“If I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.” ~ Gaston Bachelard
Customizing your home is a very personal thing, but I thought I’d share the most common things I’ve done to the 4 houses I’ve owned in my lifetime (so far). Suzy and I are house people. Some people are car people, we love to take any house and make it more functional and beautiful. Because we love designing our house, we have given a lot of thought to what would be the best improvement for the associated costs.
Most times making these kind of improvements to your home does not require a bucket load of money. It takes patience as you do your research, time your purchases to take advantage of sales, and in many cases, just blind luck. Some people are all about living cheaply and if that is what makes you happy, this article is not for you. But if you are thinking about replacing something in your house, let’s say like a disposal, you might not know that there are quiet, efficient, and powerful ones that can be had for about the same price as a lessor one, assuming you watch for sales. And it could safe you money in plumbing costs for clogged sinks, replacement costs because they last longer, and even be more energy efficient.
Do note that when looking for a house, we try to get as close to the following requirements. The house must:
1. back up to greenbelt so that I can have a smaller yard to maintain but still not feel crowded by a postage stamp yard. This also helps keep taxes down.
2. be on cul-de-sac or dead-end street. I hate through traffic that tends to lead to being faced with cars that drive too fast, and much less traffic.
3. have a 3-car garage. Suzy uses one of the bays for her wood shop.
There are other things we look for, like being in a good school district if you have kids, but that really isn’t pertinent to the improvements I’m going to recommend now for the house you have now. The following list is in no particular order.
1. Trash compactors are wonderful. Instead of running the trash out every other day or so, we run it out once a week.
2. A Dishwasher/Disposal should not sound like a jet liner coming in for a landing. I love to show company that the dishwasher has been running while we were talking and they didn’t even hear it! This means a little more money, but since my family spends a *lot* of time in the kitchen/great room, it is a good investment.
3. Instant Hot Water has become my favorite thing in the kitchen and is virtually unknown by most homeowners. I do the dishes, pots and pans in our household. Suzy cooks, I clean—we like it that way. Instead of waiting 3 minutes for the water to heat up, I just use the instant hot faucet to clean those greasy pans.
Here are pictures of a kitchen we just did an upgrade on. We funded it over a period of two years so that we could hit sales, save the money, and get some other good deals. The existing appliances were absolute crap, you couldn’t buy cheaper, so replacing them was our first order after replacing the rugs. Bonus, in our current small house, when we added the compactor, instant hot water and new appliances, we made the kitchen island a third again larger and replaced the ugly, cracked counter tile with this beautiful granite. We also replaced the scarred, dented floor with a nice colorful, dent resistant, tiger wood floor.
4. Generators are very valuable in our neck of the woods. Yes we have always lived next to a big metropolis. But when the power goes out, which happens a lot in a state like Washington with lovely old growth trees, the generator becomes an appreciated necessity. Note, having been in the Army for 20 years with their fuel thirsty generators, I always buy a natural gas generator so that I don’t have to store, refill, and serve up gasoline to the generators 4 to 6 times a day during an outage.
5. Air Conditioners are rare in my state. My wife wanted one in our third house and I argued against it for years. We tried to mitigate the few really hot days with ceiling fans, strategic window openings during the day and such. Then I realized that I went to work at an air conditioned office everyday and Suzy had to suffer through the heat. I got her a heat pump (cheaper running cost, also helps with heating costs in the winter, and makes your house very easy to sell should you decide to move). I can’t believe I waited so long!
6. Fences make for good neighbors. I have them in my backyard only. I have been known to get neighbors to chip into the cost and even help me with the labor. If there are a lot of free-running dawgs in your neighborhood, this is a good investment to keep your backyard party patio poop free.
7. Trees are a huge investment both for the planet and your neighborhood. First most, they are lovely. Strategic placement of trees on your property can reduce the cost of heating and cooling your house. A deciduous tree with have leaves in the summer that keep your house cooler and lose leaves in the winter so that the sun can keep your house warmer in the winter. This is another investment that house contractor go cheap on to save costs.
One trend I’ve noticed in my short 50-some years is that the great room concept is once again a very popular and desired space in a home. The great room is usually a combination room with the kitchen and the family room in one room instead of two. In the pictures below you will see my all-time favorite that was designed from scratch by Suzy and me for house number three. While she cooks, we can both be listening to the news, and I can be reading or playing cards with my kids or grandkids.
I didn’t get into things like stereo/TV nooks, garden sheds, or floor treatments. For example there is a reason my home office has a wood floor. And all the rugs in my current house have be replaced over time. But I want to leave you with this thought. You can wait till it comes time to sell your house to spruce it up and upgrade. But if you do it while you are living in the house, you can enjoy the house more and in the long run … well maybe, just maybe you can save money too.
Good post, Jim. It’s well organized and thought out. Should be helpful especially to young home owners.