Small remodels, big payoffs

Some home-improvement projects are better investments than others

IN THE DREAM KITCHEN <br>Above and below, the results of a complete kitchen remodel initiated by a plumbing failure.

Above and below, the results of a complete kitchen remodel initiated by a plumbing failure.

Photo By Tom Angel

As house values have skyrocketed, making possible a decent home equity line of credit, homeowners have gotten obsessed with home improvement. Have you thought about making some changes around your house, but just don’t know where to begin? Or maybe you want a simple project that, besides letting you enjoy your surroundings more, can bump up the value of your house?

According to most reports, the best thing you can do to get a return on your investment is focus on your kitchen, recouping around 90 percent of your investment. It’s an area that can be improved by just doing a few simple things, or you can go nuts and build the kitchen of your dreams. You can create a new look by painting or wallpapering your kitchen, changing out the hardware on your cabinets or getting new cabinet doors installed. Or you can go all out and put in some nice cork floors (highly sanitary, and dishes are more likely to bounce than break as they would on ceramic tile), granite counters and custom cabinets.

Energy-efficient appliances, such as on-demand water heaters, are just the latest in popular upgrades. These new heaters conserve power by only warming the water that you need, when you need it, and there are more-efficient models available that don’t require standing pilots: The water runs through a turbine that triggers a spark to light the burner. If you have a smaller house, Bosch makes one that is 80 percent more efficient than a standard water heater.

Another area to consider for best return on your money is the bathroom. Either improving the existing one(s) or adding a master bathroom onto the house would be good projects to target. Check into sliding shower doors and wall treatments, or you can ratchet it up a notch and look for a new toilet, vanity and sink and faucets. Recessed medicine cabinets are of greater value than small, wall-mounted mirrors. If you have an older tub there are many tub refinishers listed in the phone book.

One easy way to improve just about any part of your house is a new coat of paint. You just can’t go wrong here, because almost everyone can do it–even the kids—and the results are near-immediate. Small improvements are worth it: painting the front porch or that trouble spot in the kitchen; add a new dimension to the living room. Or you could tackle the picket fence out front.

Don’t forget that while re-doing your landscaping may not nudge up your appraisal, improving your house’s “curb appeal” can make or break a deal with a potential buyer. Think new coat of paint or stain on your front door, or opt for the brand new: Wood for depth and beauty; fiberglass for security and insulation; and don’t forget the lights and hardware.

Buyers these days pretty much expect a house to have decent central heating and air. If you still rely on a swamp cooler, or your current system is more than a decade old, maybe it’s time to take the big step. This project will make your house that much more comfortable, plus help you to shave some dollars off your energy bill. Also, to increase the security of your house as well as enhance the insulation, you might want to consider new energy-efficient windows. It’s really not as invasive or daunting a task as it might seem.

The best reason to take money out on your house is to put that money back into your house. This is what makes home improvement so rewarding. When it gets down to it, you have to decide if the improvements you are considering are to increase your home’s value or to make your life more comfortable. If you don’t plan on selling in the near future, you should opt for those things that you will enjoy more. Finally, home improvement will reap the best returns if you keep your projects in-line with your neighborhood.

For more information on the value of various home improvement projects, go to to check out Remodeling Online’s annual Cost vs. Value report, or look at








Benny the cat surveys his newly remodeled realm, which includes a sturdy pot hanger and an energy- and space-saving, stackable washer-dryer set.

Photo By Tom Angel

















A simple plan laid out on a computer by Stephanie Bird and given to the contactor who rebuilt the cabinetry and counters.

Illustration By Stephanie Bird

















A photo of the kitchen after the intial tearing out of the former fixtures and flooring.

Photo By Stephanie Bird

















The use of glass door and drawer pulls accent the new color scheme.

Photo By Tom Angel