The Best and Worst Home ‘Hacks’ – Part 1
Part 1 – Wise Improvement Investments
If you’ve been looking into home improvement projects lately, then you know first-hand – every renovation comes with a price tag. Depending on the area of remodeling, the scope of work, and the quality and quantity of materials you choose, each and every project can turn into a huge drain on your household finances. Most homeowners are dreaming of that glorious kitchen and super-sleek bathroom escape; what they aren’t dreaming of is sinking twenty to thirty-five thousand into improvements on their homes and still not coming out ahead.
Thanks to a handy tool from Remodeling Magazine, home owners can scope out the kind of return on investment they are likely to see – both locally and nation-wide – on their investment dollars. The great news is that of the top ten investments for ‘cost recouped’ on a nationwide scale, six of them cost less than ten thousand dollars and will earn you 74% or more of your investment back. Installing a steel door returns 97% of your investment and costs around $1150 dollars. If simply looking at return on investment, the best home improvement projects to tackle are entry door replacement, wood or composite deck addition, converting an attic into a bedroom, replacing a garage door with a more modern model, minor kitchen improvements, window replacements, siding replacement, or finishing a basement.
On the opposite side, the worst investments for money are really hefty investments – ranging from $11742 up into the $155k range. Yet the best return yields (or recovered costs) are only 48-70% of your initial investment. That makes improvements like a home office remodel or any number of additions – a sunroom, bathroom, master suite, family room, garage, or two-story – huge investments with small returns, along with things like roofing or replacing your front door with the higher price point fiberglass model. The lesson to be learned here is that it isn’t necessarily about how much money you pour into a project but how much thought.
Whether you are considering your home an investment property or just want it to be a safe and happy place full of comfort and equity, it’s easy to be intimidated at the thought of home improvements and the possible price tag attached to them. The truth of the matter is that not all improvements are equally huge investments; likewise there are some that are more effective or carry more weight than others. While there is a huge array of improvements we could go into here, the best ones to talk about are those which are basic, vital, and most importantly – affordable. Some improvements are about making us feel good – such as indoor air quality improvements. Some are about making our home look better to us and others – like a new paint job. The best ones are those which are both beneficial personally and allow us to invest in the long term value of our home.
Some of the improvements that can be considered the best of both worlds are things like an HVAC system upgrade or update. New home buyers like to feel clean, fresh air in their homes – small improvements like sealing ducts and junctions, insulating ductwork, and improving the quality of your air filter are inexpensive and relatively quick updates that will improve the efficiency of your HVAC system. By making sure more air gets where it is intended and at a more appropriate temperature, your home will feel cozier in winter and cooler in summer – it will also feel fresher whenever your fan motor is going, because one of the biggest factors in how we perceive indoor air quality is just from having air move around us. If you combine this with a new furnace and blower fan, you will notice an immediate improvement in utility bills, qualify for energy efficiency rebates, enjoy a better ambient indoor air temperature and fresher, cleaner air.
When you can’t – or don’t want to – invest in larger, more expensive upgrades such as new windows, doors, fixtures, and pipes, then increasing the effectiveness of the effort and money you do invest is imperative. In that case, air-sealing against infiltration (air from outside penetrating your home) and exfiltration (air from your home leaking outside) are places where a little money can go a long, long way. Apartmenttherapy.com has a great article about this which points out the obvious – and not so obvious – places we can pour the caulk and rake in the cash. When dealing with performance and efficiency upgrades in the home, it’s important to remember the payoff is a two-fold thing – your initial reward of a more comfortable & valuable home, accompanied by the long-term return of lower utility bills. It’s best to consider using low-expansion insulation foam in bigger gaps, but especially in places like around windows and door frames (if the gaps are too large for caulk, say more than a quarter inch), around electrical boxes in walls, and along your foundation wall in your basement and the top plate in your attic. Caulk can be used literally anywhere in the home to create a safe, dry, relatively airtight space – around windows and doors both inside and out, along tile walls, around plumbing fixtures, even along trim pieces and around light fixtures – and last but not least, to seal and fill any cracks in your foundation slab and walls.
Does your home deserve and most likely need that finished basement with two extra bedrooms and bathrooms? Probably – but until you are ready for it, considering these ideas and those coming next week can help you create a beautiful and inspired space without emptying your bank account. Home is where your heart is, and where love lives, that is humble and yet like no other place on earth.
If you’re looking for those aesthetic, artsy, gorgeous little improvements you can tackle on a weekend with a lot of elbow grease and almost no moolah – check out these wonderful articles from Better Homes & Gardens, This Old House, and the DIY Network.
Don’t forget to join us next week for Part 2 – Home Improvements Gone Wrong
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This is an original article written by Mai Bjorklund for Swartz Electric. This article may not be copied whole or in part without the express permission of Swartz Electric, LLC.
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