Find the Right Path to Home Improvement

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Sometimes sprucing up your home is just the right touch to upgrade your home with the latest trends. But sometimes your touch may not be the most effective choice. 

When it comes to makeovers, they don’t always have to be for fashi­on or beauty. Sometimes sprucing up your home — by adding new furniture, opening up a room or creating an outdoor space — is just the right touch to upgrade your home with the latest trends.  
 
But sometimes your touch may not be the most effective choice. 
 
According to our Philadelphia experts, working on these types of projects yourself can either save you money and time — or have the exact opposite effect. 
 
Energy-Efficient Upgrades
 
Rich Olaya, founder of Olaya Studio, has been working in the architecture field for more than 20 years. He mainly does commercial work but occasionally dabbles in residential. 
 
“With home improvement, the thing I think is most popular is energy conservation: making houses more energy efficient,” he advised. “The way to do that, first and foremost, is by insulating the walls and ceilings.”
 
Olaya said caulking and putting sealant around windows and doors to prevent drafts, especially in older homes, is simple enough to do on your own, and you will definitely reap the benefits down the road.
 
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, your energy savings from this project will be somewhere between 5 and 10 percent.
 
Switching over to high-efficiency appliances — boilers, hot water heaters, kitchen appliances — will save you money, too. 
 
“You can hire companies that will do a test on your house,” Olaya offered. “They will provide an infrared report that shows where the leaks are happening. They can do a whole evaluation and tell you where you’re losing the most energy,” which will help you identify where to invest your money.
 
But if you’re trying to become a little more green, roof solar panels are very popular as well. 
 
“Even where we are, you can benefit from solar panels,” Olaya explained. “There are two types: One is called Solar PV Portable — they turn sunlight into electricity. Then there’s another one called Solar Thermal, and they take water and heat it with the sun. Then you can take that water and use it for washing, cleaning, whatever, or use it to heat your house just like a boiler.”
 
He added that solar panels are beginning to become more economical, and the technology is improving. 
 
But no matter the task you’re working on, Olaya said it’s good to know your limitations. 
 
“It’s a matter of taking it in stride or doing incremental steps if you’re a first-time homeowner and just working on small projects at time and building up skills,” he continued.
 
But even an industry professional like Olaya knows when to outsource. He readily acknowledged that he is not the most talented person when it comes to fixing up his home with renovations outside his line of work — he said it took him three times as long and he had to keep redoing them — so he suggested hiring a professional. 
 
“I have all these projects that are still 90 percent done in my house,” he laughed. “I think it’s human nature. You’re just satisfied with how things are, and you get used to seeing that wall without a baseboard or a hole in the wall that never got touched up.
 
“If that’s your style, that’s fine, but don’t feel like you need to do it all by yourself.”
 
Aesthetics: Quality Over Quantity
 
Mona Ross Berman, owner of Mona Ross Berman Interiors, Inc., has been working in interior design for about 13 years.
 
When it comes to upgrading a home with art, furniture, textiles or accessories, Berman said to focus on the local craftsmanship.
 
“I think what’s popular now is there’s an increased interest in quality over quantity,” she explained. “People recognize the value of investing in pieces, not just acquiring as much as you can.
 
“There’s a lot of ways to more directly connect with furniture makers than ever before, between Etsy and CustomMade, which come to mind as a few options that allow you to really be more involved in the process of having something made and hopefully getting interaction with the actual maker.”
 
It has become significantly easier to find these distinctive and characteristic pieces online and in design magazines, but Berman encouraged prospective home improvers to plan out their redecoration revamps ahead of time to better prepare themselves — and their domiciles. 
 
“If you can give yourself a good amount of time to research and plan, chances are that on the back end of the project, you will save some money,” she said. 
 
She also suggested getting multiple opinions if you’re going to bring in contractors for a remodel — at least three — to help you sift through what’s realistic for the renovations and what’s not. 
 
If you’re taking the DIY route, she said to invest in the best-quality materials and products that you can. 
 
“People are sometimes surprised by how costly it can be to renovate your house in whatever form that takes,” she indicated, adding that the wisest course of action is to invest as much as you can in the project. 
 
Berman was also named Best Office Designer in 2014 by Philadelphia Magazine
 
The idea of making your office space more physically productive and fluid is very popular, she said, with ideas like adding a treadmill desk, a standing desk or making conference calls while on a stroll.
 
“The quality of life at work is becoming more important to people,” she said. “I still think the move toward working from home is as popular as ever.” 
 
Prepare to Be Floored
 
Scott Erlbaum, CEO at Floors USA, said installing floors —  hardwood, laminate or vinyl — requires a specific professional expertise for installation.
 
Floors last a long time, so he said you want them to be done right the first time. 
 
Some people do attempt the DIY route with hardwoods or tiles, Erlbaum said, and he saw a lot more of those attempts by his customers during the Great Recession. 
 
“In a good percentage of those cases,” he said, “we were either called to help and lend our expertise, or in some cases, we were called to complete the job because the DIYer found it more difficult than they had thought.”
 
“Unless you have someone who has installed the type of flooring that you are wanting to install before has some experience,” Erlbaum continued, “my experience is that in our product category, it’s generally way more complicated and difficult than they imagined.
 
Erlbaum added that advice from Floors USA is always free. 
 
“Every job has its own pitfalls and unique circumstances that may make it difficult,” he said.
 
Bringing the Outdoors In
 
Daphne Hawkins Parker graduated from the Moore College of Art and Design two years ago and has been working in interior design ever since. 
 
She said Philadelphia’s urban aesthetic is what helps the city thrive among multiple generations taking advantage of the wide array of housing stock — and the very thing that makes the city unique.
 
“The beauty of Philly is that you see so many individual expressions of how people like to live,” she opined. “There are a lot of unique spaces, which makes that even more attainable for people. That said, I think because so many people are moving into urban areas — bringing that outside in — is definitely a trend. Whether you’re making an addition that’s bringing the kitchen to the rear of the house that opens up to a patio, or if you have access to a yard or a deck, that is a very of-the-moment improvement.”
 
Of course, if you’re taking out walls and doing structural renovations, Parker recommended hiring a contractor unless you feel confident working in those areas and enjoy it.  
 
Structurally speaking, she added, “Most people don’t have the skill set to DIY that. Turning outdoor spaces into something that’s very livable and pleasant and upgrading an outdoor space so that when you are opening up your kitchen areas or you’re entertaining — now you can watch YouTube videos or you can watch HGTV on how to make these spaces. 
 
“It’s really one of those things: Are you a person who likes to get your hands dirty, who likes to spend time researching… That’s just a very individual decision on how you’re wired.”
 
Either way, Parker said to have a thorough schedule to follow based on knowledgeable and experienced resources. 
 
“I think any type of project — home, whether it’s a remodel or a refurbishment or improving a landscaping and outdoor space — no matter what it is, I think one of the most important things is to really have a good plan,” she concluded. “Have a person who is very knowledgeable and has had experience with the exact type of project that you’re doing, who you either pay or, if they’re a friend, who is able to help you be a sounding board or help coach and guide you.” 
 
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0737

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