Best Home Remodeling Projects for 2016

houseIn our last blog 7 Costly Home Improvement Mistakes to Avoid we told you that over half of U.S. adults completed a home improvement project within the last 12 months, and that the home remodeling market has grown steadily with more growth expected this year. It’s an industry that is no doubt not slowing down.

But what remodeling tips are most relevant in 2016? These home improvements are most attractive to buyers today, and the projects that will help you to recoup the most money when you sell.

Adding/Remodeling a Fireplace

Fireplaces are at the top of buyers’ list. A stylish, functional fireplace adds to your home’s value – as much as $12,000 says the National Association of Realtors.

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring may or may not affect the final selling price of the home, but they do enhance your home and help it to sell faster. Most buyers prefer hardwood over carpet. The only place buyers sometimes prefer carpet? Answer: the bedrooms.

Door Replacement

Replacing the front door with a better quality door can increase the home’s selling price significantly. Fiberglass doors have a ROI (return on investment) of 72%, while steel doors increase the return by as much as 101.8%.

Kitchen Remodel

Because so much time is spent in the kitchen home buyers look at the kitchen as a room that can make or break the sale. On a minor kitchen remodel, the national average payback was 79.3% in Remodeling magazine’s 2015 Cost vs. Value Report, while a major kitchen remodel (over $20,000) brings in a bit lower ROI at 65%.

Adding an Extra Bedroom

We’ve been talking about the value of adding extra bedrooms and living spaces for a few years, particularly to move in aging parents or to house young adult children not quite ready to leave the nest. Some recent data suggests it’s also a beneficial selling point as simply turning an attic space into a bedroom can increase your home value by $39,908. This may be in part due to the fact that a bigger family demands more living space and is willing to pay for it.

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7 Costly Home Improvement Mistakes to Avoid

tools-1183374_192053% of U.S. adults completed a home improvement project within the past 12 months according to Nielsen Scarborough. IBISWorld estimates home remodeling as a $52 billion market, growing 3.8% between 2009 and 2014. Remodeling activity is predicted to have year-over-year quarterly growth averaging 4.4% in 2016. But not all home improvements are solid investments, and these mistakes may cost you more in either or both the short or long term.

Hiring a Contractor

Get quotes from and interview several contractors to make sure you choose one you trust and whose ideas aligns with your vision. Check their references and ask them about their credentials and licensing. Check the Better Business Bureau to find out if they’ve had complaints logged against them. Get all agreements in writing.

Return on Investment

If you plan to sell your home and recoup the money you invest in a home improvement project make sure the project offers a good return. While renovations can cost thousands of dollars, they generally won’t increase the value of the home by that much. Most buyers will pay more for a “visible” upgrade such as high-end appliances, but they won’t be willing to pay more for hidden upgrades such as new electrical wiring. The value a home improvement project retains at resale varies in each market. Remodeling Magazine offers a Cost vs Value report to illustrate the differences. For example, San Francisco averages greater than a 100% return on the suite of 27 projects Remodeling Magazine evaluates (a number unseen in any other market, but most likely due to the housing shortage); nothing in Des Moines, IA returns more than 71%. Real estate agents and contractors may be able to advise you on the potential return you’ll receive from a project.


Consider how your home stacks up to others in the neighborhood. If its market value is on the high end already improvements won’t increase its value much. A home’s value is usually dependent on and limited by the median price of the other homes in the neighborhood.

Cheap Materials, Being Frugal

The old adage “you get what you pay for” runs true in home improvement as well. Don’t cut corners by using cheap materials. Otherwise you may have to make expensive repairs down the road because you chose cheap over quality. The cost difference between many materials is minor, yet choosing higher quality materials (such as tile over vinyl) will set your home apart from the rest. And if you can’t afford the materials now, it’s better to wait until you can.


Once the project begins, it’s best to stick to the plan as much as possible. If you change your mind after a piece of the project is finished it can require tearing it out and starting over. Contractors may also charge change order fees anytime the plan is reworked.


