7 Budget Moves That Do More Harm than Good, According to Home Improvement Pros

published Nov 9, 2020
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When you notice some brown spots on your wall or your drain backs up, it’s tempting to turn to the quick fix—slapping on a coat of paint or flushing a heavy-duty drain cleaner down the toilet. After all, homes are expensive, and—if you can get away with it—who wouldn’t want to walk away with a smaller bill?

Here’s the thing, though: “Your home is one of your biggest assets, and protecting it means caring for it and improving it,” says David Dynega, CEO of Detail Renovations in Great Neck, New York. “Although some cost-saving tricks will serve you well during a home renovation, like refinishing old furniture or buying gently used appliances, there are some areas where trying to save a buck could cost you a lot more in the long run.”

Typically, these involve situations that make something look good in the short term, such as painting a wall where there is a moisture issue, which then causes mold and paint peeling, or trying to stain faded concrete, says Matt DiBara, owner and principal consultant of DiBara Masonry

Here, contractors and other home renovation experts explain seven money-savers that do more harm than good—and advise where it makes sense to invest a little bit more right from the get-go. 

Staining your own floors

Though painting your own walls is a great place to save during renovations, staining your own floors is not nearly as simple, says Trond Nyland, a carpenter and founder and CEO of Cordless Drill Guide.

It’s a time-consuming process that requires multiple large tools, and because stain is less forgiving than paint, DIYers often end up with an uneven finish. “You end up buying more stain and spending more time perfecting a look that may not work. Then you call someone to finish the job, but because it is now uneven, it will cost you more,” Nyland says.

Buying cheap appliances

Appliances vary greatly in price, and there are certainly very cost-effective options. But buying the cheapest items can be risky, says Paul Dashevsky, co-founder of GreatBuildz. “Very low-end appliances have a tendency to break down more often, requiring more calls to expensive repair people,” he says. “In addition, there is a risk that a refrigerator or dishwasher can leak, creating an expensive kitchen flood.”

Rather than buying the cheapest-made appliance, keep an eye out for better-made appliances that are offered at a discount. Many stores will reduce prices on floor models or open-box items, so it’s worth asking if there are any available for sale.

Credit: Svineyard/Shutterstock.com

Not maintaining your roof

People often try to save money by not maintaining their roofs, says Richard Latimer, a seasoned home flipper and CEO of Veritas Homebuyers. Maintaining your roof costs approximately $500 to $1500 and should be done every five to seven years—a small bill compared to your roof prematurely failing, which could cost $10,000 to $20,000, he explains.

Using fast fixes for drain issues

Frequent use of chemical-based drain cleaners may get things inside your pipes moving, but they contain ingredients, like sodium peroxide, sulfuric acid, and muriatic acid, that can produce a chemical reaction that produces heat that may bend or warp both plastic and metal pipes, says Steve Orlowski, general manager of Review Home Warranties. “While a bottle of drain cleaner only costs about $5 to $10, you’re causing gradual damage every time you use it to clear a light backup,” he explains. “After a few years, this can lead to pipe damage requiring hundreds to thousands of dollars in repair.”

Fortunately, there are other budget-friendly ways to unclog slow drains. Instead of buying a bottle of drain cleaner, invest in a plunger made for sinks and a hair-grabbing drain snake; both can help get water moving in case of minor blockage.

Credit: David Papazian/Shutterstock

Buying inexpensive windows

It’s tempting to buy the cheapest windows when you renovate, since they seem to serve the same function as the more expensive options. However, cheaper windows have less ability to keep out heat, cold, and noise, says Dashevsky. At the end of the day, “you’ll end up paying for these cheap windows with higher heating and cooling bills or frustration with neighborhood noise,” he says.

Relying on gutter guards

Gutter guards are a popular and affordable item that help keep your gutters clear of debris. They can be helpful, but also misleading, says Eamon Lynch, director of warranty service at Power Home Remodeling. “Oftentimes, homeowners install gutter guards and think it gives them a pass to avoid taking important maintenance steps that are necessary to prevent significant damage to their home,” Lynch says.

Even if you have gutter guards, it’s important to do seasonal checks (or even monthly, depending on how many trees surround your home!) and clear out debris like leaves, nests, sticks, and other materials that may have penetrated any holes in your guard. “If you let your gutters go too long without checking on them and making sure they’re clear, you risk allowing debris to collect,” he explains. “When your gutters are clogged, it can lead to major leakage and other damage to both the exterior and interior of your home.”

Credit: Diana Liang

Skipping steps when painting cabinets

When refreshing kitchens or bathrooms, people commonly paint over cabinets and trim before removing the existing finish, says Shad Elia, licensed general contractor and owner of SE Homes LLC. “The cabinets and trim will look great immediately after being painted, but the old stain and finish will begin to bleed through over time, and you’ll be repainting them much sooner than expected,” Elia says.

You can make your finish look better for longer—and avoid having to do a repeat paint job—by doing this project right the first time: sand the old finish away, prime the cabinets, and then follow with paint.