Home Improvement Projects

Increasing the Value of Your Home

homeimproveMuch has been written about remodeling so we will make this brief and to the point.  All the experts agree that if you are considering a home-improvement project, it’s important to distinguish between increasing your home’s value and improving its livability.

If your objective is to improve short-term value – say, to maximize the selling price of our home — small updating projects and effective staging of your home will probably add relatively more to your bottom line than a big redo.  Home improvement projects that increase the “livability” will result in you enjoying your home more but most likely they will not increase its value.

Livability 

 Livability is about you and your family.  For example, if you think a hot tub will add value to your home, you may be disappointed.  It may bring enjoyment to your family but it may not increase the value of your home.  Just about any experienced realtor will tell you that they have had a least one transaction in their career where the buyers wanted an existing hot tub removed as a condition of the sale.

How about a swimming pool?  In parts of Florida and California, it could be as essential as a kitchen.  Whereas in other parts of the country (New England, Pacific Northwest, etc.) the chances of having a pool increase the value of a home is very doubtful.  In other words, it all about location.

Projects to Increase the Value of your Home 

I’m sure you have read numerous “Top Ten Home Improvement Projects” in publications that taut the fact that their projects will increase the value of your home.  Did you find any agreement among the lists?  Most likely you did not.  From my experience as a realtor in the Portland area, I can cite three things that most buyers appreciate in a home:  improving “curb appeal”, gardens and decks.  Here are projects that you can consider:

  • If your home’s curb appeal makes a great first impression, everyone  including potential homebuyers  will want to see what’s inside.  An inviting door is the key.  Plants and fresh paint are also two items that attract attention.
  • Portlanders love their trees and plants, so a well-designed landscape and garden will most likely increase the value of a home in the Portland area.
  • A well-constructed and designed deck can add value to your Portland home.  The new composite materials such as Trex requires little maintenance and doesn’t need replacing for a considerable length of time.  Composite materials can be hand scrubbed (instead of power washed) which is an annual late spring job in Portland due to the winter rains.

Top 100 Do It Yourself (DIY) Sites for Home Improvement Fanatics

Are you ready to tackle that bathroom renovation you’ve been putting off? Before you pick up the phone and hire a contractor, why not save some cash and try your hand at it. Considering the cost of renovations for homeowners, DIY has gained popularity. Construction Management Degree.com, contains 100 of the top DIY websites to help guide your home improvement projects. They arrived at this list through research. The list is organized by area of the home including; General Remodeling, Interior Decorating, Kitchen and Bathroom, Office and Workspaces, Landscaping and Exterior, Basement, Storage, and Closets.

Replacing Windows

indow_windowsBuildings are the number one consumers of energy in the United States, and windows are the number one source of energy loss from buildings. Over 50 million American homes still have single pane windows and about 650,000 of those residences are in Oregon.

Indow Windows, a Portland company, manufacturers interior thermal window inserts that press into the inside of your existing window frames, giving you double-pane window performance at a fraction of the cost. The inserts are effective at retaining heat. Portland State University’s Green Building Research Laboratory found that they provide 94 percent of thermal protection of double-pane windows. They also dampen sound.

Indow Windows are made out of acrylic glazing edged with our patent pending spring bulb. When you press your Indow Window into place, the spring bulb compresses, holding the glazing securely in place and sealing out cold drafts. They also attach two small, hidden safety straps to the window frame. When your Indow Windows are ready, the installation can seal up your house in just hours, not days. From then on, you can pop your Indow Windows out and right back in whenever you want to catch a fresh breeze that’s blowing by.

Cost Vs. Value in Remodeling

cost vs. valueEach year since 1988, Remodeling Magazine Cost vs. Value Report has compared construction costs for common remodeling projects with the value they add at resale in 60 U.S. housing markets. The 2005 report has all 15 legacy projects (formerly, 10 were surveyed each year in rotation), plus the “upscale” versions of five projects introduced two years ago.  New in 2005 are upscale versions of roofing and siding replacement projects.

Besides the national averages, the report also includes data by region and city.  Click here to view the Portland Cost vs. Value data.

More detailed descriptions of the projects are available at the Remodeling Magazine Web site.

Finding a Contractor

From my experience, contractors are hired by “word of mouth.”  In most neighborhoods, someone is always doing some remodeling or updating to their home so your “best bet” is to check with your neighbors when you need the services of a contractor or service person.

The realtors in our Windermere office pool their experience and we maintain a list of contractors and service people (carpenters, painters, plumbers, electrical, window washing, etc.) that our clients have used in the past with success.  This list is constantly revised and available to our clients.

The Oregon Attorney General’s office publishes a list of the “Top Ten Consumer Complaints” each year.  To view the latest list, go to Top Ten Consumer Complaints.

Check on Contractor’s License Status, Complaints, Actions

Oregon Construction Contractors Board The Construction Contractors Board (CCB) is a State agency that protects consumers by regulating construction contracting businesses.  You can search for part of the business name or the last name of the contractor; or The contractor’s CCB license number; or the business telephone number.

You can look up license status, business record, administrative license actions, disciplinary actions, etc. Or call 503-378-4610 or 888-366-5635 to obtain the information.

