Over the years, I've been asked hundreds of home improvement questions, and I’ve noticed that many are the result of the same mistakes. That’s understandable.  While home improvements can be both exciting and exhilarating, they’re not something you do every day.  Most projects travel down a long runway on the way to completion and pitfalls are sometimes too easy to avoid.  

Here are five home improvement don’ts that are simple to steer around, guaranteeing your project will take flight:

Mistake #1: Painting Before Prepping

Paint offers one of the easiest and least expensive ways to transform a space.  And it seems so easy, right? Pick a color, open the can, dunk in a brush and you’re good to go. This is why homeowners often skip the painting prep work.

Top Five Home Improvement MistakesUnfortunately, if surfaces aren’t cleaned, patched, sanded and primed beforehand, disappointing results are sure to follow. Take the primer coat: Primer is the glue adhering paint to the wall, ensuring that the all-important top color goes on smoothly. Without it, your carefully chosen paint color will look uneven and begin to peel away from the walls, sending you back to the store for your second attempt.

One more thing: Before you choose a color, research the formulations and sheens that will work best for your space and always go for the highest quality you can buy. A top-of-the-line finish goes on beautifully, lasts longer and delivers the best return-on-investment over the long haul. Choosing the right finish for the project is also key.  Semi-gloss looks great on trim but add anything with even the slightest sheen to a wall surface and you’ll see every possible imperfection the next time sunlight gets cast across the surface.  Choose a “washable” flat for walls, ceiling paint for ceilings (it actually drips less!) and the shine of your choosing for trim, cabinets or floors.

Mistake #2: Planting Without a Plan

This past weekend, as I browsed my local garden center to select seedlings for my summer garden, I was reminded of another common mistake that even I have made: choosing the wrong plant for the space.  Home and garden centers, chock full of beautiful bouquets and the aromas of Spring, are easy places get lost in garden inspiration.  But don’t fall prey to the excitement of choosing fantastic foliage only to get home and find you need to squeeze your favorite sun-loving flowers into a shady spot, or that you've invested in a perennial that will outgrow its designated space before fully matured.

Before you go to the garden center make a list of what you want to plant and where it’s going to go. Write down sun and shade patterns in your yard, measure available planting spaces, and follow the nursery labels, which detail how much light and water the plant needs as well as how big it will grow.   As the saying goes, plan your work and work the plan. The result will be a landscape you can enjoy for many years to come.

Mistake #3: Under-Insulating

I hear from a lot of green-loving home owners about their big plans: They talk about wind turbines, solar panels, geo-thermal wells, hybrid home appliances. While there’s no reason not to dream big green project dreams, it’s just as important to make sure you have the basics covered, like adequate insulation. The right amount of insulation can lower your heating and cooling bills by 20 percent—not to mention, it’s easier and cheaper to install than your average wind turbine!

Top Five Home Improvement MistakesInsulation standards have changed over time, which means most homes don’t have nearly enough.   Your attic should have between 19 and 22 inches of blown-in or batt insulation.  If you’re nervous about working with itchy-insulation, look for poly-encapsulated products.  These are encased in a layer of plastic to reduce exposure to fiberglass particles.  The “weave” of the fiberglass itself is also longer and more cotton-like, leaving fewer particles to escape to the air and become a respiratory irritant.

Mistake #4: Calling In a Contractor Too Quickly

Even the most intrepid do-it-yourself-ers come up against a project that’s beyond their skill set—kitchen updates, electrical work, to name a few. But smart home owners establish workable, comprehensive plans no matter how small the renovation. You might not need an architect to draft blueprints for a bathroom rehab, but you will need to know which cabinetry you want, tile and fixture choices and finish selections. If you haven’t made these decisions before you call a contractor, you’re in for a pricing process based on what they think you want rather than what you actually expect.

Set yourself up for a smoother, more satisfying process by coming up with your own specs: your ideas and product choices. Then you can provide them to contractors for an apples-to-apples bid comparison. By investing some thought and preparation at the beginning, you’ll get the best prices on home improvements in the end.

Mistake #5: Getting Too Personal

Your home is a reflection of your tastes, values and lifestyle choices. But if you want to sell your home, the key point to remember is that they are your choices and the more unique those are, the more they might impact the home’s value.

For example, several years ago I was asked to inspect a home constructed by a Rutgers University professor in New Jersey.  He was concerned that the home hadn’t sold and wondered what the problem might be.  Upon arrival, it became crystal clear.  He had built the home in a geodesic shape!  As a gifted academic, I’m certain he found the home to be very inspirational.  But to the average home buyer, it was too out of the ordinary.

The same thing can happen when making home decorating choices.  Beware of bold strokes that can be hard to undo, especially if you’re hoping to put your home on the market.  Truth be told, nothing sells better than a neutral house, a strategy we learned from relocation companies who are brought in to sell a home quickly. The first thing they do is update the interiors with eggshell white paint and neutral carpeting. This isn’t to say you can’t have fun with your decorating choices; just consider choices that will make you happy while you’re there, as well as future home buyers who may not have your fantastic taste.