The Cons of DIY in Home Renovations: Leave it to the Pros


DIY’ing your full home renovation is tempting…but should you really do it? Here, Sweeten lays out the cons of DIY for home renovations.

the cons of DIY

This is a do-it-yourself, do-it-all maker culture. Fueled by enough YouTube videos, a homeowner can feel emboldened to take on anything—even a DIY home renovation.

It’s natural to be undecided about whether you want to do that full home renovation by yourself or hire professionals. Doing it yourself can mean acting as your own project manager, or it can mean doing it all by hand (completely or partially.) In any case, the prospect of cost savings is what tempts most renovators.

However, there is a counter-argument—the cons of DIY. Is that DIY full home renovation really in your best interests? Examining the cons of DIY isn’t a scare story or a money pit narrative. Instead, it’s a window onto the scale and complexity of DIY full house renovation. Below, Sweeten outlines how to make an informed decision.

Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Cons of DIY: Completion time

Home renovations require time and attention to make both small and key decisions. Depending on the scope, part of your home may be covered in plastic protection, or kitchens and bathrooms will be unusable. What you want is a full home renovation that operates on a compact, predictable schedule.

You have a life. Career, kids, relationships, friends, leisure: All of these have priority. This narrows down the amount of time that you have available to work on your house.

Professionals compress the schedule and complete the project much faster than if you had done it by yourself. Both parties should discuss the schedule and duration so everyone has a clear understanding and realistic expectations. Plus, they have a vested interest in finishing in an efficient manner since yours is likely one of many projects they’re completing.

Keeping on schedule

When you install your own laminate floor or paint your own bathroom, timing is easy. You have three or four minor milestones to hit, and it’s simple to keep them in order.

But when the project is as multi-layered as a full home renovation, it’s like playing multi-dimensional chess. Each project—floor, walls, windows, plumbing, and more—has its own set of milestones. Each of those projects is a milestone and must weave in with other projects. And, to make it even more interesting, you sometimes need to bounce back and forth between projects. Coordinating subcontractors within that system can get bewildering.

By contrast, contractors know how to keep scheduling straight; it’s their stock in trade. They’ll keep all of the projects running as consistently as possible. And they’ll seamlessly coordinate the movements of the subcontractors.

Cons of DIY: Quality of work

Unless you have tiled a shower before, you first need to learn how to tile a shower. The worst classroom for learning how to tile is in your own house. You do not want your house to be a test subject for your beginner tiling, wiring, flooring, or plumbing skills.

Professionals do this work all the time. With training, apprenticeships, and experience in the field, they have already worked out the kinks. Professionals generally turn out professional quality work.

Codes and permits

A vast amount of full home renovation work touches on building codes and permits. Structural work, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and even water heaters require permits in most municipalities. All permit work must be done according to code. And just because you aren’t required to pull a permit for a certain project doesn’t mean that building code isn’t applicable.

Code-compliant work may suffer at the hands of DIYers. The pros know code and are professionally bound to turn out work that complies with the latest codes. Contractors, subcontractors, designers, and architects stay abreast of the latest changes in their field.

Cons of DIY: Finding subcontractors

Subcontractors are skilled tradespeople who do projects like plumbing, electrical, drywall, painting, or flooring.

Even if you’ve decided to DIY your home renovation by hand, you still might end up hiring pros for some projects like whole-house wiring, solid wood or engineered wood floor installation, drywall installation, tiling a shower, or blowing or rolling insulation into an attic.

Finding and lining up good subcontractors can be a challenge. Using a contractor can take that chore off of your plate since the contractor has ready access to a pool of trusted subs.

Renovating safely

Homeowners taking on full DIY home renovations risk injury in many ways. Old paint might be lead-based, or those floor tiles might have asbestos. Black mold is common in ceilings, attics, and walls. Falls—the most common type of household injury—can occur even when you are on a ladder painting crown molding.

When you hire professionals to do the job, they have the know-how, safety gear, and materials to keep themselves and you safe. Safety is second nature to them since their livelihood and health depend on it.

Do DIY renovations really save money?

One reason often mentioned for doing a DIY full home renovation is that it saves money. As long as you can keep the renovation moving and on-target, with no wasted time or materials, you just might save some money.

But there is also the distinct possibility that you may lose this bet. If your project isn’t clearing inspections, you need to do it over until you get it right. That costs money. If you decide to do a hands-on renovation, you may need to purchase tools that are used only once: a wet tile saw, a full set of drywall tools, a paint sprayer.

When you hire a professional to do your full home renovation, you might save money in a number of ways. Savings might come in the form of wholesale discounts, bulk discounts, or special perks granted by a supplier since the professional is a regular buyer. Or from years of experience, the professional may have a keen eye for finding materials that are still high-quality but less expensive.

Is a DIY home renovation the right choice?

No solution applies to everyone in all situations. A DIY home renovation might be perfect if you are hungry to learn new skills. For anyone who is interested in the process as well as the product, DIY renovation is an eye-opener. Finally, if you are short on money but long on time, a DIY renovation might be right for you.

Hiring professionals to do your whole-house renovation helps you hit those critical timing marks that keep you on schedule. The work will be done to professional quality, safely and cleanly, in accordance with local building codes. Peace of mind and the assurance that the job will be done right—and not hanging over your head for months—are just a few of the benefits of using pros to do your full house renovation.

Ready to find the perfect general contractor professional for your home renovation? Get started today!

Post A Renovation Project

Here’s what Sweeten homeowners took part in during their renovation and what their general contractors handled.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.



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The Cons of DIY Renovation


DIY’ing your full home renovation is tempting. But should you really do this?

the cons of DIY

This is a do-it-yourself, do-it-all maker culture. Fueled by enough YouTube videos, a homeowner can feel emboldened to take on anything—even a DIY home renovation.

It’s natural to be undecided about whether you want to do that full home renovation by yourself or hire professionals. Doing it yourself can mean acting as your own project manager or it can mean doing it all by hand, completely or partially. In any case, the prospect of cost savings is the tempting carrot at the end of the stick.

But there is a counter-argument—the cons of DIY. Is that DIY full home renovation really in your best interests? Examining the cons of DIY isn’t a scare story or a money pit narrative. Instead, it’s a window onto the scale and complexity of DIY full house renovation. Below, Sweeten outlines a chance to make an informed decision.

Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Completion time

Home renovations require time and the attention to make both small and key decisions. Depending on the scope, part of your home may be covered in plastic protection or kitchens and bathrooms will be unusable. What you want is a full home renovation that operates on a compact, predictable schedule.

You have a life. Career, kids, relationships, friends, leisure: All of these have priority. This narrows down the amount of time that you have available to work on your house.

Professionals compress the schedule and complete the project much faster than if you had done it by yourself. Professionals are contractually bound to a completion timeframe. Plus, they have a vested interest in finishing on time since yours is likely one in a queue of other projects on their books.

Keeping on schedule

When you install your own laminate floor or paint your own bathroom, timing is easy. You have three or four minor milestones to hit, and it’s simple to keep them in order.

But when the project is as multi-layered as a full home renovation, it’s like playing multi-dimensional chess. Each project—floor, walls, windows, plumbing, and more—has its own set of milestones. Each of those projects is a milestone and must weave in with other projects. And, to make it even more interesting, you sometimes need to bounce back and forth between projects. Coordinating subcontractors within that system can get bewildering.

