Best home improvements for increased quality of life?
July 6, 2015 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Mrs. _db_ and I just closed on a house - yay! Now the fun begins of working on some of the little things we don't love as well as indulging in all those improvements we've been looking forward to. While we already have some things in mind, I'm sure there are things we have overlooked. What improvements can be made to a home that result in the greatest increase in quality of life?

Things we are big on: minimalist solution (esp. regarding furniture), automation, comfort, durability, ease of use, modern design.

We are going to do some of the typical home renovation stuff that comes with buying an older house (better lighting, more efficient appliances, some kitchen work, etc.) but we're also looking at going beyond functionality to "how did we ever live without that?" What improvements have you made (or seen made) that resulted in the greatest increase in quality of life? We have been thrown into a sea of DIY/home improvement blogs, tv shows, magazines, etc., and we want to know where the treasures are, or even what to avoid.

Thanks hivemind.
posted by _DB_ to Home & Garden (54 answers total) 143 users marked this as a favorite
Find a simple wall hung closet storage system and use it everywhere you can, later when the dust settles you will be so pleased to have a system in place to adapt as needs change. Some USB enhanced outlets are a good play as well.
posted by Freedomboy at 10:34 AM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Under-counter fridge drawers. Wall-mounted ovens instead of the usual over/under combination. (This allows you to reach straight in--safer, also less bending and such.) Garbage disposal in the sink--bonus points if it shunts the solid mass off so it's recoverable for compost.

Instant water heaters for the bathroom. No more waiting for hot water in the shower--turn it on and it's there. And you're not paying 24h a day to keep water hot.

If you live somewhere winter is a Thing, direct access to garage from house (if you have a garage).

Something some acquaintances did: laundry room is usually in the basement. That sucks! They put the laundry room on the same floor as bedrooms and main bathroom. Why spend all that time hauling stuff up and down?

Walk-in shower, separate from the bathtub. Easier to get in and out, less slippage, more pleasant in both cases imho.

Hardwood everything. Much easier to maintain than wall-to-wall carpet and is timeless.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:35 AM on July 6, 2015 [10 favorites]

Along the automation front, you can go modern (and expensive) and get kits to turn your house into a smart home. But if you don't want to spend all that money, I'd still go with the basics - programmable thermostat, timer (or light sensor) for outdoor lights; install an outlet and timer in an ideal access area for Christmas lights if you plan to string them up, etc.

Comfort - efficiency gains from a new furnace or heating system can be outpaced several times over by gains from better insulation. If the house hasn't been significantly renovated or reinsulated in the last 30 years, get a few quotes for the spray insulation that doesn't require tearing down the walls.

If you cook a lot, especially anything that requires lots of water like pasta, install one of those foldaway faucets on the wall above your stove - no more carrying or sliding heavy pots from the sink to the stove.
posted by trivia genius at 10:37 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you are going to refinish floors or repaint, do it before you move in!
posted by monotreme at 10:42 AM on July 6, 2015 [7 favorites]

It's a huge investment, but new windows totally changed the experience of our older house. Not sure how old your house is, but being able to open and close windows and have actual soundproofing went a long way for us. (Plus it saved on heating bills since we weren't letting all the warm air out of the single-pane windows!)

The coat rack in the entry hall is perhaps the most-used thing we've installed, now that I think of it. Exterior outlets are also a huge help, way more useful than I imagined they'd be.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:42 AM on July 6, 2015 [7 favorites]

For me, it's all about storage and organization. Not just enough storage, but the right types in the right place. For example, our kitchen has this amazing cabinet for holding spices (just deep enough for a spice jar, many shelves) right behind the stove, so I can turn around and grab spices easily while I'm cooking. Since it's a shallow cabinet, nothing is behind anything else, and nothing gets lost. Similarly, there's a shallow drawer right under the cooktop that's perfect for skillets and a deep one below that for larger pots and pans. There's an "appliance garage" cabinet where we hide the toaster and coffee grinder -- they're just as accessible as if they were out in the open, but when you're not using them, they're out of sight. This kind of thoughtful storage makes such a huge difference in the day to day usability of the kitchen. I always know where stuff is, and there's less clutter because it's easy to put things away in the right place. I wish I could take credit for all of this, but the previous owners of our house put it all in.

