6 Boring but Important Home Improvements You Can Make
One thing most people don’t tell new homeowners about home improvements is that most of them are pretty boring.
People love seeing a renovated kitchen or bathroom. If you put on a new roof or give your home a fresh coat of paint, you will look at it with pride and think that it was probably worth every considerable dollar that you spent.
Then there are other home improvements that you’ll likely never show off on social media and will be a financial pain in the neck. But chances are you'll have to do them or find yourself full of regret later.
It’s usually obvious when a bathroom can use remodeling. Many of the most boring home improvements aren’t so apparent until something goes wrong.
Here are six of the most boring but important home improvements you’ll eventually need to tackle.
1. Proper Grading
This is also sometimes called positive grading. “I can't tell you the number of homes we've seen with water damage that would've been fine if the owners had paid attention to this,” says Bethany Stalder, a real estate agent with Fidelis Property Group at Keller Williams in Alexandria, Virginia.
“Proper grading simply means that the soil around your home slopes slightly downward away from the house,” Stalder says. “If it's sloping towards the house, water will sit there over time and cause issues. The issues could be as simple as water leaking into your home, and as serious as foundation damage if the problem is neglected for a long time.”
How to fix it: “You can talk with a landscaper about regrading your home if it's needed, or if you're willing to do the labor, you can also tackle this yourself and only pay for the cost of the soil,” Stalder says.
If your home needs updating but you aren't sure where to start, consider having a professional assess your insulation.
As home improvements go, Stalder concedes, “This is super boring since we typically don't even see our insulation, but it can have a huge impact on your enjoyment of the home and your energy costs.”
A house with worn insulation can’t maintain its temperatures effectively, meaning you may be hotter in the summer and colder in the winter, while spending extra on air conditioning and heat to stay comfortable.
How to fix it: This is another good time to bring in a professional. “Have a roofer inspect the condition of your attic insulation so that you can see if you'd benefit from having it replaced,” Stadler advises. She says roof insulation typically costs $1 to $2 per square foot. You may spend a few thousand dollars or more, but you’ll save on utility costs down the road.
3. Electrical Wiring
Here’s a home improvement that's even more sad and boring than insulation (You can brag about energy savings with insulation.).
Everyone expects your home to have a decent electrical system; but not every home does.
“Older homes may have outdated electrical systems that cannot handle the demands of modern appliances and electronics, posing potential fire hazards,” says Austin Fain, owner of Perfect Steel Solutions, a roofing contractor in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Upgrading the electrical panel, wiring and outlets can ensure a safer and more efficient electrical system, Fain says.
How to fix it: You will want to hire an electrician. “The cost of electrical upgrades can vary significantly based on the size of the home, the complexity of the project and the need for additional wiring," Fain says. "It typically ranges from $1,000 to $5,000 or more.”
Fain sees a lot of homes in need of home improvements and says gutter cleaning and maintenance or full gutter replacement is a good project to tackle, even if it has low visibility and wow factor.
“Keeping your gutters clean and in good repair may seem mundane, but it's crucial for preventing water damage to your home's foundation and roof,” Fain says.
Kyle Leman, a contractor who co-owns Crossroads Foundation Repair in Lafayette, Indiana, also targets gutter projects.
If you don’t clean or repair your gutters, that can lead to clogs, Leman says, causing water to overflow and infiltrate your home. In extreme cases, it can even lead to soil erosion around the foundation.
If that happens, you’ll want to circle back to the top of this article and look at improving your grading.
How to fix it: If you’re not one for ladders and heights, call one of the many professional gutter cleaning services.
“The cost for professional gutter cleaning typically ranges from $100 to $300,” Fain says.
If you want to install gutter guards, which should keep the leaves and anything else out of the gutters, it can cost between $500 to $2,500, depending on the complexity of the job, Leman says.
5. Exterior Vents
Not every home improvement will cost a fortune. Many homes have exterior vents, which help with air flow and to control humidity. The laundry room is a popular spot for them, but they can be on various walls and the roof. They probably have screens on them to keep out pests.
The key word is “probably.” Your exterior vents may not have screens, and that could be a problem.
Making sure you have screens on the exterior vents can cost from $10 to $100.
How to fix it: Spend a little time in the great outdoors. This is a good do-it-yourself project.
“At least once a quarter, you should walk around the outside of your home and check for any damaged siding, missing mortar or other gaps that need to be shored up,” Stalder says.
If there’s a problem on a higher level of your home, or you simply aren't a do-it-yourselfer, you may need to hire a contractor.
6. Smoke Detectors and Carbon Monoxide Alarms
Make sure you have them and make sure they are in working order. The main reason for nonworking detectors and alarms is missing or dead batteries. If they aren't working, they can't alert you to potentially life-threatening situations.
“Regular maintenance of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms may not seem like a significant improvement, but it's crucial for safety,” Leman says.
How to fix it: Replace batteries for around $10. If you need to replace the detector itself, you can find dependable versions for around $30. Check with your local community or state resources; sometimes local fire departments will provide and/or install your smoke detectors.
Boring Home Improvement Projects Add Value
The moment you move into a new home, it's a good idea to start putting money into a high-yield savings account every month and call it a home improvement fund. There will always be a use for this budget.
Fortunately, many improvements are not going to cost thousands of dollars, says Michael Shapot, a licensed associate real estate broker with Keller Williams in New York City.
Shapot says homeowners can make their homes look better and add value by focusing on those simple repairs: “The drippy faucet. The smudged front door. The window that doesn't open or close properly. The closet door that is off track.”
Still, simple or not, the costs can add up. A window that doesn't open or close properly could lead to replacing multiple windows.
But even if it's a minor fix that doesn't bother you, it's important to address before you think about selling your home.
“These very minor details raise a red flag that there may also be other items of deferred maintenance, or other things of much greater significance that are not being addressed,” Shapot says.
He gave an example of a recent client who wanted to sell a home with a small water stain on a bedroom ceiling.
“There had been a leak that was repaired long ago, but the ceiling was never repainted," Shapot says. "Almost every buyer who visited the property raised the leak as a concern despite assurances that the underlying problem was resolved.”
After the seller painted the ceiling, the home sold quickly, he said. “The devil is in the details,” Shapot says.
Repairing and maintaining minor or yawn-inducing issues can have a big impact on enjoyment of the home and knowing that it's adding value and attraction well before a potential sale.