There are three common starting points for home-improvement and remodeling projects:

  1. Something is broken and you need to fix it fast.
  2. You want your house to look and function better, and you have time to plan ahead.
  3. You’re upgrading your house for sale.

In any of these situations, there is a right way and a wrong way to proceed. Let’s start with some important tips.

1. Emergency Repairs

Almost everyone has turned on the shower and gotten no hot water, woken up shivering to find the heat off, or come home on a hot day to learn that the A/C isn’t working. Sometimes it’s a major failure requiring professional repair or replacement, but often it’s a minor problem that anyone with the right information can solve in a few minutes. Avoid making hasty decisions; they can be expensive. Can you find a temporary way to stay cool, warm, or clean while you consider your options?

Maybe the pilot light is off on your water heater or furnace. If you don’t have a pilot light and you still don’t have heat, make sure the power is on to the equipment. If the access panel on your furnace came loose, a safety switch may have turned off the blower motor. Or perhaps a circuit breaker has tripped and needs to be reset. If your A/C is moving air but the air isn’t cold, check the circuit breaker for the condenser and check the outside disconnect.

Study the manual for whatever piece of equipment is malfunctioning. Follow the troubleshooting instructions. If that doesn’t correct the problem, it’s time to call in a professional.

If you need to replace a piece of equipment, this is an opportunity to upgrade.

Natural (and Other) Disasters

Sometimes you’re looking at a disaster. Hail breaks windows; trees fall on the roof; storm water enters the house; a pipe breaks, flooding the basement.

But a disaster can be an opportunity to make much-needed improvements in your home. When storm damage takes out your furnace, for example, you can replace it with a better model. Broken windows can be replaced with high-performance units.

Take Your Time

Going with the quickest repair may not be cost-effective or in your long-term interest. It’s usually worth spending a little time and money to have a trained home energy professional inspect your home. Then you’ll have the information you need to choose the best heating system, or decide what type of windows to install. You’ll also have a list of improvements that you might make along with your repairs.

Your insurance may not cover everything the home energy pro suggests doing, but the extra cost of most upgrades will be low, and will pay off for many years in energy savings and a more-comfortable, healthy home. Don’t fall prey to a sales-driven service that wants to put in a new furnace or other equipment without considering your whole home and any other improvements that might be appropriate for your situation.

2. Remodeling When You Have Time to Plan

Planning a remodeling project means doing more than just redesigning your floor plan and picking out finish materials. This is the time to evaluate and correct structural defects, identify moisture problems, and deal with any hazardous materials that may be disturbed during renovations.

Planned projects could include remodeling a kitchen, replacing windows, moving interior walls, or even building an addition. Keep in mind that your home is made up of many interrelated systems. Any changes you make will probably affect how your entire house works.

For example, if you are renovating your kitchen and you put in a powerful new range hood, it may create enough negative pressure to cause backdrafting. This means that the flue gases from your furnace, water heater, and fireplace are sucked back into the house, rather than rising up and out through their vents and chimneys. The result? You’re breathing combustion by-products, including carbon monoxide (CO). This can make you very sick or even kill you. You can avoid this by making changes to your furnace, water heater, or fireplace—if you plan ahead. 

When you replace windows and doors, you need to consider how to keep rain out of the walls. This may require removing siding around the new windows in order to flash and seal them properly to the existing wall. If you don’t do this, water may get into the wall. The result? Rotten siding and mold in the house.

If you are planning a major interior renovation or an addition, this is an excellent opportunity to make your whole house more energy efficient, healthy, and sustainable—at little, if any, extra cost.

3. Upgrading for Sale

Savvy buyers these days are looking for energy-efficient features in a home. An appraiser will notice those features—features that may significantly improve your home’s market value. Consult with a home performance assessor, an architect, or a building contractor to find out which improvements will get you the most bang for your buck.

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