What do you think of when someone says ‘home improvement’? Usually, it is someone using a few simple tricks and plywood and then magically turning a closet into a full bedroom complete with a walk-in closet of its own.

With the recent downturn in the economy, home improvement has come to mean ‘how can I do this job without it costing me an arm and a leg?’ Here are a few tips on how to improve your home by tackling some of the areas that people usually stay away from.

Plumbing

Until recently (the early 1980’s to the present), if you didn’t know how to ‘sweat’ a copper solder you were in way over your head with anything to do with interior plumbing.

All that is needed is the right connecting piece, a hacksaw, some pipe prep, and glue and you are ready to tackle just about any plumbing job in the house. Recently my electric water heater gave out so I had to quickly find another to replace it. It was an eye-opening experience, to say the least. The water heater I wanted cost about $300 and the price to have it installed ranged anywhere between $250 and $400! I couldn’t believe it. I decided to go to my local hardware warehouse store and ask a few questions.

The first thing they said was that if I had a gas heater then they couldn’t help me because that had to be installed by a qualified installer, but since I had an electric water heater then all I needed was about $5 worth of PVP pipe and fittings plus a hacksaw and some pipe preparation and PVP glue. I was amazed and I must admit a little skeptical about my ability to make this repair without flooding my house.

But since I was going to save a great deal of money I decided to up the gallon capacity of my water heater so that I could later put it in a hot tub. After about an hour of work (most of which was spent removing the old water heater and putting the new one in place) the new, larger heater was in place without some much as a drop of water spilled!

Electrical

Who hasn’t had thoughts of someone coming in and find your charred body lying on the floor clutching the end of a wire that you decided to put in yourself? It is this fear that keeps most people far away from any electrical improvements and the electricians well paid.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m by no means advocating rewiring your entire house by yourself or messing around with the circuit box. Those things are best left to the experts.

But if it is putting in a new bathroom light fixture or replacing the heating element in your water heater for $15 (instead of $300 for a new one), then it is foolish not to make these improvements yourself. Make sure that you follow all of the instructions that come with your new fixture and pay close attention to how the old appliance was installed.

Yes, it can be scary at first doing minor plumbing and electrical home improvements or repairs but if you just ask at your local hardware store they can tell you if what it is you wish to do is doable or should be left to a professional.

No matter how much you may plan, there will always be unexpected twists and turns in in-house construction costs, and you might just go way over the top in your budget if you do not know how to cope.

In this regard, your construction cost calculator will come in secondary to quick thinking and sensible judgment.
Just some of the factors that may give rise to unexpected costs include changes in specification, weather, on-site accidents, theft of materials, and unscrupulous contractors, among other things.

There is a reason why so many contractors in the United States are finding themselves being sued and dealing with the roller coaster of costly litigation; many of the factors just mentioned can and do happen.

So what is a project owner to do if the unexpected happens?

First, let it be stressed that nothing can be achieved can by going ballistic if things do happen. Take the time to step back and assess the situation: what can you do? If it is just the weather like the rain, put in some extra protection at the job site. Cover your materials with tarps and, if needed, the whole work-in-progress.

If it is not the weather, think of the most common sense things to do in the given situation. If you are dealing with theft, report it to the police.

Second, talk to your contractor. Find out what can be done to avoid the cost or cut it down. Again, this is depending on the situation.

If you are dealing with a contractor who refuses to do further work on the construction, it won’t hurt to ask what is wrong and to tell them who is the boss (you, of course).

If dialogue fails, prepare to change contractors.

Third, go back to your insurance policies and bonds. As a project owner, you are NOT supposed to begin any building project without covering all the risks involved in construction.

Alongside estimating building costs, you are supposed to thoroughly assess your insurance requirements and get the best insurance policies from there. At the very onset, you are supposed to require your contractor to get all-risk insurance on your building project.

You are also supposed to get bonds to protect you against contractors who do not follow through on their winning bids (or bid bonds), bonds that protect you against non-performance by a contractor (or performance bonds), and bonds that protect your building materials and labor, and bonds that protect your property against liens in case of a lawsuit.

Fourth, consider downgrading on materials and divert the savings to cover the unexpected cost. This option can cramp your style (think vinyl tiles instead of ceramic tiles). But think thoroughly – if you don’t do it, will you still have a home by the target completion date?

