Conventional wisdom, as it relates to houses, is often too much convention and not enough wisdom.

Every year, somebody publishes a list of which conventional home improvements will give you the best (or the worst) return on your remodeling investment.

Remodel a bathroom. Replace your siding. Don’t build a swimming pool. Paint everything neutral colors.

Sit up straight. Get a haircut. Call your mother.

If return on investment (ROI) is why you bought a home, or why  you’re remodeling one, you can stop reading now. Because the rest of  this article isn’t for you.

Three, two, one … still here?

You invest in your home to improve livability first, not value. If  you get more value in the process, consider it a bonus, but don’t make  ROI your prime directive.

Otherwise, you’ll end up like the potential client who came into my  office a few years ago with a three-page, single-spaced typewritten (as  in made with a “typewriter”) list of things he wanted in his house.

His list included this line: “A large dining room, near the kitchen.  Although we don’t need or want a dining room.” Why would he want to  build a room he didn’t need?

Because he’s thinking of things to make the house valuable, instead of things to make it livable.

So let me rephrase the remodeling-ROI question this way: What are  some cost-effective ways to improve the livability of your house?

Here’s my short list:

1. Walk-in pantry instead of kitchen cabinets

Kitchen cabinets are expensive. Half of them are up high on the wall  where they’re hard to reach, and the wall space they take up could be  better used for windows. A pantry takes up less space, stores a lot  more, is much easier to use, and costs less to build.

2. Comfortable shower instead of big bathtub

My firm does a lot of work in late-’70s/early-’80s neighborhoods that  are loaded with huge tubs. We’re taking them all out, one at a time, and  replacing them with comfortably sized showers (not the  racquetball court-sized ones you see in home shows) that people actually  use every day.

A shower takes up less space, uses less hot water, and is far more sanitary than a big tub.

3. Group windows together facing best views instead of scattering them around the house

Got a great view somewhere? Bring it into the house with lots of  glass. Take excess windows from bedrooms and bathrooms and use them to  connect the inside of the house with the outside.

We once remodeled a house on the coast of Lake Erie that had one  window — one — facing the lake. Hey, pal, did you notice you have one of the Great Lakes in  your backyard?

4. Keep ceiling heights reasonable for the room size

“Volume” ceilings do not automatically make better rooms. They just  make taller rooms, rooms that are harder to decorate and more expensive  to heat and cool.

Instead, focus attention on a view, a large fireplace  or other element — and away from the ceiling height. Use wall trim and  multiple paint colors to break up the volume of the room and create the  illusion of height.

5. Spend more time planning, and less money building

I toured a client’s existing home before we began designing the new  one. “Of course,” she said as we peeked in on the kids’ rooms, “These bedrooms are way too small.”

“Really?” I thought. The smallest was  probably 14 feet by 15 feet. But each bedroom had at least one door or one window  on each wall.

Pretty, but the design left little room for furniture.

I suggested we more carefully design the new bedrooms, keeping the  furniture placement in mind. In the end, we were able to easily  accommodate each child’s bedroom furniture comfortably in smaller  bedrooms than what they’d had before.

6. Consider the simple elegance of the box-form house

Subtlety and restraint used to be virtues in home design. These days,  far too often, inexperienced designers attempt to attract attention to  their homes by adding more stuff: more gables, more materials, more  bay windows, etc. Others know that proper proportion, scale and details are  what turn heads.

The simple box-house is a classic American form that’s survived 150  years of stylistic changes. Greek Revival, American Four-Square,  Tidewater Georgian … all simple boxes. Great proportions, great  details … done.

And here’s a bonus: The box-form is easier and cheaper to build, and because it encloses a larger volume in less perimeter, it’s less expensive to heat, cool and maintain.

7. Share part of the master bath

This isn’t for everyone, but it really tightens up the budget and the  floor plan. Make the toilet and a sink in the master bath accessible to  the rest of the house, instead of building a separate half-bath — it  won’t be used much by you during the day, and rarely by guests at night.

Why have two baths when one will do?

8. Spend it when you have it, not before

Sure, it’d be great to have those granite countertops now, but your  budget’s tight and granite is 10 times the cost of laminate tops. So  how about putting in nice laminate tops now, and replacing them with  granite in five years when you have the cash? You can easily do the same  with light fixtures, flooring, window treatment …

9. Compartmentalized bath — two baths in the space of 1 1/2 baths

Each kid doesn’t need a personal bathroom, but does need privacy and  room to share. A compartmentalized bath puts two sinks in one room and  the toilet and tub/shower in another, so three kids can use the bath at  once and keep a little more harmony in the family home.

I doubt any of these ideas will ever make a magazine’s list of “Best  Remodeling ROI” projects. But every one saves you money over a more  “conventional” design strategy, and every one increases the livability  of your home.

http://lowes.inman.com/newsletter/2012/03/22/news/182485

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