May is National Home Improvement Month, and we thought we'd help you get a jump-start on your summer remodeling projects with some tips from the experts. They let you in on projects that will increase the look and value of your home from inside to out, whether you are looking to sell in an unfriendly market or simply revamp your living space.

Additions

When it comes to the value of a home, square footage is key. Bigger is always better, and anything you can do to increase the size of your property is a good idea, from room additions to garage apartments to home offices to patios and sunrooms, there are a multitude of projects to consider. As Rob Hellyer of Premier Remodeling told us, it is important to take your neighborhood and type of home in to account when determining which project is right for you. If the majority of homes in your area have three bathrooms and you have two or three, the addition of a bath or half-bath would be a good investment. Bill Shaw of Williams Shaw & Associates notes that another good idea is to concentrate on the bedrooms. “What really elevates the value and the demand for a home right now is the expansion of the master suite." He goes on to say that, “when the homes in some of Houston's greatest neighborhoods were built they designed the bedrooms, closets and bathrooms to be tiny." Homeowners nowadays, he says, are looking for space, functionality and a little luxury.

windowWindows

When it comes to home remodeling, more light means more value. Consider adding some windows or possibly augmenting those you have with a more modern or interesting design. You might want to check out Renaissance Windows and Doors, they are the exclusive provider of Infinity by Marvin and Hurd Windows—the finest wood windows in their class. The price is a little steep-- $800 to $2400 per window, put it will certainly add value and appeal to your space.

Another consideration, in this climate, is installing hurricane windows. According to Frederick Cilurso, Houston builder and remodeler for over 30 years, “they help keep out flying debris and include solar protection. The glass may break but a plastic interlay helps hold the glass together, keeping debris out. In damaging storms, it also helps ensure that the walls and roof of your home are stable and safe." Frederick uses Simonton StormBreaker Plus, specifically designed to withstand coastal winds. Another factor Frederick suggests you keep in mind is the installation of energy efficient windows. Frederick recommends Energy Star Simonton Windows, which are top of the line when it comes to efficiency, while remaining affordable. Between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2010, you may also qualify for a tax credit up to $1,500. The calculation is 30% of the cost up to $1,500. Make sure you install energy efficient windows and retain your NFRC (National Feneration Rating Council) label and sales receipt when you prepare your taxes. You will also need to use tax form 5695 when claiming your credit.

Kitchen

According to Katheryn Houk of John Moore Renovations (yes, the same John Moore that is the #1 plumbing, a/c, heating and electrical repair service in Houston), “kitchens carry the highest return on investment when compared to other remodeling projects for your home. When your remodel adds square footage, then you can expect an even higher return. In Houston the average kitchen gut and remodel project ranges from $40,000 to $60,000. You can expect to get an approximate return of 75% on an average kitchen remodel. Style, form, and function are the three main ingredients in approaching a kitchen remodel. Ensure the materials you select work together for the overall style result. The form of each element used should reflect the overall style you want to achieve. Think through the function of your current kitchen; keeping the things that work and changing or improving the areas that are problematic. Focus on the features that can be incorporated in your new kitchen such as pull out trays, cutlery dividers, or opening up a wall. Low maintenance materials seem to be a common winner. If style form and function are the cake then value is the icing. Plan carefully and seek the help of an experienced professional to assist you with your project."

We also spoke with Rob Hellyer of Premier Remodeling, who let us in on some trends he's been seeing in kitchen renovation lately. He said that, “one thing that hasn't changed over the years is the desire for kitchens to be updated. Granite has long been the favorite for kitchen countertops, but we are now seeing honed marble making inroads. Quartz composites such as Silestone are also popular alternatives to granite—though not necessarily less costly, they are lower maintenance." He goes on to say that “it seems everyone wants an island kitchen, and often the island cabinetry is of a different style and/or color from the rest of the kitchen." He also mentioned that when purely considering the added value aspect, countertops and backsplash are key.

Bathroom

Bathrooms go hand-in-hand in desirability factor for those looking to renovate a home or buy one, for that matter. “In the bathroom, a new large shower is a desirable feature, particularly in the master bathroom," according to Hellyer. He goes on to advise that careful planning is key. There are many issues with regard to power, water supplies and drains to consider, so it is extremely important to consult a professional. He goes on to warn that, “when you update part of a kitchen or bath, it makes those parts that are not addressed stand out more." So again, careful consideration is the main ingredient to a successful remodel.

landscapingLandscaping

It is incredible the difference good landscaping can make to your home's appearance. We looked at before and after images from AJ's Landscaping and Design and Blackbird Landscapes, and the contrast is tremendous. We asked Jason Cothren of Blackbird a few questions about what to consider when delving in to a landscaping job. “The most important project outside will be what you have going on in the back yard. The front is important—it's the first thing people see, but the back is where you spend your time. This is where you want people to slow down, take it all in and stay a while." As for what's hot in Houston, Jason says that, “the current trend in home landscaping and design is simple, clean projects that are both easy to maintain and high on style. I'm seeing less and less clients who want 20 different plant species in a given area and more who are choosing to go with one to three plants for that same area." He goes on to say that, “mass plantings of single plants let each grouping shine and give impact while keeping it simple and sophisticated." As for what is coming next, Jason feels that “texture will be big in years to come. I want people to touch things in the garden and I think this will be a hot topic in future projects."

