Questions to get your home-improvement project off to the right start

The economy’s doing well, you got the raise you’ve been hoping for, investments are returning slightly more than they have for a while, and you’ve got some spare dollars heading into the spring.
How about a home improvement project?
But before you get started, set aside some time to really plan the project.
What to choose, why to choose it and when you get started are important considerations with any improvement project, so before picking up the shovel or heading off to the hardware store, ask yourself a few basic questions.
— Addison Independent staff
ADDISON COUNTY — What is the goal of the project?
Are you simply working to improve your living experience and enjoy your space more, or are you doing the project to guarantee a financial return, or is it somewhere in between?
Certain home improvement projects (like bathroom projects or a coat of fresh paint) can immediately increase the sale value of a home and could be great projects to choose if you’re considering selling or flipping a house. If your primary goal is to increase the resale value of your home, then consider talking to a real estate professional prior to embarking on a home improvement project. Realtors can help assess your home and advise on what upgrades could be made to increase its value.
Other projects, like insulation upgrades, roofing, landscaping or window replacements have a much longer payback, but could significantly upgrade the quality and comfort of the space.
Scheduling a home energy audit can help identify the primary sources of inefficiency in your home, helping prioritize the areas to upgrade and what the value of each could be.
Once you have clearly identified your goal, you can determine the most efficient way to meet it and therefore save time and money in the process.
Do you need external expertise?
Are your skills sufficient to complete the project at hand? Sure, you can probably replace a toilet yourself, but does your new toilet require a change in your plumbing system? If so, scheduling a plumber to assist you in the job ahead of time can save you from a last-minute emergency call when you can’t afford to shop around.
Similarly, many do-it-yourselfers spend a lot of time planning, buying materials at retail rates, attempting and ultimately failing to complete projects that they could have hired a contractor or other professional to do for a fraction of the time and at a similar cost.
Design professionals can help you maximize your benefits while minimizing cost and scope of your project. Building professionals help ensure skilled jobs are completed accurately and can significantly increase the effectiveness of the work. Even paying a small fee to consult with a professional prior to starting a home improvement project can be beneficial to get you on the right track and make sure you have considered all the potential obstacles.
Some projects are great to tackle yourself and simple home improvement projects are a great way to familiarize yourself with how the systems of your home function, but it’s easy to get overly ambitious with what you can take on yourself and it’s not always the smartest (or cheapest) option.
How do you set a budget (and stick to it)?
Setting a budget for a home improvement project is challenging. Professionals in the design and construction industry call it “scope creep,” referring to that all-too-common experience of a project that starts out small and snowballs until all of a sudden you’re in way over your head.
Having clearly defined parameters and goals for a project is the best way to start. For example, let’s say you’re planning to start raising backyard chickens and need to plan for how to build them a shelter and space to roam. Start out by defining how many chickens you want/need. Clearly, if you have three laying chickens, your needs are much different then if you have 20 chickens and a rooster.  Next, figure out how much space each chicken requires and what those needs are when spaces are shared.
Once you define your needs, then you can set a budget. That budget can be compared to the money you have to spend on the project and from there you can add on features and additions that you want to be included.
If your project is undefined from the beginning (let’s say you don’t know how many chickens you’re going to have), it’s easy to over-buy on materials, spend a lot of costly time on problem-solving and impromptu decision making, and regret rash decisions that were made.
What is a realistic timeline for your project?
Home improvement projects notoriously take longer than you’d expect they would. Whether you’re building a new garden bed or repainting a bathroom, there are always more hours and more trips to the home or garden store than you think there should be. Setting realistic expectations for how long a project will take is one of the hardest tasks.
But a timeline that’s set at the beginning of a project can help you avoid scope creep and stay on track with your project.
First, consider your needs. Do you need the project to be completed by a certain time? If you’re building a new garden bed, for instance, you need to have the project completed in time to plant the seeds and leave them enough time to grow. These time constraints can help you figure out what you could do and what you couldn’t do within that time.
Of course, if you’re hiring a contractor or other workers for your project, ask these professionals to help with the schedule and use their knowledge to build your timeline around theirs.
Always keep in mind that the scope of many home improvement projects does grow despite all of these efforts to keep it controlled. Having a contingency fund (both in dollars and time) built into the project is a good idea so you can accommodate unforeseen challenges or legitimate expansions upon the project.
Sometimes it doesn’t become apparent until you’re in the middle of replacing a window that this would be the perfect opportunity to reinsulate the wall. If you have a contingency fund that can enable some of these decisions to be made, it can save you money in the long run.

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