Renovation Tips: Chill out before you bling out


by Ryan DaSilva

Are you thinking of getting some improvements done to your home? Wondering if you should get central air conditioning installed or if updating your kitchen or basement is worth it? What is the best upgrade for enjoyment... or a return on your investment? 

Many neighbors have asked real estate agent and Petworth resident Ryan DaSilva these same questions over the years. In a conversation over coffee the other day, Ryan and I thought it would be a good idea to write a few articles on home improvement tips and some things to think about if you're planning on doing some renovations and want an idea about what is better to do now. 

This is the first in a short series about renovation ideas that are “worth it.” Obviously, “worthiness” is always up to the homeowner. Whether you’re planning on moving in a year or living in your house for the next 50 years, there’s always something to do to update and improve the house to make it more enjoyable for you.

Ultimately, home value is dependent on many different factors, but we hope you find the advice helps you decide what renovations can add both comfort and value to your home. So without further ado, here’s Ryan…

AC unit (courtesy  alamosbasement )

AC unit (courtesy alamosbasement)

Since its been so hot outside this summer, lets start our talks about home improvement with air conditioning.

Having or adding central A/C is probably the one thing that everyone (current and future owners) wants in a home. Yes, I know the kitchen and bathroom are what everyone says you should do and that they are “sexy updates” — I get all of that, but hear me out. Believe it or not, not everyone who's looking to buy a house wants a gourmet kitchen or a spa-like bathroom.

We think we want updated kitchens and bathrooms, but because individual preferences in those two rooms can vary so much from one person to another, and because if you're planning on staying in your home for a while, I’d put central A/C above the “bling” of a new kitchen or bathroom and get the most enjoyment from the update.

Ask yourself this, have you ever heard anyone say “Nah, I like sleeping in a house that’s 90 degrees” or “I’m good with five window A/C units and 40 fans blowing around my house.” That was my house for four years! 

We had window units and fans going on for four summers, so I’m not making fun of anyone who still has window units. In fact, I’m sympathizing with you; I feel your pain. My wife and I would have happily traded in that ceramic tile bathroom we had for central air conditioning, especially with babies in the house! Anyone who has spent a summer in DC without A/C will tell you they’d love to have central A/C.

If you have a standard 18 foot-wide row home, you can get central A/C installed for about $18-$22,000. If you decide to go super efficient and get a mini duct system, that could cost you over $30,000! Either way it’s a large investment, but you’ll get that money back either through comfort, or when you sell your home (or both).

Mini duct system (courtesy Stephen M. Scott

In comparison to other renovations, the costs for standard duct air conditioning or the mini duct system are high and you won’t physically “see” the end result as you would with a brand new kitchen or updated master bathroom, but you will get almost 100% of this money back if and when you decide to sell it.

Keep in mind that while the mini duct systems take up less space than a standard system, they cost more to install than standard. There is no data showing that the return on investment (ROI) is the same as getting a standard duct system.

Standard A/C duct register (courtesy Patrick Finnegan)

I’ve asked a number of home appraisers over the years about this and all of them say the same thing: “A/C is A/C, it doesn’t matter how the cold air comes out as long as it’s there.” Buyers, on the other hand, may think differently. The mini duct systems take up less space and that may be valuable to buyers. You'll have to decide what is best for your goals.

Simply put: If you’re looking to increase the value of your home while getting a good return on the investment, put in air conditioning. If you’re planning on staying in your home, and/or you already have central A/C, then the next things to consider upgrading are your kitchen, bathrooms and / or basement. 

We’ll look at those in the next article in the series.

Feel free to contact me with questions

Ryan DaSilva is a licensed Real Estate agent with Compass Real Estate. He lives on Farragut Street with his wife and three boys. When he's not out touring homes in Petworth, he's hanging out with his twin boys and his son RJ. According to MLS, over the past three years he has sold more homes in Petworth than any other agent in the city. 


(Blueprint photo courtesy Brian Tobin.)

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