Outdoor Design

A.J. Benys, Jr. of AJ's Landscaping points out that landscaping is not just about flowers and grass. It extends to bigger budget projects like outdoor kitchens, fireplaces and pits, golf putting green, tennis courts, play courts, patios, decks, swimming pools, cocktail pools, water features, landscape lighting, sculpture gardens and ecological water management—irrigation, drainage, recycling. All of these have a tremendous impact on the look and value of your home. According to Benys, the complexity of these projects should not be attempted lightly, so you should definitely hire a landscape design/build firm to complete your project.

Paint

The easiest solution is not always the most obvious. If you're looking for a quick fix and don't want to spend a whole lot of money, paint will definitely get you the most for your money. A fresh coat of paint, done properly, makes a significant difference in the look of a home. Added to that, it elevates the look of your property while lowering your utility bills. A few quick tips: a high-quality paint like Sherwin-Williams Classic-99 for interior and Sherwin-Williams A-100 Gloss for exterior is your best bet. Also keep in mind that all house painting requires two coats, so don't skimp on quality or quantity, it's not worth it in the long run. On average, a two-coat pain job should last five years. Consider “green" paint, which contains little to no VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). VOCs are released through gasses in the paint and are harmful to your lungs and the environment. Consult your local painter for more information.

Flooring

When it comes to flooring, carpet is still king as far as the most used floor coverings in homes go. According to Bill Kerr, 20- year floor business manager with Robert's Carpets, ideal floor coverings require much consideration when it comes to value. “Most people don't know the difference in $30 or $60 a yard carpet," he says. He went on to say that most real estate agents he deals with maintain that hardwood floors generally add the most appeal and value. But if cost is your main concern, carpet is definitely the way to go, as the price of hardwood per foot is nearly double. But if it's hardwood you have your heart set on, Kerr distinguishes the different types for you. “Traditional pure hardwoods we sell, but mostly it is engineered hardwoods today, due to the finishes and ease of glue-down installation on the mostly slab foundations you see today." Kerr goes on to say that, “pure hardwoods require maintenance due to cupping and warping in Houston's subtropical climate. Some prefer the pure hardwoods due to the life expectancy, but the numbers are smaller and smaller each year."

According to Kerr, it is important to remember that for many parts of the house, certain coverings are not ideal. “I am an empty-nester now and can finally have that lily white carpet I've wanted in the bedroom." With kids or a lot of traffic, some areas are better for ceramic tile or a darker color of carpet. Ceramic tile is mostly replacing vinyl tiling. When it comes to laminates, Kerr mentioned that “buyers under 40 don't distinguish between hardwoods and laminate, mostly the over 40 crowd prefers the hardwood to laminate." you keep in mind is the installation of energy efficient windows. Frederick recommends Energy Star Simonton Windows, which are top of the line when it comes to efficiency, while remaining affordable. Between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2010, you may also qualify for a tax credit up to $1,500. The calculation is 30% of the cost up to $1,500. Make sure you install energy efficient windows and retain your NFRC (National Feneration Rating Council) label and sales receipt when you prepare your taxes. You will also need to use tax form 5695 when claiming your credit.

Energy Efficient Appliances

Nobody wants a big bill, and energy efficient appliances impact not just your wallet, but the environment as well. Going green with new Energy Star appliances adds value to your property and entices potential buyers. 70% of the energy used in a home is for appliances, space heating, water heating, cooling and refrigeration. As with the energy efficient windows, this will help you save on your taxes to boot. To make it easy on yourself, check out Bosch, they have the finest in energy efficient appliances, from dishwashers to refrigeration to laundry.

Timeliness

Knowing when to remodel is just as important as which project to tackle. According to Bill Shaw of Williams Shaw & Associates, “right now is a smart time for homeowners to remodel because interest rates are still low, the cost of materials are low, Houston labor costs are extremely reasonable and vendors are offering great deals. He goes on to say that, “to put it simply, homeowners can get the most for their money right now. Prices are expected only to go up from here, which is why homeowners who have been considering a remodel should act now." There you go, no time like the present.