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Paint, pallets and a chicken coop: how DIY and upcycling can save cash

Suzanne Bearne
Photograph: Cultura Creative (RF)/Alamy

After weeks stuck indoors, many of us have a very good idea of which bits of our home we would like to improve. Some have already been moving through their DIY to-do lists but with the bank holiday weekend here and restrictions on lockdown easing in parts of the UK, it is the perfect time to get going on a new project – big or small.

Medina Grillo, an award-winning DIY and home improvement blogger at, says now is an opportunity to tackle projects you may have previously put off. “DIY helps to structure your day a bit more and it keeps you from feeling too bored,” she says. She has painted a small wall in her entrance hall, hung up a few pictures and waxed a coat rail over the past few weeks.

“When you’ve DIYed something, it’s sort of the same feeling you get after a good workout session. A sense of pride and achievement that you did that,” she says. “In most cases it does save money as you won’t need to hire a tradesperson or splash out on expensive furniture. You can upcycle or build your own homeware that is one-of-a-kind and customised to suit your style.”

DIY shops and hardware stores have been allowed to stay open throughout the lockdown – and they have been busy. Recently, Draper Tools, one of the large hand and power tool distributors, said it was experiencing strong demand in areas such as its painting and decorating products, where there had been a 20% increase.

With spare cash at a premium, many of us will be looking for ways to do DIY on a budget. In normal times, borrowing tools, either from friends and family, or a local library of things, is a good way to cut costs. Some of these are still an option, if you are willing to clean and quarantine items before you use them.

In Crystal Palace in London, for example, the library of things this week started offering a contactless delivery service. DIYers can borrow a range of items including sanders, drills and pressure washers, which will be delivered to their door in a bag. Borrowing a hedge trimmer, for example, costs £8 a day, with a minimum hire time of two days, and there is a £1 membership fee when you make your first booking.

Secondhand specialists such as eBay and Gumtree are another place to look for tools and materials. So, too, are neighbourhood forums and local WhatsApp groups – often people advertise things they are trying to get rid of and want nothing or very little for them. It is also worth posting in these groups if there is anything specific you want to borrow, as people often have tools sitting unused. Again, you will need to consider how to receive the items safely. The coronavirus can survive on surfaces, so ensure you are wearing protective gloves when touching products or leave them for 72 hours before you begin your DIY.

If you are buying kit new, check the retailer’s websites or give them a call before turning up at a store because demand has been high and lots of items have been out of stock. Most retailers are delivering – although the consumer group Which? says it has heard from many shoppers who have been hanging on for their purchases.

There are plenty of jobs you can do that do not require a big outlay on specialist equipment. Kate Watson-Smyth, the founder of the blog Mad About The House and the author of 101 Interior Design Answers, says her top tip for those who do not want to pick up a power tool would be to paint. “It’s transformative and affordable,” she says. “And if you get it wrong, it’s easy to redo.” She suggests going for calming colours for rooms “when there are likely to be more people at home and pressure on space than before. You can always come back to the bright, energising colours later when this ends”.

If you don’t feel like tackling the walls, or don’t need to, you can still make a difference to your environment. “Consider painting the woodwork such as skirting boards, doors, architraves and window frames and radiators to match [the walls]. This will make the space feel bigger, the walls look taller – and therefore the ceilings higher – so it will all feel more spacious.”

For paint, often the best prices can be found at non-specialist shops

For paint, often the best prices can be found at non-specialist shops. You will not get the same range of colours to choose from but the homeware discounters often have brand-name paints at a lower price. Currently, for example, The Range is selling 2.5 litres of Dulux low sheen quick dry eggshell paint in white for £21.99 – £2 less than it costs in B&Q. Crown feature wall paints are £11 for 1.25 litres at The Range, £3 cheaper than in Homebase. Wilko and B&M are also worth checking before you buy. And for items such as sugar soap and white spirit, pound shops are often a good bet.

