Is Your Home Working for You?

How to check in on your home and plan for projects in the coming year
BY Maida Korte TIMEJanuary 2, 2022 PRINT

We ask a lot of our homes. We ask them to function crisply, to store all of our stuff neatly and with precision, to give us shelter, warmth, water, and electricity, and to provide us with special places to eat, bathe, sleep, and enjoy peace and quiet. They’re also the central hubs for our family celebrations, and we have perhaps asked even more of them this past year than in previous years. We’re hungry for human contact, and what better place to be than our own homes, inviting loved ones to join us?

Now, how is your home doing? Is your flooring looking tired? Is your water pressure good and proper? Are your appliances functioning well? Are you warm in the winter and cool in the summer? We can do our homes—and ourselves—a favor by taking a few moments to assess just what they’re saying to us and if—and how—we should plan for projects as the New Year dawns.

How to Approach House Projects

Many years ago, my husband and I bought an old home that was built in 1903. We were dazzled with romantic notions of remodeling. We dreamed of the experiences we would have in this house: grandchildren running on the large wrap-around front porch, the third-floor attic where performances would be watched, and the comfortable furniture where peaceful conversations would bloom in every room.

What we didn’t see were the sewage pipes about to burst in the front yard, the heat escaping from every square inch of the house, the ceilings about to cave in from hidden water problems, and the collapsing porch roof that we were alerted to far too late—by the screams of our daughters as the porch swing they were sitting on fell suddenly to the ground.

Andy and I had no excuse for this head-first plunge into an older home. We knew better. We work in the construction industry, and yet we spent a year wandering with glazed eyes through our home wondering what to do first. It wasn’t until we took a practical and unemotional approach to the needs of the house that we were able to accomplish a multitude of tasks.

We would ultimately put down roots in this country house for longer than anywhere else we had lived. Learn from our mistakes to skip over your own and go right to the solutions by following these four guidelines.

Address necessary repairs as soon as possible to save yourself time and expense in the future. (TA BLUE Capture/Shutterstock)

Step 1: If Something Is Broken, Fix It

It sounds so elementary! Well, it can be and it should be, but sometimes the fix is complicated, so we shove it down the road into the land of deferred maintenance. Have you ever fixed a leaky roof with the Band-Aid approach for years, and now the small water stain has become a major problem? What can start out as an inexpensive repair will become complicated and extensive if kicked down the road.

Take a good long look at anything in your home that needs to be fixed and allow yourself time to bring in several experts to give quotes for the repairs. Confirm work warranties and approve all construction and finish selections prior to approving a bid. Make sure you’re shown what must be done and ask questions if you don’t understand. By understanding what the problem is, you’ll be able to understand the proposed solution and the price tag attached. Assess any problems now, and you’ll save yourself time and expense in the future.

Step 2: Determine What Just Isn’t Working

Do you have to open a door to the bathroom, step around the toilet, back up, and turn around to be able to close the door? Do you have to close the dishwasher in order to open the oven? Are light switches in impossible locations? Is your entryway littered with backpacks and shoes you trip over every night? Discover what isn’t working and tackle these areas first.

Your home needs to work for you, and it doesn’t have to be large and expansive—or expensive—to do so. If something annoys you about your home, put it on the list. Finding solutions to areas of nonfunction can be fun and exciting once you know what you want.

Start smaller with your dreams, and design and build them on paper first. (Kostiantyn Voitenko/Shutterstock)

Step 3: Plan Solutions Based on Your Budget

Oh! You don’t have one? Well, then figuring it out is step one. Don’t go blindly into your project without knowing what you’re able to spend. And whatever this maximum number is, subtract 15 percent from it as the “Oh, I forgot about that” allowance to get your real budget. This knowledge will actually help you do a better job because you’ll be more specific in your selections and more realistic in your approach.

Simply moving appliances to different locations can allow for better function if a complete remodel isn’t possible. Changing the swing of a door can help with traffic if your budget doesn’t allow for a complete redo. Storage for backpacks? A row of wall hooks mounted on an interesting board can solve that.

Step 4: Start Small, Then Build Up to a Larger Project

Dreaming big is fun, but it can have its perils. I’ve seen this situation multiple times: A client dreams of a large, expansive project that’s out of budget and scope, only for those dreams to be dashed and replaced with disappointment as they’re forced to size their project down. Instead, start smaller with your dreams, and design and build them on paper first. Then you can expand them upward and outward, proceeding with care as you move from paper to the reality of a proper plan.

Before you start dreaming of a room addition, a new kitchen with an open floor plan, or a basement rehaul, see what can be done with the existing footprint of your home. From there, decide whether a big addition is essential—and affordable. You’ll make wiser decisions if you review your project from all angles prior to finalizing your scope.

Work through the big three questions: Does this fix a problem? Does this expand function? Can we afford it?

If you follow these guidelines, they’ll become guideposts lighting your path as you enter 2022 with dreams for both yourself and your home.

Maida Korte
Maida Korte has been an independent interior designer for over 30 years. She has four daughters and seven grandchildren who form her launch and landing. She lives near Chicago with her husband. Follow her musings on family, friends, and all the elements of what we call life at MaidaKorte.blog
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