Whether you just closed on a fixer-upper or you’re looking to update the house you’ve lived in for 20 years, there’s a good chance you’ve got plans to make home improvements in the near future.
There’s also a good chance your renovation will be a major project: Among homeowners who frequent Houzz, a home renovation and design site, 51 percent are planning to spend $10,000 or more on an upcoming renovation, according to Houzz’s 2018 U.S. renovation report.
“The underlying force for that growth is the fact that 50 percent of the housing stock today is 37 years or older," and most of these aging homes have roofs, furnaces, flooring and appliances that have reached the end of their lives, says Nino Sitchinava, principal economist for Houzz.
Sites like Houzz and Pinterest and decor companies like Ikea and Wayfair encourage homeowners to take on more do-it-yourself projects, while home renovation shows on HGTV and other channels inspire new trends in many houses throughout the U.S.
You may be looking to take on a small remodeling project that changes or updates the look and function of a space or tackle a larger renovation, which is typically geared toward restoring a space or building to peak performance and glory. Even a small repair or home improvement task, like annual maintenance on your HVAC system, requires some planning and consideration of the scope of the project. Here’s your guide to home renovations.
Know First: Why Remodel?
Before you start drawing up plans for an addition to your house or a major kitchen conversion, identify the reason behind your home improvement project: Does your plumbing need an update? Are you looking to convert a room to more usable space? Are you simply ready for a change? Understanding the motivation behind your project affects how you apply your budget, how you'll prioritize tasks throughout the process and whether you tap professional help.
Start by getting an initial feel for the project by looking online, says Leah Tuttleman, an interior designer certified by the American Society of Interior Designers and designer for Re-Bath, a full-service bathroom remodeling brand.
“Always do a little bit of research on your own to understand what your style is that you gravitate towards,” she says. It’s not just about knowing what you want the end product to look like, but getting a realistic view of how your budget will be allocated as well.
Here are five primary reasons you may want to update your house.
Maintenance. Whether the house is five or 105 years old, maintenance is required to keep everything working smoothly. Especially if you’re house is decades old, you’ll likely find the electrical, plumbing and even the foundation may need a little love to maintain a safe, stable structure for you and your family.
A renovation project driven mainly by the need for maintenance will likely mean the majority of the budget goes toward hiring licensed professionals and replacing dated materials. Depending on where you live, extensive work on the structure, electricity or plumbing may also require permits and an inspection.
Updating rooms. The plumbing may still be OK, but a 1980s kitchen might be an eyesore. Plenty of homeowners remodel to bring a space out of decades past and into current times.
For a kitchen or bathroom, much of the renovation budget may go toward new, state-of-the-art appliances. These updates may also involve high-cost materials like marble, new tile and custom cabinetry.
As a result, consider splitting your budget between function and the appearance of the room. Sitchinava says many homeowners opt to wait until they update a room to address maintenance problems: “[For] any project, unless it’s a big water leak, people wait until they’re able to fix or upgrade [it].”
Try out new styles. You may have redone the living room 10 years ago, but those beige walls now make your stomach churn. So you may be looking to take on a remodel project simply to bring your home in line with current interior design trends. In many cases, this is a small remodeling job, so the budget can be focused on paint, furnishings or other decorative materials.
Because trends are, by definition, fairly short-lived, avoid taking on a major renovation purely for the sake of embracing a new trend. Steve Pallrand, owner of Home Front Build, a design-build and renovation company based in Los Angeles, recommends keeping the original style of the house’s architecture in mind: “The mistake a lot of people make is you walk into a Spanish colonial or even Craftsman house, and then you see a 1990s Home Depot kitchen or a modern kitchen.”
Getting ready to sell. Homeowners who are prepping their house for the market may need to make minor repairs, give rooms a fresh coat of paint or install a trendy backsplash to make buyers feel wowed when they tour the property.
When selling is the goal, home improvements are aimed at maximizing the return on investment. There’s no need to install a state-of-the-art kitchen when many homebuyers want to customize it to their needs; restained cabinets and a new countertop may be enough to freshen up the space for sale.
