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Balancing a Homeowner’s Remodeling Wants with the Needs of an Aging Home’s Maintenance Requirements

As a residential design/build architect, I enjoy meeting with homeowners to discuss their remodeling needs. I learn a lot, feel challenged by their design problems, and, as the years click off, see trends among local homeowners that I share with our clients.

Washingtonians love the metropolitan area for all its benefits, and yet we clearly have an aging housing stock that requires maintenance and remodeling. In fact, some of our most desirable neighborhoods are composed of older homes—all in need of care.

Homeowners sometimes struggle to find the balance between investing in home maintenance and remodeling; I see it on a daily basis. And the problem is best addressed on a case-by-case basis because each family and each house is unique.

Evaluate Maintenance Needs to Avoid Deferred Maintenance

All homes need maintenance, some more than others. Ideally a homeowner pays enough attention to their home (or calls in professionals) to take care of issues like a:

  • Leaky roof
  • Saggy gutter
  • Rotting window
  • Lack of paint
  • Drainage problem

Well-maintained homes are easier to live in, look better, sell faster, and give off positive vibes.

On the other hand, there are many homes that suffer from deferred maintenance. Deferred maintenance on a grand scale can lead to a “tear down” and does not save money because the problems only get worse and cost more to fix, not to mention they’re a hassle.

I try to be proactive with my own home maintenance. Each spring and fall, I do a walk-around inside and outside my house and make written notes on what should be improved, repaired, or replaced. Some can wait. Others cannot. Hopefully I am not surprised in an unpleasant way by my discoveries.

Often, homeowners find maintenance frustrating because it is expensive and does not result in a showpiece new kitchen or bathroom; it’s just fixing what is already there. But it’s a necessary part of owning a home.

Define Your Home Remodeling Goals & Priorities

When I meet with homeowners to discuss their home remodeling projects, I ask them to tell me about their vision, goals, and priorities for their project. That conversation reveals much about their thinking and what they feel is important. Knowing this helps me shape a construction budget specific to their project.

The upside to home remodeling is when maintenance repairs are also incorporated into a remodeling scope of work. As long as a homeowner accepts the fact that their budget will increase because they are doing both remodeling and maintenance, it’s an easy way to take care of two problems at once by minimizing the hassle, reducing the time spent on the project, and containing the cost.

By Way of Example

An example of a blended remodel/repair scope of work is a recent 1920s Colonial Revival home remodel in the Northwest Washington, DC neighborhood of Woodley Park. The remodeling involved a small two-story rear addition that opens to a rear garden. For the first floor, we designed a:

  • Customized mudroom entry
  • Porch
  • Cubbies
  • Coat closets
  • New lux powder room

At the second level, linked to an existing center hall stair landing, we created a new guest bath and hall providing access to an existing guest bedroom previously only accessed through another bedroom. All of which enhances home value.

For the maintenance and repair portion of work, the homeowners created an extensive list to get the work done simultaneously and efficiently with a remodel. Exterior stucco-over-lathe at the rear of the house was removed, walls were insulated, and new hardi-plank clapboard was installed. More than 18 windows were replaced with new energy-efficient windows, including new trim and paint at the exterior. Inside, the old oak floors were repaired, sanded, and stained throughout. Additional recessed lighting was installed in select rooms as well as upgrades made to electrical to meet code. Cosmetic features were designed to enhance rooms with built-in bookcases, a custom fireplace mantel, and crown molding.

The homeowners benefited from a defined scope of work and accurate detailed drawings that encompass new remodeling features as well as repair and maintenance necessary for their 1920s home. Their efforts were well rewarded with a finished home they can enjoy for decades—and all at a fixed-price.

“ The lead carpenter was very attentive to detail. He set and met high standards. Potential problems and areas for improvement that were not directly related to the project were identified. We appreciated that input and advice. ”

Foxhall Village Client, Washington, DC
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