What is the Point of Home Improvement?

What is the Point of Home Improvement?

My office never schedules official coffee huddles in the morning, but they happen anyway. People just seem to gather to converse. Sometimes it includes formal business, but a lot of the time, it’s who did what on the weekend, a breakdown of what worked and what didn’t for the latest episode of Game of Thrones, and the number of days left until football starts again.

As you can imagine, those discussions can get contentious. But nowhere near as contentious as things can get when you start talking about home improvement.

People run the gamut. There are the guys who are practically homesteaders, with their full gardens and home-built tables, who are great for comparing build ideas with and if we need a particular tool, I know who to borrow it from. And then there are the rest of them. The “my wife wants me to {insert task to complain about}” crew. The “my house is perfectly fine” crew. The “what is the point of all these projects?” crew.

Every once in a while, for all the work we do, I ask myself the same question.

What is the point of all this home improvement we keep doing?

Fortunately, there are some pretty good reasons for doing home improvement, at least as far as we see it. And better yet, they involve some considerations that help us decide whether the home improvement project we’re considering is worth it!

So here’s the point of our home improvement.

1. Increasing home value.

This is usually first and foremost in our minds when Scott and I start figuring out what projects we want to take on in our houses. We prioritize the things that are going to add value to our home when it comes time to sell.

But what if we don’t sell? What if we end up staying here for way longer than we anticipated? That’s just fine, and that won’t change how we prioritize. Choosing the home improvement projects that will increase our house’s value always ensure that if something comes up, and we do need to sell, we won’t be dumping a lot of unneeded money into the house to get it ready.

So what adds the most value to a house? Most people are quick to rattle off kitchen and bathroom upgrades, and while those can increase your sales price, they’re often expensive. That means you won’t net as much of a return as you might if you keep these things in mind.

  • Create more space. Anything that improves the flow through the house and makes it feel like you’ve got more room is a win. Expand doorways, knock down that non-load-bearing wall, even take out that bulky kitchen island if you have enough storage in other parts of your kitchen. And creating more storage to clear out busy places like kitchen counters also contributes to the feel of more space.
  • Let the light shine in. No one wants a dark house. It just feels cramped and grim. Introduce as much natural light into the house as you can by adding or enlarging windows, installing sun tubes or skylights, and brightening paint schemes. If you can’t get the natural light in, use true daylight LED lights to get as close as you can. I can’t say enough about these!
  • Strong foundations. If there is anything, anything, wrong with the foundation of the house or the floors, it just won’t sell. Make sure your foundation is strong and in good repair. And then see to your floors. The average person is not going to walk into your house like they’re on HGTV and talk about how easy it is to rip all that flooring out and put in new hardwoods. They’re spending a lot of money on a house, and they want the floors in good repair. And those that don’t mind ripping out flooring? Well, they’re probably going to buy something in a lot worse shape – and for a much lower cost – than your house.
  • Go green. If you’ve got to replace something, go with an energy efficient option. That more efficient HVAC system or washing machine will not only look shiny and new to a buyer, but comes with an added savings of 40% or better on their utility bills. A savvy buyer will definitely appreciate that perk as they’re thinking about furnishing and decorating their new house.
  • Start with the front door. This is where you make your first impression. Does your doorbell work? Does your front step creak? Are there visible signs of damage? If so, you’re going to start losing buyers’ interest right there and have to work doubly hard to get it back with your inside upgrades. Think front porches and back decks when you’re contemplating upgrades.
  • Upgrade that bathroom and kitchen – carefully. You can sink a lot of money into a house when you’re upgrading the bathroom and kitchen. If it’s already functional but just looks a little dated or needs some love, there are some pretty basic projects you can do to make it look like it’s been renovated. Aside from just plain cleaning it, including the grout, you can reface cabinets, replace hardware and faucets, frame a new mirror, update dated looking fixtures, and even just get a new coat of paint and bit of caulk down for a newer look.

I’ve explained these considerations to friends who are working on upgrading their homes and they ask why I don’t consider the return of investment on the materials. If they put marble floors in, shouldn’t they get to charge marble floor prices?