By contrast, contractors know how to keep scheduling straight; it’s their stock in trade. They’ll keep all of the projects running as consistently as possible. And they’ll seamlessly coordinate the movements of the subcontractors.

Quality of work

Unless you have tiled a shower before, you first need to learn how to tile a shower. The worst classroom for learning how to tile is in your own house. You do not want your house to be a proving ground for your fledgling tiling, wiring, flooring, or plumbing skills.

Professionals do this work all the time. With training, apprenticeships, and experience in the field, they have already worked out the kinks. Professionals generally turn out professional quality work.

Codes and permits

A vast amount of full home renovation work touches on building codes and permits. Structural work, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and even water heaters require permits in most municipalities. All permit work must be done according to code. And just because you aren’t required to pull a permit for a certain project doesn’t mean that building code isn’t applicable.

Code-compliant work may suffer at the hands of DIYers. The pros know code and are professionally bound to turn out work that complies with the latest codes. Contractors, subcontractors, designers, and architects stay abreast on the latest changes in their field.

Finding subcontractors

Subcontractors are skilled tradespeople who do projects like plumbing, electrician, drywall, painting, or flooring.

Even if you’ve decided to DIY your home renovation by hand, you still might end up hiring pros for select projects such as whole-house wiring, solid wood or engineered wood floor installation, drywall installation, tiling a shower, or blowing or rolling insulation into an attic.

Finding and lining up good subcontractors can be a challenge. Using a contractor can take that chore off of your plate since the contractor has ready access to a pool of trusted subs.

Renovating safely

Homeowners taking on full DIY home renovations risk injury in many ways. Old paint might be lead-based or those floor tiles might have asbestos. Black mold is common in ceilings, attics, and walls. Falls—the most common type of household injury—can occur even when you are on a ladder painting crown molding.

When you hire professionals to do the job, they have the know-how, safety gear, and materials to keep themselves and you safe. Safety is second nature to them; their livelihood and health depend on it.

Are you really saving money?

One reason often mentioned for doing a DIY full home renovation is that it saves money. As long as you can keep the renovation moving and on-target, with no wasted time or materials, you just might save some money.

But there is also the distinct possibility that you may lose this bet. If your project isn’t clearing inspections, you need to do it over until you get it right. That costs money. If you decide to do a hands-on renovation, you may need to purchase tools that are used only once: a wet tile saw, a full set of drywall tools, a paint sprayer.

When you hire a professional to do your full home renovation, you might save money in a number of ways. Savings might come in the form of wholesale discounts, bulk discounts, or special perks granted by a supplier since the professional is a regular buyer. Or from years of experience, the professional may have a keen eye for finding materials that are still high-quality but less expensive.

Is a DIY home renovation the right choice?

No solution applies to everyone in all situations. A DIY home renovation might be perfect if you are hungry to learn new skills. For anyone who is interested in the process as well as the product, DIY renovation is an eye-opener. Finally, if you are short on money but long on time, a DIY renovation might be right for you.

Hiring professionals to do your whole-house renovation helps you hit those critical timing marks that keep you on schedule. The work will be done to professional quality, safely and cleanly, in accordance with local building codes. Peace of mind and the assurance that the job will be done right—and not hanging over your head for months—are just a few of the benefits of using pros to do your full house renovation.

Here’s what Sweeten homeowners took part in during their renovation and what their general contractors handled.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.



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Setting the Scene for Outdoor Living


An outdoor kitchen is the ultimate al fresco space! Get ready for a ton of fun (and a good investment for your home)

outdoor kitchen(Above) Outdoor kitchen renovation by Sweeten contractor Dennis

If you agree that the kitchen is the heart of the home, then consider bringing that sense of entertaining and relaxation outside with an outdoor kitchen. The options for an outdoor kitchen are endless—sinks, fridges, lighting, roofing, the list goes on.

If this sounds appealing, then you are not alone! More than 70 percent of homeowners who have outdoor space are looking to enhance the patio with the goal of making it more relaxing, according to a recent survey from American Home Furnishing Alliance. A CNN Money survey predicted the outdoor kitchen market to be worth almost $6 billion yearly.

An outdoor kitchen might become the cherry on top of your home renovation plans. It isn’t the cheapest project, nor a necessity, but Sweeten outlines what you need to know to help you weigh your decision. Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

How to schedule your outdoor kitchen project

Luckily, it’s possible to do outdoor work at nearly any time of the year. However, weather with temperatures above freezing (minus rain and snow!) is preferred. On average, the shortest timeframe to complete an outdoor kitchen without delays or unforeseen events is 2-3 weeks. The longest average timeframe for an outdoor kitchen completion is four months. Start the process at least six months before you want to have the outdoor kitchen completed which also leaves enough time to create a good kitchen plan, advises Dennis, a Sweeten general contractor in Philadelphia.

Budget for an outdoor kitchen

Like all home renovation projects, it’s best to determine what you want to spend in the beginning. Your budget will be a meeting place of your financial abilities and what you need and want. Dennis has worked on outdoor kitchens in the Philadelphia area that range in price from $15,000 to more than $100,000, which is a similar price range given by Jose, a Sweeten general contractor in the Miami area.

A lower budget outdoor kitchen will use materials such as concrete or cement pavers for the floor, according to New York City Sweeten general contractor Santi. Pressure-treated wood for cabinetry is also another good value choice. Materials in a more expensive outdoor kitchen could be stainless steel cabinets, stone floors, and a natural stone countertop, Santi said.

Appliances will also take up a big chunk of the budget. Jose said you should expect to pay several thousand dollars for a grill, fridge, and other appliances that are tough enough to survive the great outdoors.

The national average cost of a mid-range backyard patio that includes a fire pit, small fridge, sink, gas grill, lighting, a pergola, and a 20-foot square patio on flat ground is about $56,000, according to Remodeling‘s Cost vs Value report. That renovation will add over $30,000 to your home’s value. Many outdoor kitchens will start with a patio or deck that is already there, potentially bringing down the cost, according to Dennis.

Draw up the design

The layout of your outdoor kitchen can be drawn up by a kitchen designer or in a growing number of cases, a landscaper, says Dennis. Landscapers help to blend the outdoor kitchen into the overall look of your outdoor space. And of course, your general contractor can likely assist you with the design.

Consider where you place the grill, sink, and fridge as they create the “work triangle” for whoever is cooking. Be sure to keep that area free of obstructions or foot traffic. The design is also an important time to look at the strength of your deck if you are not starting from scratch. Dennis advises that existing decks will need to be assessed to determine if they can handle the added weight.

outdoor kitchen remodel (Above) Outdoor kitchen renovation by New York Sweeten contractor John

Make note of the materials

With the outdoor factor, materials used will differ greatly from your indoor kitchen. And then factor in your style preference and budget. If a bench—a single permanent structure which encompasses countertop, storage, and appliances—is part of your design, common materials are stucco, concrete, or stacked stone, says Dennis. Quartz is also a possibility, according to Jose.

When it comes to cabinets, don’t install too many as you’re not going to keep a lot of plates, pots, and pans in your outdoor kitchen. Whatever you do have should be able to stand up to the winter cold and that includes pipes that drain easily for winterizing.

