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Renovations: Does This Make My Life Better?

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Sarah and I have talked a bit lately about our mid-term goals.  These are those items between what we want to get done in the next year and what we want to get done before we retire.  One topic  was regarding what we want to do for our home renovations.  There are so many things we want to upgrade and redo.  To name a few: the powder room, landscape our (tiny) front yard, stain or replace the hardwood on the main floor, install hardwood on the top floor, paint out the kitchen cabinets, and redo our ensuite.  This renovation list is pretty daunting.  There is little to no chance we are going to get all of this done in the next ten years.

We need to be cognizant that we may need to deal with unplanned house costs such as a furnace replacement.  The projects in themselves range between a few hundred to several thousand dollars.  Doing every renovation isn’t really in the budget as it is now.  The typical homeowner response would be to focus on kitchens and bathrooms (those “sell” houses)…but we aren’t really anticipating moving unless we have 2 more kids so why put our focus there?  Instead why not focus on what we really want for ourselves…when deciding between several options we can simply ask the question “Does It Make Our Life Better?”

Figuring Out What Is Realistic

Before starting to eliminate the renovations we have in mind, we have to figure out what is a realistic budget for what we are going to get done in the next 5 years or so.  Currently the home maintenance savings come out of my pay so we have that set at $85.00 every 2 weeks.  For the most part we use the home maintenance budget for non-consumables (aka things like cleaning products would come from our grocery budget).  We recently ordered a new carpet for our living room as the one we bought  when we moved in has now seen better days.  That purchase will be from the home budget.

Maintaining our current budget, and keeping the contingency we have right now for any unplanned home maintenance costs – we can count on about $2,200 a year towards the upgrades we want to make.  Over a five year period that accounts for $11,000 which seems like a ton of money until we start looking at the cost of certain projects.

Main Floor Hardwood

When we purchased our house it came standard with hardwood on the main floor (except the powder room, front door area and the kitchen which are tiled).  Having hardwood as a standard was great, but the builder put in a natural oak coloured standard size variety.  To upgrade to a wider plank with a darker stain was unreasonable through the builder.  With upgrades they weren’t going to give any credit for what was taken out, and they charge more than double what it should cost.  The hardwood on the main floor accounts for about 300 square feet and they wanted over $4,000.  So essentially they are saying the difference between a standard size oak and a darker stain with a thicker plank is over $13/square foot.

I really prefer the look of a darker floor so I’d certainly like to either stain or replace the hardwood – but again…does that our life better?  I can’t say that it does, and the cost would be easily $2,200 to replace including replacing the baseboards.  Staining would be much cheaper but we would have to pretty much vacate our house due to baby and kitten.  We’d also likely chose to have a professional do the staining to make sure it is done right.  I’d prefer to replace if we were to proceed with this renovation.  It would eat up almost a full year of our 5 year budget though.  If we decide to run the hardwood right through into the kitchen the costs will be even more since we are looking at removing cabinets and counters that we already have installed.

Top Floor Hardwood

The top floor of our house is carpeted.  Again the builder generally goes for the most economical option so we likely have a carpet that is about $1/square foot.  The carpet is still in pretty decent shape with a few areas that have become frayed and some paint stains from some small mishaps/splatters over the past several years.  We probably didn’t spend as much time prepping for painting as we should have because we assumed the carpets would be replaced eventually.  When the house was being built we requested that the nosing on the stairs and railing be set up for hardwood as well so we had this thought in mind from day one.

The top floor has slightly more square feet of flooring required than the main floor since the only tiled areas are the bathrooms.  I would guess we are looking at 400 square feet give or take a few feet which would cost closer to $3,000.  This is a more likely option to proceed with because it would actually make our life better.  The carpet is much more difficult to keep clean, especially with our cat’s hair rubbing in to it so having hardwood upstairs would be a great upgrade both in value and our life.

The Powder Room

The powder room is just a tiny bathroom off our front hallway.  It has a counter with a sink on one side and a toilet on the other.  This was the first room we painted and it did not turn out the way we wanted.  Our first mistake was going with a paint that suited the tiles and cabinet.  We landed on an ugly brown colour that looked so much better on the colour sample than it does on the wall.  Then we made numerous mistakes with the actual painting.  We (honestly…I) ended up getting some dabs of paint on the ceiling.  No biggie – I can just grab a small can of ceiling paint and paint over it.  So I did that, but the ceiling paint was whiter than what the builder had put on the ceiling so it looked quite awful.

Since our numerous mistakes drive us both wild and we painted the rest of the house in grey tones – the powder room is a continuous eyesore  for both of us.  We haven’t set our minds on what level of renovation we want to do for this room at this point.  Repainting it in a shade of grey and leave the rest as it is could be another option.  We could also rip out the counter and toilet and upgrade to nicer materials.

That decision comes down more to budget than anything else.  I feel like doing the powder room will make our life better because it will remove a reminder of our bad decision.  It will also be a nicer place for our guests which is something that is really important to both of us.  Repainting the room will only cost us a few hundred dollars.  A complete reno will be closer to $2,000.

Landscaping the Front Yard

This one is easier…we have already decided we are definitely tackling this job in the Spring of 2018!  We have a separate envelope with some cash we got from a garage sale and some other sources that we have dedicated to doing the front.  Doing this reno  will certainly be a boost to our lives.  We will be removing some of the grass and putting in a stone walkway that will allow for easier access to and from the house.  We are redoing the patio stones we have to make sure they are level with each other and slopped properly to avoid having ice form.  The patio itself may (budget willing) get a bit bigger to allow for a 2-person table and chair set.  Having less grass will also have the wonderful result of less weeding for me in the warmer months.

The Kitchen Cabinets

The kitchen is another example of how the builder’s design team really gouges you on costs.  We had a choice of cabinets to select from with the 3 or 4 most basic options being included.  We chose a medium brown cabinet even though we’d prefer white.  There was a white cabinet option, but it was that melamine MDF stuff not real wood.  So we went with a colour we weren’t crazy about because we wanted to have real wood.

The thought process again in this case was that we’d go with what was included to avoid massive builder markups and then deal with it later.  Well we’ve been here over 5 years and haven’t touched them.  We did sink some money into replacing the counter tops and installing a backsplash but the cabinets remain.  We are likely going to paint the cabinets instead of replacing them.  Going this route will allow us to fit it in the budget and achieve a result we both enjoy.  That said – it doesn’t fit into the philosophy of making our life better so even for a reasonable budget is it something we should proceed with?

The EnSuite

There is really nothing wrong with our en suite so this one is a tougher one to commit to.  We’d like to have a nicer shower, it would be nice to replace the laminate counter with a natural stone, and the toilet is pretty cheap.  We painted the room and replaced the lighting fixture last year – this was a small expense that made a big impact on how the room looked.  Doing the room the way we’d really like would be a very expensive expedition.  We’d pretty much be looking a gut job.  The question comes up again on if we were to spend this money…would it make our life any better?  It would be a nice change for sure, but I can’t say confidently that it would make any difference in our daily life.

Final Thoughts

Choosing how to spend hard earned money can be very difficult.  I’m well aware that having the option to choose from all the renovations is certainly a privilege as well.  The concept applies to any financial decision though, not just renovations.  Going back to school to shift (of expand) your professional life, buying a car – really any purchase you could possibly make can be boiled down to the same idea.  Does it make my life better?  If the answer to that question is no, why spend on it?

Do you agree with this philosophy? I’d love to hear from both yeses and nos!



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