For years, homeowners tried to increase the value of their houses so they would turn a profit when selling them a few years later. In today's economy, because families are planning on living in their homes longer, these living spaces now need to become more meaningful.
The warmer months are a great time to get started on small projects. For some homeowners, this means repurposing rooms to make them more functional. For others, it's about making outdoor spaces focal points for entertaining.
"During the housing boom, people viewed their homes as investment properties and flippable," said architect Kevin Harris, a member of the American Institute of Architects and a former chairman of its small projects committee. "It's time to rethink and rearrange our houses to be homes and use them for what they are really for: spending quality time with family and friends."
Before starting improvement projects, consider the following:
- Plan properly: Architects who specialize in home renovations can help you recognize what works and what doesn't. Their design skills will ensure a home will accommodate a family's needs within an affordable budget. An architect also can help make a home more environmentally friendly and energy efficient, resulting in ongoing cost savings.
- Bigger isn't always better: Many homes might not need major improvements. Small changes can have a big effect. One homeowner, for example, lived in a "railroad" style home where one had to pass through one room to get to the other, which was a hindrance during parties. After consulting an architect, he realized he didn't need major renovations. He simply needed to add a doorway so the middle room could be accessed from another entrance to change the flow.
- Rethink existing spaces: Sometimes a homeowner doesn't need to add a room, just rethink and repurpose an existing one. Most older homes were built with formal dining rooms that are used only once or twice a year. Consider inexpensively converting an unused dining room into a guest bedroom, home office, music room or library. A garage can become a family room, or an outdoor storage room can be converted into a summer kitchen. Think of the ebb and flow of a household, and be creative.
- Consider changing things back: For a while, the trend was to create separate state-of-the-art, theater-style media rooms. However, this design was isolated from the rest of the home and family members' activities. Now, media rooms are integrated into family rooms to create more of a den experience.
- Look outdoors for more living space: Outdoor living spaces easily can be designed for year-round use. Not only do they increase a house's value, but they also increase a homeowner's ability to entertain larger groups. Outdoor spaces can include covered porches, summer kitchens, portable barbecue pits and outdoor fireplaces, all of which can be outfitted to increase a home's energy efficiency. A covered porch only costs the price of some roofing and flooring, and decks can be built with inexpensive pressure-treated wood.
"Any home improvement project should help your family connect and enjoy the house more thoroughly," Harris said. "And by planning ahead with an architect, you can keep costs down."
For more home improvement ideas or to find a local architect, visit www.aia.org.
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