Mark Pierce has to know how to spruce up a home on a tight budget.

Much of the St. Paul licensed general contractor's work involves buying, fixing up and reselling homes, so his income depends on keeping down expenses.

Walking around a St. Paul home into which he was putting the finishing touches, the home-repair specialist pointed out some of the ways he had economized as he spruced the place up.

On the front porch, the floor was collapsed when he bought the property, so he rebuilt the floor, covering it with remnant pieces of carpet and vinyl flooring.

In the bathroom, he installed a glass block window he had put together himself.

He cut out the top half of a wall to create an open floor plan, with visibility from the kitchen to the front of the house, and capped it with a piece of salvaged molding.

He painted the front rooms a soft sage green with paint he'd selected for $5 a gallon from among cans customers had returned to the store. In the kitchen, he gave the cabinets a coat of fresh paint and created an attractive backsplash pattern by giving his son a box of remnant tiles and the instruction to "make something work."

Pierce lavishes praise on the Habitat for Humanity ReStore outlet in New Brighton, where the public can donate used items, or buy them at a fraction of what they'd cost elsewhere. Among the bargains he has picked up there: doors, woodwork, floor coverings, major appliances for $50 to $75 (guaranteed to work, or you can return them, he said), a light fixture for a dollar, doorknobs for 25 cents apiece.

He also picks up affordable materials -- roofing, wood, countertops, bathroom vanities, cabinets, tile -- at the Building Materials Outlet in Eagan. And he keeps his eye out for sales at Menards. If you're undertaking a home improvement project, Pierce recommends collecting items -- a ceiling fan, a vanity, a garage-door opener -- as you plan the project, rather than waiting until right before you start the work.

"Pick up stuff when it goes on sale," he advised. "Plan your project, and shop, shop, shop."

Two things he warns against skimping on: door locks and toilets. He recently upgraded to a better toilet in his own home, and found he was able to save water without sacrificing efficiency.

"I spent more money on it, but I save every time we flush it," Pierce said.

Katy Read • 612-673-4583