13 Improvements Most Homeowners Get Wrong

You've probably heard the saying, “Measure twice, cut once.” But when it comes to home improvement, another useful bit of advice—always learn from others' mistakes—is just as pertinent. If you're planning a home improvement project, either now or in the years to come, adequate preparation and research can save you loads of cash, and stave off a serious case of remodeler's remorse. Read on to discover some of the most common mistakes that homeowners make, so you'll be able to DIY smarter when it's your turn.

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  1. Roughing the “Rough-In”


    When replacing a toilet, make sure your new fixture fits the old space. One of the most common mistakes that rookie renovators make is forgetting to measure the “rough-in” size—that's the distance between the toilet’s bolt caps on the floor and the finished wall. The standard measurement is 12 inches, but in some older homes it could be 10 or even 14 inches. Always measure beforehand so you can be sure to purchase a toilet that will fit, and save yourself a whole lot of trouble in the process.

    Related: No Plunger Needed—7 Easier Ways to Clear a Clog


  2. Neglecting the Work Triangle


    One of the most coveted items in any kitchen renovation is an expansive island. Many homeowners, however, have to learn the hard way that not all spaces can accommodate this feature. In a small kitchen, an island may prove an obstacle to prep and organization, not a boon. There should be at least 42 inches of clearance from the island to the nearest countertop. Measure your space before planning your renovation. If there isn’t enough room for an island, or if it will interfere with the “work triangle” (the imaginary lines running from the sink to the stove to the refrigerator), then make a new plan.

    Related: 10 Total Kitchen Makeovers—and What They Cost


  3. Not Being Hard on Hardwood


    Experience counts when it comes to good hardwood floor refinishing. That said, most weekend warriors can manage a decent job as long as they avoid the common mistake many DIYers make. Homeowners typically skimp on the sanding for fear of damaging the wood. The result is that when varnished, the refinished floors may appear uneven where old finish remains. Instead, be sure to work conscientiously from coarse to medium to fine sandpaper for a thorough job that will yield floors with a pristine finish.

    Related: Floor Care Guide—11 Ways to Care for Your Wood Floors


  4. Choosing the Wrong Drywall


    After a renovation, the last thing anyone wants is paper-thin walls that provide no barrier to sound at all. To ensure that this never happens to you, choose the correct thickness of drywall. Most inexperienced DIYers choose a 1/4 inch thickness, but 3/8 inch is a wiser choice that offers much better soundproofing. The same principle applies to subflooring. There, choose a 3/4-inch thickness for added strength.

    Related: Shhh! 11 DIYs for a Soundproofed Home


  5. Miscalculating Cabinets and Appliances


    If your kitchen remodeling involves new cabinets and new appliances, take heed. If you're not careful, you may run into one problem that most homeowners never even consider. After the cabinets have been installed, you may find that your new standard-depth refrigerator extends beyond the cabinet case—and that's a big inconvenience in an otherwise smartly designed kitchen. Be sure to take all the proper measurements before ordering your appliances, and consider choosing a counter-depth refrigerator for a better fit. 

    Related: The Tiniest Appliances You Never Knew Existed


  6. Going Organic


    Basements are naturally moist and poorly ventilated, and that means basement renovations require some special considerations. All too often, DIYers make poor flooring choices for the basement, opting for organic materials like wood, bamboo, and cork. In damp conditions, these flooring types are subject to mold, buckling, and damage. Instead, consider ceramic, tile, vinyl, and linoleum, which can stand up to moisture.

    Related: The Do's and Don'ts of Basement Storage


  7. Choosing Fiberglass Insulation


    When insulating a basement ceiling, some homeowners make the mistake of installing fiberglass insulation, the same kind commonly used in upper level floors. Because this material is not moisture resistant, however, it is a poor choice for basements and could lead to mold behind the rim joists. If your next project includes insulating the basement, consider spray foam instead.

    Related: 8 Finishing Touches for Your Unfinished Basement


  8. Forgetting to Prep


    Any professional knows that a quality paint job is 90 percent preparation. All too often, though, DIYers skip this important step. To properly prepare for your next paint job, first clean and sand the walls, then patch any holes before applying primer. Primer hides imperfections and ensures you'll use less paint, particularly when you're covering up oil-based paint and darker colors. Before you start, double-check that the product you’re using is appropriate for the surface you’re covering.

    Related: 7 Things to Know Before Painting Your Walls White


  9. Ignoring Original Style


    One of the most costly remodeling mistakes that novice DIYers make is ignoring a home’s original design. If you bought a Craftsman-style bungalow, why would you plan a midcentury modern remodel? You wouldn't renovate the interior of a Victorian Painted Lady to look like a Spanish Colonial. Stick with the original style or sell. That way, you'll have a chance of fetching a higher sales price, because a buyer who's in the market for a beautiful historic home will want the interior style and the exterior to match.

    Related: 15 Old House Features We Were Wrong to Abandon


  10. Inviting Stains


    Before replacing your current countertops, be sure the new material suits your lifestyle. Porous stones like marble, limestone, slate, and soapstone require regular sealing to prevent stains, making them impractical choices for a high-use kitchen. If you're looking for a long-lasting natural surface, granite is a better choice. Harder stone isn’t as likely to chip, stain, or scratch, which means your kitchen redo won't lead to costly renovation regrets.

    Related: 8 Countertops You'd Never Believe Were Handmade


  11. Back to the Basics


    One of the worst things a homeowner can do to his house is to start a dream renovation before fixing serious problems. More urgent issues, such as structural damage, electrical upgrades, and plumbing replacements should always be addressed first. At the end of the day, protecting your home comes before improving its appearance.

    Related: 7 Ticking Time Bombs in Your Home—and What to Do Next


  12. Overlooking the Ceiling


    When you're planning a remodel, don't forget to look up. The ceiling is one of the most overlooked areas in any renovation, and ignoring it can be a costly mistake for DIYers. Keep in mind that all electrical work for overhead lighting must be finished before installing any ceiling tiles. Likewise, check with your locality before you begin any project that may affect the height of your ceilings; many localities require that ceiling heights meet a standard minimum.

    Related: How To: Remove a Popcorn Ceiling


  13. Backsplash Backlash


    If you want to save money on your kitchen renovation, tiling your own backsplash is a great move—unless it's done improperly. Inexperienced DIYers often start tiling at one end of the wall and work toward the other side. When done this way by a novice worker, this can result in uneven or odd angles that look amateurish at best. To ensure a straight line when laying your own tile, start from the center of the wall and work your way from each side. Using this method, you'll find that your cuts will be the same on all sides of your project.

    Related: How To: Choose Tiles


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