Secure any necessary permits, and check on the requirements BEFORE starting a project. Permits are there to protect you, and to ensure your home is safe. Often inspections are required at the rough-in and finishing stages for many remodeling and renovation projects. If you don’t acquire the proper permits, it could result in fines and you may have to tear out any work completed. Contact your local city office to ask about permits, and make sure your contractor has the proper permits before beginning work.


Don’t set an unrealistic budget. You don’t want to run out of cash mid-project. Your project can get more expensive once it’s underway if you aren’t prepared for the costs. Get estimates from several different contractors so that you understand the project’s cost. Then add 10-20% to the total to have in reserve in case any issues arise.

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Custom Fabricated Mantels Add Unique Style to Your Home or Business

We specialize in knotty, gnarly, natural wood mantels.

We specialize in knotty, gnarly, natural wood mantels.

J.T. Unique is our fabrication shop; it’s actually comprised of two divisions, our Cozy Cabin Outfitters (themed décor packages for homeowners), and custom fabricated items primarily for the commercial industry. In our fabrication shop we batch produce unique custom furnishings, cabinetry and other pieces for hotels, restaurants and other commercial businesses.

You can see some of the work we’ve done for the hospitality industry here:

From Drab to Fab: Building Custom Hotel Furniture for the Hospitality Industry

Sometimes the two divisions even overlap, as is the case with our custom mantels which are produced for commercial use as well as part of our Adirondack Retreat themed décor packages. As well J.T. Unique provides service to our custom home building and remodeling customers, offering custom fabricated mantels as an option.

Our custom mantels are a popular product for both homes and commercial properties. Our signature design – a cost effective choice – is a wavy timber mantle with a custom distressed glazed finish.We also specialize in using knotty, gnarly, natural wood materials. And we often produce coped log mantles (a unique style where two logs are fitted together following the curve).

Our signature wavy timber mantel.

Our signature wavy timber mantel.

Whatever you have in mind, we can work with you to design a mantle that is unique and represents the style of your home or business.

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What to Look For in a Home Renovation Contract

man signing home renovation contractA well written home renovation contract is thorough, and explains exactly what is to be done and how. The contract should also explain potential risks and issues and how they will be handled. Failure to read and understand the contract offers you as a homeowner no protection, but understanding your home renovation contract and making sure it offers everyone involved clear directions and responsibilities reduces the chances of disagreements, or financial or legal trouble.

Scope of Work

The scope of work is a detailed outline of what the job entails. A renovation contract should include project descriptions along with the materials and quantities required, including product model, color, size and brand. And it’s helpful if the contract explains the timeline of when each part of the project should occur so you can ensure the workers are making the expected progress.

The Schedule

The renovation contract should set the estimated start and completion date. It’s not uncommon for delays to occur, some caused by the client or contractor, and some out of either’s control, but it’s important to have an end goal to strive towards and to try to get back on track whenever delays occur.

The Cost (i.e. the Bid) & Payment

The agreement should clearly state prices and be inclusive. Ask if there are any additional fees or costs not included in the contract such as clean-up fees or the cost for temporary power.

The agreement should outline the payment schedule for the contractor, subcontractors and suppliers, and it should include what payment methods are acceptable, and if installment payments are an option. The contract may also include late payment penalties; know what these are in advance.

Contractor Responsibilities

The contract should clearly state what the contractor will and won’t do, including site clean-up and hauling trash. It’s important to understand who will be responsbile for the site clean-up work. As well it should clearly state who is selecting materials if some materials are to be chosen later and are not included in the original scope of work.


A renovation contract includes an estimate of the cost of materials. But because all costs can’t be completely accurately accounted for during the bidding process, the allowance acts as the budget for particular items, such as the kitchen cabinets. A contractor, through the contract, is allotted a certain budget in choosing such items so that the costs are still accounted for even through the total cost is not yet completely decided.

Agreement Changes

Renovation contracts should include a process for the contractor to follow if there are changes to the scope of work. A detailed contract should prevent a large amount of changes, but expect a few changes. Because changes are sometimes costly and time consuming, the agreement should clearly state how to handle such changes. (i.e. the homeowner must be notified and give consent first).