Improving efficiency. Many homeowners are looking to do their part to reduce energy waste and their utility bills by making energy-efficient upgrades. These may include adding solar panels to the roof, insulation inside the walls or a smart thermostat.
Before you commit to new digs, consider if you'll regret these features and design details in a decade.
Most Popular Home Renovation Projects
Some rooms are more likely to see changes every few years, while other areas of your house, like your roof, may not need to be replaced for 30 years.
If you’re looking for inspiration or are curious to know whether your plans for renovating a linen closet are considered out of the box, here’s a breakdown of some of the most popular home improvement projects:
Maintenance. Houzz’s renovation report finds that home system upgrades are gaining in priority among many homeowners, with the share of homeowners making system upgrades reaching 64 percent in 2017.
Popular maintenance-related projects include:
- Heating and cooling
- Water heater
- Structural or foundation upgrades
Updates to rooms. You’re probably not shocked to hear that kitchens and bathrooms are the most popular remodeling projects. Forty percent of first-time homebuyers will renovate the kitchen shortly after purchase, according to the Houzz report, while as many as 30 percent of long-term homeowners also look to take on a kitchen project. For bathrooms, 25 percent of renovating homeowners will remodel a guest bathroom, and 22 percent are tackling the master bath specifically.
But Sitchinava says some homeowners are starting to focus on another space for renovations: “The kitchen is clearly a big focal area when it comes to homes, but we’re seeing this emergence of another focal area, which is the master suite.” Homeowners aren’t just looking for a fresh, customized look in the common areas of the house, but they're focusing in on the more personal areas as well.
Popular room updates include:
- Guest bathroom
- Master bathroom
- Living room or family room
- Master bedroom
- Outdoor living
- Dining room
- Home office
- Master closet
Where trends fit in. Know that if you fully embrace a current style or trend – whether it’s the farmhouse-chic look seen on HGTV’s "Fixer Upper" or a minimalist, modern aesthetic – it may eventually look dated, simply because styles evolve over time and trends fall out of favor. Pallrand stresses that any renovation should be integrated with the style of your home: “There’s value in keeping your existing home … but you have to integrate that into this existing, perfect whole and now make something that works together.”
Whether you’re looking to update a room or bring in a few trendy pieces, there are some parts of your remodel that may be better areas to embrace a trend than others, simply because it’s easier to make changes if the style falls out of favor in a few years. Here are a few examples:
Lighting. You always have the option to make permanent lighting changes or simply add lamps throughout a room. Recessed lighting is currently popular and considered a classic, long-lasting look, although track lighting, which is now dismissed as dated in many markets, may have once held the same appeal.
Doors. Barn doors set on a track that slide over the doorway have been a popular upgrade for a few years, and they serve as an excellent solution to doors swinging into crowded rooms. The hardware is relatively easy to add or remove from a doorway should you decide to return to a hinged door.
Color. Embrace the hottest colors of the year – Pantone’s color of 2018 is ultra violet – by painting your living room walls or buying an accent pillow. Update your old floors with a darker stain when that light wood feels too early 2000s. Paint your front door to make it pop. Bring in a new, multicolored rug to infuse some life into your guest bedroom. Color trends change annually and month to month, and they’re fortunately fairly easy to implement and switch out in a room.
Furnishings. The simplest, least permanent way to bring in a current style or trend is with furnishings. Lamps, couches and a coffee table in the midcentury modern style may be exactly the look you’re going for now, while midcentury modern wallpaper will likely be a change you'll regret in a couple years.
Everyone's got renovations on the brain. Here's how to spread your budget to freshen up your home.
Budgeting for Your Renovation
Know how much money you have to make renovations before you start your project, and research your options to get a better understanding of how much certain upgrades, materials and changes cost.
Typical home renovation costs. Chances are, the budget you have in mind won’t get you as far in a project as you think. The Houzz report found that 77 percent of renovating homeowners started with a budget in 2017, but 46 percent of them ultimately spent beyond their planned total.
