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House Work

Home improvement projects can be fun but can become the thing of nightmares with flaky contractors, repairs gone awry and overblown budgets.

Article
Rob Harmon
Photos
Courtesy
Posted
June 28, 2018

So, you’ve been dying to redesign your master bathroom and pattern it after a Paris retail shop on Champs-Elysées you saw in a magazine. And that back room with the dusty boxes and the two worn-out La-Z-Boy recliners has been waiting for you to convert it into a state-of-the-art home theater for next year’s bowl games or movie nights. But the weather’s not been ideal and last season’s holidays sucked up all your time, love, money and energy.

Well, it’s July now and that means summer is here, and it’s time to start checking off those home-improvement tasks you’ve been putting off. Remodeling projects can be fun but can also unfortunately become nightmares. Stories of flaky contractors, repairs gone awry, overblown budgets and trips to the emergency room can kind of make you forget about any of those projects you’ve been considering.

Renovating your home is about improving your life and the lives of those around you. It doesn’t have to be a completely stress-filled time, trying to accomplish all the projects the spouse has been encouraging you to get around to. Consider these few tips and be on your way to enjoying your newly improved home.

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DIY or not DIY?
Is this the question you’ve been asking? Here are some other questions that can help you get the answer. Have you done a project like this before? How comfortable do you feel undertaking it? Do you have a habit of starting and not finishing things? Do you have the energy and time to do it right? Do you have all the money and supplies to see it done? If you answer these questions honestly, you’ll know whether to do it yourself or hire a professional.

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Find the best contractor
When you know you’re not the one to tackle the job, finding the right professional is the key to a successful home improvement. Getting recommendations from friends and family, looking at reviews online and meeting with the contractor in person beforehand are a few traits of a winning contractor search. Knowing your professional’s insurance coverage, as well as the licenses and permits they carry, is also extremely important.

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Know your budget
These improvements are supposed to add enjoyment to your life, not stress. It’s already challenging to complete some of these projects. Don’t go into it blindly, without knowing how much it’s going to cost to remodel your guest bathroom, for example. Get estimates and see if you’ve got the money. If you do, great! If not, save for it, and do it when you can relax more about the cash.

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Use the right tools
Here’s something some of us still haven’t learned — you can’t use a hammer for everything. Sometimes a power drill is the best tool. Sometimes duct tape does the trick, but many times that’s just a quick fix that looks ugly and will have to be addressed again soon. Don’t be that guy or gal. Find out what tools are needed before starting. Otherwise, you’ll try to complete the job with the wrong tool and regret it.

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Don’t lose money
There are improvements we’d all like to make to our homes. However, some are easier to recoup the investment from than others. Updating the kitchen and bathrooms are always wise. Adding sprinklers and energy efficient fixtures and appliances are smart choices too. But converting a garage into a family room is not. Or, if you planned to put carpet in any of the rooms, this also is not the best idea. Like kitchens and bathrooms, a garage and nice hardwood floors are a must these days for homebuyers.

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Get the permits
There’s home improvement and then there’s home remodeling. Yes, remodeling your house may improve your home, including the value of it. But there are some remodeling projects that most municipalities require a permit to even begin. Demolishing a load-bearing wall, adding electrical circuits and wiring, or even installing a new solar-powered water heater, to name a few, can require a permit. Doing the project without a thumbs up from the city may result in hefty fines, as well as be unsafe.

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Go ultra-efficient
While you’re looking to improve your home, consider all the new ways to save energy, such as energy-saving appliances and LED lighting. In the kitchen, a shiny new refrigerator always makes a big difference. Even more so if it’s a top-freezer refrigerator. The 16-20 cubic feet models use about as much energy as a 60-watt bulb. Also, since the average household dedicates 5 percent of its energy budget to lights, switching out old light fixtures for more efficient LEDs is a no-brainer.

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Update the entryway
When people enter your house, what’s the first thing they see? You only get one first impression. The entryway is an easy way to improve the look of your home’s interior. Add an antique pine bench or line the walls with coat racks to hang coats, bags, hats and anything else you need. Is your entryway dark? Be creative. Lighten it up with bright-colored paint. Is it a tight space? Clear it out, except for a nice framed print or two.

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Get help
If you’re going the DIY route, fine. Lots of home improvement projects can be done without a professional. But keep in mind, you can still say ‘I did it myself’ and ask a buddy or two to help. It makes the project go faster, it’s a bonding time, and it gives you extra sets of eyes and an excuse to crack open a beer or two to celebrate when the work is done.

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Be safe
It can’t be said enough: be safe. When making home improvements, following recommended safety standards is best. That includes shutting off power when working with electricity, proper tool use, ladder safety and keeping a tidy work area to help avoid falls. A trip to the local emergency room for you or your helpers will not make the project fun or go by fast.

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Don’t Get Scammed

Follow these tips when choosing a contractor:

  • Get recommendations: Use your friends, family and neighbors as resources. If they’ve used a contractor or handyman in the past and approve of the person or company’s work, pay attention to the endorsement. On the other hand, avoid contractors who contact you unsolicited, and don’t hire someone based solely on an ad or coupon.
  • See what others are saying: A quick Internet search should yield plenty of reviews for home improvement companies and even individual workers. If the reviews are negative or lukewarm, find another company. Also, check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints.
  • Check credentials: Especially in this area where undocumented workers can be common, be sure the workers you hire are licensed, bonded and insured. That will help protect you from unnecessary liability.
  • Ask for references: Call the contractor’s previous customers and ask if they were satisfied with the work. Go out and look at the work for yourself if possible.
  • Get multiple bids: Before hiring a contractor, get at least three written estimates for your project. If prices differ by a wide margin, consider obtaining additional bids. Beware of any bid that is substantially lower than the others; it may indicate the contractor made a mistake or didn’t include all of the work requested.
  • Ask for everything in writing: Nothing is a done deal until it is put onto paper. Don’t agree orally to a price or to details about the project, as that could lead to misunderstandings later.
  • Know your rights: Under federal law, you have three days to cancel most contracts that are signed in your home or outside the contractor’s regular place of business.