The 2015 Mental Remodel: Developing A Plan

remodel plan

Home builder and sustainability writer Nan Fischer conducts her yearly remodel plan. Are there some tips, ideas, pointers here for you, too? Read on, gentle reader.


Sitting by the cranked-up wood stove in a new year with a clean slate and an old house, I begin my annual mental remodel. It consists of dreams and practicality, and a small part of them overlap. An even smaller part will manifest for a variety of reasons.

Energy conservation

In 2007, I revamped 3/4 of the house. I changed the floor plan, insulated, replaced the exterior doors, and swapped out old single pane windows for energy efficient, low-e vinyl windows. That cut my energy bills dramatically. The remaining ¼ of the house, which is my bedroom and part of the living/kitchen area, should have more insulation, and new windows, and fresh paint wouldn’t hurt. I think this would top the to-do list.

Back then, I also installed solar hot water. The system has paid for itself already and cut my gas bill to an average of $26/month. That includes cooking and heating two bedrooms that barely get used. But I credit the sun’s energy for the majority of these huge savings.


I’d like to install solar PV and a wind turbine to generate electricity. I haven’t done it up to now, because it has not been cost effective. My electric bill averages $30/month, and I knew I would never see a return on a PV installation. Now that PV is getting affordable, it makes more sense. If I still don’t get a return quickly, it would be gratifying to be a power generator!

The new wind turbines are more sensitive now. They don’t need a strong wind to spin and make electricity. I live where there is a constant breeze, and I feel I could successfully install a rooftop turbine.

With all this power from natural resources, I could conceivably go off-grid. It’s not part of the remodel dream, but it might just happen!

Energy audit

I need to revisit the energy audit done at the time of the remodel. One of the recommendations was to dig down 18”-24” around the perimeter of the house, and add rigid insulation with an R-value of at least 7. This is an old ranch house with an uninsulated concrete slab foundation. To insulate the exterior would reduce conductive heat flow, subsequent heat loss, drafts AND cold feet!

So this project should also be on my Home Improvement List for 2015, right below the windows and paint mentioned earlier. A couple of strapping young guys could knock out a perimeter trench in a day or two. This is NOT a DIY for me at this point in my life! I’ll cut the insulation, and place it in the trench. I can even backfill, but I think that will be my limit!


I am more concerned with the practical aspects of a remodel or home improvement projects. The aesthetics come after energy efficiency and traffic flow have been taken care of.

When I bought this house, one ginormous room was an art studio. I found out later it was originally a 2-car garage. I split it in two with a wall down the middle, and added new windows, a gas heater and a closet in each half. These became my daughters’ bedrooms – identical so there would be no bickering about whose room was bigger. I’m a genius mom, huh?!

The only thing I didn’t finish in them were the floors, which are bare concrete. They need to be tiled or painted to finish up these rooms. This is not a very expensive project, either.

My kitchen cabinets are perfectly functional, but it has crossed my mind to replace them. They are varnished ¾” plywood, very sturdy, but not pretty. I’d put new ones up to the ceiling, and add storage drawers in the base cabinets.

More practical considerations

I’m just a practical person. What can I say?!

I may not do any of the things in my 2015 Mental Remodel, because it’s likely I’ll be selling this year. The most practical things to do are those danged aesthetics. Painting and floor finishing will be more appealing to buyers than slab insulation or new windows.

Nothing except painting is in my budget this year, either. If you remodel, make sure you are working within a realistic budget. Pad it with 10% to make room for error.

Because home values have decreased, I can’t do much more remodeling. I have an educated guess of the appraised value of my home, so I am almost at the limit of what I can do to get a return when I sell. It never pays to overbuild for your neighborhood!

So don’t expect any changes on this home front. That said, if I sell and move, I’ll have many more building and remodeling stories to tell!

What are your home improvement plans for this year?

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