Upgrades to your home don't have to cost a bundle. Here are some ideas for making small changes in the new year.
>> Convert a fireplace to gas. Don't want the muss and fuss of a wood fire in your fireplace? Install gas logs. For $600, you can get 2-foot-long, realistic-looking ceramic logs in your choice of wood type and arrangement (stacked neatly or askew), including a gas burner (gaslogguys.com). Installation costs $200 to $350, and it's about $15 to $25 per foot to run a line to service the gas logs.
>> Add a backsplash with pizazz. An average, 10-by-10-foot kitchen requires about 33 square feet of backsplash coverage. You'll pay about $28 per square foot, including installation, for midrange-quality white tiles like those used in New York City's subway stations or for basic-quality mosaic glass tile. Money left over? Update your sink faucet (try faucetdirect.com), cabinet hardware (knobdepot.com) or lights (lampsplus.com).
>> Channel Jack Nicklaus. Improve your short game (indoor or out) with a Pro Putt Trainer ($995 plus shipping; proputtsystems.com). You get a 4-by-12-foot swath of Mirage TourPutt, a synthetic turf used by Ping at its testing facilities. TourPutt looks and acts like bent-grass turf, so your ball will roll perfectly straight in any direction, and a chip shot will land and roll naturally. It requires no messy infill of sand or pelletized rubber for the grass to stand straight. The turf lays atop a 2.5-inch-high base of interlocking panels. The package comes with two cups and flags; spend another $17 for side moldings to keep your ball from falling overboard. The whole thing assembles or disassembles in less than a half-hour.
>> Keep cash safe in a safe. When electrical power goes down, so do ATMs and merchants' ability to accept debit and credit cards. That's why you should have enough cash at home -- preferably in 10s and 20s -- to cover the cost of a week's worth of groceries and emergency supplies, as well as gas and a motel room in case of an evacuation. A rule of thumb is to have $500 to $1,000 on hand. But where to safeguard it, as well as important documents and perhaps some valuables? You'll pay about $200 to $500 at valuesafes.com for a home safe that's fire-resistant (rated for one hour of fire) with a bit more than 1 cubic foot of space. For a two-hour rating and 2 cubic feet of space, the price jumps to about $700.
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