We also have a fairly sophisticated home automation system, controlling our TVs, multiroom audio system, climate control, and lighting. I love it, and I do think it improves quality of life quite a bit. For example, we have a "movie" mode for the lights that: dims the lights in the beginning, leaving enough light to get settled while still setting the mood; then shuts the lights off completely (in the whole house) when you hit the "play" button; then when you hit "pause" it slowly brings up the lights in the room as well as the paths to the kitchen and bathroom, to a low level so it doesn't blind you, but enough to get around. And when you hit "stop" (or power off), all of the lights gradually come up to full brightness. It's super cool. But I'm a geek, and I wouldn't say that this is a high "bang for buck" quality of life improvement. It's expensive, and requires quite a bit of tinkering. I'd not recommend it unless you want to get into "home automation" as a hobby.
posted by primethyme at 10:45 AM on July 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

A few of the things we did that were cheap, but really helped out:

*Add a couple of BIG DEEP drawers in the kitchen for small appliance storage. We installed ours as part of a cabinet in the teeny "breakfast nook" we never used anyway.
*Install pull out shelves in all the lower kitchen cabinets. (Like these)
*Do the same for the sink trash/recycling bins under the sink.
* Mount some magnetic strips somewhere convenient for your knives.

*Add a solatube skylight to a dark bathroom.
*Add "train rack" style towel storage over the toilet.

*Add restaurant style shelving in the garage. Get it off craigslist or buy it used from a local restaurant supply place to save a bit.
*Hang a couple of cheap IKEA kitchen cabinets for more garage storage. It's nice to hide all those little tools and stuff. They are easy to install.
*Hang Rubbermaid FastTrack wall storage (or DIY it or whatever) for rakes and shovels and other things.
*Get an automatic garage door opener.

*Make raised planter beds and fit them with drip irrigation right from the start. You can tie into your home's existing irrigation system without too much trouble and put your drip system on your timer.
*Add more exterior lighting out back, plus a couple extra exterior outlets so you can plug stuff in when you're outside.
*Add a solar powered "security" light.
posted by notyou at 10:47 AM on July 6, 2015 [7 favorites]

Replace or refinish your floors before you move in. Among many other benefits, it will save you from a massive headache if you decide you want to do it a few years later and have to move everything out (or out of the way).
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 10:47 AM on July 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

A screened in porch. Depending on your local climate, this means a covered, bug-free area that you can enjoy for most of the year.

Extra insulation in the attic

Under-cabinet lighting

A water cut-off valve inside your house. You might already have this. If you don't, locate the outside water cut-off immediately so that you know where it is, and if you need a special wrench to turn the valve off, buy that wrench and hang it someplace where you will pass it as you run out the door to turn the water off at 2AM.
posted by jquinby at 10:48 AM on July 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh, other friends of mine were able to renovate their house such that they had their master bedroom and ensuite bath, a walkin closet that opened on both and out to the hallway. Whenever they had differing wake/sleep schedules, was a godsend--one person could get up, shower, get dressed without having to turn on lights and disturb the other.

primethyme I want to come watch movies at your house I can bring popcorn
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:49 AM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

My friend has a small (but mighty) water filter installed under her sink, which makes it so that all the water that comes out of her kitchen faucet is filtered. No bulky attachment on the faucet, no tiny separate faucet for filtered water, and certainly no need for a water cooler or Britta.

Also, I stayed in an airbnb last month that had a Nest thermostat and it was amazing.
posted by lunasol at 10:50 AM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Just as a point of reference, the house is a 1970s stereotypical suburban house. 2800 square feet on two floors.
posted by _DB_ at 10:51 AM on July 6, 2015

We are big fans of hanging laundry outside to dry and cemented two large wooden beams into the ground with a retractable clothes line (all at Home Depot). Now, we don't have to worry about a pesky clothesline in the yard when we are actually in the yard and not drying clothes, and we don't have the weight of wet clothes pulling on the trim of our house, which we previously had. It was super easy and we mounted bird houses on the tops of the poles so that if you are not in the know, it looks like we just installed birdhouses on top of very large poles for some garden whimsy.
posted by archimago at 10:55 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Replace carpet with hardwood or tile.

