some trim fancy trim around it and pretend you bought it from a boutique for $1k – nobody will know the difference.

The main point to be made in this post is that by paying attention to the details, you can give your bathroom a facelift without completely annihilating your bank account. Take a look at the parts list below for an example of what this will cost you!

Update 90s Bathroom on a Budget – BUDGET

Door Knob$11.442$22.88
Door Hinges$3.986$23.88
Vanity Light Fixture$54.981$54.98
Sink Faucet$49.981$49.98
Tub Hardware$1291$129
Toilet Seat$19.981$19.98
Towel Rod$22.481$22.48
TP Holder$12.491$12.49
Vent Cover$11.051$11.05
Shower Rod$42.231$42.23
Silicone Caulk$7.981$7.98
Total – $563.91

This parts list table just gives you an idea that, for roughly 10% of a complete bathroom remodel done by a contractor, you can give your old bathroom some life!

Energy Savings for the Summer Months

As the warmer months approach, there are many actions you can take around you home to maximize your energy savings, offsetting those already high utility bills while still maintaining a cool house. Below I’ll outline a few steps you should consider now before the mercury begins to climb!

Save Energy by using LED Lights

One of my personal favorite energy saving techniques is to replace those old incandescent lightbulbs with LED. LED lights consume MUCH less power than their predecessors all while producing super high quality light. Common LED lightbulbs use as little as 5 to 8 watts compared to incandescent bulbs that use between 40 and 75 watts. If you’re wonder exactly how that translates to the utility bill, or you want to learn about other benefits of LED lights, check out this awesome post! LED Lights for Energy Savings! If you don’t have time for the deep-dive, just know that investing in LED lights will instantly reduce your power bill.

Replace your HVAC Filters

No matter the type of air conditioner you have in your home, it has some sort of filter that needs to be replaced or cleaned on a regular basis to ensure efficient operation. In common central A/C systems, there is one and sometimes two or more filters on the return air (suction) side of the air handler. They may be located on the ceiling or on a wall in your home, behind a louvered door or hatch. These filters should be replaced regularly, as often as every 30 days to keep your A/C running efficiently.

As dust accumulates on the filter, the airflow back to the air handler is reduced, in turn reducing the amount of heat transfer that the system is capable of per unit of time. This means your A/C’s compressor will be working harder (using more energy) to provide the same amount of cooling. While filters may be easy to overlook, your power bill will be VERY noticeable when your A/C is consuming much more power. If you want to get a better understanding of exactly how much power your HVAC system uses and why these energy savings ideas are so important, take a look at Keeping Your House Cool in the Summer!

Replace Weather Stripping for Energy Savings

Lots of energy is wasted in the summer months due to leaky doors and windows. As I noted in the last section, losses related to your air conditioner will cost you dearly in the long run, this is no different. When you set your thermostat to 70° F in the summer time, your A/C is removing the heat in your home’s air via a vapor compression cycle.

Your A/C and Energy Savings

With all of this A/C talk, I’d like to explain exactly how it cools your home and why it costs money to do so.


In order to take the heat from within your home and move it outside, power must be added to the system (your A/C in this case) because heat wants to flow the other way. The second law of thermodynamics says that heat wants to move from the hot source to the cold source. We’re doing the opposite here so it takes extra power!

Refrigeration Cycle

The A/C’s compressor (which is the appliance we provide power to) compresses refrigerant in a sealed system. When the refrigerant gets to the compressor, it has already picked up heat from your air via the evaporator. After compression to vapor state, it releases that SAME heat to the outdoors through a state change (vapor to liquid) inside of the condensing coil. The now liquid refrigerant travels through an expansion valve and then back to the evaporator where it picks up MORE of the heat from your home’s air.  

This image describes the stages of the refrigeration cycle (vapor compression cycle)

Why this matters (and why you had to read about thermodynamics!)

Now, imagine this A/C has been working very hard to reduce your indoor temperature to 70°. It finally gets to that temperature and turns off – yay! No more power consumption! But then you open the front door and a bunch of warm air rushes in – A/C comes back on and runs until its 70° again.

The cost of ignoring science

Leaky doors and windows may not seam like a huge deal because you can barely notice the outdoor air seeping in. You may not notice at all! But in reality, many small leaks due to poor weather stripping can add up to the equivalent of leaving one door open all day. In a prior post I broke down the cost to run a 3 ton air conditioner for 1 month (roughly $100). If your leaky doors and windows add up to 10% energy loss, you can directly equate that to losing $10 per month!

Replace Doors and Windows

If new weather stripping just doesn’t get the job done, you may need to think about replacing doors and windows in your home. This is a daunting reality for many because of the high cost of windows and doors. What is even worse is thecost of having someone install them! Because of this, I take an approach based in the reality of my life – I do it myself! I know not everyone is in a position to DIY a front door or a window, but I’m willing to bet more there are many of you that have never given yourself a chance. I believe in you! Either way, replacing doors and windows will lead to an instant energy savings which translates to money in your pocket!

Attic Insulation for Energy Savings

Another super important energy saving feature of a home is insulation. Most homes have insulation in the exterior walls and in the attic (on top of your ceiling). The attic insulation plays a huge roll in keeping that nice cool air in your house from sapping the energy out of the warm outside air, and kicking your A/C on. Take a look at your attic insulation if you haven’t done so in the past. Over time it tends to compress under it’s own weight and in turn loses it’s ability to insulate. Many homes have blown in insulation in attic – you can hire a company to replace this or you can rent a machine and DIY! Either way, this is a crucial factor when it comes to saving energy.

All the Small Things

I can only dream about having a super energy-efficient home. The reality is, my home is aging and I’m constantly trying to keep up with it. As a homeowner, it can seem impossible to keep the house clean sometimes let alone finish projects and take on new ones. That’s why I keep it simple – set some overall goals and try and do one or two things a day, or a week, in support of those goals.

If your goal is to save energy (probably is since your reading this),  then caulk that window or fix the weather stripping when you realize it’s a problem. Buy a few extra filters for you A/C and put some dates on them with a marker to remind yourself when it should be replaced. Go buy a box of LED lights and replace your old ones as they burn out. Making your home more efficient and saving money doesn’t have to be hard, just take it one day at a time and if you have any questions or want to comment on how you save energy, let us know in the comments!