What to Know Before Starting a Home Improvement Project

A cliché is often a true statement we’re so accustomed to that we miss its wisdom.

For instance, your home is your biggest investment. We know this, and if we forget, there are six million ads from contractors to remind us. And, yet, we can launch into home improvement projects without giving them the preparation time and attention due to the single most significant thing we own, and the biggest chunk of our finances.

Whether you’re doing it yourself or hiring a pro, there are preparation steps you must take in advance of any major home improvement project.

Doing It Yourself

Working on your own home comes with a deep sense of satisfaction, which you understand best when watching your children come running down stairs you refinished, to eat breakfast at a vintage table you restored under a light fixture you wired yourself.

But getting there? That can be perilous. Before starting any do-it-yourself home improvement project, there are some vital steps you must take:

Know the Value

If your home is your biggest investment, then spending money on it is buying more stock. You wouldn’t do that without researching the company you’re buying into, and having some reasonable predictions about likely returns. So, don’t go into a home improvement project with no idea what it will do to your home’s resale value. (New windows, for instance, recover about three-quarters of the investment instantly, and can add more value over time as they reduce your energy costs).

Build an Itemized Budget

Yes, refacing your kitchen cabinets can be a cheap way of updating their look, and you can look up the cost of new doors and varnish. But have you checked on the orbital sander in the shed to see if it’s still working? You may need to replace it. Are you factoring in drop cloths for the mess? And takeout for a couple of nights in case this goes slower than expected? A rough budget estimate is just a hope. A line-item budget estimate helps you see what you’re actually in for.

Budget Your Time

The cost of a home improvement project goes up, and the quality of your work goes down, as the frustration builds. You’ll do a better job if you’ve built in buffer time for steps of the project that take longer than anticipated. You won’t be tempted by shortcuts if you have a realistic schedule and can see that you’re on it. Plan out the time each step should take, and build in a buffer of 20 percent for unforeseen challenges.

Know the Weather

Outdoor projects, or projects that involve opening the envelope of your home, can only go forward when the weather is right. It’s best to plan some flexibility into the schedule, and track weather forecasts, so you don’t lose a fixed date to an unplanned storm.

Plan for the Mess

Sure, you budgeted for the materials you’ll need and the time it will take to paint the living room. But did you allow time and money for the recovery? To avoid going over both your schedule and your itemized budget, remember the rags, vacuum bags, bulk trash pickups, and touch-up paint you’ll need for after you’re “finished.”

Get to Know Your Local Tool Rental Options

One of the best ways to save on home repairs is to rent, rather than buy, rarely used tools. You’ll get the benefit of working with professional-grade tools rather than buying their flimsier homeowner-grade versions, and you won’t have to store them afterward. Most big box home improvement stores have a small rental operation, and most towns have a rental shop that offers heavy-duty equipment to construction sites and smaller, but robustly built options for homeowners for a surprisingly low fee.

Using a Contractor

Get Three Estimates

It can be tempting to listen to the first expert you consult, but there’s always a benefit to getting a second and third opinion. Even when you’ve used a contractor before, and trust their work, their competitors may know of new techniques and products they’re unfamiliar with, or be in a financial position to offer you a better deal.

Check References

A contractor’s pitch to you is just the start of the process of getting to know their work. Ask for references you can call or email, who will tell you details about working with your likely options that they may not have known to give, or, worse, warn you against mistakes they made.

In the era of COVID-19, it can feel nerve-wracking to ask several contractors to come into your home and brief you on their approach to your project. But it’s worth the time, and a good contractor should be well-prepared to work in this environment.

Window Nation’s experts can give virtual or in-person consultations free of charge for window replacement, door installation, siding updates, and more – all done with social distancing and proper personal protective equipment to keep both you and our professionals safe.

Get the Blueprints

Most contractors can work without the original blueprints of your home, but will be far more efficient, and give you a more accurate estimate, if you can hand them the drawings of what’s behind the walls. If you don’t have them, check with your city or county to see if they’re available, and provide them to prospective contractors if you can.

Bring a Healthy Skepticism to Proposals

Contractors are businesspeople, and it benefits them to be realistic and honest in their appraisals. But it also benefits them to upsell you. Be prepared to question the value of suggested products, and think very long-term in your planning – a technological improvement like wiring for speakers, for instance, may have made sense several years ago, but the creation of Bluetooth immediately rendered it worthless, and something buyers won’t care about when it’s time to sell. Make sure your investments are in the timeless, structural and tactile elements of a home that everyone loves.

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