Fact Vs. Myth: 5 Things To Consider Before Starting A Home Improvement Project

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by Corbin Fuller

Home improvement reality shows are great for getting yourself motivated to renovate your house. It’s like watching a kung fu movie: The second it’s over, you have to practice on your little brother.

However, they’re not a great source for learning fine details, and that can perpetuate myths which can end up costing you time, money, and headaches. Because of this, we wanted to take a look at some of the most commonly held beliefs in home improvement, and explain why they’re true or false.


Cracks In The Walls Mean You Have Foundation Problems

Possibly, but don’t jump to conclusions.

If you’re watching a football game, and the quarterback limps off the field, you probably won’t turn to your friends and say, “He definitely just broke his ankle.” That’s because you know that limping is just one symptom, and there are all kinds of other factors that can help you narrow down your wildly untrained guess. Is he putting any weight on it? How much pain is he showing in his expression? Did the doctor grab a bullhorn and yell, “THE ANKLE IS BROKEN, EVERYONE!”?

Cracks in the walls are the same thing: They’re a symptom of a wide range of possible problems. Are your floors sagging? Is the house tilting over time? Do you have a bunch of doors that stick or won’t close properly? Are the counter tops and window frames pulling away from the walls, or developing gaps? Are your windows getting hard to open and close? If you’re answering “yes” to a bunch of those questions, then you very well could have a foundation problem, and you should call an expert to inspect it. Pro tip: If you start crying when they tell you what the issue is, you may get a pity discount.



This is worth a good 5% off the total.

Here’s the good news: If it’s just a few random cracks, it’s likely caused by common expansion and contraction. Almost every material in your house expands and contracts from changes in temperature, humidity, and even pressure from wind. This effect is much more dramatic in wood, which is why if you pull the baseboard away from the edge of a hardwood floor, you’ll often find an expansion gap.

If that gap wasn’t accounted for (or the installer didn’t leave an adequate one), the floor will put pressure on the wall when it expands. Over time, that pressure can cause cracks. Even if you don’t have wood floors, remember that you do have wood behind the walls in the form of studs and beams. Those can also expand and contract, most commonly in a newer home. Or if you have a habit of practicing kicks on the wall after a kung fu movie marathon.

You'll Save A Ton Of Money By Doing The Work Yourself

False, but there are a couple of exceptions:

If you’re a master at multiple trades, or you’re a prodigy at learning complex skills on the first try, you’re golden. And if the job is small, like painting your living room or installing a sink faucet, you can definitely save money. However ...

Let's say that you’re doing something that you see on pretty much every home improvement show in existence: removing a kitchen wall. Everyone wants an open floor plan now, and we don’t blame them. It looks beautiful, and it often frees up enough space to put in a kitchen island. Without a deep dive into the plans, your first thought might be, “We just need to knock out that wall, patch the flooring under it, drop in the island, and we're done.” But let’s back up and take a look at the things that are going to increase your monthly Excedrin budget.

First off, did you know that kitchen islands are required to have an electrical outlet? Sometimes two? The reason is to prevent people from creating a hazard by stretching a cord from the wall, through the walking space, and onto the island. This isn’t a friendly, Martha Stewart type of tip -- not doing it is a violation of building code.



And a violation of “having convenient outlets” code.

So let’s talk about that wall. Again, you’re probably going to have to deal with existing electrical outlets when you smash that sucker down. Once you get through the outer wall, you may find gas lines or plumbing. Even if you don’t have water going to anything near that wall, that may have been the only place the original builders could run the lines, or there may be a vent pipe running through it.

Oh, and there’s more. Is that a load-bearing wall? Do you know how to tell? Because if you don’t, and you take it out anyway, you could cause the entire ceiling to collapse. Did you get a permit to remove it in the first place? Different cities have different rules, but just because you’re doing interior work doesn’t mean you don’t need a permit.

Not only will contractors typically take care of all the permits for you, they also know where to get the best material for the best cost. They often have relationships with local businesses, because they bring in so many customers through their projects.

Yes, it’s totally possible to pull up YouTube, learn the skills, and do huge projects yourself. This woman built her entire house that way. But it’s not typical, and it often takes way more time, which is often as valuable (or more valuable) than its converted cash. And trust us, if you make a major mistake, you’re causing even more work for the contractor whom you’re eventually going to have to call to correct it.

Light Colors Make A Room Look Bigger

True, but knowing why will give you even more ideas on creating the illusion.

