Save or Splurge? Maintenance Projects That Are Worth the Higher Cost

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Subject: splurge or save

I like your general suggestions on where to save or spend - but disagree on one point. Tankless water heaters do not need to be costly and can result in savings for you (and the planet).

If you already have a gas line coming in, buy a good standard tankless system online, and hire an Angie's list plumber to install it. These are normally considered high-efficiency appliances, so you need to check local codes for venting. I installed one in my three bedroom, two full bath house, approximately 11 years ago. The model I bought was a Takagi, at a cost of approximately $300. (now the same is around 500.) that delivers 6+ gal/minute. No fancy add on things like remotes. Luckily the venting was simple - straight out of the wall it was mounted on - and cheap. I have never had a problem with the system; never down and endless hot water in a 4-person home (alone a good enough reason to go this route!).

Granted that the initial costs were somewhat higher than a simple HW tank replacement, but primarily because we switched from electric to gas and had to run the existing gas line to it and add a vent. Otherwise, it would have been comparable. I am currently rehabbing a vacation/weekend home and will be putting in a tankless system there. Since the house has solar panels, I may go with an electric tankless unit, but have not yet decided on that. For a home that is used periodically, it makes even more sense to heat water on demand. A standing 30-50 gal tank takes time to heatup (unless you leave it on and continuously pay to keep it up to temperature) and it's just a pain to wait!

So - obviously - I disagree with your recommendation. For me, the "splurge" on a tankless system is well worth it!

Ben Herr

Subject: Disagree on the H2O heater advice

My hot water tank sprung a leak on me ~2 years after buying my house (tank was fairly old) and I replaced with a Rinnai tankless unit. I love that thing. NEVER run out of hot water, not wasting energy heating water when I'm asleep, at work, away from home, water gets hotter than my tank ever did, and best of all a cheaper gas bill.

I didn't go crazy buying my Rinnai and was able to install it myself with my dad's help. I spent around $700 on that Rinnai 7+ years ago and would estimate that it's saved me at least $250-350 on my gas bill, so if I get another ~7 years out of it (and I expect to get more than that) it'll fully pay for itself in my estimation.

So splurge might be at least something to consider, since it's not like you deciding to replace a water heater every 5 years and it's upwards of $1000 vs. $300-600+ for a good tank, so you're not splurging and spending a TON.

Claudia Barley

Subject: Water heaters

When it comes to water heaters, we made the decision to splurge on a tankless hot water heater. We have lp gas which definitely figures into the cost of installation and use of hot water, but we have never been happier. If you use electricity to heat your water you will need separate wiring etc. If you use gas, the line is already there and you only use it when you need hot water. For those people who bought those huge soaker tubs, only to find that their hot water heater could not fill them, the tankless hot water heater is the answer to your dreams. For us, I say, "Splurge!"


Subject: Sewer Repair

Any advice on saving or splurging on sewer repair? I have a bad root problem and clay pipes. I've had plumbers advise me every which way, from installing an outside clean out for $4-6,000 (which may not fix the whole problem), to excavating and replacing the whole thing for $8-15,000.


Subject: Splurge or Save

Love the information on maintenance. I would like to see information on splurge and save for remodeling / common home improvement projects. How do you know how much to spend on a kitchen or bathroom or other project ? And how much is too much and splurging. Where can you save money?

Benno Medina-Balmoral

Subject: Splurge vs. Save on Home Improvements...

Really intelligent, informed and insightful suggestions. As a real estate investor, I see lots of overdone, inappropriately "improved" homes and all the homeowners accomplished by over-spending was cutting their own profit margin when they decide to sell.

Some big mistakes:
1. That 100K pool in the Midwest with pirate caves, slides and 4th of July underwater light-shows, that at best will be usable 3 months of the year. Families usually view it as a 24-hour-a-day nightmare that will require constant kiddy-vigilance, soaring liability insurance rates and astronomical utility bills and constant maintenance and a motley crew of strangers wandering your property to "maintain" that special "amenity". Southwest, Western and Southern locales can utilize it more and people will pay for it. But often it is a vanity "out-doing-the-Joneses" purchase, given the use it will actually get.

2. Overly-techy window-treatments and security systems that require a PhD in Engineering to use. They are a nightmare to repair or replace. And does it really take that much effort to pull a corded toggle to draw the drapes or put a lamp on a timer? If the neighborhood is that crime-ridden, you might want to consider another zip-code to live in.

