The word "renovation" implies that you’re replacing something old and worn out with something new and better. Yet too many so-called renovations simply involve replacing things that are old and substantial with ones that are cheap and flimsy but just happen to be new. That seems less like renovation and more like ruinovation.

The word "renovation" implies that you’re replacing something old and worn out with something new and better. Yet too many so-called renovations simply involve replacing things that are old and substantial with ones that are cheap and flimsy but just happen to be new. That seems less like renovation and more like ruinovation.

If every modern building product were better than its counterpart of 50 years ago, meaningful renovation would be easy. But they’re not, and so it isn’t. While some things really have improved — modern heating systems, for example, are vastly superior to those of years past — the sad fact is that many building products are mere wisps of their former selves.

The euphemistic "economic pressures" we’ve all heard about — put plainly, "greed for fatter profit margins" — are the real culprit behind the declining quality of so many building items. The practice of outsourcing to cheap labor overseas means many name-brand products are now manufactured in places with indifferent or nonexistent quality control, regardless of what manufacturers claim to the contrary. The fact that many venerable American brands are now haphazardly manufactured in Third World countries may do wonders for corporate profits, but it won’t do wonders for your home. You’ll merely be replacing things that have lasted 25, 50 or even 100 years with new ones that’ll break in four or five.

Therefore, before you replace any item in your home in the interest of sweeping renovation, ask yourself two questions. First: Does it still serve its purpose well? If so, it shouldn’t be high on your renovation agenda — certainly not for reasons of fashion alone.

Second: If it no longer serves its purpose, can it be fixed? Here’s where many stalwart Americans seem to have lost their Yankee grit. We’ve slowly come to believe the fallacy that throwing things away and replacing them with new ones is easier and cheaper than fixing them. In the case of many items in a house, however, this is just plain bull.

Windows, for instance, are a frequent candidate for ruinovation, due mainly to cunning marketing by window replacement companies. Many people are talked into replacing their windows to save on utility bills, but the truth is that, in an average house, heat loss through windows makes up a relatively modest fraction of total energy use. Therefore, upgrading your home’s attic insulation or even replacing your furnace would probably be a much more cost-effective way to conserve.

Moreover, no matter what the problem with a home’s original windows might be, chances are it would take less money, effort and resources to have them repaired by a local window shop than it would to replace them wholesale with new ones. The fact that this approach also best maintains a home’s original style is just icing on the cake.

But whether we’re talking about windows, doors, flooring, hardware or plumbing fixtures, there’s little to be gained by replacing sound original items en masse just to experience the brief thrill of newness. On the other hand, there is something to be lost: As often as not, you’ll actually be downgrading the quality of your home, and spending good money to do it.


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