The renovation contract should include information about any warranties which cover the material and work performed. It should include details of the names and contact information of who is covering the warranty, including contractors and manufacturers. The warranty period and any limitations should also be clearly explained.


Because of the risks involved in construction, a renovation contract should contain information about insurance. If a contractor does not have adequate insurance, you may be held liable. Even if the contractor carries liability insurance (to cover harm caused by construction to non-workers and property), as well as worker’s compensation (to cover injury to workers), you may want to ensure you have builder’s risk or other renovation insurance to cover damage from fire, wind or theft.

Because a renovation contract, once accepted, becomes a legally binding contract, understand the terms and conditions completely before signing. This ensures both your and your contractor will face fewer issues during the renovation process.

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Is It Worth It? Resale Value of Home Renovations

Based on the influx of home improvement shows, you’d think home renovation jobs are always an improvement and equate to a higher resale value. But how much will that home improvement project cost and is it worth it in the long run? Our friends at eReplacementParts.com and Hanley Wood bring us this informative infographic to show you the real costs of a home renovation.

Source: eReplacementParts.com

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Building Safety Month: History of the International Code Council

construction of commercial buildingDid you know May is Building Safety Month?

It happens every May, and it’s a public awareness campaign established by the International Code Council (ICC) in conjunction with its worldwide members and professionals from the construction, design and safety industries. During this month the ICC helps individuals as well as businesses understand the need for codes, and their strong enforcement, as well as the need for a professionally trained workforce to maintain the system, all so we have safe and sustainable structures.

But why are building codes all that important you may wonder, and why should you care? Well, if you (or people you care about) live in, work in, or ever enter a building, you should consider stringent, professional building codes important!

History of the Codes

The establishment of building codes purportedly dates back to as early as 1800 BC. The first known building code was enforced by the Babylonian emperor Hammurabi, and called the Code of Hammurabi. It simply stated “If a builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.”

Several building regulation codes were passed throughout the subsequent years, sometimes in reaction to disastrous events such as the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the Great Baltimore Fire in 1904. Much of the earlier codes were focused on fire resistance, but later codes focused as much on public health.

In the early twentieth century building regulations in the United States were based on building codes developed by regional model code groups: the Building Officials Code Administrators International (east coast and midwest), Southern Building Code Congress International (southeast) and the International Conference of Building Officials (west coast and midwest).

About the International Code Council

While the regional codes were deemed effective, in the early 1990s the three model code groups decided to organize and in 1994 they formed the International Code Council, a non-profit organization, as an effort to develop codes without regional limitations. The first edition of the International Building Code was published in 1997 and was based on the codes previously used by all three organizations. The ICC has been in existence ever since and still holds the mission of providing high quality codes and standards to create safe buildings and in turn protect the health, safety and welfare of people. The ICC’s International Codes® are comprehensive building safety and fire prevention codes that safeguard people at home, at school and in the workplace.

Conclusion/How You Can Help

This year’s Building Safety Month theme is Building Codes: Driving Growth through Innovation, Resilience and Safety. Each week of May there is a specific theme about building safety. You can check out the International Code Council’s events on their website, learn more about building codes, use the resources they provide to assist you in promoting Building Safety Month in your community or find out how to become a sponsor. Because while they are hard at work making sure our buildings are inhabitable, most of us take for granted the safety of the structures we walk through and live in every day.

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Trending: Reclaimed Wood Adds Instant Character

Our collection of reclaimed wood boards are organized into groupings in our shop

Our collection of reclaimed wood boards are organized into groupings in our shop

It came as no surprise when recently we saw yet another article touting the popularity of reclaimed wood. This particular article, published by Marketplace/American Public Media, mentions its popularity while highlighting a Brooklyn-based design+build practice/sustainable lumber resource that is securing their supply of reclaimed wood from New York City water tanks when they are repaired. The article hints to the fact that the popularity of the wood means suppliers are sourcing it from less known or unusual places. You can listen to the full story here:


Repurposing salvaged wood is a popular trend so much so that you can pick up popular home design and home product magazines and see it splashed across the pages. We recently mentioned the popularity of reclaimed wood in our blog 5 Custom Home Trends for 2016.