“Either homeowners are just surprised how expensive products and materials are or … a fraction of the homeowners actually choose more upscale products and materials for their remodel,” Sitchinava says.
Pallrand attributes much of the increase in spending and unrealistic expectations to the fact that houses are generally more expensive today than they were 10 years ago. The increased cost to buy a house as well as the cost to hire a contractor and buy materials outpace the average increase in income. “Inflation in the real estate market is what’s putting people behind the curve,” he says.
Plus, if your renovation project involves a part of the house that hasn’t been touched in a while, who knows what you’ll find. Tuttleman says it’s often hard to set a budget before demolition for a major renovation begins because there’s no knowledge of deferred maintenance or systems issues until they’re visible. “We can’t see behind the walls,” she says.
Cash. Most homeowners don’t want to take on additional debt to fund their home updates or renovations. In fact, 85 percent leverage their cash or savings, according to the Houzz report. Necessary renovations for system updates or, say, a water heater breakdown are often considered good reasons to tap a rainy day fund.
With cash, however, be sure to budget accurately from start to finish on the project. You don’t want to get halfway through a bathroom remodel and run out of money, leaving your bathroom unusable for the next six months while you save.
Financing options. For major renovations and home rehabilitations, financing the updates will likely get you to project completion faster. You have the option to take out a home equity loan, which allows you to borrow an amount based on your home’s value – specifically, the equity you currently have in it based on how much of your mortgage you’ve paid off.
[Learn more about The Best Home Improvement Loans.]
A type of home equity loan is a home equity line of credit, or HELOC, which serves as a revolving line of credit, allowing you to borrow and pay off the amount as needed. The preapproved limit by the lender is based on your equity in the home.
Home equity loans are a great option for home improvement projects because they lend to increasing the value of your property, but borrowing for frivolous spending can lead to financial problems down the line. Only borrow what you feel confident you can pay back over time.
DIY or Hire Professionals?
Especially if you’ve got a limited budget, you may be hoping to take on a DIY home renovation. Home improvement tasks can be fun, rewarding and far less expensive than hiring a professional, but keep your level of expertise in mind as well as the amount of skilled work the project requires.
Many municipalities require permits for electrical and plumbing work, and those permits often require a licensed professional to at least sign off on the work if not complete it entirely. Even if it’s a simple repair, leave any project that could potentially harm you or the house to a professional.
When interviewing potential electricians, plumbers or general contractors, Tuttleman recommends leaning into your lack of expertise: If you don’t know how to describe what you want, find a picture of it.
“It’s hard to use the terminology that contractors, plumbers and electricians use, because you’re not sure how to describe clearly what you’re thinking,” she says.
Adding in the cost of labor may mean the scope of your project narrows, but you still have options. Re-Bath is one of many companies that offers consultations with a selection of bathroom options that have been styled by designers and offer additional customization. You don’t have to hire an interior designer separately, but the professional touch is still there, Tuttleman says.
The most important piece of advice when it comes to hiring professionals to remodel an old house is to let them do their job. You’ve hired experienced hands for a reason, so don’t micromanage.
“Not everything seems logical to an inexperienced eye,” Tuttleman says. It's important to allow a hired project manager – whether it’s the general contractor or interior designer – to be in charge of ensuring everything gets done as efficiently as possible. More sound advice: Avoid last-minute changes to your preferences and be clear on your expectations from the start.
Stock up for your next DIY project.