Replace your toilet seats with ones that have a hinge that allows the lid to slowly and silently descend.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 11:04 AM on July 6, 2015 [9 favorites]

If you live in a climate that gets cold in the winter, radiant floor heat esp in kitchen and bathroom.

Seconding having the washer/dryer on the same floor as the bedrooms, especially if you're planning to have kids. Oh, so much laundry.

A "house calendar" that will remind you when it's time to do all those once or twice a year tasks like cleaning the furnace filter.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 11:05 AM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

A pull-down, "swan" or "gooseneck" faucet. Here's a pretty definitive AskMetafilter discussion on the subject, which includes my own cheerleading for this hardware object of wonderment.
posted by Elsie at 11:07 AM on July 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Central vacuum system!
posted by TurquoiseZebra at 11:12 AM on July 6, 2015

A really big bathtub.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:14 AM on July 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

Outlets everywhere. My kitchen counter has 16 outlets at counter-height and I love every one of them.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:18 AM on July 6, 2015

These hooks are great. I have them by the front door for the kids' backpacks, and in the garage for other backpacks, trekking poles, etc. It's a small thing, but it's definitely made certain areas of the house better.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:22 AM on July 6, 2015

This is a creative interpretation of your question, but invest in a really nice, modern Wi-Fi router. Like this one or this one or this one. Houses are big and having a nice router rather than a cheap one or whatever your ISP sells you will save you many headaches. It greatly increases the chance that you'll get a signal all over your property and makes it unlike that any performance problems are caused by your router.
posted by Tehhund at 11:34 AM on July 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

The chapters in this book (George Nelson's 'Tommorow's House) regarding storage and lighting might be interesting to you - I was shocked when I read it how common-sense a lot of the suggestions were. There's a lot in there regarding the general organization of your house, as well, and some small stuff that might be nice/interesting to have, if you can figure out how - things like illuminated keyholes, for example.

Plus, plenty of midcentury modern eye candy.
posted by sagc at 11:39 AM on July 6, 2015 [7 favorites]

Things my parents did in their renovation that boosted quality of life:
- conduction stove. Boils water crazy fast, nice even heat. Delightful to use.
- pull out shelves in the lower cabinets and pantry. So much easier to pull out a drawer of pots and pick the one you need
- dimmer switches on the lights
- media center: TV wall mounted with cables running behind the wall to a nearby media closet. RF universal remote control to manage everything. Surround sound speakers built in to the ceiling and walls, eliminating cables running around the room. You can pry that system from my dad's cold, dead hands.
posted by bluloo at 11:47 AM on July 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Agree with many of the above. Here's my list (some are products/not projects):

Better lighting
Exterior outlets (for electric tools and holiday lights)
A quiet, powerful bathroom fan
Under cabinet lighting
Door levers instead of knobs for interior doors - you can use your elbow to open them if your hands are full!
Whole house fan if you don't have ac
Register vent booster fans if heat/ac isn't reaching second floor
Exterior holder for dog waste bags if you have dogs - OR an in-ground pet waste composter.
Curved shower rod
Boot scraper outside exterior door
Insulate outlets on exterior walls.
posted by vitabellosi at 12:13 PM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

My favorite indulgence is switching out all of the (usually mismatched and typically ugly) wall plates for the outlets, light switches, old cable power points, etc all over the house for matching, sleek stainless steel ones. I'm about to do it in the apartment I just moved into and am only renting because I love the easy upgrade so much!
posted by cristalina at 12:16 PM on July 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

I agree with primethyme: figuring out your storage is key. When my wife and I moved, we downsized significantly, and an important part of our remodeling was figuring out how much storage we wanted. Speaking of storage, I'm a big fan of using built-ins as much as possible. It declutters the house, uses the space more efficiently, and makes the house easier to keep clean.

A big chopping-block countertop in the kitchen instead of cutting boards. Makes prep work faster, easier, more social. Also makes your kitchen look lived-in, which could be good or bad.

