A home renovation isn’t for the faint of heart. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a good contractor who can take care of the heavy lifting. But even that doesn’t mean you won’t be exposed to your fair share of disasters—including some that can be scary, some that can be traumatic, and some that can even be harmful to your health.
You can’t avoid every terrifying possibility, but you can do your very best to minimize the risk. And that starts with knowing what terrors could be lurking behind that ordinary-looking brick wall or innocuous, if hideous, popcorn ceiling. We’ve got your back, friends!
Here are seven frightening and dangerous things to watch out for when you’re renovating or remodeling.
1. Flooding and electrical issues
Smart DIYers call 811—the service line that informs you where underground utility lines can be found—a few days before they dig. The helpful operator on the other end of the line will notify utility companies to send you indications of any water, gas, or electrical lines.
But maybe you forgot. Or maybe you hit a smaller water pipe in your wall, which the water company won’t know about.
“Mistakenly hitting a water pipe can have consequences much more serious than just getting your shirt wet,” says Dan Barr, a property restoration expert with 1-800 Water Damage.
Say you pop out for a bite after drilling a hole in the wall between your laundry and living rooms, not realizing you just punctured a pipe. When you return, everything is flooded. Including a puddle around your drill—that’s still plugged in. Yikes!
If you hit a line and find electric tools or appliances submerged, Barr recommends locating your home’s main electrical panel and turning off the power before you start wading through the water.
“It could be charged and extremely dangerous,” he says.
2. Creepy creatures
True story: My fiancé was unscrewing a can light in the living room of our brand-new house—and a handful of wasps smacked him in the face. Fortunately, they were dead.
But what if they weren’t?
“You can have really dangerous creatures fall or crawl on you,” says Texas designer Pablo Solomon. Dead wasps are just the beginning. Depending on where you live, shuffling around your attic or inching through your crawl space might bring you into contact with brown recluse or black widow spiders, scorpions, centipedes, or snakes.
While there’s no sure-fire way to avoid creepy-crawlies, full-coverage clothing will protect your skin from bites. As for the years of nightmares—you’re on your own.
3. Mold invasion
Skipping steps during a renovation is sure to cause you major problems down the line. And one of the most commonly overlooked aspects of a home renovation is proper ventilation.
“Most bathrooms have so little ventilation that they unintentionally become labs to grow mold and mildew,” says David Schneider, an interior designer in Chesterfield, MO, who focuses on sustainable, green remodeling.
So any time you remodel a kitchen or bathroom, make sure you’re installing enough fans—strong ones—to suck out all the moisture-ridden air. Most experts recommend one 100 cfm (cubic feet per minute) fan per appliance.
Plus, a whirring fan can cover up any unpleasant sounds. This is known as “value added”!
4. Release of asbestos and lead
You’re probably already aware of your home’s lead or asbestos risk. Unless you had a particularly unscrupulous seller, you should’ve signed a lead paint disclosure when buying any home built before 1978. And the second you Googled “popcorn ceiling,” you probably spotted the word “asbestos.”
But still, maybe that’s not top of mind when you’re in a hurry to yank out your ugly old cabinetry or rip up that garish old tile to start fresh—and you end up unleashing unknown amounts of those toxic materials.
“Inhaling or swallowing even small amounts of lead or asbestos is extremely dangerous,” Barr says. “Any time you remove walls or ceilings or do major work on floors, you run the risk of encountering both.”
Wear a mask during small renovation projects to help protect you. For bigger jobs, such as taking down a wall, contact an indoor environmental expert who can take samples. If asbestos or lead are present, plan to hire a professional for demolition.
5. Foundation damage
Have you ever used a drill to mount a pot rack or a flat-screen TV and found that your hands are a bit … wobbly afterward? Your walls feel the same thing—and the jiggling can cause major problems.
Constant shaking and hammering from power tools can create new fissures and other problems inside your walls. You might spot water leaks or even cracked Sheetrock, Solomon says. If possible, peek inside your walls after you drill for any new problems and repair them immediately.
6. Damage to your hearing
Construction is loud. You might think it’s tolerable, since it’s temporary. But if you’re, say, remodeling an entire kitchen, your ears will be under siege day after day for what could be a protracted period—and that could incur long-term damage.