Fifth, draw on your slush fund. Everyday wisdom will tell you to add 10% to 20% to your budget as an allowance to cover unexpected costs. Draw on this fund so it can serve its purpose.

One of the most effective ways to improve the appearance of your home is to explore your flooring options. There are some excellent flooring products on the market today, and many of them can be had for very reasonable prices. If you are tired of your old, worn-out carpets, this article is for you.

While carpet is a popular flooring choice for many homeowners, it is fast losing its appeal. Countless carpet manufacturers claim that their products are guaranteed to last for 15 or 20 years. Anyone with young children can vouch that carpet is not built to last. If you are confident that carpet will meet your flooring needs, be sure to invest in quality carpeting. Be sure to consider your needs closely, and be aware that different carpets are designed for different uses.

The popularity of laminate flooring has literally exploded in recent times. The sheer selection of laminate flooring styles and materials is a testament to the growing popularity of these flooring products. While most people would prefer hardwood floors over laminate, the relatively low cost of laminate flooring is considerably more appealing to the average homeowner. Low maintenance and low cost are two key factors in favor of laminate flooring.

There is, however, nothing quite like the look and feel of quality hardwood floors. They are available in countless shades and colors, and they are extremely long-lasting. While they may not withstand wear and tear the way other flooring types do, they certainly tend to age better than other flooring options. Harwood floor consumers are an extremely loyal lot. Once you have had hardwood, there may be no going back.

Tile flooring is yet another viable option. The advances that have been made in recent years are absolutely amazing. Ceramic tile flooring can add thousands of dollars to the resale value of your home. The wonderful thing about tile is the freedom that can be had with design and installation. It is extremely easy to clean and maintain, and an absolute necessity for kitchens and bathrooms.

Home improvements are a great investment. Whether you plan to sell your home now or spend the next 10 years living in it, you can enjoy, on average, an 80% return on any home repairs or upgrades. Since March 2007, there has been a 20% decline in home values. Prospective home sellers might ask: should I do major home improvements? The answer is: it depends. Before deciding, consider: when do I need to sell my home; what home repairs are needed; and how do I find a contractor?

What home repairs must I do first? A failed home inspection means that you must find a contractor and make certain home repairs immediately. Follow-up with minor home improvements such as increasing curb appeal, painting walls, and ensuring that doors open and close freely. Next, determine if you can sell your home near your asking price and in “as-is” condition. If not, decide if you have at least 6 months to complete an optional, major home improvement project. A local, licensed real estate broker can review your home and provide information on your local housing market.

Major upgrades might be worth the risk. The return on investment of major home repairs can be rewarding. Kitchen and bathroom renovations, for example, can generate a 2:1 payback on investment. Plus, renovated homes are more attractive to potential buyers. The right home improvements can greatly reduce the time your home spends on the market. Home values are still, however, in decline. Spending money to remodel a $300,000 home that loses 5% of its value during the renovation project, for example, might be counterproductive.

How do you find the right home improvement professional? You can find a contractor by first asking for recommendations from people

you know and trust – your family, friends, or neighbors. They can rate contractors they have used in the past, which minimizes your potential for contractor complaints. Another way to find a home improvement professional is to search for sources that rate contractors and provide homeowner feedback. Some homeowners use free “service companies” to find a contractor – with mixed results. These companies sell your contact info and home improvement details to “pre-screened” contractors. This does not, however, always eliminate contractor complaints. In a tightening economy, some companies cut corners by loosening their pre-screening standards. One such company asks homeowners to rate contractors, publishes the feedback (including contractor complaints), but continues to sell your information to questionable contractors.

Other homeowners use “information brokers”, who ask their “members” to rate contractors. They then sell the feedback to homeowners. Obviously, purchasing anonymous information from restricted websites has drawbacks. Look instead for openly posted contractor complaints and feedback, like those found in a home contractor directory. Since the information is accessible to everyone, it allows more follow-up comments and greater validation. This result provides the best snapshot of a home improvement professional.

You may ask: what is a Home Contractor Directory? More and more homeowners are using a home contractor directory to find a contractor. This specialized directory gives you the ability to find a contractor that is right for your home repair project. You can peruse advertisements, rate contractors, check and feedback, read related news, articles and gain advice – all free of charge.