Conventional wisdom, as it relates to houses, is often too much convention and not enough wisdom.
Every year, somebody publishes a list of which conventional home improvements will give you the best (or the worst) return on your remodeling investment.
Remodel a bathroom. Replace your siding. Don't build a swimming pool. Paint everything neutral colors.
Sit up straight. Get a haircut. Call your mother.
If "return on investment" (ROI) is why you bought a home, or why you're remodeling one, you can stop reading now. Because the rest of this article isn't for you.
Three, two, one … still here?
You invest in your home to improve livability first, not value. If you get more value in the process, consider it a bonus, but don't make ROI your prime directive.
Otherwise, you'll end up like the potential client that came into my office a few years ago with a three-page, single-spaced, typewritten (as in made with a "typewriter") list of things he wanted in his house.
His list included this line: "A large dining room, near the kitchen. Although we don't need or want a dining room." Why would he want to build a room he didn't need?
Because he's thinking of things to make the house valuable, instead of things to make it livable.
[Looking to tackle a big home improvement project? Click to find the right contractor now.]
So let me rephrase the remodeling-ROI question this way: What are some cost-effective ways to improve the livability of your house?
Here's my short list:
1. Walk-in pantry instead of kitchen cabinets
Kitchen cabinets are expensive. Half of them are up high on the wall where they're hard to reach, and the wall space they take up could be better used for windows. A pantry takes up less space, stores a lot more, is much easier to use, and costs less to build.
2. Comfortable shower instead of big bathtub
My firm does a lot of work in late-'70s/early-'80s neighborhoods that are loaded with huge tubs. We're taking them all out, one at a time, and replacing them with comfortably sized showers (not the racquetball-court-sized ones you see in home shows) that people actually use every day.
A shower takes up less space, uses less hot water, and is far more sanitary than a big tub.
3. Group windows together facing best views instead of scattering them around the house
Got a great view somewhere? Bring it into the house with lots of glass. Take excess windows from bedrooms and baths and use them to connect the inside of the house with the outside.
[Need help installing new windows? Click to find the right contractor.]
We once remodeled a house on the coast of Lake Erie that had one window – one – facing the lake. Hey pal, did ya notice the Great Lake in your backyard?
4. Keep ceiling heights reasonable for the room size
"Volume" ceilings do not automatically make better rooms. They just make taller rooms. Rooms that are harder to decorate and more expensive to heat and cool. Instead, focus attention on a view, a large fireplace, or other element and away from the ceiling height. Use wall trim and multiple paint colors to break up the volume of the room and create the illusion of height.