Pimp my house: Let's renovate my house to Awesomenessosity!
May 1, 2008 2:55 PM   Subscribe

Pimp My House: We bought a house, but we're not moving into it for another month. It's currently empty. What cool projects should I undertake before we move in?

Right, so I'm going to be retopping the driveway, fixing the garage floor, shampooing all the carpets, tearing down some wallpaper, and remodeling one bedroom. These are all necessary, but dull things to do.

What sort of things would you do to your house if it were empty? All suggestions open from practical ("Installing that shower head that pours water straight down") to wildly impractical ("recessed disco-balls in every room!") wanted.

House is in Minnesota, so some climate-base consideration are necessary. We've been saving for some time for this, so we have a fairly large budget. Tiered gardens? X10? Escalators instead of stairs? Trash compactor? Permanent soap dispensers? Robot maid?
posted by unixrat to Home & Garden (29 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
I was in your situation a few years ago, so right off the top of my head are the three things I wished we'd done before we moved in:

New paint (both interior and exterior)
Remodel the kitchen (It's much easier to do this if you're not living in the house)
Install/refinish hardwood floors
posted by optovox at 3:04 PM on May 1, 2008

Rip up all the carpets and put something cool down. Remove the stupid wallpaper, and replace it with awesome wallpaper and paint. Retile the bathrooms. Scrape the ceiling if you have that popcorn crap, and replace ceiling fans.
posted by 23skidoo at 3:10 PM on May 1, 2008

- Do you have more than one level? Put in a firefighter's pole!
- Set-up a recuperation system for gray water
- Set up a wallbed
- Put your (acl or plasma) TV in a wall, behind a one-way mirror

That's it for now. Have fun moving in!
posted by ddaavviidd at 3:10 PM on May 1, 2008

Seconding the kitchen remodel and/or flooring

Other ideas:
Built-in shelving
Central vacuum
Closet organizers
posted by toomuch at 3:11 PM on May 1, 2008

It's probably a great time to get started on a garden. I see your weather is somewhere in the 50s with some rain coming. Perfect for new plants! If it keeps raining, you won't have to water them and by the time you move in, you'll have some nice herbs or flowers.
Buy young plants instead of seeds if you want them to look good by the time you get there.
posted by rmless at 3:23 PM on May 1, 2008

Definitely anything that makes a huge mess (especially with dust), or that needs all the floors clear.

So this is absolutely the time to refinish floors, install new carpet, and repaint the walls. How new is the roof?

I would also suggest taking a serious look at the house's energy consumption and efficiency -- this is a great moment to add insulation, replace the old water heater with a new efficient one, take a look at the furnace/ac, consider replacing old windows with new ones, and so on. With energy prices high, investing in efficiency may be not only good ecologically but also good financially.

I don't know what kind of house it is, but consider doing at least a few of the things suggested by Universal Design -- it is a lot easier to think about bathroom fixtures and doorways now than it is after one of you breaks a leg skiing and needs to figure out how to get around the house on crutches for four months.
posted by Forktine at 3:25 PM on May 1, 2008

If it's an older home that has any outside walls that aren't insulated, now is the time to perform wall-surgery! Not a particularly groovy project, but you'll thank yourself for it.

If I had the means, I'd replace all doors and hardware throughout the house. (Again, this might best apply to older homes with warped doors ... or to any-age homes with crappy veneered/hollow doors.)

New hardware for bathrooms, too. Create a hardware theme for the house. (All brushed nickel lever handles, or shiny stainless steel, or whatever.)

Replace all switchplates and outlet-plates.

For that matter, make sure you have *enough* outlets and wire accordingly. Make sure they're all grounded (3-prong).

If the carpet looks bad, consider getting new instead of shampooing. Chances are the sellers shampooed recently, and if it *still* looks like that, you know what I mean?

My suggestions are more dull than disco, sorry!
posted by iguanapolitico at 3:26 PM on May 1, 2008

Install a floor to ceiling shelving unit, in front of the bedroom closet, and equip it with wheels, so it can swivel. Kind of like turning your closet into a prohibitionist room. This would not only double your closet space, it would be wicked awesome.