If you're always finding new home improvement projects to take on, you're not alone. In a 2015 study of 500 do-it-yourselfers by Venveo, a digital marketing agency and parent company of DIYConsumer.com, 58 percent of respondents said they do a DIY project either because it's a simple project or they find the work fun, while another 39 percent said they want to save money. Regardless of your reason for taking on a DIY project, you need to be prepared with the right tools. Read on for tools every DIYer should have to tackle home improvement, maintenance and crafting tasks. We've included a price range for each tool, based on current prices at various home improvement retailers like Home Depot and Lowe's, to help you plan your purchases.The basics
These DIY and maintenance must-haves help set you up for success. They're simple tools that are fairly inexpensive yet key to ensuring your safety, avoiding damage or making mistakes while you work.The internet
Especially if you're new to DIY projects, take advantage of the free resources available online to help you figure out the best way to build something, make a repair or master regular maintenance you've never done before. "The information is the power," says Chris Zeisler, master technician and technical service supervisor for RepairClinic.com, an online marketplace for appliance and repair parts and equipment. Zeisler recommends watching tutorials and informational videos on YouTube or advice sites like RepairClinic.com to get a better understanding of what you need to do. If you're still nervous about the job after watching tutorials, consult a professional.
Cost: Nothing beyond the cost of your Wi-Fi or mobile data plan.Safety glasses
Regardless of skill level, eye protection is a necessary part of any project you take on. Safety glasses are particularly important when doing tasks that can create debris, like sawing, drilling, spraying paint or using a sealant.
Cost: As cheap as $1.50, or you can go all out and get prescription safety glasses, which can put you back a few hundred dollars.Tape measure
The saying goes, "Measure twice, cut once." So naturally, you need to be able to measure when it comes to cutting wood for a bookshelf, framing your artwork or simply figuring out what size couch you need for the living room.
Cost: Less than $10.Level
Keep your home from looking like a college dorm room and use a level to hang any wall decor. A level is also an important tool when building or repairing anything that's supposed to have a flat surface – a DIY nightstand isn't quite as nice if your glass of water keeps sliding off a slanted tabletop.
Cost: Free phone apps are available, or you check out torpedo, beam or laser levels ranging from $4 to $30.Drop cloth
Whether you're painting, sawing, drilling or gluing, keep your floor or driveway from getting damaged by placing a drop cloth beneath your workspace.
Cost: Use an old bedsheet for free, or invest in a canvas or plastic drop cloth for $7 to $10.Wood glue and other adhesives
Wood glue and other adhesives
Plenty of DIY projects and repair scenarios can be strengthened with a little extra sealant. For wood projects, use wood glue to back up screws and nails. When wood isn't the material you're working with, a super glue or all-surface construction adhesive can help get the job done.
Cost: Depending on the type of adhesive, expect to pay $3 to $12.Stud finder
If you're hanging a picture frame or shelf, a stud finder allows you to find the best possible place to anchor a nail or screw – without worrying whether it will fall off the wall later. When you're cutting a hole in the drywall, the same stud finder will help ensure you don't cut through an important part of the structure of your house. Studs in residential buildings are typically wood, but a stud finder using magnetism often still works by locating the nails in the stud. More sophisticated stud finders will detect the differences in density along the wall.
Cost: Depending on type, it will cost between $10 and $50.Ladder
A 12-foot ladder isn't necessary if you're an apartment dweller who relies on the property manager for most maintenance issues, but a short stepladder can always help you reach the top shelf in the kitchen or get a better angle while hanging wall decor. In a house, a taller ladder can come in handy for cleaning out your home's gutters, as well as reaching high-up spots while painting, cleaning or decorating inside.
Cost: Depending on height and stability, a ladder will cost anywhere from $40 to $1,000.Hand tools
You don't need construction experience to use these household tools skillfully. These simple tools are an important part of being able to make small, straightforward repairs at home, whether you live in an apartment, condo or house.Clamp
In DIY scenarios where the wood glue comes in handy, you'll typically want a clamp to help serve as additional security while the adhesive dries. Clamps also help hold wood and other materials together or in place while you're sawing, drilling or sanding and need help keeping the materials steady. You can opt for a simple C-clamp or bar clamp, which will suffice in relatively simple projects.
Cost: Expect to pay between $3 and $20, based on the size and type of clamp.Screwdriver
Securing a dresser to the wall or finally putting that Ikea coffee table together will likely see you reaching for a screwdriver. Screws vary in shape and size, so Zeisler recommends checking out a set of screwdrivers with interchangeable screwheads to keep the number of screwdrivers you own down, while still having access to the Phillips head, flat head, Allen wrench (hexagon), Torx drive (star) or Robertson (square).