“The noise of saws, hammers, power tools, and other construction machinery can wreck your ears,” says Bryan Pollard, president of Hyperacusis Research, a Hearing Health partner. “Noise damage is cumulative and presents with a delayed reaction. And the longer someone is exposed, the higher the risk.”
So maybe your ears feel fine the next day. But will they be fine a week later? A year later?Or 10 years later? Pollard warns of tinnitus—that annoying ringing in your ears—or hyperacusis, sound sensitivity, and noise-induced pain. Maybe those bulky protective headsets don’t look so dumb after all.
7. Exposure to high-VOC materials
Wearing a face mask can help keep you from inhaling fumes when painting, but their damage lasts long after the color is applied. Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are chemical-emitting gases found in a number of renovation materials, including many paints, carpeting, or upholstering. You know that funny smell your carpet gave off for a few weeks after installation? That’s probably VOCs.
You’ve torn out the old carpet and replaced the kitchen cabinets, and your renovation is almost complete. Before you put everything back together, consider including some high-tech features on your list of remodeling must-haves. Adding a few new smart devices is a cinch when you’re in the process of remodeling—why not make a little room in the budget for something that can make your life easier and help cut down on expenses overall?
Here are eight of the coolest smart devices to include in your home remodel.
1. Nest Cam
With its wide range of consumer-friendly smart products, Nest has made a big name for itself in the smart home industry—and this powerful little camera is one of the main reasons why. The Nest Cam records in crystal-clear 1080p resolution and streams 24/7, so you’ll never miss a thing. The Nest Cam Indoor also comes equipped with a speaker and a mic and will alert you if you’re not at home and it detects motion or conspicuous noises.
2. Philips Hue
Philips Hue LED lightbulbs are smart and energy-efficient, allowing you to control the lighting in your home while cutting energy costs. There are 16 million colors and a variety of smart controls to choose from, making your lighting system as subtle or dramatic as you’d like. Sync your lights with movies or music, set the ambience for concentration, or create a gentle morning lighting routine. With the Philips Hue Bridge, you can link up to 50 lights and other accessories, making a completely customizable lighting experience.
3. Vivint Doorbell Camera
Vivint’s sleek Doorbell Camera lets you see who’s at your door no matter where you are. With a 180-degree look at your porch and night-vision capabilities, you always have a clear view. The Vivint Sky app will send you a notification whenever someone rings the bell and allows you to turn the camera on and off and adjust your doorbell chime. You can also lock and unlock the door remotely, and speak to friends and strangers through the doorbell.
4. Chamberlain MyQ Garage Door Opener
The Chamberlain garage door opener connects to your home’s Wi-Fi network and allows you to open and close your garage door from anywhere. Chamberlain says it’s compatible with any garage door opener made after 1993: the only requirement is that it must include safety sensors at the bottom of the track. And prepare yourself—CNET called it a “smart-home gateway drug.”
5. August Smart Lock
August’s Smart Lock replaces the interior side of your deadbolt (so it doesn’t throw off the look from the outside), granting you the ability to lock and unlock your door with your smartphone. The Smart Lock doesn’t stop there, though. You can create virtual keys for your family and friends, granting them access as well. The August Home app will even auto-lock the door behind you and unlock the door for you as you approach—you don’t have to do a thing.
6. Nest Learning Thermostat
Nest’s Learning Thermostat learns your patterns as you use it—within a week it will adapt to your preferred temperatures and set itself to match your preferences. If you like your home cooler at night and warmer in the morning, for example, the Learning Thermostat will automatically adjust the temperature for you. It will also adjust to an energy-saving mode when you’re not home. The company says it can pay for itself in energy savings after just two years.
7. Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator
This Energy Star-rated refrigerator does things you never knew you wanted your fridge to do. For starters, every time you close the door, three cameras take pictures of the contents inside. You can then check what’s in your fridge from your phone, so you never have to wonder what you need from the store. If you’d rather not go to the store yourself, you can place an online order using Groceries by Mastercard, one of many included apps accessible right from the touchscreen on the door. You can also sync and display calendars and photos on the screen, leave notes, stream music—even watch TV.