Probably the thing that did the most to improve our quality of life in our home was putting on a screened-in porch. It's somewhat peculiar to our circumstances: we live adjacent to a mosquito ranch, so we need the screens to be able to enjoy being outside. But I recommend it anyhow.
posted by adamrice at 12:17 PM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Fair warning about induction cooktops: they don't work with all cookware.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:19 PM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

An optimized-for-your-layout Whole House Fan/Ventilation system to supplement the HVAC system. Pretty much anywhere you live has a time of year that falls in the "we wouldn't have to turn on the A/C if we could suck a lot of outside air into the house and vent the heat away" zone.

Underfloor heating where useful - bathrooms for sure, and sometimes a large vaulted-ceiling living room feels more comfortable without having to run forced-air heat to fill the room if the heat is coming from the floor close to the people and their feet.

My dream item: steam shower(or this one which I think might also be a teleporter?). I get cold and want to warm up, I get colds and end up taking long water-wasting showers to get some relief.

At least twice the baseline insulation.

A Toto Washlet and the requisite wiring for it.

I'm all about temperature and comfort, clearly.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:22 PM on July 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you're getting any kind of electrical work done challenge the location and number of your power outlets and light switches. Needs and preferences have changed since the 1970s. Also, USB wall sockets are the best thing since sliced bread. Think very carefully about your lighting as well. It is so fundamental to the feeling or a room or an area within a room even and makes all the difference between liking a space or not - to me at least.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:24 PM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Came in here to suggest the Toto Washlet, as Lyn Never did, and an on-demand hot water recirculator like the Metlund D'Mand for the bathroom. It is amazing to be able to go from bed straight to hot shower.
posted by straw at 12:35 PM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

+1'ing the soft close seats and the Rubbermaid closet system. I'm not trying to impress anyone with my closet, but the Rubbermaid gets rid of the stupid angle brackets and lets you slide hangers the whole way, for cheap.

And adding that as a runner, I <3 my Kwikset keypad deadbolt. A bonus is that it locks itself after ~30 seconds (can be switched off with a DIP switch) so I never have to wonder whether I left the deadbolt locked. There are fancier ones with automation, etc., but this is a nice KISS compromise.
posted by ftm at 12:41 PM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

A few things that haven't yet been mentioned:

A keypad for garage entry (assuming you have an attached garage): no more carrying a key with you while you walk the dog or go for a run!

Switches for both the ceiling fan and the light kit, like this one, are so much easier to operate than those awful pull chains. After the electrician installed one in the guest room, I called him back to do one just like it for my office.
posted by DrGail at 12:51 PM on July 6, 2015

You can DIY install track lighting or have an electrician install cans in the ceiling. Do this everywhere. But don't bother with dimmers and wall switches. Use smart led light bulbs everywhere. This gives you much more control, including color temperature, and you can have wall mounted switches that select various presets. No need for lots of wiring and complicated dimmer systems. The Philips Hue system is a good one but there are many others.
posted by conrad53 at 1:18 PM on July 6, 2015

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.....B A S E M E N T S A U N A.....!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

...not those infa-red thingies but a proper cedar sauna with well serviced heater. You don't need a floor drain or anything besides easy access to a shower. My wife and I would sit in it in the dead of winter and say, "The best money we ever spent!"
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:36 PM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I love our ceiling fans. We have one in every room on the main floor.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 1:47 PM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

The best shower and tub in the world. So spend some time and money on a really good showerhead (and I agree, a large walk-in shower is really great). I inherited my dad's house which has a lot more labor saving stuff in it than I would normally have and a few things I really like are

- those no-slam toilet seats, seriously amazing
- each bathroom has its own little nest of bathroom cleaning products in it, no carrying everything from a close to go clean stuff
- under-cabinet lights so you can really see the countertops
- a spice drawer with all the spices sort of lying down and angled (basically this)
- upstairs laundry, agreed
- fridge that makes really good ice and filtered water
- mattress pad warmers if you live somewhere cold
- in-wall ductless AC units for the bedroom if you live somewhere hot

