TOP Home Improvement Projects for Home Buyers in Portland

A huge percentage of Portland homes were built mid-century or are pushing the centennial mark.  There is even a current grass roots campaign  to “save the historic homes”.  Many feel that the old charm is what Portland is known for.  But, no matter which side of the debate you are on, if you are planning on owning a home here, chances are that your distinguished domicile needs a little pampering.  Hey, we all deserve to age gracefully! 

Outlining a few key projects from the start, will help in maintaining the comfort, cost, and beauty of your home.  Let’s keep that investment working for you for years to come! 

TIPS When Starting Any Home Improvement Project:

  • If you are in the process of buying or selling a home, Portland offers a number of thorough and knowledgable Home Inspectors.
  • Be sure your Contractor is Licensed and Bonded in Oregon
  • Always ask for References
  • Do your research on materials and options ahead of time
  • Always ask for a FREE estimate
  • Compare quotes
  • Ask about ENERGY STAR efficiency products and rebates
  • Visit Energy Trust of Oregon for Incentive programs and information for home owners.   
  • Always insist upon a solid warranty
  • Be sure to research proper permitting for DIY projects
  • After purchasing your new home, contact the Energy Trust of Oregon for their free home energy audit.
  • NW Natural will perform a once a year inspection on any gas appliance

Hard Wood Refinish

It’s like winning the lottery!  Many home buyers are overjoyed to tear up old carpet and  discover a beautiful original wood floor beneath.  Original wood floors in old Portland homes are usually a solid and sturdy oak, which offer history and character.  Roughly 95% of these homes have oak or a mix of oak and fir throughout.  Oak, being your true hardwood, is best used in high traffic areas; fir, a softwood, is preferred for bedrooms and hallways.  The beauty of this amazing discovery is that it can probably withstand a good sanding and refinishing job to bring it back to life.  Most oak floors can sustain about 3 sandings before the tongue and groove begin to show. 

Thinking of Refinishing or installing hardwood? Know your options and find a professional in the area with great references.

Thinking of Refinishing or installing hardwood? Know your options and find a professional in the area with great references. Image courtesy, Will Keightley

But before you DIY this one, please note a few things…

  • Water & Catalytic Water Based Polyurethanes are stronger, dry faster, and have less odor and there is minimal color change over time.
  • The Oil Based Polyurethanes coatings are about 30% cheaper, take much longer to dry and cure, has a strong odor, and the color will darken and yellow some over time.  For these reasons, this type of coating is not recommended for occupied homes.
  • All hardwoods Will Dent, ding, and Scratch
  • Check the hardness of the wood : a hard wood can last well over 10 years, while a soft wood will look worn in 3.
  • Types of wood: Oak, Fur, Maple, Cherry, Walnut, Bamboo, Quark.  The list goes on and on.

Exterior Siding and Paint –

The gorgeous vintage homes around town can be a blessing and a curse.  Over the years, quick fixes were applied to the exterior of some homes.  In fact, the original wood siding, usually fir or cedar, is sometimes buried three layers below the surface! 

Around a hundred years ago through the early 1960s, lead paint and other products like cement-asbestos siding were applied to sides of homes.  Left intact, these products do very little to no harm.  However, should you wish to see your siding in all its original glory, or simple choose a brand new exterior material, license professionals may be needed.  The EPA has mandated an abatement program that requires the careful removal of any flagged substance and the capture of its harmful dust particles.

Current Siding Options:

  • Cedar Flares or Shingles – This is the highest price option, but offers the natural, unbeatable appeal of real wood. 
  • Wood Siding – Needs proper prep and painting, and can last 20 – 25 years. Offers a more natural look than cement board.
  • Cement Board (Hardy Board) – This option is fairly inexpensive.  It needs proper prep and painting, and can last a whopping 50 years!
  • Vinyl – This is the least expensive option. Vinyl cannot hold paint well, so you are stuck with that particular color.
  • Stucco – Offers a natural appearance that can be molded, stained, or painted.

Whichever option you choose, a contractor or professional installation company is recommended.

Hot Water Heater –

Check the age of your hot water heater and examine the area for any leaks.  If there is water leaking from the tank, chances are, it needs to be replaced. 

A new hot water heater can cost anywhere from $500 – $1000, and will last around 7- 9 years.

Sewer Scope –

Having a sewer scope performed is recommended before buying a home in Portland.  Although it may vary in jurisdiction across Oregon, in Portland, the homeowner is responsible for the integrity of the line leading from their home to the curb or property line. 

A professional sewer scope inspection take approximately one hour to perform, and will cost around $100 for a single family home.  And, the inspection can often be negotiated as a part of the Buyer’s Repair Addendum / Request for Repair during the inspection period. Your inspection will determine if a quick fix or spot treatment can easily be performed.  Your inspector will then give you recommendations as to when to recheck and service the line again in the future.  In more drastic cases, a failed inspection would usually require replacing the old line with an entirely new line of ABS piping.  Pricing would then depend on the length of the line to be replaced and any obstructions such as driveways, landscaping, or retaining walls. 

Gas Furnace:

If properly serviced, a good furnace can last 20 – 25 years.  Smart homeowners will have a regular service call performed each year.   Besides the age of a furnace, factors like square footage, direction the home faces, number and age of windows, type of insulation, number of people in the home, and climate and humidity will all play a roll in the effectiveness of your furnace.

When a buying an older home, it may be beneficial to have an inspection performed.  Technicians will examine the homes ductwork, insulation, electrical service and wiring, piping, filters, grills, etc. before making their recommendation. 


Energy Trust of Oregon currently has an incentive program running for home owners who replace their old furnaces with those that are ENERGY STAR Efficient and EPA approved.

Add Insulation into the attic, seal any cracks.  Apply weather stripping to doors and windows.  These tricks will drastically reduce your energy bill. 

NEW Windows –  

New windows can add a whole new level of style and panache, and will help an old home feel clean and fresh.  Say goodbye to paint chipping, noise, cold air seeping in and out, and high energy bills.  New windows even work to prevent fading in your wood floors, rugs and artwork.  They are easier to open/close, clean, and lock.

New windows can improve the look and energy efficiency of a Portland home.

New windows can improve the look and energy efficiency of a Portland home. Image Courtesy, Gord Webster

But beware shoppers, all windows are NOT created equal.   The quality of the glass and framing system can affect their life and efficiency.   Be sure to research and ask questions about the number of glass panes used, the type of filling between those panes, and the number of coats applied to the surface of the panes.  There are also pros and cons involved with the material you choose for the frame.  Options include composite, aluminum, vinyl, fiberglass, wood and wood covered with an aluminum or vinyl.   A solid choice upfront will last 20 years, and offer a huge savings in energy efficiency.  For more information on selecting windows, click here. 

New Roof –

Replacing a roof can be a somewhat costly endeavor, running between $5000 – $8000.  But, depending on the material and quality that you choose, can last 15 – 50 years. 

Wood Shake or Cedar Shingles – 15 – 25 years

Composite – 15 – 35 years

Tile or Metal – 30 – 50 years

A Roof Certification is helpful in buying and selling properties. They are usually good for around 3 years, and run approximately $300. To help maintain the life of your roof, clean the gutters regularly and investigate companies that offer gentle cleaning methods to remove moss and algae.

Written by Jennifer Kane, Expanded Exposure LLC.