Where do I get a Building Permit?

Oregon adopted its first statewide building code in 1974. It then enacted its western Oregon seismic standards in 1993. The Oregon Building Codes Division (BCD) has an excellent website that fully explains when a building permit is needed.  Here is a good example of when an electrical permit is required:

  • Install or alter any permanent wiring or electrical device.
  • Run additional wiring, put in an electrical outlet or light fixture, install a receptacle for a garage-door opener, or convert from fuse box to circuit breakers.
  • Install or alter low-voltage systems such as security alarms or stereo or computer systems.

For homeowners, a permit is not required to replace electrical devices or to perform the maintenance on an existing electrical installation.

Homeowners must apply for a permit at the building department that has jurisdiction over their city or county. To find your jurisdiction, call your nearest city hall and ask what building jurisdiction you should contact for your permit. Be sure to mention your address and the type of work you are planning.

The following are links to the building departments in the Tri-County area of Washington, Clackamas and Multnomah counties, to all building jurisdictions in the state of Oregon, and to the building departments of SW Washington.

Oregon and Washington State Agencies

  • Oregon Building Codes Division  The Building Codes Division (BCD) provides code development, administration, inspection, plan review, licensing, and permit services to the construction industry. These are integral to the safe and effective construction of structures in Oregon. The division was added to the newly formed Oregon Department of Consumer & Business Services in 1993.
  • Washington Department of Labor and Industries  At the website, you can make sure a contractor is registered with a bond and insurance, and an electrician or plumber is certified (licensed) in Washington.  You can check if a contractor or plumber has any recent infractions and view a quarterly list of infractions issued to contractors and plumbers that have not followed the laws and rules of Labor and Industries.
  • Oregon Landscape Contractors Board  The Oregon Landscape Contractors Board (LCB) is a State agency that protects consumers by regulating landscape contracting businesses. Oregon law requires that all landscape businesses who work on residential and nonresidential property in Oregon be licensed with the LCB.  To check a license status send an e-mail to
    lcb@state.or.usThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
     or call (503) 986-6561.

WARNING:  Oregon Construction Contractors Board

On December 4, 2005 The Oregonian ran a story about how the Oregon Construction Board (CCB)  failed to provide consumers with some of the most basic information in its own databases. The article said that several years ago, the agency quit listing all complaints against contractors on its website after some builders protested that full disclosure hurt their businesses. The board has done little as contractors avoided nearly half the damages ordered by the agency. During the past 10 years, the board awarded some $55 million to homeowners, suppliers and subcontractors, but only about $28 million was paid, CCB records show.

The Oregonian:  “The board has repeatedly permitted troubled contractors to remain in business. Though the agency can revoke the license of any contractor who ignores court judgments or fails to pay subcontractors, officials said they make no effort to search court files for such actions. That has allowed contractors such as Aldrich, who failed to pay multiple court judgments, to stay in the business.”

Suggestions for Protecting Yourself

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The Oregonian offered regarding contractors (1) Develop a list of potential contractors, get references and call them.  (2) Check court records for lawsuits, bankruptcies, judgments against the contractor.  (3) Search the Oregon Construction Contractors Board Web site, but keep in mind that a contractor’s complete record isn’t necessarily posted. For more information, review the claims history at the agency’s Salem office.  (4) Get multiple bids. Don’t automatically take the lowest. Demand a written contract.  (5) Pay wisely not more than a quarter or a third upfront. Pay more as work is completed and passes inspection.  (6) Ask subcontractors and suppliers for lien waivers so you are protected if your general contractor doesn’t pay them.  (7) Make checks payable to a joint account held by the general contractor and subcontractors and suppliers.

We can add another recommendation.  Instead of using the contractor’s contracts, we suggest you use the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) forms.  You can obtain them from the Oregon AIA office at 315 SW Fourth Avenue, Portland or 97204.  phone: 503-223-8757.  Fax: 503-220-0254.

EPA Regulations on Lead Paint

HouseTransformed_bookStarting April 22, 2010, a new federal law will require contractors to contain and clean lead dust more carefully during renovation, repair and painting work. Their workers will have to attend training, and the firms will have to earn certification to do the work. The new rule is in response to Congress’ Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992. It’s taken 18 years for the home renovation rule to take effect.

Regulators phased out the use of lead in gas and paint years ago. But risk remains for homes built before lead paint was outlawed in 1978 for residential use. Generally, the older a home, the higher the risk. Because lead paint was durable, it was most commonly used in trim, kitchens, bathrooms, porches, windows and doors. The National Center for Healthy Housing estimates about 140,000 U.S. children have lead poisoning and that more than 1 million children are at risk each year when their homes are renovated.

Visit the EPA Web site for more information on the regulations.

Preparing Your Home for an Earthquake

When it comes to withstanding a 9.0-magnitude earthquake in Portland, not all buildings are created equal. For example, it’s possible your home is not bolted to its foundation, and you may not have earthquake insurance.

According to Franz Rad, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Portland State University, “Buildings that predate 1974 are likely inadequate in the midst of an earthquake. After 1974 they’re better built, but after 1993 they’re much better still. Structures with unreinforced masonry are especially problematic. They were generally built between the 1930s and ’50s. These are likely low-level, three-story and four-story buildings, and owners should eliminate them or reinforce them.”