Understand outdoor kitchen appliances

The staple piece of your outdoor kitchen, and likely the most expensive, is the grill. If you’re planning on installing this permanently by building it into a bench, then don’t hold back on price, Dennis advised. “You want to make sure you have a quality grill—and fridge—because if they break you aren’t going to find one that is an exact fit for the permanent structure,” he said.

Whether your chosen grill will use a propane tank or rely on gas lines, it will have a big impact on your budget, timelines, and permits needed. Even though you’ll need to replace a tank, you won’t need gas lines from house to patio; which saves time, money, and effort.

Ironically, not all fridges can withstand the winter. “Some fridges cannot handle freezing weather even though that seems odd,” Dennis said. Outdoor fridges must work harder to maintain a constant temperature when the weather fluctuates. Consider high-grade stainless steel, which will reduce rust.  But don’t forget the added convenience of an outdoor fridge comes with the inconvenience of needing electricity. This will set you back a few hundred dollars, but solar energy is a possibility.

Coverings for outdoor kitchens

Providing shade and shelter from the rain comes in many forms. For more extravagant outside kitchens—such as a TV for watching sports and a sound system—Dennis recommends something similar to a gazebo roof that has full coverage. There’s also lattice, which will provide some shade, but not rain cover. On the lower end of the budget scale is a retractable awning.

Lighting for outdoor kitchens

Have a long think about what you will use your new outdoor space for. Will you be reading? Playing cards with friends at night? Then perhaps you need more lighting over the seating area as well as where you prepare the food.

Hosting dinner parties? Then consider more ambient lighting that highlights architecture. And if you’re already planning on having a fridge and the electricity it needs, the lighting might be a natural progression.

Don’t forget plumbing!

Running water is important for cooking, so prepare to lay some pipes from your house to your outdoor kitchen. Depending upon the distance, it could cost between $600 to $1,500, according to Sweeten contractor Jose. Cold water is the only necessity here, but “if a client really wants hot water, we can explore a really small, tankless water heater,” he said.

Once you get the water out there, you then have to get rid of it. “You can’t put the waste water into the ground,” said Jose, “It needs to be connected back into the house’s sewer.” Use of a dry well, where water is filtered before going into the ground, might be possible, but this will depend on building codes.

Prepare for permits

The permitting process for outdoor kitchens can be surprisingly complicated. Not only will you need a building permit, but also an electrical permit for refrigeration. If you don’t want to use gas tank lighting, you’ll need mechanical or plumbing permits for water and gas. To avoid gas or electricity permits, clients can use a gas cylinder for the grill and solar energy for electricity, Sweeten contractor Santi suggested.

You may need approval from a zoning department. Dennis advises homeowners to check their local zoning codes as there may be limits on how much land you can cover with materials like concrete because rain cannot easily soak through it. There may also be restrictions on how close to the property line you can build. “It would be a waste of time to design something gorgeous and then submit it and not have it approved,” Dennis said.

Ready to turn your outdoor space into a hub of outdoor entertainment?  Start getting matched with your ideal Sweeten general contractor today!

ADUs or accessory dwelling units can transform into home offices, living space for family or as a rental, or a retreat.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.



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Sweeten’s Splurge vs. Save Renovation Guide: A Breakdown by Room


Want to get more value out of each room in your home? Know where to invest (splurge) vs. hold back (save) in a renovation.

Your house needs a few improvements and you have the urge to do them all immediately. Every project seems to announce itself with equal priority. Unless you’re awash in money and time, you cannot address all at once. You need to sift through your priorities—starting with knowing where to splurge vs. save during a renovation. 

Below, Sweeten helps you understand where to splurge vs. save so you can define your priorities. Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

What does splurging mean?

Splurging doesn’t mean overspending. It can mean shifting money from one project to another. Or placing one project higher on the to-do list than other projects. Splurge on things that you touch or see often. Splurge on things that are meaningful to you or which make you happy. 

What does saving mean?

Saving doesn’t mean to skip or ignore. It means that you can safely put it on the back burner for now. Or if you want to do it, you can dial down on the cost a bit. Many times, after the project has been on the back burner long enough, you might see it in a clearer light.

Once you think in terms of splurge vs. save during a renovation, all of these home projects fall into an order that makes perfect sense.

Splurge vs. Save: Kitchens

Splurge: Kitchen Countertops

Every day, you touch, see, and use your kitchen countertops. Whether you choose quartz, solid surface, natural stone, laminate, or wood, your countertop choice is semi-permanent. After the design, fabrication, and installation, changing out your countertop shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you want a certain type of quartz countertop, but choose a shade or pattern that you don’t feel strongly about, ask yourself: How will I feel about this in a year? 

Save: Kitchen Appliances

Kitchen appliances are better designed than ever. The rising tide of improved kitchen technology lifts all boats—even for lower-priced appliances. With research, you can find lower-cost refrigerators, dishwashers, cooktops, and ranges that fit your needs. These appliances often match or exceed the quality of higher-priced versions from only a few years ago. 

Splurge vs. Save: Bathrooms

Splurge: Bathroom Fixtures

Bathroom fixtures are more than just mechanical devices. They aren’t just knobs and levers that start and stop the water. Fixtures are ornaments that complement a beautiful shower, tub, or sink. Spend more to splurge vs. save for bathroom fixtures that make you happy.

Save: Bathroom Technology

Technology has entered all parts of our lives, so why not the bathroom, too? IoT, or the Internet of Things, is a concept that describes how common things within our life are now Internet-equipped. Bathroom technology and IoT are not gimmicks! IoT devices can track water usage, regulate heating, and allow the bathroom to better adapt to your needs. Bathroom technology has its place, and it is the future. But for now, you can limit your bathroom smart devices or put them on the back burner.

Splurge vs. Save: Living rooms

Splurge: Paint

That designer paint that you’ve been eyeing? Now it can be yours. You can easily justify spending more on the premium paint that you want in the living room. That’s because the living room gets so much facetime, and it’s so public. Poor quality paint may flake, chip, or fade over time, costing more in the end. When you decide to splurge instead of save on your desired paint, you’ll be happier in the long run.

Save: Lighting

Living room lighting, while necessary, does not need to be expensive. Prioritize the shape and the finish of the lighting fixture over the brand name. One trick of designers is to over-scale lighting fixtures for a dramatic look. Just make sure that all of the in-wall wiring for sconces and ceiling lights is complete first!

Splurge vs. Save: Bedrooms

Splurge: Bedroom Closet systems

An unfinished closet is an empty box waiting for your stuff. However, that stuff has no place to go unless you create a system. Gone are the days of the closet rod with one shelf above it. Closet storage systems belong in all closets now. 

Reach-in closets benefit from a shoe fence or shoe cubby, two or three drawers, and plenty of open shelving, plus a closet rod. Walk-in closets should be outfitted with the same and more: additional shelves and drawers, pull-out baskets, multiple hanging areas, and lighting.

Save: Millwork and trim

Custom millwork and trim are the finishing touches for homes. If yours is a home of architectural significance, custom trim throughout is practically required. But if you want to save money, you can ease back on the fancy millwork in the private areas of the home. Save the ceiling medallions, crown molding, chair rails, dentils, batten, and picture rails for the dining and living areas.