Well…not always. A lot of home improvement involves doing your research and seeing what the neighborhood you’re in will tolerate. If you’re in a neighborhood where the houses typically top out between $400,000 and $420,000, that’s what your market will tolerate. Don’t buy a house in that neighborhood for $380,000 and think you can make a profit on your renovations. You won’t. You’ll cover your real estate commission on a sale and that’s about it.

At some point, I’ll do a whole separate post on how Scott and I have figured potential profits on the houses we’ve purchased, and how we do the math on what we can and should invest in our homes. We don’t have it all figured out, but we’ve been doing pretty well so far, and that’s allowed us to keep upgrading!

Okay, so there’s home value. What else should we consider when making improvements?

2. Improving room function.

We choose home improvement projects based more on design than just decor. Decorating is great and has its place, but it racks behind design in the priority list where I’m concerned. Because when it comes to design, you’re not just considering where to put that color paint and where to artfully stack that pile of books.

Instead, you’re considering the structure and flow of the room and its function. Ergonomics. Industrial psychology and organizational psychology in some places. Movement, where people travel naturally, where they like to gather. Add to that the purpose of the room. Is the room successfully serving that purpose as it’s currently designed?

Here’s what we think about when we’re trying to improve room function:

  • Fit to Function. Does the room do what it was actually designed to do? That sounds very simple at first. A closet is for storing things, a bathroom is for washing up. But can you do that efficiently? Your closet could store more things or display them in a way that makes it easier for you to find what you’re looking for. Likewise, a bathroom could give you more room to wash and more niches or shelves in the shower to keep shampoo both at hand and out of your way.
  • Create More Storage. I haven’t met a room yet that couldn’t benefit from a more efficient way to hide the things you want to put in it, whether it’s shelves or cabinets, a window seat that lifts up to hide extra pillows and blankets, or an extra basket or two to keep things organized.
  • Create More Space. This actually goes hand in hand with all the other items. You want to be able to move in your space and do the things you like doing at home. You don’t want to be surrounded and overwhelmed by clutter. So whatever you can do to give yourself more room to breathe and room to be will make you happy.
  • Fix the Flow. Since we’re speaking about movement, think about the movement of people through the room. From the concept of the triangle in the kitchen to figuring out where people need to walk or where you want them to gather in the living room, build your room around where you’ll move and where you’ll rest.

I’d give you the kitchen as an example, because as a devoted home cook, that’s usually the first room in the house I want to totally gut and rebuild in my dream image. But that’s too easy. Instead, let’s take the living room. Where are the natural entrances and exits, and where do people need to walk? Where do you want them to gather, in a large central area or in chat groups? Where will they put their drinks, where is the nearest bathroom, is there enough comfortable space to sit or stand that’s in the right amount of light but not too much? Is there enough storage to hide the games you might want to break out during small gatherings that you don’t want in the way at a football party?

There’s a lot of balance that goes into figuring out the right function for the room. Then, the business of design is all about figuring out how to improve that function with changes to structure, to seating, to storage, and to other features of the room.

Image via Sand & Sisal

3. Setting your home stage.

When people complain that they don’t need their house to look like an interior designer has been there, I ask them how distracting a bad movie set can be. When it comes down to it, form is just as important as value and function. It sets the mood for the room, and often sets your mood.

Do you want to feel restful and relaxed when you retreat to your bedroom? Think about cool blue walls and crisp white sheets and the gentle breeze of an open window or an overhead fan. I’ve told you nothing else about the room, how it’s furnished or how big or small it is, and those little details probably already relaxed you a little bit.

Decorating isn’t about artfully throwing lots of pillows, blankets, and tchotchkes about. It’s about creating moods and stories for your space that allow it to feel like your home should feel. Okay, maybe you might need a few tchotchkes for that.

4. A fun and rewarding hobby.

Not all home improvement has to be full of purpose and value. Sometimes people just like making things. Scott and I are those people. We like breaking out the tools, sketching designs, figuring out angles, and building things or sewing things or painting things or planting things.

It’s just a nice bonus that the things we like building and making can serve a lot of functions, from helping to capture memories of the trip where we learned how to do them to making our home more functional, more livable, or just plain prettier.


So that’s what we say when people ask what the whole purpose of home improvement is. What would you tell them?