“John, there’s water coming down from the light fixtures in the kitchen ceiling.”

After turning off the water, our plumber concluded that a pipe in the upstairs bathroom had sprung a leak. It had started in the middle of the night, and while we slept water flowed down through the ceiling into the kitchen below.

A mix of fans and heaters helped to dry out the ceiling in the kitchen below and the floor of the bathroom, but the water mitigation company recommended by our insurance company determined that in order to really dry the floor under the tiles and prevent mold, they would need to remove the tile floor in the bathroom.

After our home was declared dry, my wife and I had a choice: We could replace the tile and call it a day, or we could take the opportunity to renovate the whole bathroom.

While this bathroom was clearly “original,” we lived with it. The cabinets were old and the tub was small, but it worked. Until it didn’t. The only problem – renovating the bathroom was not in our plans (or budget) for the year!

So I called a contractor we’d used before to get a better idea of my options.

Replacing the tile would take a few days, the contractor explained, while a full renovation would take about three weeks. But, he reminded me, “I have no idea what kind of issues I am going to find when I take up the floor of the bathroom.” He wouldn’t know what would need to be replaced or what may need to be brought up to code until he was inside the floor.

We’d worked with Geoff as a contractor before, and while his open-ended estimate was concerning, I understood his approach and maybe more importantly, I trusted him. We’d used him for a larger project, and he finished on the exact day he promised and within a nickel of his original estimate. He was also a nice guy who was a pleasure to have in our house every day.

My wife and I looked at the chewed up plywood floor that used to be covered by tile, weighing the costs and benefits of a small repair against those of a larger renovation.

“If we rip up the floor to repair the pipe and simply replace the tile, I can’t imagine when we would ever decide to go back in and renovate the whole bathroom,” I said to my wife. “Let’s look at this as an opportunity to invest in our home. We will get to use the upgraded bathroom while we live here and when we do decide to sell, investments like bathrooms and kitchens tend to hold their value upon resale.”

We decided a renovation was a good investment.

At the end of the day, we were happy with the renovation. While the job did require some extra plumbing to accommodate changes in code, just as Geoff had anticipated, we all smile every day as we brush our teeth in our renovated bathroom. If we had simply patched the tile floor, that money would have been wasted if we decided later to fully renovate the bathroom.

Building value in a house is usually not a one-and-done project. You often need to plan out projects in the order of their highest priority, but it’s important to be flexible to tackle projects that come at you, even when you weren’t planning for them. Having some savings set aside is one way to ease the stress when these types of projects pop up, knowing you can quickly tap into low-interest home equity loan is another.

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