Pound shops are also a good source of random cans of paint, which can be used to paint accessories and add a splash of colour to your home – you can paint plain picture frames, revamp a wooden chair or paint a shelf, or all three, for a couple of quid. Popping in on the off-chance there is something you like is not an option at the moment but if you are there for other items, it is worth visiting the DIY section.

Friends, family and neighbourhood groups are also good places to pick up half tins of paint that others may have left from their projects. Again, you will have to think about how to quarantine things.

As well as indoors, you may have a garden to think about. Old pallets can be used to create your own furniture – there are lots of videos on YouTube showing you how to make tables and chairs. You will need some sandpaper, as the wood is usually unfinished and could give you nasty splinters.

Old garden furniture can get a new lease of life with a bit of paint, although sadly indoor paint won’t work. For future years, look out for garden paints in the sale at the end of the summer – shops such as Wilko often heavily discount these in September to start to make room for Christmas goods. In the meantime, shop around for paint. For Cuprinol Garden Shades Seagrass, for example, B&M is charging £15 for 2.5 litres, while most retailers are charging £20. Or a scruffy table could be covered with a tablecloth – you can buy brightly patterned oilcloth online for less than £10 a metre.

Helen Esposito, a copywriter who runs the Instagram account “espo_inspo”, where she posts about her interiors, lifestyle and DIY, says she and her husband, a roofer who has not been able to work because of the virus, have been tackling DIY jobs in between homeschooling their three children: an 11-year-old and twins aged 6.

One of the first jobs the couple started on was revamping the disregarded playhouse in the garden. “It’s gone from a pirate playhouse to a surf beach shack. I’ve put some cushions inside and now we’re reading in there and it’s become a completely new play area for them to hang out in.”

The couple have also painted the floorboards upstairs, painted the piano from turquoise to pale pink and given the masonry at the front of the house a fresh lick of paint.

Additional reporting by Hilary Osborne

Quick fixes: tips to get you started

The home improvement blogger Medina Grillo has these tips for cheap and effective home improvements

  • Keep DIY small to start with until your confidence builds. DIY doesn’t always have to mean power tools or large renovation projects. Sometimes it’s as simple as having an idea and following through with it … by yourself. And that could be as basic as screwing a loose door back so it doesn’t creak or adding a coat of varnish to a new table.

  • Spray paint a home item that may not be the colour you want. I’ve recently spray-painted a utensil rail from silver to brass and it was super-easy and quick to do.

  • Hang a gallery wall with nails or self adhesive strips. You can use old tea cloths inside your frames or even add baskets/hats to add texture to your wall. Be creative!

  • Reapply the sealant around your bathroom or kitchen counter tops if they are looking a little grubby or mouldy. There are some brilliant YouTube videos to show you how.

  • Jet wash your garden decking or tiles.

  • Recover an old lampshade. Grab some fabric or wallpaper scraps and give a worn, dated lamp a makeover with a bit of glue/self-adhesive spray.

  • Have you got any jars or glass bottles lying around? Upcycle them into vases or storage with a little paint and/or glue.

  • Do you have furniture in need of some loving? You can upcycle items by changing the handles, painting, staining or covering with sticky-back vinyl. Add wallpaper to the backing of an old bookcase.

  • Use things such as grout pens to refresh kitchen or bathroom tiles.

  • If you are using things such as paint, always make sure the room is well ventilated. When using power tools such as saws or sanders, always ensure you are wearing the right protective equipment such as an eye mask.

Case study: poultry outlay

In Hitchin, Hertfordshire, Jon Harwood, 65, has been busy knocking up a wendy house he found on the freecycling website FreelyWheely and converting it into a chicken pen.

Harwood, a TV cameraman and a partner at the education specialist Harwood Education, has been unable to work as a result of the lockdown.

He says: “My wife and I decided that because of the virus at the moment, and as we have a 12-year old daughter who wanted it, we thought it would be a good enough reason to get chickens.”

Harwood says it has taken him two days to build the pen and he is working on making nesting boxes and wiring up the chicken run.

“I’d rather be outside and busy building bits than stuck indoors now that I’m not working.”