Splurge vs. Save: Basements

Splurge: Basement Flooring

Moisture is usually the deciding factor when you consider whether or not to finish your basement. Prevalent moisture can turn an expensive basement remodel into an uninhabitable area best used for storage. 

An attractive, moisture-shedding floor covering and a subfloor system can make a world of difference. Begin with the subfloor system, interlocking 24-inch squares that elevate your floor covering about 1-inch. Then, choose a basement-ready floor covering that you love, whether ceramic or porcelain tile, luxury vinyl planks, engineered wood flooring, or laminate flooring.

Save: Guest bedrooms

Building out a guest bedroom in your basement is a wise move when you know that it will get frequent use, either by friends and family or as a rental unit. But if you want a guest bedroom in your basement only for the occasional visitor, you’re taking up valuable space best used for other activities.

Splurge vs. Save: Attics

Splurge: Built-in storage

Built-in storage doesn’t often rank high in priority in other parts of the house, but this is not the case for attics. Attics are starved for space to begin with. Once you add furniture, you have even less storage room. Knee walls are the short walls that extend from the floor to the rafters. Knee walls that have built-in storage should be built during the remodeling process, not later.

Save: Full bathrooms

Full bathrooms—toilet, sink, and shower or shower/tub—are a rarity in attics unless the intent is to build out an entire suite with living quarters. Otherwise, attics used as offices or children’s play areas work well with just a half-bathroom.

Splurge vs Save: Decks

Splurge: Deck Flooring

Your choice of deck flooring can easily make or break how much you end up using—and loving or avoiding—your deck. With that in mind, you’ll want to prioritize decking.

For the best in looks and maximum strength, choose a premium wood such as ipe or mahogany. Both are long-lasting, easy to maintain, and they return maximum resale value. Composite wood—a mixture of wood fibers and plastics—is smooth, splinter-free underfoot, and looks remarkably like wood.

Save: Deck Built-ins

Built-ins such as benches, tables, and planters are wonderful additions to decks. Built-in benches are especially valuable because they tuck away to the side, opening up more space in the center of the deck. Yet one way to pare down your deck-building budget is to save the built-ins for a later day. The same builder (or a different one) can always come back and create those built-ins that your heart desires.

Splurge vs. Save in a Renovation: Conclusion

Almost every room in a home would gladly use a piece of the budget. Knowing what projects can wait until a later date, or what may or may not maximize the full breadth of the room, can help guide on where to splurge vs. save in your renovation.

Here’s how to minimize the mess during a renovation and how to clean up after it’s finished.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.



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Aging in Place Design Costs & Tips to Improve Home Accessibility


Sweeten explains aging in place design costs, plus accessible design costs (and how to add them to a home!) 

(Above) Marissa + Jeremy installed bright lights for future aging in place in their kitchen remodel

What is aging in place design? What does accessible design mean?

To some, “aging in place” is a design term that means creating living spaces that are safe and accessible for people who want to stay in their homes and care for themselves as they grow older.

To others, the term “accessible design” or “living in place” is more applicable, as it means designing spaces that suit the needs of children and adults in one home. In both cases, the goal is to create living spaces that are, safe, accessible, and also make design sense.

Sweeten gives an overview of aging in place design costs, plus costs for accessible designs, and gives tips for when these designs can be beneficial to the family lifestyle. Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

How much does accessible design cost?

When part of a major renovation, the cost to include accessible techniques can be minor. “Things don’t necessarily need to cost more, they are just different,” said Julie Schuster of Julie Schuster Design Studio and is a certified living in place professional (CLIPP). “If you are remodeling a kitchen you probably want under cabinet lighting. Why not upgrade slightly to add bright LED lights that are good for aging eyes?” 

There are two approaches to accessible living spaces: 

  • Remodel to suit the urgent needs of the homeowner.  A wheelchair user will need, among other things, wide doorways and hallways, and a curbless shower with a bench and grab bars. A family with young children may want night lights in the hallways, non-slip bathroom floor tiles, and anti-scald shower valves.
  • Remodel to make the design flexible for future improvements. “It is important to learn the things that could crop up in the future and then design backward for them. I install blocking behind a shower wall while renovating, so grab bars or a built-in bench can be added later. Putting in the blocking does not add to the overall cost,” said Kammi Reiss of Kammi Reiss Design.

For Sweeten contractor Aaron, being flexible in design is key. In one condo project, they placed a removable panel in front of the kitchen sink so a wheelchair user can roll up to the sink for use. 

What does aging in place cost?

While many accessible design techniques have similar costs as any renovation project,  some projects do have an increased cost. For example, the combination of slippery surfaces and a wet setting in bathrooms often cause accidents, especially for people with mobility issues or poor eyesight. 

Here’s a comparison from Remodeling’s 2020 Cost vs. Value Guide that compares a standard  5-foot by 7-foot bathroom of mid-range quality to an accessible one of the same size. The accessible bathroom includes 36-inch-wide doors, flat panel electric switches installed at sitting level, walk-in curbless shower with fold-out seat, adjustable shower head, thermostatic mixing valve, LED lighting, ceramic tile walls with contrasting color stripes, towel bars (grab bars) that can support 250 pounds each, night lights, and reconfigured storage accessible to someone in a seated position, among other items.

Here’s an example of what universal design can recoup at resale at a national level.

aging in place

Remodeling asked us to revise the remodeling project for them,” said Louie Delaware, co-founder of the Living in Place Institute. “Everyone assumed that it would cost much more and would not be worth as much.”  While there are increased costs, the return on investment is similar to that of the accessible bathroom. 

Costs for accessible design projects:

Here are some estimated costs for common projects often associated with accessible designs:

  • Entrance ramp: $1,300 to $ 3,500
  • Door widening to accommodate wheelchairs: $400 to $800, each
  • Chair lift: $3,000 to $6,000, curved stairs will cost more
  • Widening hallways (often includes moving plumbing, heating and cooling and electrical lines):  $500 to $2,000
  • Grab bars with decorative finishes: $100 to $200, each
  • Curbless showers: $2,000 to $8,000
  • Faucets with lever controls: $200 to $400

Many of the techniques used in accessible design or aging in place design are the same, whether planning for yourself, someone who wants to age in place, or to suit the needs of a growing family. The goal is to create a safe, accessible design for everyone to enjoy.

Read how aging in place and living in place can bring ease to day-to-day living for every family member.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.



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Measure for Bathroom Tile Accurately: Tips & What You’ll Need


How to measure for bathroom tile correctly—and get the quantity and type tile that’s just right for your bathroom

measure for bathroom tile(Above) Mitzie + Jenifer’s Sweeten renovation

Numbers are stable facts that control our world. So, to measure for bathroom tile on floors or the walls, it would seem that everything is clear-cut, with nothing left open for interpretation. Right?

In this guide, Sweeten outlines how to measure space for bathroom tile, so that in the end, you will have a measurement that lets you purchase the correct quantity of tile. You’ll also calculate for enough extra to make the installation smoother. Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

When measuring bathroom dimensions and matching numbers to a physical product—tile—questions will come up.

  • Overage is required, but how much?
  • Should you tile under large bathroom components (like tubs and vanity cabinets)?
  • Does tile seam width change the purchase amount?
  • For wall tile, how far up does the tile go?