8. Amazon Echo
The Amazon Echo is a 360-degree Bluetooth speaker featuring Alexa, Amazon’s voice-activated assistant. Alexa can stream music, tell you the weather, answer your questions, get traffic updates and sports scores—all the stuff you expect a voice assistant to do. The main reason it’s on this list, though, is that it can connect to a number of smart devices from other manufacturers, allowing you to control your lights, locks and thermostat with your voice.
These eight gadgets can add some serious value to your life and home. If you’re already remodeling, now’s the perfect time to try a few out and get a little taste of the future.
Ready for a revamped bathroom space, but nervous about taking on a big renovation project? These easy updates can give you a whole new look on any budget.
The bathroom is probably the best room in the house for a mini-makeover. When you realize how dramatically, quickly and inexpensively you can completely update the space without an actual renovation, you’ll wonder why you’ve waited so long.
Before you dive in, take a minute to consider what you’re going for in terms of style. Your bathroom should be a peaceful, relaxing space. Are you more soothed by rich, dramatic tones and style, or are you going for a more simple and serene spa-like space? Once you know what you want, take a look at these simple tips for getting the bathroom upgrade you’ve been dreaming of.
This is obviously the place to start, since doing it yourself results in such fast and dramatic change. For the simple and serene look, choose soft and soothing tones to give you a greater sense of space and light. If you’re looking for a rich, dark hideaway, choose warm saturated tones to strike the right mood.
Now choose drawer pulls that keep the style makeover moving forward. They’re available in all styles and at all price points, and this is another big change you can make on your own. Typically, a nickel or stainless finish goes best with the spa look, while oil-rubbed bronze tones will add the richness you’re looking for in a sophisticated atmosphere.
Because our bathrooms are also spaces that our guests may see, keeping them clutter free is essential. Organization is also important for keeping stress on the other side of the bathroom door.
A quick and functional fix here are simple storage cubbies. Stash toiletries, makeup and other beauty and grooming equipment in small caddies that you can pop out and put away easily.
Good grooming requires good light, but when you’re just looking to slip into the tub and relax, you want something softer. Start your lighting makeover with a simple dimmer switch.
Replacing the vanity lighting fixture is easier than you think, too. To keep the job a simple and quick one, simply choose vanity lighting that covers the same space the original fixture did. You can maximize your options, though, if you tackle the lighting when you do the painting.
To take it up one more notch, consider a dramatic piece of statement lighting such as a chandelier or pendant that adds a sense of style.
Shower, sink and tub faucets
Now we’re moving into the updates that really make the space feel new. Look for sink fixtures that offer a little more height over the bowl and length extending into the bowl for the most functional effect.
Then, upgrade to a new showerhead that makes your morning feel anything but routine. A handheld showerhead that ties into the shower arm and can extend from the wall via a hose is another indulgent and functional option.
Mirror and medicine cabinet
Most standard medicine cabinets are not much to look at, and there are now plenty of options that will your replace your current cabinet. A simple beveled mirror version with a plastic wipe-able interior can update a rusted metal version.
But another simple fix if you don’t want to replace the whole cabinet is to build a simple picture-style frame right over your basic wall mirror. Just choose the frame according to the style you’re going for, and make sure the surface is moisture resistant.
Even if you don’t have the most spacious bathroom, this is an amenity worthy of serious consideration. In case you think you just can’t spare the space, you’ll be glad to hear that they also come ready to plug-in or hard wire and hang on the wall.
The final touches
New towels and a fresh bathmat can change the appearance of your bath space with little effort. Pick a monochromatic color scheme to dry off in style, or go all white for the spa-like aesthetic.
For a little added detail, consider monogramming your towels with your initials or “His,” “Hers” and “Guest.” This added touch will make all your efforts well worth the time and consideration of your bathroom update.
Your kitchen is calling from 1988, but your bank account doesn’t want to answer. We get it: According to Remodeling Magazine, a minor kitchen makeover averages $20,122, while a major renovation can hit a you-gotta-be-kidding-me $60,000.
If you’re looking for something a whole lot more budget-friendly, a mini kitchen makeover for about $500 can go a surprisingly long way. Check out these eight cheap remodels to get your kitchen renovation cooking for a whole lot less.
1. Declutter the counter space
Kitchens tend to collect tons of stuff—like Mr. Coffee coffee makers, George Foreman grills, and weird canisters of wooden spoons—on countertops. An easy way to dramatically transform a kitchen is to simply put all that junk away. For around $490, you can install two separate shelving units to transform the dead space in that cabinet under the sink that no one ever uses.
