Some basics

What will give you the biggest “bang for the buck” when updating your home? Painting and flooring are good places to start.

Painting

It probably goes without saying, but use a good-quality paint. Paints from Sherwin-Williams®, Porter Paints® and Behr® paint (Home Depot) are highly rated. Behr paint tends to cost less.

Tip: The price of paint can add up, so you may want to look out for sales that occur fairly frequently. If you’re using a painter, the painter’s pricing to you should reflect the discounted price the painter almost certainly pays.

If you have wallpaper, think about removing it. Painting over wallpaper will yield very unattractive results.

While often overlooked, your baseboard and shoe molding is definitely something you want to repaint. Freshly painted baseboards and shoe moldings make a significant difference in the overall impression of a house.

Tip: Use wood filler, not caulk, to fill holes and imperfections before painting.

In fact, if you’re painting a room and the baseboard and shoe molding there is banged up, consider replacing them. Doing so is not expensive and doesn’t add much to the cost if you are painting the room anyway.

A bit about baseboard and crown molding

While 5 ¼ inch and even higher baseboard is available, a 3 ½ inch or lower baseboard is more modern and balanced.

You can choose, in order of cost, from MDF (medium-density fiberboard), pine, poplar and oak.

If you’re replacing all your baseboard, consider picking the simplest baseboard – ideally a slab – to get the most modern appearance. Otherwise, match your existing baseboard for a uniform look.

Tip: While it sounds obvious to do so, don’t assume that a contractor will take the trouble to find something that matches what you have exactly.

Turning to crown molding, if you have it and have the opportunity to do so, get rid of it. Crown molding is a traditional, not modern look. At the same time, if you find that removal is more of a pain than it’s worth, consider replacing ornate crown molding with something simple.

Professional painter or do it yourself?

Painting ranks in the low to mid skill category and so is something you can consider doing yourself. This is not to say that anyone can paint, but in our experience being meticulous is the most important aspect of a good paint job. Many professional painters, while having the skill-set to paint, are in a rush and leave you with sub-par work.

In fact, after several bad experiences with “professional” painters, we decided to simply do the painting ourselves.

There are many helpful articles and videos online that outline basic techniques and offer helpful tips. If you are meticulous and willing to spend the time, you will end up with a superior finished product.

Of course, if you don’t have the time or do not want to deal with the hassle of painting, hiring out this work is fine too.

Tip: It was our experience with painting companies that while the owners did good work, their employees for the most part did not. So if you are hiring a company, insist that the owner does the work or at minimum is on site at all times.

Of course, with larger companies this is not going to be an option, so this may be a reason to stick with smaller painting crews.

If painting yourself, use a quality paint brush. Good quality roller frames and roller covers are also important. So too is a solid paint tray. It’s also well worth your while to buy disposable paint tray liners. You will save a lot of cleanup time if you do.

For painting doors, microfiber roller covers give by far the best look. Most painters will not have them handy, but you can supply what they need.

Best to use semi-gloss paint in closets and your garage. Your walls will be much easier to keep clean. However, think carefully before using semi-gloss elsewhere because it is high sheen and accentuates drywall imperfections.

Flooring

Hardwood flooring – new

If you decide to install new flooring, you will be able to choose between solid wood and engineered wood. Price-wise the latter is generally somewhat less expensive, but not markedly so.

If you choose solid wood flooring, you will also have to pick between site finished and pre-finished wood. Taking into account the cost of installation, the pre-finished variety is often cheaper. However, it can be harder to refinish.

An advantage of the pre-finished variety is that the factory applied finish will be stronger than what can be done in the field. You also get a factory warranty rather than one from the installer. However, many of the warranties have so many conditions as to be practically worthless for most people.

Another choice to make with hardwood flooring is board width. Three to four inch wide boards are likely to date the best.

Oak is the most popular wood for flooring because of its fairly clean look, strength (ability to withstand dents) and moderate price. Maple is less busy, somewhat stronger and also more expensive. There are many, many more options to pick from. Some are less common, but not necessarily that pricey. For example, Brazilian Cherry.

Tip: Go through the boards and discard the ones with knots and other defects. The flooring installers will typically not do so, and you may well find the worst boards in the most visible areas of your floor!

Hardwood flooring – refinishing

If you have older hardwood floors, consider refinishing them. You will be surprised at how good they will look afterwards.

Tips: Engineered wood (veneer on top of plywood) floors cannot be refinished, so check what you have. To do so, lift a register cover and determine if your flooring is uniform from top to bottom or is layered.

The former is solid wood, the latter is engineered wood. The refinishing people you interview should also be able to tell you.

Make sure shoe molding is removed before the refinishing work begins.

You can choose the stain that will be applied to your refinished floors. Your choices will run from natural to dark.

Tile Flooring

Porcelain tile is the most common. You can find some modern tile options here and here.

You will be able to select between ceramic porcelain and ceramic non-porcelain tile. The former is generally pricier but more durable. And the surface color goes through the tile so any chips that occur over time will be less noticeable.

It is best to get samples (stores will gladly lend them to you) and walk on them to see how they feel underfoot including when they are wet.

Tip: Buy at least 15% more tile than you think you will need. Why extra? Because some tiles will arrive damaged and more will be chipped or broken during the installation process. Also, it is prudent to have extra in case tiles get damaged in the future.

There are color and other variations between tile runs, and the odds of being able to buy more from a given run are low (and get lower over time). So, it’s better to buy more rather than less.

A little about grout

It is important to pick a grout color grout that goes well with your tile. Tile sellers have color sticks that you can borrow to help you decide what works best.

A variety of types are available. Standard grout is inexpensive, but will stain easily. Pricier PowerGrout is supposed to solve the staining problem, but in our experience does not. Epoxy grout is more expensive, but is more stain and water resistant. Epoxy grout is harder to install though, so make sure your installer knows how to work with it.

Where tile meets hardwood

Here you’ll want some sort of transition. Schluter® makes a variety of clean looking transitions that may meet your needs.