The X-10 system is hit or miss, I've written about it before. It was nice to have all the lights going on and off in a regular way but it was hard for someone not my dad to reprogram and now there are still some lights that go on and off randomly which is a little annoying?
posted by jessamyn at 2:22 PM on July 6, 2015

And if you go this far... an acquaintance of mine has a hot tub in his backyard. Also built in an outdoor shower. Fantastic, even when not using the hot tub, for cooling off on hot days.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:25 PM on July 6, 2015

I would have never shelled out money for this, but the home we moved into has amazing windows and blinds; both open from the top as well as the bottom. I absolutely love this feature at night, when I can slide the window down from the top, lower the blinds halfway down, and then walk around wearing whatever I want without worrying that some creepo is looking in. I also love it in the mornings, when we can let the sun in but still keep some privacy.

Apparently the windows are referred to as "double hung", and the blinds are called "Top Down Bottom Up". It's a great combination of features.

The other thing we love is that the storm doors both have retractable screens. Whenever we want to let some air in, we just slide the glass down and the screen takes its place. It feels super safe, and I think it keeps the screens in better shape than a normal screen door would.
posted by redsparkler at 3:18 PM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Check out your electrical capacity. If it's less than 100amps you may need to upgrade (esp for those wonderful tankless water heaters).

Long winters are much more bearable now that we have a skylight each in kitchen & dining room plus two in living room. If you can afford to, wait to do it when your roof needs a tear off replacement (likely before 2020 unless it's already been rebuilt).

A place to store your refuse/recycle bins that's near enough to go to in slippers, and hidden enough so you never have to look at them.

If you're doing any plumbing, make sure each plumbed room has its own shut-off valve.

Sorry to be so spendy but we had to deal with these in both our houses :(
posted by Jesse the K at 4:53 PM on July 6, 2015

- agree with lever door handles. we only did the first floor, which frankly is where you need it most - coming in and out with hands full makes things so much easier!
- we only had 2 outdoor water spigots - one in front (in the garage of all places) and one in back. It made getting to one side of the house difficult, plus I hated getting water all over the garage (it was always leaking). installing another spigot where there was water on the inside wall was fairly easy (for the experts) and so worth it.
- central vac: we found it too bulky and heavy to move around, however we love the kickplate in the kitchen - just sweep up the area and kick it open, it sucks while you push your pile in. genius.
- agree with dimmers
- and wall switches for fans (including a dimmer for the light!)
- remote control outlets for ambient lighting in our family room for when we want some light (esp in winter) but don't want to turn the ceiling fan light on
posted by evening at 5:10 PM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Many great ideas in this thread, and I want to contribute a more ephemeral one if you are both very busy.

Get a housecleaning company to come in every couple of weeks. You get that new, house on market feel without all the hard work. You and your partner get to work together at picking up the house before they come and make it shine.
posted by nickggully at 7:59 PM on July 6, 2015

Only put in cabinet pull outs if you're retrofitting existing cabinets. If you do a full remodel get ALL DRAWERS in the bottom. You'll love it.
posted by wwartorff at 8:36 PM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you are doing a kitchen remodel, and you are at all on the tall side (I am 5'8" and my husband is 6'2"), consider having your base cabinets made taller. It is SO nice to not have an aching back while chopping or washing up. If you are going w/ pre-fab units, have little bases made that they can sit on. Best money we spent in this house.

Ditto the slow close toilet lids/seats. Also the best money we ever spent.
posted by jvilter at 8:55 PM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Remote lights, but not for the living room - for the bedroom. At night, I can turn the room light on, get into bed, and then turn off the lights from my phone or tablet or laptop, instead of fumbling around in the dark or having a partner help with the shuffle.

If I were remodeling, putting a three-way switch for the overhead light instead (entry and both sides of the bed) would be better, but I'll settle for an app on my phone.
posted by fragmede at 11:18 PM on July 6, 2015

Is there asbestos in it? If you want to get it removed, do so before you move in. If it was built before 1978, it may well have asbestos.