3. New construction addicts that absolutely MUST have that 6-car garage and 2nd full-kitchen for the "big games". Really? Most buyers will turn their nose-up at something that will just invite needless "storage" from friends and family in those extra garages and that extra kitchen will get little to no use and an undetected water leak can cost thousands in repairs.

4. Trendy, faddy color trends in an ocean of carpeting. Keep it really neutral and simple. There are thousands of beiges, tans, creams, pale greys and off-whites that will be palatable to most buyers. Remember that maroon, hunter green phase 25 years, land-fills are over-flowing with that "design choice".

5. Wallpaper is coming back, but does it need to come to your home? Really think about this, especially, if you're planning on selling anytime soon. Remember those flying geese and cherry borders and ribbon'd doves flying across kitchen walls? They're a real hassle to take down, then repair, prime and re-paint. A focus wall is one thing. 3-story high foyers encrusted with wall-paper are a disaster to undo and super-costly. The scaffolds alone are not cheap.


Subject: Soaring liability insurance

Soaring liability insurance rates? I'm putting in an inground pool and our insurance is only going up $21 annually. Taxes are only going up $142 annually as well for a 18x36 pool, patio and privacy fence around it all totalling about $45k.

William Anderson

Subject: Buy and sell groups on Facebook

Don't waste your time and safety with these groups. You may be giving out information you shouldn't to someone you don't know and for them to show up on time and not waste yours is a big if.

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I second the original question (still unanswered). Speaking as someone who logged in today to try to find an attorney, I see this category as one that's exactly what I have my Angie's List membership for:

1. It's important that I find a good one
2. I'm not an expert enough to know myself who is a good one
3. The industry is full of advertisements and misinformation
4. I wish I knew what experiences other people have had

I don't care about lawns--I planted mine in clover and don't have to mow it. When I do need to mow I use a rotary Fiskars mower, which is great--or a scythe. That's right--a scythe (the European type, which is smaller, and it's very good exercise). Gas-powered mowers, chemical fertilizers and weed killers--all nasty stuff that gets into everyone's air, soil, and water. I'm sure my neighbor doesn't like my wildflowers, semi-wild pockets of fruit bushes, and unmown areas and yes, dandelions (I have 10 acres) but that's too bad. It's better habitat for wildlife, especially the pollinators on which our food supply depends. I think this obsession with the Great American Lawn is a waste of time and resources. Plant some food instead.

I'm not sure Angie et. al. want you to have a complete answer to this question. By re-subscribing at the Indiana State Fair in 2012, I think I paid $20.00 per year for a multi- year subscription. Maybe even less. At the other extreme--and I hope my memory isn't faulty about this--I think the price, for my area, for ONE year was an outrageous $70.00. And they debited me automatically without warning. I had to opt out of that automatic charge. I like Angie's List, but if some of the companies they monitor behaved the way they do in this respect, they'd be on some sort of Pages of Unhappiness. I'll be interested to see if this comment gets published or censored out of existence.

That's very difficult to answer without seeing the house. As one poster said, the prep is the most important part. On newer homes that don't have a lot of peeling paint, the prep can be very minimal even as low as a couple or a few hundred dollars for the prep labor.

On a 100 year old home with 12 coats of peeling paint on it, then the prep costs can be very high and can easily exceed 50% of the job's labor cost.

A 2100 sq ft two story home could easily cost $1000 just for the labor to prep for the paint job. That number could climb too. Throw in lots of caullking  or window glazing, and you could be talking a couple or a few hundred dollars more for labor.

Painting that home with one coat of paint and a different color on the trim could run roughly $1000 or more just for labor. Add a second coat  and that could cost close to another $1000 for labor.

For paint, you may need 20 gallons of paint. You can pay from $30-$70 for a gallon of good quality exterior paint. The manufacturer of the paint should be specified in any painting contract. Otherwise, the contractor could bid at a Sherwin-Williams $60 per gallon paint and then paint the house with $35 Valspar and pocket the difference. $25 dollars per gallon times 20 gallons? That's a pretty penny too.

That was the long answer to your question. The short answer is $2000 to $4000 and up, depending upon the amount of prep, the number of coats, the amount of trim, and the paint used.