Let’s say that you’re standing someplace wide open: a desert, the beach, a sea of Marvel: Endgame fan theories. In front of you is uninterrupted horizon -- it’s awe-inspiring, because it just seems to go on forever, and your eyes flow over it, effortlessly.

Now let’s drop a happy little mountain into the scene. It’s still beautiful and awe-inspiring, but it causes the space to now have limits. Your eyes are naturally drawn to it, because it hyphenates the flow of the horizon. The mountain tells the primitive part of our brain, “This space is not empty. It contains an object, and that object is worth our attention.”



“Look! An object worthy of our attention!”

Corners of rooms work on the same principle. Those corners create shadows, which naturally make your eyes stop, if even for a fraction of a second, and register it as a limit to the space. That’s because corners create shadows. So how does that relate to paint?

Dark colors don’t just create the illusion of shadows; they absorb light, which is why it’s hard to spot a goth in a singles’ bar. Sunlight that enters the room through windows doesn’t get bounced around and reflected as much as light colors. A white wall, however, will reflect the sunlight like a mirror, which softens shadows, causing your eyes and brain to look right past those corners when scanning the room.

The whole idea is that the fewer shadows you have in a room, the more your eyes will flow through it. A perfect example is the weapons room from The Matrix. When the room is pure white, it appears infinite. When the gun racks come into frame, it feels more like a defined room. The space suddenly feels smaller and limited:

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

Once you have that concept locked in, you can use other methods to make the room look bigger. For instance, if you can see the floor through the furniture, it eliminates even more shadows. Using a glass-top table with legs will make the room feel bigger than using a solid wooden one with paneled sides. Simple tapered molding will virtually erase the line that’s created where a wall meets the ceiling.

It’s all about making the eyes flow through a room. The less your eyes pause, the bigger the room feels.

Renovations Will Make Me Even More Money When I Sell The House

False. The house will probably sell for more, but you’ll likely lose money on the investments.

First, you need to understand the difference between repairs and renovation. If you’re selling your house, repairs are things that will be expected by new buyers. Unless they’re flipping houses, they’re probably not going to drop money on a place with leaky plumbing, a broken septic system, and a burnt-out water heater. The house needs to be functional, or the selling price needs to be dropped to reflect those necessary expenses. No one looks at a hole in the bathroom floor and says, “It comes with a laundry chute! Perfect! I’ll take it!”

Renovation is the process of reviving a house, and making it look like new again. They’re typically overhauls that involve a massive amount of money. New counter tops, new appliances, new flooring, and the like. Since those things often go hand in hand with interior design, there’s every chance that all your hard work and money will just be redone. That baby poop green accent wall may look awesome to you, but the new owners would rather set it on fire than look at it for more than 20 seconds. It’s definitely getting repainted.



Yeah, that’s … no.

The truth is that a lot of renovations will only add around 80% of what you paid for them, and in some cases, way, way less than that. It’s true that you can tack on some of those upgrades to the overall selling price, but at a 50% to 80% return, it means you’re walking away with much less profit than if you would have just repaired and maintained the home.

Landscaping Is Just For Curb Appeal


A pretty yard is a great side effect of good landscaping, and in some cases, it can actually be the selling point of the house. However, plants, rocks, and paths have more of a practical function than you may realize. If your house is The Avatar, landscaping is your waterbending sidekick.

If you watch home improvement shows like This Old House or Fixer Upper, you’ll notice that they often put a row of plants and/or gravel along the exposed foundation or siding. When they’re laying the bed, they’ll always make sure it slopes away from the house, so that rain water flows ... well, away. Otherwise, it’ll run into the house or sit in pools, which can cause some fairly hefty damage.

Rocks are often used to prevent erosion. Water hits the gravel and is gently absorbed into the soil, rather than running across it in a stream. This prevents the water from cutting ditches, which will wash away the gradient and cause the pooling problems we just talked about, because water is the actual devil.



He is kind of adorable, but still.

It’s not just rocks that help, though. Often times, the plants that are closest to the house are of the “wet area variety. They’re usually bushes or hardy plants that like large amounts of water in quick doses. This helps suck up puddles like a sponge, decreasing the likelihood of erosion and puddling. Remember, they’re not just taking care of regular rainfall. They’re also helping control the water that falls from the roof, which people often overlook. As well as your drunk friend who always ends up peeing on the side of your house at 2:00am.

OK, we either need better friends or more plants.

Like this article? Check out “4 DIY Ways To Get Your Home Entertainment On The Cheap” and “How To Turn Your Home Into A Badass Rogue Lair”.

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