“Glide-out shelving can get around obstructions like pipes or disposals and make the kitchen a more useful space,” says Nina Ward, interior designer and regional director for ShelfGenie. Plus, the shelves can hold up to 100 pounds of kitchen detritus—that’s a whole lot of paper towels.
2. Paint just about everything
A chorus of experts says the most affordable and transformative kitchen makeover is to paint, paint, paint—and not just the walls, points out Tracy Kay Griffin, lead designer at Express Homebuyers, a real estate investment company based in Springfield, VA.
Colors such as orange or red immediately “spice up” your kitchen, says Sean Juneja, co-founder and CEO of Decor Aid. A new Viking red stove can cost upward of $5,000. But a stove panel that’s easy to install can quickly and easily cover your existing dishwasher. It costs about $500 and comes in vibrant shades like cherry red and pink lemonade. It’s like a quick shot of decor adrenaline.
5. Amp up the lighting
One of the single most important elements that have a profound effect on any space is whatever devices are holding the humble lightbulbs.
“Changing out fixtures can not only update your space but also provide ambiance,” says Juneja. “A new pendant upscales the kitchen instantly and provides the biggest bang for the buck.” He likes this West Elm pendant style for a sleek yet warm look, or you could go for a bit of drama with this bundle of glowing orbs from CB2. Handy? Buy black cables from your local hardware store and hang generic lightbulbs for approximately $100 plus an electrician (maybe another $100 to $150) to make sure everything is safe.
6. Reface upper cabinets with glass
There are some things in your kitchen you definitely want to hide, like that family-size bag of Cheese Balls. Other stuff you want people to see: the vintage barware you scored at a garage sale. Swap out the heavy wooden doors on your kitchen cabinets for ones with glass to display your cute dishes and glassware.
“It instantly modernizes and opens up a kitchen,” says Juneja. It costs approximately $500 for an average-size space.
7. Update tired flooring
“If you have outdated vinyl or linoleum flooring in your kitchen, a fresh wood-looking floor can make a huge difference in the overall appearance of the room,” says John Horner, founder of Central Ohio Home Buyer.
Depending on the size of your space, a nice wood laminate can easily be put in for about $500 in material.
“Many of the laminate flooring found in your local home improvement store is either click together or stick down, and very simple to install yourself.”
Another inexpensive way to transform your kitchen from something “dull into something amazing” is to install new laminate countertops from your local home improvement store, which often carries its own brands.
“New countertops can drastically improve the look of your kitchen for a very reasonable price,” says Horner. “For a medium-size kitchen, they can cost around $500 and installation is easy.”
You might roll your eyes at having to get a permit before doing a DIY project around the house, but permits serve a purpose.
Permit requirements are just ways for the city to nickel-and-dime you to death, right? Is your city invading your privacy by caring whether you want to replace your overhead light fixture with a ceiling fan?
Before you get too worked up, realize that cities have their reasons for requiring permits. “Obtaining a permit means that someone knowledgeable will review your plans and help spot mistakes before you begin the work,” says Rick Goldstein, an architect and co-owner of MOSAIC Group in Atlanta, GA. If you make improvements without a permit, you might receive a big, fat denial letter from your insurance company when something goes wrong and you want to cash in.
You know the phrase “You don’t know what you don’t know”? Well, that’s the way it is with permits. That ceiling fan might be too heavy to hang from a box designed for a simple light fixture, especially when it’s going full blast and vibrating. You don’t want the fan falling on you while you sleep!
You might know some projects that require a permit, but you might be surprised by these eight DIY projects that typically require a permit too.
1. Installing a gas stove
Many people are making the switch from an electric to a gas stove. Depending on where you live, gas could be much cheaper, and if you’re a foodie, food just tastes better cooked over fire. But if installed incorrectly and the gas leaks, it could be extremely harmful. Get a permit and make sure someone is checking behind you to catch any mistakes.
2. Replacing windows or doors
If you think this project seems pretty straightforward, think again. For windows, you need a permit to ensure emergency egress requirements are met in case first responders need to get in. If windows and doors aren’t properly installed, water could get into the house. No one wants a side of mold with their renovations.