Install tube lighting. These are fiber optic cables which re-direct the sunlight striking the roof into the light fixtures on your ceiling. Totally badass, and saves money, too. Or, maybe just put in skylights.

If you have cats, install a cat walkway along the ridge of the ceiling- and punch holes so it goes from room to room.

Speaking of closets, make two separate closets- one for clean clothes and one for worn but not dirty enough to wash clothes. Always wanted that.

If you want to be the envy of every kid in the world, put in secret room in the attic, that you can only access by removing a floor panel, crawling under floor a bit, then standing up inside the wall (which will be extra thick at that point) and climbing up a small ladder. Of course, there will be a window, so you can get out in a hurry.
posted by proj08 at 3:32 PM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

Another "envy of neighborhood kids" idea: Take one room and turn it upside down. Meaning, all the furniture gets nailed to the ceiling, and the light fixtures are installed on the floor. Even the light switch will be installed upside down. Total waste of a room, but that would fucking rock.
posted by proj08 at 3:35 PM on May 1, 2008

OK, last one. A laundry chute, from the second floor directly into the basement where the washer and dryer are.
posted by proj08 at 3:39 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

3 words - Whole House automation

whole house stereo system is very cool, speakers with seperate volume controls in every room allow you to at least listen to the tv show or sporting event you were watching before you had to go to the bathroom. they also make a bathroom tv that is build into the vanity mirror. when TV is off, you have regular mirror, when it's on it shows up through the mirror, way cool

in your kitchen get the dishwasher and refrigerators that take the place of cabinet drawers, especially if you have an island

X10 is o.k., but if you have the budget there are so many better systems. X-10 is strickly entry level automation. Get something like an Omni Pro system from HAI

Put electronic srikers & cameras in your front door, so when someone rings the doorbell while you are watching the game, you hit a button on your remote, it opens a picture in picture box on your TV, you see it's the pizza guy, so you pick up your telephone, hit a button that activates the intercom, say " come on in" and press another button that unlocks the door.
posted by Mr_Chips at 3:47 PM on May 1, 2008

I think you should check out the thread on Home Hacks there are lots of cool ideas in there. Here are my suggestions, some of them have been mentioned.

Change flooring (Radiant floors would be awesome in a cold climate)
Tear down walls to make it a more open floorplan
Install central vacuum
Built in shelving (especially in the master closet)
Build cabinets near the toilets that can store a)lots of toilet paper and b) the toilet brush
Solar panels
Tankless water heater
Make sure there are built in areas in showers or around bathtubs for soap, shampoo, etc.
Install multiple shower heads/body sprays in master shower
Install a clock that you can see from the shower

That's all I can think of right now. Best of luck and post an update when it is all done.
posted by bove at 3:48 PM on May 1, 2008

Seconding Universal Design. Especially if you plan on getting old in this house.
posted by resurrexit at 4:04 PM on May 1, 2008

A few things I did in the 2 weeks my house was empty...
-Painting (especially ceilings)
-In-wall shelving
-Wood floors (easier to clean up the dust!)
-Wire it for television/ethernet in every room (I have feeds going to the attic, distributing to each top floor bedroom from there)
-Plumbing work (turning water off has minimal impact on livability if the house is empty)
posted by KevCed at 4:07 PM on May 1, 2008

Just want to emphasize how great radiant heat floors, central vac, and good wiring are.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:22 PM on May 1, 2008

Things I bitterly regret doing while living in our house:

