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Properly plan your remodel

Want to avoid a remodeling horror story? Make sure to plan.By Lisa Martin

It seems like everyone has heard a remodeling horror story, especially now thanks to the real estate market tanking in 2008, which motivated more Americans to stay at home rather than move.

“Homeowners are repurposing spaces and making more efficient use of their square footage,” says National Association of Home Builders Remodelers Chairman George Moore. “Whether it be young families or couples aging in their homes, people want to let their house adapt with their needs as they change over time.”

To that end, a 2012 survey by the NAHB identifies the most popular remodeling projects as:

  • Bath
  • Kitchen
  • Window/door replacements
  • Whole house redoes
  • Room additions

Here are a few tips to make the project and process go smoothly.

DIY or don’t?

Doing it yourself may sound like a great way to save, but before you grab that drill make sure you’re truly up to the task. Do you have the skills, ability and time to do the job right? Do you have the patience?

“Oftentimes, people underestimate height and physical limitations like lifting or controlling heavy objects, or whether the job requires more than one person,” says Dean Herriges, president of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. “When people attempt things beyond their ability, they open themselves up for injury.”

Hiring help

You’ve searched for potential contractors, checked professional references and with your local Better Business Bureau, and verified that the remodeler carries liability insurance. Before inking that contract, ask one more key question: the company’s cleanup policy.

“If your home improvement is a multiday project, will the contractor be cleaning up at the end of every day or will he leave the dust, wood chips and other mess there for Day 2?” asks Eric Thiegs, Founder and CEO of “Many homeowners find themselves with mouths gaping wide after the contractor has left for the day.”

Safety first

As a corollary to planning to stay put for the long haul, consider adding aging-in-place amenities like roll-in showers or grab bars. But don’t sacrifice style, which could ultimately compromise resale values and appeal.

“This generation is typically healthier and wealthier than previous generations of similar age, and they expect their homes to reflect their active, independent and upscale lifestyles,” says Scott Sevon, an Illinois-based remodeler who chairs the NAHB Certified Aging-In-Place Specialists (CAPS) Board of Governors.

Consider visually subtle modifications like sloping walkways (as opposed to steps) and floor-level lighting.

Go green

An eco-friendly remodel can range from using low-VOC paint to using sustainable materials like bamboo flooring. Matt Muenster, host of the DIY Network’s BATHtastic!, also notes that redoing items rather than tossing them counts, too.

“Consider refinishing existing items such as your bathtub, shower, sink or tile,” he says. “With refinishing, you’ll only pay a small fraction (as little as 10 percent) of the cost of replacement. Your bathroom won’t be torn up for weeks, you’ll avoid the big renovation mess and you’ve put one less big ol’ tub in the landfill.”