How to Shop for Your Remodel

Small mistakes when buying remodeling materials can add up to huge cost overruns. Here’s how to get things right the first time!

Roughly half the costs of a remodel are for materials, so it pays to be mindful of potential pitfalls. If you’re a DIYer, avoiding some minor and major mistakes can help you make the most of this significant investment. You probably already know it’s best to buy well-tested quality materials from trusted local vendors and to install classic, long-lasting materials that will be around for generations. Here are more tips I’ve learned over the years that can help you pick out the best materials and products for your home.


1. Know the pitfalls of buying off the shelf. Check the box. Does it look like it has been opened or returned? Don’t buy it. Returned items may have damage and missing parts.

You can get some great deals on good products at your local home store, but you have to know what you’re looking for. For instance, plumbing fixtures should be made of brass, not metallic-looking plastic. And cheaper paint often requires more coats and fades more quickly.


2. Get recommendations for showrooms and lumberyards. A good builder should have established relationships with reps he or she trusts, so use the recommended suppliers if you can. If you’re a DIYer, try asking around for some good suggestions. When all else fails, add 30 percent to any delivery time frame you’re told and build a healthy contingency fund into your budget, just in case.


3. Go for Quality. A lot of houses are still piped with copper, so repairs and remodeling will generally be done in copper as well. Half-inch copper pipe is 5/8 inch in diameter, but the thickness of the copper depends on the type. Many stores sell type M and L. Type M is cheaper because it’s thinner — but saving money in materials now could mean tearing open walls later to find a pinhole leak that has sprung.

Whether you are paying someone else or doing work yourself, labor is expensive. Buy quality materials so you don’t have to do the work twice.


4. Sometimes you don’t get what you thought you were paying for. In my experience, some brands spend more on advertising than on making quality products. Do your research and make sure the product you’re buying is current. The situation is always changing, but make sure you know what you’re getting and who you’ll call if it turns out to be a dud.


5. Let someone else be the guinea pig. I have tested materials and products on my own house over the years so I can vouch for them in my work. If you are not in the business, you should be buying products that have been well regarded for many years. Even if you are trying to remodel your home using environmentally friendly materials, you don’t have to use products that haven’t stood the test of time. True linoleum flooring (not vinyl, which people often call linoleum), like in this photo, has been around for more than a century and is a hypoallergenic natural material, for example.


6. Buy local. There are many reasons to buy local and support your region’s economy, but two big ones have to do with shipping. Make sure to factor in the cost of shipping when pricing out materials. A local vendor will usually not charge extra for shipping, and you can schedule the delivery. Shipments of online purchases can result in headaches if no one is around when a big, heavy delivery shows up. If you are concerned about the environment, the distance a product ships should always be a concern. Bamboo flooring is made from grasses that are rapidly renewable, but if it’s coming to you from across the world, a flooring product made close to home might be a greener choice.


7. Buy salvaged. You can often get better-quality building materials with more character for less money by buying salvaged. You will pay more in labor, but once again, this is an opportunity to support your community.

Sinks and tubs are good if the finish isn’t damaged, but avoid faucets unless the seller can show you they work without leaks.

Doors, hardware and masonry are all great items, and stone, wood and glass are great materials, to buy salvaged. With light fixtures, keep in mind that they may need to be rewired, but this is a way to keep a great period fixture out of the Dumpster.


8. Buy extra. “Waste” is the term we use for extra materials ordered, because the cutoffs usually end up as just that (unless they’re recycled). The best way to figure out how much waste to order is by following a manufacturer’s or installer’s recommendations.

In the absence of those, use these tips. If you are confident about your measurements and the method of installation, you could get away with ordering 10 percent more of items like flooring or wall coverings, but 15 percent waste is a safer bet. If the item is special order, 15 percent is the minimum, and 20 percent may make sense depending on the situation.

Store leftovers of items, like tile and grout, in labeled containers in the basement in case repairs are ever needed.


9. Have someone else check your work. Before you approve a special order, especially for windows and doors, have someone else familiar with the job look over the order. You can’t send a custom door back because you didn’t notice they got the door swing wrong or because the window is designed for 2-by-4 walls, not 2-by-6.


10. Buy early. Stopping work to wait for materials to arrive is costly. Double the lead time you were told and you’ll usually be safe. Delays happen all the time.

If the materials are onsite, the contractor can check measurements and answer questions that the spec sheet doesn’t address.

If you don’t want to expose items to theft, store the materials offsite where your general contractor can get to them, but don’t try to time material deliveries for the moment they’re needed.