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Common remodeling mistakes

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

As the housing market declined from 2006 to 2012, many first-time home buyers snatched up houses with the intention of remodeling. Now, thanks to the quarantine during COVID-19, many homeowners are taking on the remodeling projects that have been sitting on their to-do lists. Unfortunately, when remodeling is on the rise, frustrating remodeling mistakes follow suit.

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 the DIY remodeling process. Many of those buyers who took advantage of the depressed housing marketing belatedly realized that DIY remodels and renovations were much more difficult than originally planned. Many quarantined homeowners who now find themselves with more time on their hands to make their home their dream home — or a potential buyer’s dream home — are now throwing those hands up in frustration after committing avoidable remodeling mistakes.

Many homeowners are now stuck with a refrigerator in their living room because they made some of the most common kitchen remodeling mistakes. Many homeowners have new toilets sitting in their yard like garden gnomes as they try to reverse their bathroom remodeling mistake.

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 job site 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.”

The worst remodeling mistake you can make is the one that leaves you injured. 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. You’re asking for an unsightly remodel if you short yourself on quality materials. When you take on a project with low-quality materials, it might not matter if you follow every other remodeling rule perfectly.

3. Blowing your budget

A remodel is one thing you don’t want to be “cheap” with, 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. Like a kid whose eyes are bigger than their stomach, sometimes the most painful, gut-wrenching remodeling mistake is not being able to finish your project because you wanted the best of the best.

4. Going sledgehammer crazy

“Swinging away with sledgehammers, 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 happened 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. Get to know the structure of your home before you start swinging away at potentially load-bearing walls and other structures. Always ask help from a professional if you’re not positive the demo project you’re considering is completely safe.

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 electrical rewiring 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. 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 — such as structural damage, electrical wires, and busted pipes — your investment could end up in the toilet. One of the worst kitchen or bathroom remodel mistakes you can make is remodeling without longevity in mind.

10. Not going green

For buyers in today’s market, green housing materials are at the top of the list. When planning your remodel, going green 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 in the form of lower utility 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 offer discounts for green home improvements. According to the Insurance Information Institute, many insurers are pushing for home-owners and renovators to make their homes more eco-friendly through discounts and endorsements.

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 homeowner’s insurance.

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

The takeaway

  • Whether you’re tackling your kitchen or bathroom remodeling project, it’s important that you have the right tools, materials and plan to make sure the job is done well.
  • The vast majority of home remodeling mistakes can be avoided with the proper amount of research. Know the proper steps of the process, from acquiring the proper permits and safety measures to ensuring your remodel doesn’t sacrifice sturdiness for aesthetics.
  • Take advantage of the resources available to you. If for any reason you find yourself in over your head, call the professionals. 
  • Talk to your home insurance providers about potential discounts. Once you’re done with your remodeling project, talk to them again about whether or not you need a higher level of coverage.

After reading through this article, you have no reason to make these common remodeling mistakes. That being said, mistakes can — and probably will — happen at some point during your project. When you make a remodeling mistake, take a deep breath and try again. Don’t forget that as you remodel your home, your insurance needs may change. If you’re new to the world of home insurance, it may be confusing at first. But with a little guidance and research, finding the policy that’s perfect for your situation becomes that much simpler.

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