Avoid These 10 Common Remodeling Mistakes

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As the housing market declined, many first-time home buyers snatched up houses with the intention of remodeling. How hard can it be to replace a countertop, right? All those people on HGTV (and TLC, and ABC, and NBC, and CBS, and every other channel on basic cable) do it with no problem at all! Well, except for being frustrated at the occasional contractor, but that’s just playing it up for the cameras, right?

Hear that? It’s Tim “the Tool Man” Taylor grunting “oh, no!” You’ve got far more to worry about than just contractors, although that is a big part of DIY remodeling process. Many of those buyers who take advantage of the depressed housing marketing belatedly realized that DIY remodels and renovations were much more difficult than originally planned. Now, some homeowners are stuck with a refrigerator in their living room because they made some of the most common remodeling mistakes. Like all projects, remodeling a house requires a plan and a budget. Even a simple toilet switch can go awry when you find out that your pipes contain lead. As you get ready to remodel your house, plan for the necessary and unnecessary, and do your research to avoid some of the most common remodeling mistakes. Here are 10 of the biggest remodeling mistakes with some helpful tips provided by David Baughman, Project Manager at BCK Custom Builders in Tucson, Ariz.

Top 10 Remodeling Mistakes

1. Ignoring Safety Procedures

Just because you’re in your own house doesn’t mean you can forgo the dorky safety goggles. I know they’re not flattering, but you don’t want the alternative.

“The biggest rule of thumb for any remodeling project is to make sure the jobsite is safe,” said Baughman. “Sounds obvious, but there are countless avoidable injuries from electrical lines being cut, because the breakers weren’t all shut off, or from structures falling in an unforeseen direction or area.”

Always follow appropriate safety precautions when conducting a remodel. That includes ones you’re taught from the age you could stand on your own two feet — don’t stand on the tops of ladders and always turn off the main breaker when fixing electrical problems. The shock to your system might just put your renovation on hold.

2. Using Cheap Materials

The majority of the time, the old adage “You get what you pay for” holds true. This definitely applies to renovations. Some tools may look the same, but do your research when buying for a big job. More expensive tools may handle a heavy duty job while cheaper ones could crumble. The same rule applies to materials as well. Investing in quality tools and resources will save you a headache down the road.

3. Blowing your Budget

Remodels are one thing you don’t want to be ‘cheap’ on, but don’t blow your budget just to get the best of all worlds. Unless you have unlimited financial resources, set your budget before you start tearing down walls. Estimate all costs, even the little ones like nails and screws. You’ll still need to add more to be safe though.

“Have 30% more money than the budget begins with and start off with a wish list and a ‘must-have’ list,” advised Baughman.

If the number you end up with seems too high, it might be best to save up for your remodel instead of stopping halfway. Unfinished floors and plastic tarps for walls are not a look you’re going to find on a Pinterest board for home décor, but it’s a breeding ground for accidents and quite simply just gets old fast.

4. Going Sledge Hammer Crazy

“Swinging away with sledge hammers, as seen on TV, is not always the best method for demolition,” warned Baughman. “Identify bearing points (columns, posts, and even some walls) before removing unwanted walls.”

It can be exhilarating to tear down a wall and see your vision start to come to life, but was it in your plans for that wall to come down? It may have been funny when it happens on TV, but it won’t be when you do it. You may be eager to see results during the beginning stages of a remodel, but that can lead to costly mistakes — and big disasters.

“Most ‘disasters’ happen during demo,” warned Baughman.

Develop a “destruction” plan, and your wallet, your well-being, and perhaps the well-being of others, will be spared.

5. Inaccurate Measurements

We’ve all heard the “Measure twice, cut once” rule, but sometimes things aren’t as simple as they seem. Even being half an inch off the mark is enough to derail the best-laid plans. In the construction world, the margin of error is ¼ of an inch, so you always want to factor that in too. Baughman suggested keeping “creative adjustment as part of the overall plan,” which will help when you realize you’ve made a mistake and need to reassess or re-plan.

6. Avoiding Contractors

It doesn’t matter how many YouTube videos you watch. Sometimes, you need to call in the professionals.

“Be the bearer of money for remodeling, not the bearer of expertise,”said Baughman.

Complicated projects like installing a roof, hanging drywall, and rewiring electric can be labor intensive and will have a lifelong effect on the value of your home. Don’t avoid a contractor just to save some money.

7. Declining a Home Inspection

If you are buying a home to renovate, you should always get a home inspection from a professional. There are numerous reasons, but Baughman provides an especially compelling one.

“The other rule of thumb vital for surviving a modification of any building — do not trust the builder who came before you,” he cautioned. “Just because a building exists does not mean it is sound and will be capable of sustaining any modification.”

An inspection may discover such flaws. Inspectors are trained to spot issues that will prevent a house from meeting building code too, and if you’re already finished with your remodel, it’s time for another inspection. Many homeowners see inspectors as a bump on their path to a finished remodel but in fact, an inspector can pinpoint things a homeowner may never have noticed.

8. Not Getting the Right Permits

While it may seem like an unnecessary step, it’s vital that you obtain the right permits. If you don’t and your neighbors report your construction, you may have to tear it all down and restart from scratch with a permit. Also, if an accident happens, your homeowner insurance won’t cover it without proof of a valid permit.

9. Focusing on Aesthetics Only

When concentrating on renovations, homeowners often have one thing in mind — resale value. Upgrading the kitchen cabinets and installing a new tub in every bathroom is going to increase the value of the house, but if you don’t pay special attention to the things that really matter, like structural damage, electrical wires, and busted pipes, your investment could end up in the toilet.

10. Not Going Green

For buyers in today’s market, green housing materials are at the top of the list, so when planning your remodel, this is a money-making investment. Going green isn’t that hard, as resources and projects are available in all price ranges, and many options are now available at your neighborhood home improvement store. Best of all, you can reap the benefits too in the form of lower utilities costs, a healthier, cleaner environment, and lower insurance premiums. The green movement is taking the world by storm so much that even insurers recognize the value of going green, many now offering discounts for green home improvements. A 2008 report from environmental advocacy group, Ceres, revealed a correlation between green structures and lower risk. Insurers have taken note of the decreased risk, and big players like Travelers and Farmers have notably supported the green movement and offer discounts.

You May Need More Insurance Coverage After Remodeling

As long as you have a budget and a plan, remodeling can be a fun project that brings the family together. Just make sure you have the necessary home insurance. Your insurance company should cover all your building materials, but you may need to increase your coverage limit to be protected during the remodel. Ask contractors for proof of insurance, and when remodels are finished, let your insurance company know. Remodels can significantly increase the replacement cost value of your home, and that will mean you need more coverage. Just make sure you follow the right rules of thumb so that you still need homeowners insurance.

“My suggestion is to think the project through as if you were Wiley Coyote and then rethink it as a rocket scientist,” suggested Baughman. “Your project will likely fall somewhere between the two.”

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