Buildings today have a strong steel framework with “hoops and stirrups” in the columns and beams to provide flexibility. The framework is then covered with concrete. Lightly reinforced buildings dating prior to the ’60s don’t have those hoops and stirrups. This weakness would not be visible to the naked eye unless you drill through the concrete. 

Another issue is whether the structure is tied down to the foundation. If it’s older than the ’40s or ’50s, chances are it’s not locked down and the whole building will shift.”

Professor Rad’s Advice on How Owners Should Prepare Their Homes for an Earthquake:  If the building is less than 10 or 15 years old, there is not as much cause for concern. But for owners of homes that are older (which most buildings in the Portland area are), the best thing to do is have a structural engineer visit for a review. If they have any drawings that would be helpful as they can show some cross sections of beams and columns and walls, and the engineer can at least give an overview of what would be the next step. Structural engineers charge different rates, but they will generally charge a few hundred dollars for a preliminary review.

Source: ‘Is my home going to protect me?’ and other Portland earthquake questions,” by By Tara Kulash | The Oregonian/OregonLive. Posted July 20, 2015.

Books on Home Improvement Projects

  • Home by Design:  Transforming Your house into Home  Author:  Sara Susanka.  Taunton Press.  ISBN: 1561586188.  She outlines 27 design concepts that are key to creating space that is both beautiful and comfortable.  This book will help you establish what works and what doesn’t.  It inspires good ideas.
  • House Transformed: Getting The Home You Want . . . With The House You Have  Author: Matthew Schoenheer.  Publisher: The Taunton Press/AIA.  ISBN: 1561587117.  The seven essential of remodeling are very helpful.  The book is perfect for seeing how goals are translated into specific features.
  • Craftsman National Repair and Remodeling Estimator  Publisher: Craftsman Book Company.  ISBN: 1572181370.  A contractor’s reference book that is detailed-oriented.  The book is comprised of list after list of labor and materials costs for most any home construction task.

DivisionHardwareLocal Resources for Home Improvement Projects

  • Angie’s List  Angie’s List collects reports with grades ranging from A-F (like a school report card) in more than 250 categories that pertain to home, yard, auto and personal services, such as roofers, electricians, barbers and hairstylists, computer repair companies, plumbers, landscapers and auto mechanics. These reports are consolidated into a database, which is then shared with members.
  • Bosco-Milligan Foundation  The Bosco-Milligan Foundation presents tours, hands-on training workshops, and innovative exhibits.  The foundation can be a great help in restoring an historic home.
  • Do It Best Hardware on Division  This store is a gem.  The store offers over over 70,000 products plus numerous services such as cut & thread pipe, cut keys, cut glass, cut plexiglass, screen & window repair, and cut pull-down shades. And people wait on you! The photo to the right is of owners Glenn and Kathy Lambert.
  • Energy Trust of Oregon  A nonprofit organization dedicated to changing how Oregonians use energy by promoting energy efficiency and clean renewable energy for Oregon customers of Pacific Power, Portland General Electric, and NW Natural.
  • G/Rated – Portland’s Office of Sustainable Development  Portland’s green building resource.
  • Home Builders Association of Portland  Provides some hints on selecting a builder and/or remodeling company.  It also has a list of remodelers, subcontractors, suppliers, and members who specialize in remodeling.
  • Neil Kelly  Designers, remodelers, and home repair.
  • Northwest EcoBuilding Guild  An association of builders, designers, homeowners, trades people, manufacturers, suppliers and others interested in ecologically sustainable building.
  • Rebuilding Center  The ReBuilding Center accepts the region’s largest volume of used building and remodeling materials, providing resources for the benefit of communities with the goal of promoting sustainable practices.
  • Rejuvenation  Honoring old houses and their caretakers with period-authentic lighting and house parts is their business.  You will enjoy a visit to this store.  Located in southeast Portland just across the Hawthorne Bridge.
  • SCRAP  Promotes creative reuse and environmentally sustainable behavior by providing educational programs and affordable materials to the community.
  • Solar Energy Association of Oregon  Dedicated to increasing the use of solar energy in Oregon.
  • Winks Hardware  With a staff of former hardware storeowners, industry journeymen and women, and national hardware representatives, Winks Hardware employees have a wealth of product knowledge and project application experience.  And to facilitate a solution-driven experience, customers receive one-on-one service to help guide them through the correct hardware application.  Winks is a real contrast to the “box store” home improvement centers.

Other Resources

  • Canadian Home Builders’ Association  This Web site is an everything-you-want-to-know resources about the basics of a remodeling project.  But that is just one small part of the site as it covers homes from A to Z.
  • Fine Homebuilding  A comprehensive source of reliable home building information.  Fine Homebuilding has eight issues each year plus two special issues: one on Homes and the other on Kitchens and Baths.
  • Smart Home  The world’s largest supplier of home automation and smart gadgets for your home.
  • This Old House  Website associated with the popular PBS television series.  The site offers advice on many aspects of remodeling projects.