What you will measure: 

  1. You will begin with one set of measurements: those that cannot be changed.
  2. Next, you tighten up that set of numbers by taking variables into account.

What you will need to measure for bathroom tile:

Begin with a tape measure, preferably one with a metal blade 1-inch wide or more for rigidity. Do not use a vinyl measuring tape of the type used for clothing and other fabrics. A laser measuring device is a great add-on but is not necessary.

You will also need a simple way to jot down numbers. Pen and paper work best, but if you are working with an app or program, you can use that. Having an extra hand, too, eases the process and produces more accurate numbers.

Getting the fixed dimensions

Certain dimensions in a bathroom are fixed; meaning, they cannot be changed. Begin there.

To measure the bathroom floor tile:

  • Measure the dimensions of the entire bathroom. Measure from one wall to the opposite wall. Then, measure the other walls from side to side. If the room has alcoves or areas in addition to that larger floor space, measure those separately as if they were separate rooms.
  • Measure the available floor space that will be tiled. Measure only the floor area that will be tiled. Rather than subtracting non-tiled areas (such as bathtubs) from the overall dimensions of the room, measure the floor space on its own.

To measure the bathroom wall tile:

  • Full-wall tile runs from the floor to the ceiling. Areas near showers and bathtubs often receive tile from floor to ceiling.

What is a tile wainscot?

  • Tile wainscot is a tile field that runs partially up the bathroom wall. Forty-two inches is a common wainscot height for a bathroom with a 7-foot or 8-foot ceiling. Even better, measure the height of the ceiling, then divide by one-third and use that as your wainscot height.

black and white shower tile

(Above) Jessica + Jessie’s Sweeten renovation

To measure the shower wall and floor tile:

  • Measure all shower walls from side to side and top to bottom. Do not account for the shower pan or shower curb.
  • For the shower pan, measure from side to side in both directions to produce the area measurement.
  • If the curb or threshold will be tiled, assume a height on both sides of at least 2 inches and width of at least 2 inches. Shower curbs may not rise more than 9 inches.

Tips to control for variables:

  • The tape measure will sag, so keep it as straight and level as possible. This is the benefit of having an assistant: to keep the tape measure tight. A laser measuring tool is helpful for distances over 8 to 10 feet, as it produces a straight line.
  • Ignore baseboards, as tile overlaps baseboards. Be sure to measure from wall to wall, not from baseboard to baseboard.
  • Subtract cutouts down to the square foot. Items less than a square foot, such as the toilet flange or shower drain, should not be subtracted.
  • If the sink cabinet will stay in place and you are certain that the bathroom layout will never change, do not tile under the cabinet. Subtract the cabinet from the flooring area.
  • If you think that you will change the bathroom layout in the future, tile underneath the sink cabinet.
  • Tile usually does not run under the shower or bathtub. Do not figure shower or tub floor space into your measurements.
  • Interior tile grout widths range from 1/16-inch to 1/4-inch. Unless this is an unusually large bathroom, do not use grout widths as a variable when measuring for bathroom tile.
  • Site-built showers do not always need tiled shower pans and curbs. You may subtract this quantity of tile if you expect to use a prefabricated shower pan.

Using your measurements to purchase bathroom tile

Once you have a solid set of numbers in hand, it is time to buy the bathroom tile. You will need to consider a few issues before you make the final purchase.

Tile overage: How much extra bathroom tile should I buy?

After you adjust the fixed quantity of tiles with the control variables, you now have the total amount of tile required—almost! The last step is to plan for a standard overage amount of 10% or more.

For example, a 100 square foot bathroom with 10% overage results in a purchase of 110 square feet of tile.

Products may arrive damaged or otherwise unusable. Too many unusable products must be returned, but a broken tile or two may not be worth the effort. More importantly, it is nearly impossible to order exactly the amount of tiles that will be laid down. Field tile edges are typically cut to fit the space. While tile installers strive to recycle cut pieces in other areas of the project, some pieces cannot be used. Boxed tile, too, often ends up with extra tiles left in the box.

Special-shape or unique-size tiles and layout designs

Most tiles are square or rectangular, and most layouts are grid or brick patterns. What happens if you vary the tile size or layout?

Unique tile shapes and sizes require that you purchase more tile. If the tile cannot produce a straight edge when laid, increase the overage to 20% or more.

Layouts that differ from grid or brick patterns also require more tile. Diagonal, herringbone, or chevron patterns, for example, result in cut pieces in a variety of triangular sizes. Some triangles can be used elsewhere, but most cannot.

Other factors for measuring bathroom tile

The ease with which you can return the tiles is an important factor in measuring bathroom tile. A brick-and-mortar store may accept sealed, full-box returns for full value or for full value minus a stocking fee. Online tile suppliers may require you to pay to ship back unused tile.

Having some extra tile on hand has its benefits. Over time, installed tile may crack and need to be replaced. Or you may wish to use the tile for smaller applications within the bathroom, such as for a sink backsplash.

Best tile and applications for bathroom flooring

All bathroom flooring tiles should be specified as such by the manufacturer in the product description or in the technical specifications. Wall-only tile cannot be used for floors, as it is too thin for foot traffic and often too slippery.

Another clue is the COF (or coefficient of friction) slip ratings published by tile manufacturers. For foot traffic, higher numbers are better than lower numbers. Look for a COF rating of 0.50 or more for your floor tile.

Grout seams are necessary between floor tiles. Wide seams impart more friction, thus a safer floor. More seams, too, give the foot friction. This is one reason why mosaic tiles are so popular for floor tiles: the increased proportion of grout to tiles.

Best tile and applications for bathroom walls

Like floor tile, manufacturers often label bathroom wall tile. However, in most cases, you can use bathroom floor tiles for bathroom walls.

One exception is with showers, bathtubs, and other high-moisture areas. Look for tiles with a water absorption rate of 0.5 percent or lower. Tiles labeled specifically with the name “porcelain,” as certified by the Porcelain Tile Certification Agency (PTCA), are guaranteed to fall under the absorption rate range.

Given the visibility of bathroom wall tile, it is often best practice to keep tile seams narrower, to use more routine layouts, and to use tiles with less complex visuals. Highly ornate tiles are acceptable, but are best limited to use in borders or for smaller applications, like backsplashes.

Having a shortage of tile will cause delays, while ordering too much tile affects your budget. Use this guide to measure for bathroom tile accurately and you’ll get even closer to the exact tile quantity you need!

Two ways to keep a renovation project on track and save money: avoid order and delivery hiccups. Read more here.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.



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Condo Remodeling Miami: Everything Your Need to Know


An outline from permits to building requirements for condo remodeling Miami

Are you considering condo remodeling in Miami? While renovating a condo is usually a more limited proposition than renovating a house, Sweeten offers guidelines on a few special considerations you’ll need to take into account. Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

A brand new condo remodeling Miami

City of Miami Building Permits 

First, you will need to obtain the proper city and building approvals before beginning your project. Sweeten contractor Sandra, who is based in Miami, tells us, “The typical process takes about 4-8 weeks for a mid-sized project. [Usually,] the office management has pretty much the same requirements as the city.” You must apply first to the city, and once the city approves the permit, the information is submitted to the management office for the condo. The most common permits needed in condo renovations are required for floor soundproofing, plumbing, electrical, and framing.