Cost: Either invest in a set of screwdrivers with different heads or get a multibit screwdriver, which both run from about $7 to $30.Wrenches and ratchets
Wrenches and ratchets
Whether you're tightening a bolt on your bed frame or building a deck in your backyard, a wrench or ratchet and socket set is a must-have. Like with a screwdriver, Zeisler recommends checking out investing in a set to help reduce the total number of wrenches you need, and ensure you have the tool for every possible scenario. "You can get more than one thing and more than one component," he says. "Instead of having seven or eight combination wrenches, you can get one particular tool that has a combination of all those on one assembly."
Cost: Sets of wrenches with additional adjustability typically cost around $20. Ratchet and socket sets typically start at about $15.Claw hammer
A hammer almost seems too simple a tool to have, but you'll find yourself needing one quite often, whether it's to hang a calendar on the wall, construct a birdhouse or repair siding on your house. A claw hammer is often the recommended go-to for DIY projects because the backside of the tool also allows you to pull out nails as needed.
Cost: Depending on the brand, expect to pay $5 to $40.Pliers
You may need help pulling something apart or holding it in place while you apply an adhesive – and pliers are an effective tool in both cases. Some pliers are specially designed to help cut or strip wire as well, which helps if your project requires some basic electrical work. In such cases, always have the power turned off and call a licensed electrician if you're not sure what you're doing.
Cost: Pliers range from $9 to $40.Utility knife
You could be opening a package you got in the mail or cutting dowel rods that don't quite require a saw, but having a utility knife specifically for home improvement purposes means you don't have to ruin your kitchen knives to complete simple projects.
Cost: Utility knives range from $5 to $45.Handsaw
For a bigger cutting project, have a handsaw ready. This is one tool you want to have your safety glasses on hand for, along with gloves to protect your hands. Before getting started, mark the wood or material you're cutting with a pencil and straightedge to ensure you cut along a straight line.
Cost: Handsaws run between $9 and $25, so there’s no need to break the bank.Power tools
For some projects, you need a bit of additional power behind it. Enter the motorized tool. "If you're going to be in an apartment or condo where it's going to be smaller projects, I don't think power tools are going to come into play," Zeisler says. "But if you’re a homeowner, you've invested in a mortgage [and] you're in the home, you're probably going to want to start getting familiar with some of that."Drill
As you get into more skilled DIY projects, you'll likely need to use a drill to put holes in wood, masonry, plastic or other materials. Different drill bits are used for different scenarios, and most good DIY tutorials will tell you which one to use for setting screws or creating a clean hole. Like with a saw, always use eye protection.
Cost: Cordless power drills run between $50 and $130.Sander
When building a bookshelf or giving your current one a makeover, sanding is a key step before the staining or painting phase. A sander takes a painting or staining project from time-consuming to convenient. Many DIY bloggers recommend a 5-inch orbital sander, as it's relatively easy to handle.
Cost: A sander will likely cost between $40 and $70.Nail gun
When your DIY skills are more advanced, a nail gun might be the tool to help you up your game. Like with a sander, a nail gun makes the time-consuming process of hammering nails happen in a fraction of the time, though it requires a certain level of caution and some more money. There are also different types of nail guns for the project at hand – flooring, roofing and building furniture all use different types of nails, for example. Some of the more sophisticated nail guns require an air compressor, which may come with the tool or need to be purchased separately.
Cost: Expect to pay $80 to $650 or more, depending on the type of nail gun you select.Circular saw
If you're looking to build furniture or upcycle some key pieces, many DIY tutorials call for a circular saw to cut larger amounts of wood. The circular saw is recommended as the more basic option and is less expensive than a table saw – not to mention, it'll take up less room in your garage.
Cost: As low as $39 or as high as $500.Read More
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She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.