5 Custom Home Trends for 2016

Using reclaimed wood gives homes a distinct, unique look while also benefiting the environment. It has character difficult to duplicate as it most likely grew in natural environments, and is sturdy and strong. Repurposed wood is now commonly used in flooring, on doors and wall treatments, as well as for materials for furniture and other home decor pieces. We’ve previously talked about its use in wainscoting in our blog Rustic Wainscoting: What It Is and Why It’s Important.

Rustic Wainscoting: What It Is and Why It’s Important

A few years ago our client Stoney Creek Inn commissioned our custom fabrication shop, JT Unique, to create a bar top matching an upper bar already installed in one of its hotels. We made the top from 100+ year old reclaimed lumber and sealed it with a hard epoxy coat to preserve it for years to come. Watch the video below to see the raw, unfinished wood turn into a beautiful, durable, preserved piece:

If you want to know more facts about reclaimed wood, check out our blog Reclaimed Wood: What It Is and What You Should Know About It.

Reclaimed Wood: What It Is and What You Should Know About It

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From Drab to Fab: Building Custom Hotel Furniture for the Hospitality Industry

It’s not everyday we talk about our work in the hotel industry, but there is always a lot going on behind the scenes at J. Thompson Builders for our hospitality client Stoney Creek Hotels. Today we give you a peek into one of our latest custom hotel furniture projects.

Last year we explained the finish work we completed for a new Stoney Creek Hotel in Independence, MO. We briefly told you the story behind our relationship with the hotel company. Again, in summary, we’ve helped in the building of Stoney Creek hotels since 1997. In 2009 J. Thompson Builders started its custom fabrication shop so we could take over engineering all of the interior trim and finish work for the hotel line.

How J. Thompson Builders Transforms a Hotel Into Something Way Cooler

The Stoney Creek Inn located in Galena, IL was one of the first Stoney Creeks, and we’ve worked on that specific property since 1997 before J. Thompson Builders was officially a company (we weren’t established until 2002). In the last year we have built 29 pieces of furniture for the hotel; what we call our custom “Bachelor Chest Combos.”

Prototype of our Bachelor Chest Combos for Stoney Creek hotels_custom hotel furniture by J Thompson Builders

The prototype of our Bachelor Chest Combos sitting in our office.

We purely started making them out of necessity. The Stoney Creek Hotels needed to upgrade their standard rooms to include a refrigerator and microwave due to driving custom desire and trends. We came up with the design, concept and plans simply by using a free 3D modeling software called SketchUp.

The finished product is more attractive and unique than the standard dresser once used in the hotels’ rooms, and it offers greater utility.

Bachelor Chest Before for Stoney Creek hotel_custom hotel furniture by J Thompson Builders

Bachelor Chest Combo_custom hotel furniture_Stoney Creek hotel

Just a few weeks ago we finished 15 more Bachelor Chest Combos in our shop and shipped them to the hotel.

Composition picture of Bachelor Chest Combos ready to ship to Stoney Creek Inn in Galena, IL_custom hotel furniture by J Thompson Builders

Composition of Bachelor Chest Combos ready to ship to Stoney Creek Inn in Galena, IL

So if you’re ever staying in a Stoney Creek hotel, you’ll see traces of our work all around, whether you’re lounging in your room, grabbing a drink in the bar or swimming in the pool!

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How Millennials Are Affecting Home Buying

millennial laying on grass with hat over face in las vegas tshirtAre millennials buying homes or are they instead staying in their parents’ home and living up to their reputation of being entitled, lazy and addicted to social media? The answer may not be so simple.

How Did Millennials Get That Bad Rap?