1) Refinishing the wood floors by our inexperienced selves. Orange dust everywhere => orange popcorn ceiling.
2) Removing orange popcorn ceiling. Little bits of orange "popcorn" everywhere, plus--bonus!--we learned why the previous owners had put the popcorn up in the first place. See #3.
3) Re-sheetrocking the ceilings to cover up all the cracked plaster that the popcorn had previously been hiding. Joint compound dust everywhere, plus--bonus!--it was in the middle of torrential rains and the criminals we hired to do it left our house awash in joint-compound-dust-mud.
4) Remodeling the one and only bathroom by our inexperienced, i.e., SLOW, selves. We actually did a pretty good job on this, but my personal day limit for um, going in a joint compound bucket lined with a garbage bag was exceeded by many weeks.
5) Remodeling the kitchen. Anyone who has lived through one of these will tell you the same thing: If you think you might possibly, conceivably, remotely ever want to remodel your kitchen at any point in the future, do it before you move in! Before we embarked on this project, I read lots of articles about it and clearly remember rolling my eyes at all the ones warning how hard it could be on a marriage. Right on schedule, three months into our remodel I was slamming doors and demanding a divorce. I can laugh about it now (barely), but I was dead serious at the time.

Also, Rock Steady is right-- you can't imagine how wonderful radiant floors are until you experience them for yourself.
posted by Enroute at 6:00 PM on May 1, 2008

Install a secret passage or secret hidey hole. Some ideas include a wall safe or bookcase covered closet. Pull down light fixture lever optional.

Also, check if all light fixtures are properly grounded. Ours aren't. :(
posted by Phalene at 6:34 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

How about your own gym? Turning one room into an exercise room could be cool. Oh! Rock Climbing wall?

Green it! Better insulation, windows, whatever you can do.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 7:00 PM on May 1, 2008

Install tube lighting. These are fiber optic cables which re-direct the sunlight striking the roof into the light fixtures on your ceiling. Totally badass, and saves money, too.

Does anyone know of any retailers in the US? I'd like to investigate this further. There are a few small-windowed rooms in the finished basement.

Great ideas guy, keep them coming.
posted by unixrat at 8:08 PM on May 1, 2008

Google "tubular skylight" or "solar tube" to start finding companies. There are a bunch, some quite mainstream; Home Depot carries at least one brand; here is a link from Lowes on the subject.
posted by Forktine at 8:27 PM on May 1, 2008

Me, personally? Rip out all of the modern molding and put in the vintagey kind that's like 6 inches wide. i hate wallpaper but I really love the reissues that they're doing right now - the french parlor whorehouse look in particular. Ebony hardwood floors throughout the house, because I personally do not like having different flooring in different rooms. Set up one room as a gym, complete with one wall totally mirrored. Glass countertops in the kitchen. Wire every room for cable/satellite and phone, if it's not already. Also think about wiring for stereo/intercom in every room as well?

I used to be a personal assistant for a VP at sprint - she had 10 showerheads in her shower (that was the size of my large walk-in closet), and I got to use it when I was housesitting for her one month. That shower.... oh my! She also had a small garbage compactor in her kitchen that was AWESOME! Thinking... oh, she also had a regular fridge and then a smaller fridge in the butler's pantry for sodas and beer.

I'm currently owned by 3 chihuahuas that love to sunbathe, so I'd turn a bedroom that gets a lot of sun into a sunroom/library - large windows and built-in bookcases.

If there's room, turn the attic into it's own COMPLETED room and use it either for yourself or for guests.

More shelving in all the closets. And if there's not any real space in them (particularly in the master closet), I'd borrow space from an adjoining room. And in that same vein, make the bathroom bigger by borrowing from the next room over and throw in a jet tub.

..... dammit, now I want to do this!!!!!1
posted by damnjezebel at 9:02 PM on May 1, 2008

Pretty much what Enroute said. I know they're not exciting jobs, but you really, really don't want to be living in a house while you remove popcorn ceiling!

Personally, I would love to have grey-water recycling for our lawn sprinklers, but sadly we have a slab foundation, so that's not gonna happen.

