When it comes to diving into a home remodeling project, homeowners take their time. Often, a long, long time.
Procrastination seems to come with the territory. Of some 7,000 folks who shared detailed kitchen remodel plans on the home design website Houzz last year, just one-third had actually taken the first step.
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Before some recalcitrant remodelers can bring themselves to green-light a project, "Things are literally falling apart" and they've reached the point where they simply cannot stand their surroundings, says Pamela Martin Johnston, senior designer with Jackson Design and Remodeling in San Diego.
It's a sure sign that the time has come to remodel the kitchen or bathroom, she says, when homeowners want to "take a sledgehammer to it themselves."
There are less drastic indications that the time is right. Here are seven reasons to pull the trigger on an upgrade before the urge strikes to brandish a sledgehammer.
1. Colors or materials scream a past decade
If stepping into the kitchen or bath is like entering a time warp, you or a previous homeowner probably "got sucked into a trend whose time has passed," says interior designer S. A. "Sam" Jernigan of Renaissance Design Consultations in Grass Valley, California. We're not just talking pink bathroom tiles or harvest-gold kitchen appliances. Choices that seemed safe at one time, such as oak cabinetry, can peg a room design to a specific decade. When updating, "Think about your own tastes, and pursue a classic style" that will stand the test of time, Jernigan says.
2. Appliances keep up a steady hum
It's not just that a noisy refrigerator or dishwasher is annoying. Newer appliances don't make noise, so if yours do, it probably means they predate today's energy-efficiency standards. From a return on investment perspective, "It just makes sense to replace older appliances with Energy Star-rated models, which can result in energy savings of up to 50 percent," says Shirley Hood, a sales representative at Abt Electronics and Appliances in Glenview. Ice buildup in the freezer, veggies freezing in the crisper, and longer oven preheating and cooking times also are signs your appliances are showing their age. Simply replacing older appliances "totally transforms a kitchen" without breaking the bank or breaking down walls, Hood says.
3. You have both a formal living room and a family room
What does that tell you about the kitchen? The presence of both rooms suggests the home was designed before open floor plans became the norm, along with spacious kitchens where families and guests can comfortably congregate, says Johnston. Unused rooms, including formal dining and living rooms, can be converted into a kitchen extension that better accommodates the daily routines and lifestyles of today's families.
4. You see telltale signs of leaks or mold
While water damage and mold growth aren't always visible, clues include "paint or drywall bubbling up around showers, warping around the bottom of the vanity, and cracks in the tile grout," says Dan Gean, co-owner of Gean Remodeling & Co., North Liberty, Indiana. A severe problem with leakage or mold may necessitate gutting the bathroom down to the studs.
5. You always run late in the mornings
If a faulty alarm clock isn't to blame, a disorganized or cluttered bathroom could be a large part of the problem. Most builder-basic bathrooms come with gaping under-sink storage space where toiletries and other items tend to disappear, turning the morning routine into an archeological dig. If the bathroom counter is constantly strewn with tubes and bottles, it's time to consider remodeling.
"You can add smart storage options that will help you organize your bathroom and manage your time better," says Peter Sheinberg, third-generation owner of Mr. Dino's Baths in Broomfield, Colorado.
6. Your family grows or shrinks
Multiple children or an aging parent joining the household changes your family's needs. Lack of storage space and frequent traffic jams are signs of a too-small kitchen or bathroom. "You may need to go with a larger 40-inch fridge instead of a 36-inch fridge, says Johnston, adding that overloading a refrigerator can make it function poorly. A walk-in pantry, an island for prep work and homework and wider work aisles around islands and major appliances help accommodate growing families. Empty nesters may want to think about annexing an extra room or closet for a master bathroom expansion.
7. Your neighbors with the same floor plan just remodeled
This is not about keeping up with the Joneses. Often, what holds people back from remodeling is intimidation or lack of imagination. They simply cannot envision the possibilities. This just means your kitchen or bathroom does not reflect your personal style.
Often, too, if you've recently purchased the house, the sellers may have updated carpeting and walls in neutral colors. This usually results in a bland, impersonal space that "looks like a big bowl of oatmeal," Jernigan says.
People spend much of their waking hours in these two rooms, so if homeowners are staying put for any length of time, they should go ahead and make their own style statement.
"Of course, if you plan on moving, you want to express yourself with design elements that can be easily switched out, like paint and window treatments, versus tile, which needs to be hammered out," Jernigan says.
Peering in on a neighbor's completed project "gives you at least one idea, and it's also like a built-in recommendation for the contractor and subcontractors if you like their work," says Carol Morency, a suburban Chicago condo dweller who fashioned her kitchen remodel after her neighbor's. So ask for the grand tour. If nothing else, you may learn what not to do.