Building Requirements 

In addition to obtaining city permits, many new building projects must also meet new building requirements. You must usually meet and comply with regulations around work hours, rubbish removal, gas installation, and more. Here’s a list of everything you should be mindful of during your project:

1) Working hours

These are more limited than in a free-standing house. Typically, buildings will permit workers access between the hours of 9AM – 4PM (occasionally, until 5pm) on weekdays. This translates into shorter working hours. As a result, a condo renovation may take longer than that same project in a house.

2) Prepping common areas

Buildings will require workers to protect the common lobby, hallways, and elevators. This needs to be done on a daily basis. Just note, this can keep the GC from working on the actual project on any given day. 

3) Rubbish removal

As in all large buildings, trash removal presents a bigger obstacle than in a free-standing house. As Miami-based Sweeten contractor Adrian explains, due to the more protracted process, “the cost of removing the trash is much higher in a condo than in a single-family home.” Sweeten contractor Sandra concurs: “We spend a lot of time doing this and do it on a daily basis. That means we need to reserve the elevator every time we have to bring it down. We cannot use the building dumpster, so we need to put it in our truck and haul it away.” 

4) Altering the slab

Since even the oldest Miami condos date only back to the ‘50s and ‘60s, they are largely concrete structures. Sweeten contractor Sandra explains, “It is possible but very complex. We would need a structural engineer affidavit and structural plans.” Management will likely be strict about this aspect of the renovation. After all, Altering the slab can affect the building’s other units. Technically, it is possible to trench or drill to lay plumbing or electrical. However, you would need to prove that you will not compromise the integrity of the slab. Oftentimes, buildings will require “scanning” (via a professional vendor) of the area where the proposed alteration will occur. Sweeten contractor Adrian estimates that it usually costs approximately $600 to scan 100-200 square feet. 

5) Gas

Most Miami condos feature electric stoves and dryers. That said, gas stoves are becoming slightly more common in new luxury buildings. Our Sweeten contractors do not know of buildings that permit gas dryers. If your condo unit does not currently have a washer/dryer in-unit, there’s a 50/50 chance that it’ll be permitted. Again, this is up to your management company’s rules. 

6) Windows

Due to the seasonal hurricanes, building codes require impact windows. Luckily, this isn’t the responsibility of the individual renovator because windows are typically a building-wide project. 

7) Fees

Lastly, expect the management company to charge you a fee for renovating your condo. Just note, these fees are paid in addition to any permit and approval charges. These fees aren’t unique to Miami, this is standard in condos across the U.S.

Now, you should have a sense of what to look out for in your Miami condo renovation. All that’s left is to get started! Read up on how long it takes for a typical apartment remodel to complete.

 Have a good handle on your budget. Our Miami home renovation cost guide can get you on your way.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.



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7 Ways to Protect Home from Flooding in Houston


Though Houston floods are inevitable, damage to your home is not—here’s how to protect your home from flooding

Ways to protect your home from flooding in Houston, Texas

Houston citizens can list many great things about the city. Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the South and it boasts a vibrant culture. Its residents enjoy a relatively low cost of living. But if there is one aspect about Houston that most residents would like to change, it’s the floods. In Houston and Harris County, floods envelop huge sections of the city on a regular basis. Sweeten outlines ways to protect your home from flooding in Houston. Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Why Houston floods devastate homes

Houston’s wet season, from May to October, brings a punishing round of tropical storms, hurricanes, or just old-fashioned heavy rain. 

Houston rests near Galveston Bay, four major bayous, and numerous creeks. Floods are a fact of life in a city surrounded by so much water. If you live west of the city center, generally you will fare better during flooding. Residents of EaDo (East Downtown), Garden Oaks, Highland Village, and Midtown tend to fare better than other areas.

Moving eastward from the city center increases the likelihood of high water levels and floods. Kingwood, Spring Branch, the Heights, and Sharpstown all chronically flood. Hurricane Harvey and Tropical Storm Imelda turned these neighborhoods brown with floodwater. The storms hit Meyerland, located mostly within the 100-year floodplain, particularly hard.

Houston and Harris County are so heavily paved-over that runoff water cannot keep pace with these huge inundations of water. Short of moving to another city, you can take a number of steps to protect your home.  

Tip 1: Grade soil away from your house

Houston’s mostly flat topography only rises about 50 feet above sea level. You won’t find steep hills and high elevation in this city. But you can create a type of micro elevation on your own property.

When building or renovating your house, redesign your property’s grading. Regrade with proper water, erosion, and storm runoff management in mind. You want to avoid your yard and home turning into a lake.

Tip 2: Install a sump pump and maintain it

If your Houston house has a basement, it undoubtedly already has a sump pump. If not, install one immediately. Sump pumps discharge interior water to the exterior. It is valuable for high waters or for minor interior flooding. It will not protect your home against catastrophic flooding.

Your sump pump should be ready to turn on at any time. If not, it may experience power loss, clogging, or switch issues. If the unit cannot keep up with the water, install a larger unit. The average lifespan of a sump pump is about 10 years. If your sump pump is at the end of this lifespan, consider replacing it.

Tip 3: Raise your house

The best solution to protect your home during a Houston flood is to elevate it. 

At a very minimum, the City of Houston requires homes to have a one-foot elevation above the 100-year floodplain. But that minimum nowhere nearly addresses catastrophic events like the rapid 12-inch rainfall that fell during Hurricane Harvey. If you plan on elevating your house, experts recommend elevating your home over 18 inches. Six-foot elevations are not uncommon.

When building a new house, resist the urge to build slab-on-grade if living in a flood-prone section. Instead, explore elevated foundations of three feet or more. 

If you already own a house, you can retroactively elevate your house. This retrofit begins much like a house move, with the house raised by jacks on piers. But the house isn’t loaded onto trucks and moved. Instead, a new, higher foundation is placed under the house.

Elevating your home starts at about $75 per square foot. It’s a major project that can take up to three months to complete.

Tip 3: Dry floodproof your foundation

Imagine the outer part of your home’s foundation wall as the hull of a boat. Water constantly surround a boat’s lower half, so it must be watertight. 

Dry floodproofing treats your foundation with sealants and membranes. If water surrounds the lower section for a limited period, there should be little or no leakage into the home.

With dry floodproofing, the emphasis is on positive-side (exterior) sealants and membranes. Workers also apply negative-side (interior) sealants and membranes. 

FEMA recommends homeowners opt for a “substantially impermeable wall.” The wall helps limit water accumulation. In 24 hours, water will accumulate to a 4-inch maximum with a sump pump. Entrust this project to a qualified contractor who has experience in dry floodproofing. Contractors well-versed in this project can often exceed that FEMA minimum performance level.

Tip 3: Install flood vents

In lieu of dry floodproofing, consider installing flood vents. Contractors can install FEMA-compliant flood vents in your foundation walls. In dry times, these vents prohibit vermin from entering underneath your house. During floods, these vents open freely to allow the passage of floodwaters. At the same time, these vents block debris that can damage the structure.

Flood vents may also help you reduce your flood insurance premiums. Houston homes receive so much structural damage because of the force of the water on the foundations. Flood vents reduce that pressure.

