Monday, August 27, 2018

IF IT AIN'T BROKE, DON'T FIX IT: Needless Home "improvements"

This old shake roof may look ugly,
but that doesn't mean that it leaks.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

I don’t know who came up with that classic maxim, but it was no dummy, that’s for sure.  The pity is, it’s advice that too few homeowners seem to heed.  There are lots of so-called “home improvements” that are either unnecessary or are actually worse than what they’re replacing.  Here are just a few examples:

• Roofing. I can’t stress this enough—and heaven knows I’ve tried—but it makes no sense to replace a roof that doesn’t leak. Moreover, in many cases, it’s equally silly to replace a roof that does leak, since the majority of leaks can be fixed with a little perseverance and a three-dollar tube of caulk. Nor is a roof’s appearance any indication of its watertightness. If you can’t stand having the ugliest roof on the block, that’s something else again, but weathering alone does not a roof problem make.

Is it wise to replace your gutters along with your roof?
It is if you're a roofer—otherwise, think twice,
or you may end up with low-end replacements like these.
•  Gutters.  Many homeowners take their roofer’s advice and also replace their gutters when it’s time to reroof. When I ask them if the old gutters leaked, they’ll say something like, “No, but we just thought it was a good idea to do everything all at once.”       

Do what all at once? Throw away your money? Naturally, roofers are delighted to replace your old gutters, since it’s just another profitable sale for them, and as a bonus, they don't have to avoid damaging your existing gutters. In too many instances, however, the new gutters are inferior to the originals in quality, are carelessly installed, and don’t suit the architecture of the house. In short, nothing has been accomplished beyond the contractor’s enrichment. 

A wood window has to be in pretty
awful shape to be unrepairable.
In most cases, it just takes a little elbow
grease, and can save you lots of money.
• Windows. Somewhere along the line, people have gotten the idea that wood windows can’t be repaired, but instead must be replaced—usually with modern ones that don’t suit the style of the house. The truth is that wood windows practically have to be falling apart before replacing them becomes a more economical option. If your wood windows are at all serviceable, repair them, don’t replace them.  You’ll save a lot of money and preserve the look of your house to boot. 

If you’re thinking of replacing your windows in order to improve your home’s energy efficiency, good on you for your intentions, but note: your dollars would probably be far better spent on additional attic insulation or even on a more efficient furnace. Replacing widows solely to lower energy bills is a losing proposition, since it’ll take decades to recoup your investment.

A few words about painting brick:
No, no, no, no, no, and no.
•  Painting.  Over the years, home-improvement magazines have managed to convince people that nothing is truly new without a fresh coat of paint on it. Unfortunately, the victims of this fixation have included tile, stone, brick, varnished wood, copper, irreplaceable stenciling, and who knows what else. There’s a simple rule of thumb to follow here: if it wasn’t painted to begin with, it shouldn’t be painted now.  

While some finishes were never meant to be painted, a lot of others simply don’t need to be. If your house has an oil-based paint job in presentable condition, think twice about redoing it for the sake of fashion. Today’s water-based paints don’t have the durability of the old-style oil-based kind, and you may end up with a much worse paint job than you started with.  

•  Lastly, it’s important to recognize that many of the building materials in older homes are superior to many typical modern replacements. If your house has original materials in good condition, don’t feel compelled to “improve” them out of existence for the sake of modernity.  You might just end up the poorer for it.