Top Three Home Renovations to Complete Before You Move In

Tackle some of your home improvement projects before you get settled into your new house.

You’ve just bought your dream home. Now’s the time to add some personal touches to make it your own, like painting the interior walls and installing new flooring. Most people complete these home renovations right when they get a new home. In fact, 53% of homebuyers took on a home improvement project within three months of buying, according to the 2013 Profile of Buyers’ Home Feature Preference report, put out by the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

Why not get started before you move in? An empty house means your furniture won’t be in danger of spilled paint or other damage — plus you or your contractors can take advantage of an open space. And most importantly, you and your family can limit exposure to renovation dust and odors that can be hazardous to your health.

So, as tempting as it is to move in right away, try tackling these three home improvement projects before the moving trucks show up.

1. Painting Walls

Changing the color of the rooms in your home is a simple project that can personalize your home for little cost. But take precautions, warns Michael Anschel, owner of Otogawa-Anschel Design + Build and CEO of Verified Green Inc., a green consulting and training company, both based in Minneapolis.

Unless you use low- or no-VOC paints, he explains, you are polluting the indoor air with volatile organic chemicals — such as benzene or formaldehyde — that you really don’t want to breathe in.

“There’s a low-level smog that’s a byproduct of most paints,” Anschel says.

Low- or no-VOC paints are available in many colors and price points, so making them a priority is easy.

2. Kitchen and Bathroom Remodeling

Remodeling the kitchen is a priority for 47% of homeowners when moving into a new home, and 44% update the bathroom, according to the NAR report. There are many simple ways of personalizing and revitalizing outdated looks, like adding new appliances, countertops and vanities, changing out fixtures and hardware, or replacing or refacing the cabinets.

But if you’re going to install new or refaced cabinets and you’re going to finish them on site, make health a priority. The formaldehyde used in cabinet glues will be released into your home (what’s known as “off-gassing”) for a long time, so choose cabinets labeled NAUF, which means “no added urea formaldehyde,” Anschel suggests.

During finishing, contractors and homeowners should properly ventilate the house and wear a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) respirator — “not just a bandanna,” he adds.

3. Flooring Installation & Refinishing

In a new-to-you home, you might be lucky enough to find something salvageable underneath that old carpeting. But in many cases, the floor will need to be refinished. If you do it yourself, take precautions when prepping, sanding and applying the new finish. Open all the windows and put up barriers to contain dirt and debris for easy cleanup.

Note that a water-based finishing system will produce significantly less smog than an oil-based system, which will off-gas for six months to a year, Anschel says. A water-based system, on the other hand, may off-gas for only 48 hours.

If you’re looking for a rustic matte finish, try a Rubio Monocoat, he suggests. “It’s a floor finishing system that has no VOCs and is very durable.”

If you opt for installing new carpet, be aware that it actually gives off a lot of fumes. “It’s one of the big nasties when it comes to off-gassing,” Anschel says. Look for wool as opposed to synthetics and a floor underlayment with low VOCs. If the house already has carpet, be sure to get it professionally cleaned (you don’t even want to think about the dead skin cells and mites that might be lurking within).

Moving can be stressful enough — make it less complicated by getting some of your home improvement projects out of the way before all the boxes and furniture get in the way.