Only certain types of foundations require flood vents. Many older Houston homes have a crawlspace foundation that supports the house with piers or columns. This foundation often has a skirt or non-load-bearing wall around the house perimeter. Sometimes, brick or concrete comprises the skirt wall instead of wood. Because the wall cannot hold back floodwaters, dry floodproofing is not a viable option. 

Many licensed Houston contractors can advise you on how to protect your home from flooding in Houston. They can assess whether dry floodproofing or flood vent installation is your best option.

Tip 4: Install and maintain a backflow valve

During floods, one unhappy byproduct is sewer or water drainage backflow. During this, backflow sends sewer water into the house. Floodwater itself is dirty enough. But when sewage pipes directly into your home, that only adds insult to injury. 

Some backflow valves are automatic, such as ball float valves in floor drains. On the other hand, manually-operated gate-style valves open and close by turning a wheel. 

Note that backflow valves prevent your house’s sewage from discharging into the sewer main. Standard backflow valves provide no way for you to flush a toilet. Speak to your contractor about backflow valves with ejector pump attachments. These attachments can divert your sewage back into the sewer system, while still preventing backflow from coming into your home.

More ways to prevent or mitigate flood damage in Houston

Tip 5: Raise exterior outlets 

Electrical code typically requires only that exterior outlets be accessible from grade, or ground, level. For Houston with its floods, this usually translates to “too low.” 

A licensed electrician can relocate your exterior GFCI outlets. The outlets should be at least one foot above the expected flood line.

Tip 6: Check your exterior drainage system

Your house’s gutters collect rainwater from the roof. Drainpipes move that water downward. Make sure that this interdependent system works properly which your licensed contractor can assess. If your system needs repairs, they can recommend and install solutions.

Tip 7: Install waterproof flooring at or below grade

If your home’s lowest level is on-grade or is below-grade (as in a basement), avoid installing carpet, solid hardwood, or engineered wood flooring. As long as that level remains dry, you are fine. But should that level become inundated with water, the best response is to remove the flooring.

Hard-surface, 100-percent waterproof flooring stands a good chance for successful cleanup. Consider installing ceramic or porcelain tile, resilient plank, sheet, or tile floor.

Using these ways to protect your home from flooding will provide peace-of-mind. Understanding your options based on your budget and the type of home you have is a good start.

Set your calendar and your budget, here are the starting costs for renovating your home in Houston.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.



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Older Home Renovations in Boston On a Budget


How to take on older home renovations in Boston (on a budget) for energy efficiency and function

Boston old house remodel

With a 250-year-old history, the Boston housing stock is flush in centuries-old buildings. Here, Colonial, Federal, and Victorian styles are among the many that enrich the residential landscape. While many exteriors tend to be well-preserved, interiors commonly need to be updated.

Sweeten offers an outline on what to know before starting older home renovations in Boston (plus, which rooms get the most bang for the buck!) Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Upgrading electrical in Boston homes

What makes us comfortable in our homes? What will most improve the layout and/or function? Before you start with the obvious, consider what’s not visible, but is still very impactful. 

No matter what the scope of your remodeling is—the whole house or just a kitchen and/or baths—electrical service may need a boost. One 100 amp circuit box may not be enough. For a 2,000-square-foot home, 200 amps are optimal. It’s better to go bigger, allowing for add-ons in the future, since it’s more cost-effective. A professional electrical audit helps determine what needs upgrading (like adding GCFIs where there is water, in kitchens, baths, laundry rooms, for example).

Older home renovation “Must”: Bring the HVAC up to speed

Depending on the age of the heating and cooling systems, you may want to replace units for more efficiency. Newer systems have been designed to work better. Sizing is calculated according to square footage; sometimes two or more furnaces and air conditioners are needed. Make sure ducts are insulated. Zoning spaces also is smart, so that you can shut down areas of the house that may not be used all the time. 

Note that AC units manufactured before 2010 contain Freon. That R-22 material has been banned by the EPA (as of this year) because it’s ozone-depleting. It’s still available, but much more costly. Eventually, those air conditioners will need to be retrofitted for a new refrigerant or replaced as supplies run out. 

Hot water heaters generally have a shelf life of seven years. If you need to replace one, consider high-efficiency tankless heaters. They supply hot water on demand.

Improve window efficiency

Even the best HVAC system won’t work optimally if you have leaky windows. Single-pane glass common in older homes often is a source of heat loss. Consider replacing windows with Energy Star-qualified ones. Options include all-wood, vinyl, aluminum-clad with wood inside, and fiberglass. 

Features to look for:

• Low-E, or Low-Emissivity, with metallic coatings that allow windows to reflect rather than absorb heat

• Double or triple panes

• Gas-filled (argon or krypton gas) between glazed layers to improve heat insulation and slow heat transfer

How to preserve the best elements of your older Boston home

One blessing of older homes is inheriting original features. Hardwood floors, crown moldings, and wood built-ins add warmth and character. If the materials are generally in good shape, it’s best to restore. Even if repairs are in order, costs usually are far less than replacement. Lifting up wall-to-wall carpeting may reveal intact hardwood. Sand out tack holes and refinish the floors. Yellowed boards can also be fixed with sanding. Stain, or leave the floors natural, topped with non-yellowing polyurethane. And relocating a built-in can save thousands of dollars. It’s possible, for example, to repurpose a kitchen cabinet as a linen closet.

Make a master plan

Once you’ve brought electrical and mechanicals up-to-date, you’re ready to dive into room remodels. Create a wish list in order of your “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves.” Sweeten gets you started with a renovation cost guide for the interiors in Boston here. One way to keep the costs down is to maintain the existing floor plan. Add about 10 percent more to your final budget for contingencies. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of permits and dumpsters. 

The kitchen: the hub of the historic (and modern) home

For most, remodeling the kitchen is the biggest game-changer. It’s at the core of today’s living—no matter what your lifestyle. For those who love entertaining, it’s even more pivotal. 

The price tag for a kitchen remodel, of course, is affected by materials and appliance choices. You may want to splurge on a dual fuel range and choose a more modest dishwasher or refrigerator. Once you start comparing prices, you can play the balancing act. Decide what’s most important for your lifestyle. Ultimately, there are a few key kitchen renovations you can do (on a budget!) for an older home in Boston.

In a minimal remodel, it’s more cost-efficient to keep the plumbing in place. Re-piping or relocating pipes for remodeling adds between $5,400 and $7,000 (based on 1,500 square feet). Amping up the supply line from the main sewer to your home will assure a good flow of water throughout the home. If your water pressure needs help, ask your contractor whether a booster might work. Obviously, an overall kitchen and bath plan for plumbing is ideal. Also be sure plumbers check for lead in pipes, valves, or faucets.

If the cabinets are in good shape, they may be candidates for a new stain or paint. Replacing the fronts with simple shaker-style wood panels is an easy facelift. New hardware also can raise the style quotient. For some, storage may be an issue. Reconfiguring interiors with slide-out shelves or adding deep drawers for cookware are one answer. 

Adding or extending an island also may improve its efficiency. The additional surface extends prep and eating space. Then, you can build in more storage below it. 

Create a functional layout for your older home

Floor plans in older homes may not work for today. Some are too small or have chopped up rooms. An addition may not be in your budget, but it may be possible to borrow space. Look at closets, small rooms, hallways, even a sunroom or porch. There may be enough space for a breakfast room. Creating a new layout may even net a family or a bedroom.