3. Building a deck
When dreams of outdoor living beckon, first call the permit office. If your deck isn’t structurally sound, or if you used untreated lumber that decays, your deck could collapse, and that could really interfere with your meditation mantra. And don’t even try to guess how to meet building codes for railings. Be safe and get that permit.
4. Putting up a fence
“Building a fence requires a survey and a permit,” Goldstein says. The reason for this is usually to ensure you aren’t violating city ordinances by building a fence too high in your residential subdivision or choosing one with barbed wire in the middle of the city. If you build a fence without a permit, you might receive a stop-work order.
5. Installing a storm shelter or safe room
If you want protection from tornadoes (and hurricanes), you might consider installing a shelter. But unless you design and construct this room to FEMA specs, you might not be so safe after all. A huge benefit of a prebuilding permit is that you can register it. “If there is a tornado in your area, first responders will know who has storm shelters and where they need to look for you in case you get trapped inside,” says Blake Lee of F5 Storm Shelters in Tulsa, OK.
6. Remodeling a kitchen or bathroom
Picking out the perfect granite for your countertops and finding just the right fixtures and cabinetry aren’t the only things on your checklist. If you neglect to get a permit for major remodeling work, you might not be able to easily sell your home in the future.
“If an inspector catches this kind of thing, or if a bank wants to make sure it’s covered against all liability and demands to see the permit before funding a mortgage, this can potentially be a major time and money sink to rectify,” says Kimberly Wingfield, a Philadelphia, PA, real estate agent and DIY fanatic.
7. Installing new electrical wiring
Your house in the historic district simply isn’t wired for all your gadgets — but an amateur electrical wiring job could cause a fire. This project definitely needs a permit.
8. Replacing a gas water heater
Surely you can replace your old water heater without a permit, right? Nope. Although many DIY enthusiasts do it all the time, if it’s done wrong, a fire or flood could ensue, or if gas escapes …kaboom. These risks leave a huge potential for serious injury. A permit also means that an inspector looks over your completed job to ensure it was done properly. This is a huge confidence boost in the knowledge that your work is up to code — and minimizes the potential for home-sale complications down the road.
How HGTV’s Christina and Tarek El Moussa go from finding a diamond in the rough to rehab to sale.
When we look for a flip house for our real estate investing business, Tarek and Ibasically go through the same thought process that anyone goes through when they buy an investment property.
Even though we’re working on a shorter timeline than most homeowners, the journey is essentially the same.
Understanding our thoughts as we go through each step of the process might give you a clearer road map for your own fixer-upper journey, or it might inspire you to test the waters of real estate investing yourself.
Finding a great deal on a property
If you’re looking for a really great deal on a fixer-upper house, you’re going to be searching for a diamond in the rough, and that’s exactly what we do.
We drive around the neighborhoods where we’re most likely to find great flip houses. We search through the MLS. We take a look at listing sites like Zillow.
We basically search high and low, and as we find potential deals, we start doing research on them, just like you would with your home purchase.
There’s something really special about finding a truly great house-flipping opportunity, and it always gets me a bit excited and a touch nervous at the same time.
I don’t want to fall in love with a house before the seller accepts the offer. Yet, at the same time, I can’t help but think about how we’ll be helping someone get out from under a financial burden, and then benefiting the whole neighborhood with quality rehab work.
The rush when a seller accepts your offer
After we find a house that has the potential to be a really fabulous flip property, we make the offer and hold our breath.
When the seller accepts the offer, I get a real rush! I immediately start thinking about when we can get inside, look at what the house needs, and get to work.
Before long, I have visions of beautiful design work floating through my head. In some ways, this is my favorite part of flipping a house, because it seems like the sky is the limit.
I think of everything I’d want to do to it if I had the money, but then — just like if I were buying a fixer-upper to move into — I have to bring myself back down to earth and remember our budget.
And that leads to one of the scariest parts of house flipping or buying a fixer-upper.
The fear when your contractor tells you …
Whether it’s a whole new roof, new electrical wiring, new plumbing, or any other major project, when one of our contractors tells me that they need to do a really expensive job that we didn’t budget for when we bought the house, I get a little bit scared.
Before I know it, numbers are running through my head, and I have to take a step back and think about how much of the budget is going to be taken up by this surprise.
