Still, the improvement is gradual, and projects aren't typically as lucrative as they were back when homeowners were able to borrow against a large amount of equity in their houses.
Bridges was so optimistic about the remodeling market that in February he restarted the contracting business he was forced to shut down in 2007. When he closed, he had to lay off his three full-time workers. But at the start of 2012, things began to change.
"I had people that needed work done, and all in one weekend they said to me, 'Why don't you help me ... why don't you get active again?' " said Bridges, owner of Eagle Ridge Contractor Services in Naples, Fla. He had spent the intervening years working on projects with other business owners.
He's worked steadily since, installing new kitchens and bathrooms that range from $10,000 to $25,000, depending on the size of the room and the quality of the cabinets and appliances. He hired one full-time worker when he started his business again and says he may take on as many as three more if business is good enough.
Bridges isn't alone. Sales of previously occupied homes are up more than 9 percent this year, and spending on residential construction has risen 16 percent. People who track housing trends see signs that remodeling is on the rise - and that the improvement will continue. Harvard University's Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity suggests that annual homeowner improvement spending could rise 12.2 percent in the first quarter of 2013, compared with the first three months of 2012.
"Even though it's a down market, homeowners are always having to do certain projects - roofing, siding, heating systems," says Abbe Will, a research analyst with Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies. "When we're moving into a recovery phase, we're going to be looking to the discretionary projects, like kitchen and bath remodeling. We're expecting to see lots more of that as the housing market stabilizes."
But while the upturn is encouraging, it hasn't yet turned into the boom that some had hoped for. After rising from a low reached at the end of 2008, remodeling activity rose sharply but then fluctuated since the end of 2009, according to the National Association of Home Builders' index of remodeling activity.
"[It's] improving, but not as much as we thought it had been earlier," says Steve Millman, director of economic services at the NAHB.
But while business is improving, some contractors say spending hasn't returned to levels reached before the housing bubble burst. Hugins Construction in Coral Springs, Fla., is seeing a pickup in the number of jobs, but owner Rick Hugins says the market is still far from the boom he enjoyed before the housing collapse.
"There's work out there, but the level of business is much smaller than I've seen it in my career," he says.