A powder room on the first floor is a must-have today. It also can provide a canvas for instant style. Since it doesn’t require a large footprint, you probably can find the square footage. Some have even tucked powder rooms under back stairs. Without a shower or tub, a powder room is less expensive than a bath. So you might feel more comfortable splurging on some materials.

Refreshing a master bath

A spa bath may be on your wish list but not in your budget. Still, there’s a lot you can do to get a more modern look. Replace the fixtures. Get a new vanity. Install light sconces as well as an overhead chandelier. You can give it all a luxury look with porcelain tile instead of marble or limestone. There are so many stone lookalikes at a fraction of the cost. A mid-range bath remodel recoups close to 59 percent of the job cost.

Even modest renovations to an older Boston home can be transformative! You’ll certainly realize there’s an upside: the more you live in your home, the more you’ll see its full potential with future renovation projects.

Doing renovations to an older home—in Boston or beyond—is crucial for protecting it from the winter cold from pipes and roof to masonry.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.



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Remodeling a Garage into Living Space in Nashville


How to remodel your garage into living space, a rental studio, or even a gym

garage remodel nashville

If you are like many homeowners, you may be looking in all directions to increase living space. Looking upward means building a second story. Looking toward the back translates to a house addition. But one direction that is often overlooked is to the side or front: the garage. Sweeten outlines how a garage remodel in Nashville could be your solution amid several home addition options. 

Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Types of garage remodels

  • Living rooms or family rooms

Garages are often remodeled to provide supplemental living or family room space. The garage is insulated, wired, painted, and flooring is installed. Sometimes, a small powder room, with only a toilet and sink, is added. The powder room eliminates trips to the main part of the house.

  • Living quarters for renters

Some homeowners choose to install a self-contained apartment for renters. This arrangement can give the homeowner a source of passive income. Over the long term, it may defray the cost of the garage remodel. 

Living quarters typically include a bedroom, full bathroom, and a kitchen. A lockable pass-through to the main part of the home is usually included. With this, homeowners can lock the door on their side to prevent the renters from entering. Most remodels of this nature include a separate exterior door so that renters can enter their apartment without going through the main house.

  • Living quarters for self or family

Garages are often remodeled to provide living quarters for elderly parents, friends, or children. In many cases, this apartment has the same facilities as does an apartment for renters. 

  • Dedicated entertainment or work area

Your garage remodel may create a single room or multiple rooms for a specific purpose. The remodeled garage may become an entertainment room, home movie theater, gym, office, workshop, or studio.

Garage remodel costs in Nashville

Garage remodel permits alone can cost $1,000 to $1,500. For a simple living-room space that does not include plumbing, the cost will begin in the $10,000 to $20,000 range. Most of this cost is devoted to outfitting the space with a floor and filling in the garage door.

More often, though, garage remodels intended as living quarters begin at $20,000 and rise sharply.

Garage remodel process and timeline

  1. Before you speak to a contractor, decide on the primary function for the remodel. A basic family or living room can be a relatively simple project since plumbing may not be involved. A full-scale rental apartment will be more expensive and will take several weeks or months.
  2. After you’ve received multiple estimates and chosen your contractor, discuss if any Nashville overlay and zoning issues need to be considered.
  3. You will meet with the contractor and an architect. The architect will draw up plans. The contractor applies for permits.
  4. After a roll-off dumpster is delivered to the property, workers demolish parts of the interior of the garage. The garage door is removed.
  5. Carpenters fill in the empty space where the garage door was located. Usually, this will be an exterior wall system, complete with insulation and perhaps even windows.
  6. Depending on the plan, workers may need to frame the floor with joists. This will raise the floor to the height of the main house’s floor.
  7. With the walls open, electricians and plumbers run wire and pipes through the walls.
  8. Carpenters frame the interior walls and the ceiling.
  9. Workers add a heating and cooling system.
  10. Drywall installers hang and finish the drywall.
  11. Floor installers add the floor covering of your choice on top of the subfloor.
  12. A painting team will paint the inside of the garage remodel. They will also paint areas outside of the garage, in front.
  13. Plumbers finish installing bathroom fixtures. Electricians complete the rest of the wiring.

How a garage remodel affects house value

One important consideration before starting a garage remodel is whether it will increase the value of your home.

If you are considering a garage remodel in Nashville, you might be thinking of immediate, personal needs. Your family may be increasing in size. Or you may have elderly parents who need housing. In either case, remodeling your garage may represent a lower net financial cost than building a separate structure or buying a new house.

On the other hand, if you do intend to eventually sell your home, consider how the garage remodel will affect your home’s value. Potential home buyers may view the lack of vehicle storage as a deficit. Other buyers may welcome the extra space.

Permits and restrictions

The City of Nashville requires a building permit for any new building or a modification of an existing structure. You must also have permits for individual tradework, such as for electrical, plumbing, or HVAC work. 

Nashville is a city of many historic structures. The Nashville Metropolitan Historic Zoning Commission (MHZC) was formed to protect Nashville’s architectural styles and character. If your home is located in a historic preservation and historic landmark overlay, you must apply for a Preservation Permit.

MHZC permit applications require a full set of plans, elevations, photos, and more. After you submit the permit application, the MHZC will meet to consider your project. After a permit is approved, you must stick to the conditions of the permit. For example, the MHZC will impose penalties or injunctions if the garage siding does not match that of the rest of the house.

In Nashville and Davidson County, neighborhood leaders and government officials take a close look at Airbnb-type rentals. These types of rentals are called Short Term Rental Properties (STRPs). The Metro Codes Department must approve of your rental property before you list it as an STRP (but not before you build it).

Heat and cool your garage remodel in Nashville

With Nashville’s extremes of heat and cold, you should add a heating or cooling system to your garage remodel. Generally, there are three options:

  1. Continue with the main house’s HVAC system. Workers continue the ductwork from the main house into the garage. The main house’s HVAC system must be adequate to handle the increased loads. This option works well when remodeling a garage for a living or family room: one that will flow seamlessly from the main house.
  2. Install a separate HVAC system. This is the best option when remodeling a garage as living quarters. It is also the costliest option.
  3. The lowest cost installation option is heating in the form of baseboard or wall heaters. For cooling, install one or more window or wall unit air conditioners. Installation is less expensive but the cost of service is higher. This is because baseboard heaters, wall heaters, and window unit A/Cs are less efficient than HVAC systems.

Where to park your vehicles

When reviewing permit applications for garage remodels in Nashville, the city will want to know where the displaced vehicles will go. Like most large cities, Nashville wants to reduce the number of cars that are street-parked.

If you have a paved driveway, the solution can be as simple as moving the cars to the driveway instead of in the garage. This is the lowest cost solution, though your vehicles will be left out in the open.

If you have ample room in the front of your property, you may wish to build a carport or even a new garage. This will completely or partially protect the vehicles. It also may appeal to future buyers. Zoning issues may come into play since a 20-foot setback in front must be maintained. 

A garage remodel is a lower-cost alternative to building an addition but it is not low-cost. Think of a garage remodel as an investment in your home’s value and in your happiness.

Renovating in Nashville? Here’s a home remodeling cost guide for this city to get your budget in order.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.



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