Then, as I get things in perspective, I look for places where we can save money and places where we can still splurge some to get the best results possible.
Sometimes you have to go a little bit over budget to get the job done, but as long as you don’t eat up your entire margin, you’ll be fine.
For Tarek and me, this is a matter of how much money we can make on a house flip. For a home buyer, it’s a matter of how long renovations are going to take, when you can move in, and what needs to wait.
In either case, we’re looking at some financial challenges, but they shouldn’t be impossible to work around.
Deciding where to spend and where to save
Some of our house flips are in neighborhoods where you absolutely need real hardwood floors and marble countertops. In other areas, we can get away with high-quality laminate floors and quartz or another less expensive countertop material.
Whatever the case, I never use materials or appliances that I wouldn’t be happy with in my own home.
That doesn’t mean that I splurge on every little thing, though. I look at the places where a less expensive option will still create a beautiful finished product, and I go with those.
I also prioritize some rooms over others. For example, as you start your renovations, are you going to want to redo the kitchen and master bath first, or will the guest bedroom and living room take precedence?
Kitchens and bathrooms are the easiest places to make upgrades and create luxurious settings for home buyers. That’s why I recommend doing these spaces first for your fixer-upper, just like we prioritize them for our flip houses.
Watching it all come together
After we’ve figured out the budget and worked out what needs to be done with our contractor, it’s time to watch it all come together. In a surprisingly short time, we get to watch a distressed property transform into a beautiful, totally livable home.
It might take a little bit longer for you to do all of the work on your own home, but the process is the same, and it’s really satisfying to watch your plans become reality.
Selling a house to excited buyers
We sell our houses right after we rehab them and you might live in yours for years, but, again, the outcome is the same.
After we put a lot of hard work and energy into a flip house, we get to sell it to an individual, couple, or family, and they’re always really excited to move in.
We get to see their dreams come true as they buy their first house or their next house. When you sell your fixer-upper, it’ll be your buyer’s dream house, too.
When you look at it this way, house flippers and fixer-upper homeowners can learn a lot from each other!
If you’ve got one, you probably know the head scratching question, “what in the world do I do with this space?” You’re not alone. Nooks, niches and alcoves are tricky areas to decorate, but there are great pros to having them. They add charm to your home while serving functional purposes when innovatively used. So let’s get down to business! Here are eight ways you can utilize those odd corners in your house.
It’s the classic reading nook, and, if you have the space for one, it’s definitely worth considering. They’re perfect for anyone that enjoys curling up with a good book or, if you’re like me, your laptop and Netflix (no shame.) All you need is a custom-sized cushion, a few pillows, lighting, and you’re ready to go.
Here’s one for all you mixologists: Transform your empty nook into a bar station. You can go the bar cart route or add a thin sideboard for more storage. You’ll have a well-stocked bar complete with blenders, cocktail mixers, bottle openers and all your bar essentials.
If you don’t have the space to dedicate to an entire home office, a corner nook can be your best friend. Install a shelf and you’ll have a space-friendly work station. For some extra charm, add a pop of color by painting the back wall and a couple decorative shelves.
What I love about this hideaway nook is it serves more than one purpose. It has desk space and a small lounge area for entertainment. By hanging curtains, you can easily close the nook off for a cleaner look. You can also add shelves and drawers for extra storage.
Dressers were made for nooks. They fit so perfectly in those tight spaces and provide additional storage for the things that don’t quite have a specific home. By adding wall art, lamps, clocks and photos, you can add some character to your nook.
Think of all the possibilities there are with a makeup nook. With one desk, stool and mirror you have your own makeup vanity. Add some drawers and you’ll have additional storage for your favorite beauty products. (You’ll catch me at the makeup counter weekly, if I ever get one of these for myself.)
Aside from storing holiday decorations, attics make great getaway spaces for both kids and adults. Transform your attic into an extra room for whatever you need: office, hangout area, bedroom or all three combined! For those nooks and crannies, add a floor bed with lots of throw pillows. It’s low to the ground, so the angular ceilings feel taller, and it gives you extra space for entertaining.
All it takes to transform an awkward corner into a conversation area is a set of chairs and a tiny table. Your guests will feel cozy, and you’ll feel happy that you filled that odd space.