First off, let’s give millennials a fair shot and understand why they may have gotten a bad rap. In a CNBC article titled Why Do Millennials Get Such a Bad Rap at Work?, Lindsey Pollack, consultant and author of Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders explains the negative labels are often the results of misperceptions. For example, when it comes to laziness Pollack says the laziness label “may simply be a reflection of millennials’ comfort level with technology. Having grown up with Google and GPS-enabled smartphones, they’re used to finding the answers with just a few clicks.” Because of this millennials are going to the take the “quickest, easiest route.” It’s not that they don’t want to work hard, “they just want to know why they are in their role and what the larger goal is,” says Pollak.

More Millennials Living at Home

Now that we have our misperceptions of this generation out of the way, let’s talk about their home buying trends. A 2015 Forbes article titled More Millennials Living At Home Than Ever Before shows more of them are living at home than five years ago regardless of the economic recovery, based on a report by the Pew Research Center. The national unemployment rate for millennials was at 12.4% in 2010 and declined to 7.7% percent in 2015, yet millennials are still choosing to live at home. Why?

Again, it may not be as simple as to label millennials as lazy. Millennials actually have “more debt, a higher cost of living and stagnant relative wages,” says Luke Delorme, Research Fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research. Delorme backs up this fact by explaining that student loan debt was at about $509 billion in 2006, and increased to about $1,360 billion in 2015, an increase of 167%.

Richard Fry, a Senior Researcher at Pew Research Center, agrees that the higher cost of living and student debt factor into the lack of millennials buying homes, but the article also points out the lack of home buying could be related to changing attitudes. Fry, as well as a millennial profiled in the article, point out millennials (and probably their parents) are more accepting of the living arrangements and more mindful that it’s wise to pay down debt first, establish a solid financial footing and get ahead before jumping into a home purchase.

Yet the Data May Not Be So Simple

Millennials still comprise 68% of all first-time buyers, according to a NAR 2015 Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends report. Millennials appear to be most attracted to markets that are growing, yet affordable. Des Moines, Iowa ranks as #1 with 59% of millennials representing the shares of purchased mortgages, according to Realtor.com. Other cities that made the top ten list of millennials purchasing the most mortgages include cities in Utah, Michigan, Wisconsin, Louisiana (several cities), Pennsylvania and Tennessee. You can see the full list here.

The take away: Millennials are still buying, yet they represent buyers who are truly ready to buy and able to handle the expenses as opposed to not being able to come up with the down payment or having to foreclose on the home.

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Selling a House? Don’t Do These 5 Things

House for sale_Sold signYou want your house to look its best when you’re selling it. Even if you don’t have skilled design resources at hand, or the money to invest in design or a lot of home improvements, there are simple ways you can make your house ready to sell. Here is what NOT to do if you want your house to sell fast.

DO NOT paint your walls bold colors. Keep the colors bright, yet neutral. Bold colors add an appealing touch to personalize your house, except when you are trying to sell it. Resort back to the standard white, beige and tans you see in your everyday basic house. Basic sells! At least when it comes to the color of painted walls.

DO NOT use wallpaper. Wallpaper designs are a personal choice which most buyers deem as time-consuming to remove. Temporary wallpaper products, as we mentioned in a recent blog (look below), are a hot trend, and the product simply peels away when it’s time to remove it. But even if you use a “easy to apply and remove” temporary product, your buyers may not know it’s easy to remove simply by looking at it.

8 Home Design Trends for 2016

DO NOT show your house with a converted bedroom. These days homeowners see their bedrooms as multifunctional, often using them as a home office, an exercise room, or using them for a myriad of other uses, such as a recording studio, a game room or even a walk-in closet. But when it comes time to sell, convert the room back into a bedroom. It’s difficult for the buyer to envision and consider what it may take to return the room back to its original purpose.

DO NOT add carpet on top of hardwood floors. Carpets are often perceived as germy, and unclean, particularly when a potential buyer has no idea if you have spilled something on it, or if your pets or kids may have had accidents on it. If you have hardwood floors, keep them uncovered. They score better selling points!

DO NOT make it obvious you have pets. Even with the growing amount of animal lovers, most buyers perceive a house as dirtier if they see pets or their accessories in your home. Remove all traces of your pet, including its food and toys, before you take photos of the house for the listing, as well as anytime the home is shown to a potential buyer.

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