By Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer

Most have been hit hard by the recent financial turmoil in our country.

“We’re going to have to wait on our project.” That’s a phrase we are hearing from a lot of people, and it is not hard to understand that line of reasoning.

Save Money tomorrow with a master plan today

During above: Replacing the windows was a part of a master design plan to transform this 1973 ranch house into a Craftsman-style home.

But doing nothing relative to home improvement comes with some inherent problems. One is that our lives and family situations keep changing, regardless of the economy. Babies are still born, aging parents become less independent and marriages still join families — even if there isn’t enough room for two sets of teenagers.

The second problem is that of maintenance. Roofs get to the point that they cannot go through one more winter, the bathroom shower is leaking or that sagging front porch has become a hazard to health and safety.

So, if circumstances demand we take action, should we view each repair separately or take a longer, broader view to help prioritize and organize how to use limited funds to solve the problems? This somewhat rhetorical question returns us to the concept of master planning.

One common scenario: Clients come into our office for a consultation. Let’s say they want to add curb appeal to their home — a sensible goal that can add real value to their property.

So, we look at pictures of their existing home, talk about styles and finishes. They state that they favor Craftsman or Tuscan styles that use natural materials such as stained wood and stone. A picture of their dream home begins to emerge.

Then here comes the bombshell: They just replaced all the windows. White vinyl sliders, double-pained and very efficient. There goes the hope of anything Craftsman or Tuscan. The white vinyl windows are probably a deal-killer.

It’s not that we can’t work with them — or make their house look more attractive — but think how much better it would have been had they come to talk to us before the window replacement. They have figuratively tied one of our hands behind our backs and limited the possibility of what their home could be.

The point is that perhaps the one thing you have to do right now is replace your windows. It is a smart move; there are energy savings and tax credits to be had.

But with all the styles and types of windows out there, how do you know what kind to pick if you aren’t thinking ahead to your long-term design goals?

Vinyl? Fiberglass? Wood Clad? Sliders? Double hung? Casement? Grids or no grids? Color? Do you just stick new windows in the existing holes or consider moving, enlarging or adding any?

Your effort to be financially responsible now may backfire in the long run if your decisions are made in a vacuum.

Windows are only one example. Would you buy a new back door today if you knew in two years you would be changing it to French doors or blowing out that wall to add four feet to your kitchen? Would you redo that bathroom now if you knew it would become a powder room when you add a second bath for your new master suite? Would you replace the kitchen floor with sheet vinyl now if you had a plan to open the area to create a great room?

We have to be extra smart with our money these days. Our advice is to spend some of it now to work out a master plan with a design professional. The money you spend will be saved several times over as you work on your home in an orderly manner to achieve comprehensive design goals intended to add function, beauty and value to your home.

An added bonus will be that when the tide does turn, you will be ready to move quickly. That will be a time when contractors will still be looking for work and prices will still be down, and those who are ready to move will be able to reap the harvest of being well-prepared. When things start looking up, if you have to take six to 12 months to come up with your plan and construction documents, you will miss an opportunity.

A brighter day will dawn. Let’s not do anything foolish in the meantime, but plan well to make your interim projects productive and contribute to that wonderful home that is in your future. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at as*@re*******************.com.

Save money tomorrow with a master plan today