Attic insulation can be done after you move in, but it can make a big difference in heating/cooling bills.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:12 AM on July 7, 2015

Create (or improve) a transitional space between in and out, between house and garden, between socks and big dirty boots, etc. It could be a porch or a back room or whatever, but it should be a space where you can use windows and screens to seal it off from the elements and open it into the house, or open it to the elements but seal it off from the house, or open it on both sides to be the place where you can make quick and easy transitions.

It's where the filthy gardener becomes the cleaned-up cook and vice versa. It's where you come in from messing about in the snow or the mud or the rain or the dust. It's where you prepare for going out, where you deploy your stuff (bikes, skis, kites, whatever) before going out into the weather. And if it faces the street, it could also be where you meet the world and the world meets you. If your house was a submarine or a rocket, this would be your airlock. But unlike an airlock, you can also open both ends at once and let the air flow through.

It has screened windows, it has a nice big sink for scrubbing people and things, it has room to sit, it has capacious cupboards, and you can walk right through from inside the house to outside the house unimpeded by narrow doors and passages. Maybe it has double doors so you can open and close just one door most of the time but you can open both doors to let a lot of air and light in or to get big stuff in and out more easily.
posted by pracowity at 3:16 AM on July 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

Nthing electrical outlets with built-in USB chargers. My mom just got those installed in her kitchen and loves them for charging devices. They'll probably be obsolete in 25 years, but by then it will just be a fun piece of nostalgia like the slit in your medicine cabinet for used razor blades.
posted by whitewall at 5:21 AM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

A really big bathtub.

Tall person here. Specifically, a tub with a tall "height to overflow" is what you want. Some deep tubs don't actually let the water get very deep, and then I'm left shivering in the tub again. This was our choice.

We also have a curved double shower curtain rod, so we use the inner rod for the shower curtain and the outer one to hang our towels. The curved rods are great because they make the shower feel bigger.

Our fan switches have timers on them (example).

Kitchen: drawers drawers drawers. Under cabinet lighting. Pull out pantry. Baseboard drawers. Separate area for coffee/tea (get the espresso machine off my baking counter!). We also have a half-depth drawer under the sink (so it doesn't hit pipes) that has garbage bins in it. And we have one counter area that is empty underneath for cat bowls so no one steps in the water dish.
posted by heatherann at 5:58 AM on July 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

Regarding furniture, I am a huge fan of Room and Board. It's expensive, but their stuff lasts forever and can be ordered in a wide variety of sizes, finishes and hardware options.

I recently bought a new maple chest of drawers with gunmetal base and knobs to go with my 15-year old nightstand. It is a perfect match, and the quality workmanship makes it a pleasure to use. Similarly, a few years ago, after years of hard use, I replaced the maple top on my dining room table. It looks like new at a fraction of the cost of buying a replacement.

Their service is also terrific. When they delivered my new table top, that included installation, and removal of the old one. When they delivered my new chest, I asked about a sticking drawer on the old nightstand. I half-expected an "Are you kidding?!" but they repaired it cheerfully.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 9:21 AM on July 7, 2015

Blackout curtains = better sleep = quality of life. Definitely in the "how did we ever live without that" department.

(Just to be clear, blackout curtains look just like regular curtains on the room-facing side. Ours are metallic and modern and expensive-looking but cost all of $25 at Target).
posted by rada at 10:27 AM on July 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh yes, the curved shower curtain rod. Love ours. People comment on it all the time. Makes our small mid century tub feel way bigger.
posted by jvilter at 11:02 AM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

What improvements can be made to a home that result in the greatest increase in quality of life?

A dog.

I'm only half joking, honestly. A dog is the most life-improving thing we've added to our home, by a huge margin. And more in keeping with the intent of your question, getting the backyard fenced in has made dog ownership a million times better, too. Now he can romp around and play off-leash, which is tons of fun for him and us. The icing on the cake is being able to let him out to pee on his own rather than having to take him out on a leash when it's hot, cold, raining, mosquito-y, too early to be dressed, too late to be dressed, etc.
posted by vytae at 8:08 PM on July 7, 2015

I also like the storm door where you pull down the window and the screen automatically appears- excellent!
posted by Upon Further Review at 9:20 PM on July 8, 2015

Proper drainage in your bathrooms and (possibly) laundry.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:25 PM on July 9, 2015

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