We have radiant floors in the bathroom and it is fantastic! Highly recommended. Also have tankless water heater - for infinite-length hot showers, followed by stepping onto warm, comfy tile floors. Mmmm :)

Do you have cats? I have this idea for having the litter trays outdoors, but in an enclosure, connected to the house by a cat flap in the wall. So all the smell stays outside, but indoor cats are still strictly indoors. My friend suggested situating the litter tray enclosure directly over the garbage cans, so you could just open a trapdoor to empty the trays :D Bit wasteful on the litter though...
posted by Joh at 9:10 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

- Dumbwaiter.
- Linen closet, or other built-in storage for that kind of thing.
- Nice moldings in rooms, top and bottom, make a big difference to how finished/nice they look; new construction especially omits these.
- Seconding universal design for at least one bathroom, pref. on the first floor.
- Nice heavy pocket doors are really cool. (Cheap light ones suck though.)
- Radiant floors are great but mean that you shouldn't use too many oriental rugs (which otherwise are so lovely on wood floors).
- You could put up a picture rail along the top of the walls and then always be able to re-adjust your art easily.
- Nice banister/newell post, if you have stairs that will accept them.
- Logical working entryway. Enough room for several people to come in out of the cold before taking off coats etc (so, for example, don't just have them step into a tiny one-person tiled space and then carpet. Make the tile entryway more generous). Closet openings that don't interfere with the front door. Maybe install a set of pigeonholes up on the wall near the door/garage entry where you can stuff various outdoorsy things - hats, mitts, sunblock, whatever.
- Check out the basement drainage situation carefully before you decide what to put down there. Does it have a sump pump? Does it need one? Are plants and other outdoor stuff well away from the foundation? Check out your area's overall drainage situation/topography as you're thinking about what kind of insurance you want (eg do you need extra insurance for flooding damage).
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:48 PM on May 1, 2008

Oh -my in-laws have a "steam shower" (in their regular shower, square glass enclosure) and LOVE it for cold weather. Worth looking into for sure.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:51 PM on May 1, 2008

If you have small kids: whole attic as a single big room for play, sleepovers, etc - maybe with bunks or alcove bed-platforms, porthole windows, secret closets, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:59 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Slightly OT: what is a "popcorn ceiling"?

On topic: Electroluminescent lighting panels. I saw this on an inventor's TV show two nights ago and it absolutely rocks.

+1 for recycling water, insulating walls, installing a gym.

I'd add insulating ***internal*** walls, too, if you could. Cuts down on sound transmission from room to room.

+1000 for floor-to-ceiling bookshelves...how I dream of floor to ceiling bookshelves....
posted by flutable at 5:25 AM on May 2, 2008

Projects we did before moving into our house:
  • Shampooed carpets (the parts we were keeping)
  • Replaced carpet
  • Cleaned all walls and surfaces (former residents were heavy smokers)
  • Removed wallpaper
  • Painted all walls and ceilings
  • Had all major appliances and new large furniture delivered
Projects I wish we'd done before moving in:
  • Replaced all windows
  • Refinished kitchen cabinets
  • Replaced kitchen floor
  • Installed 1-piece bathtub surround
  • Replaced doors
  • Replaced the rest of the carpet
PS: flutable: Popcorn Ceiling is a spray-on accoustic ceiling treatment that looks like cottage cheese and is often used to cover up imperfections, water stains, etc.
posted by LolaGeek at 6:55 AM on May 2, 2008

A conservatory/mud room off the kitchen. All glass, to be used partially as a green house for starting bedding plants, partly as a sunroom/breakfast nook, and partly to keep the cold/hot outside air out of the kitchen.

A second floor balcony off the master bed room, built over the existing porch (um, I guess you sort of have to have an existing porch.)

A brick walk instead of the ugly and ordinary concrete.

A pergola next to the garage for beautiful summer seating.

A fish pond.

Flowering shrubs (lilacs, magnolias, forsythia, whatever) in the garden.

Gosh, a garden for that matter

Unique and distinctive door pulls on the kitchen cabinets. Doorknobs too, throughout the house, come to think of it.

This is fun!
posted by nax at 9:34 AM on May 2, 2008

an indoor outdoor shower -- with a door to the shower from the bathroom, and from a secluded nook outside, so on nice days you can have an "outdoor shower" or messy days you can get right in the shower without tracking stuff through your house.
posted by Soulbee at 10:15 AM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

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