First Things First: Part 6 - Your First Home Improvement Project | First Choice Power

First Things First: Part 6 – Completing Your First Home Improvement Project

Welcome to First Things First! This series will help you prepare for a range of life changes. Think of each installment as an instruction guide that will either give you time to locate a safe landing spot or help you hit the ground running. Each article will contain a handy checklist you can reference so you can remain calm, cool, and in control of whatever life hands you.

Your First Home Improvement Project

First Things First: Part 6 - Your First Home Improvement Project | First Choice Power

The good thing about adulting when you undertake your first home improvement project is that you’ve decided to customize your home to meet your needs. This can feel really empowering. The bad thing about adulting when you undertake your first home improvement project is that you could completely foul up your biggest investment — AND wind up spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars to fix it right.

No need to panic. Take some deep breaths. Remember that the key to any home improvement project of any size is planning. So, pour yourself a cup of coffee, get a pad and pencils (or tablet and stylus), and get comfortable because we’ve got some decisions to make.

What Should I Upgrade in My Home?

The most recent popular Texas home improvement projects have been kitchen upgrades, insulation, new front doors, and bathroom renovations. Each of these projects has its own unique costs and payback time. For example, kitchen upgrades are the most expensive, but you can easily earn it back if you sell the house, while insulation can be a medium-sized expense, but it reduces your energy costs immediately and makes your home more attractive at sale time.

Most first-time homeowners who already have lived in their homes for five years or less don’t always have a lot of savings or equity built up to undertake an expensive improvement project. In this case, choose something smaller that will enhance the value of your home without breaking your bank account as your first project.

First Things First: Part 6 - Your First Home Improvement Project | First Choice Power
If this image terrifies you, start saving up to pay a contractor now.

For our working example, we’ll focus on fixing up a bathroom. Compared to other rooms in your house, bathrooms take a LOT of punishment. But next to kitchen remodeling, bathrooms recoup the investment and add value of your home the most.

1) Set Your Budget

As with previous First Things First articles, the first big decision you need to take is how much can you afford. Bathroom updates by contractors can be run as high as $16,000 in San Antonio to $30,000 in Houston, depending on what the project involves. Having a clear idea about budget at the get-go will help narrow your renovation ideas and prevent you from over-spending.

2) Hire a Contractor or Do It Yourself?

First Things First: Part 6 - Your First Home Improvement Project | First Choice Power
According to all those home improvement shows on HGTV, “Demo Day” is the best part of any project. But I don’t believe them.

While doing a remodel job yourself is incredibly empowering, rewarding, and (between bouts of swearing) LOTS of fun, you really-really-REALLY need to be sure of your building knowledge and skill set. Completely gutting a hideous bathroom from the early ’80s and installing new flooring, cabinets, tub/shower, and fixtures isn’t for everyone, so you may want to hire an experienced contractor. That said, the web is FULL of resources and how-to’s that will help you plan and accomplish your project.

3) Have a Clear Plan

Not all home improvement projects are major undertakings — they can even be simple makeovers. The important thing is that you need to get some ideas and make some plans on the look (and utility) of your improvements first.

For intensive projects, you’ll need to make measurements of the room. In the case of a bathroom, this is very helpful before you start the project — especially if you discover that the 48” vanity you really want won’t fit in the available 42” space.

Drawing up your plans and measuring also helps you determine the amount of materials you’re going to need. You’ll also need to decide if you will need to install new plumbing, such as faucets, toilets, and supply lines, as well as electric wiring for outlets, lighting, and exhaust fans. Depending on where you live, you’ll need work permits as well as inspections carried out on this work.

4) Stick to Your Budget

First Things First: Part 6 - Your First Home Improvement Project | First Choice Power
Dude – it’s a low-flow shower head. Just pick the one that makes your partner happiest.

With any home improvement project, it’s really easy to spend just a few dollars extra on a particular unplanned-for feature or look. This can become a problem when you find yourself spending a few extra bucks on items you had originally planned to do without, causing you to go several hundred dollars over budget.

Stick to your budget and you can stay within your means. Plus — renovations and remodeling projects make unfortunate discoveries of previous repairs gone bad or other issues. By keeping within your budget, you’ll be in a better position to afford fixing any unforeseen problems.

5) Expect Disruptions

Many remodeling jobs don’t happen overnight. Delays are common. Oddly enough, some homeowners believe that home renovations won’t disrupt their daily routine right up until the moment they discover they can’t use the toilet in the bathroom that’s being remodeled because the old one is gone and the new one hasn’t arrived.

When you plan a home improvement project, always take a few minutes to list ways it could interfere with your daily routine. Then, list work-arounds for them. No matter whether you undertake a project by yourself or hire contractor, some projects may not cause big problems, while others will. The trick to surviving the whole mess is to anticipate disruption and delay and make them part of your plan.

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Vernon Trollinger is a writer with a background in home improvement, electronics, fiction writing, and archaeology. He now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.