After laying out the vague goals of making the house more efficient, comfortable, and pleasant, I needed to start to delve down and figure out what that really entails. What improvements do I want to make and how will they get us closer to the goals I've laid out? How do all the changes work together as a system? What order should I do them in? How much will all this cost and how much time will it take? Which tasks are worth doing and which aren't? What criteria do I even use to make that determination? There were endless questions and I was feeling overwhelmed.
I wandered around a while running through various "if this, then this, but what about that?" scenarios in my head. An example train of thought:
so maybe an on-demand water heater instead of a tank water heater? so then, making space for a new utility closet near the bathrooms? should be electric, not gas, right, since we're moving away from fossil fuels and getting a PV array? but then I need to run a new dedicated 220v line. should i do that before or after i insulate the attic?
This went on and on and on, one part of the project running into another or several others, like a giant knot that you can't find the bitter end of. [Clarification: I'm not going with an on-demand water heater after all -- this was just an example thought process.] After running through these endless contingencies for a while and getting disheartened, I decided that I needed to set up some priorities, some hierarchy. I decided that I needed to step back and figure out what I want to get out of this project. What are my goals for the project? This is a little different than asking what the goals are for the house.
After some reflection I decided (realized?) that my number one goal for this project is to learn as much as I reasonably can about the process of home renovation. My second goal is to reduce the home's carbon footprint (hopefully to net-zero), make it more efficient, pleasant/interesting, and comfortable. And my third goal for this project is to be financially compensated for my labor and receive a modest return on my investment.
I recognized that these goals are in some ways at odds with each other and that trade-offs would need to be made. [This is because the market doesn't value and incentivize high performance homes as much as it could/should. At least this is the current conventional wisdom.] When this happened, I would weight the considerations for each goal by its rank order. For example, if my #3 financial goal were my #1, then I would just do something like contracting out to do a quick remodel of the bathrooms and kitchen, have someone refinish the floor, and put the house up on the market with all the mechanical systems as-is (hey they're "working", right? good enough!). But where's the learning in that? How does that improve the world in any way?
The upshot is that I won't make as much money on this renovation as I could. I'm okay with that. That's (mostly) not the point. [The notion that I'm not trying to maximize my financial return on this renovation has at times been difficult to convey to people with whom I've talked about the project.] This prioritization also suggests that I'm also willing to trade off some energy efficiency in favor of seizing a learning opportunity for myself (e.g., DIY insulation instead of contracting out). This may happen to some degree, but I think my goals 1 & 2 are a lot more compatible with each other than goal 3 is with goals 1 & 2.
With these three ranked priorities in place as a means of arbitration, the process of deciding which renovation tasks to include and exclude became somewhat easier. The metrics are still pretty fuzzy (e.g., precisely how much is it worth to me to know how to install a cathedral ceiling myself?), but at least they exist. Sort of. Or maybe they're more like guidelines than metrics. In any case, establishing these priorities for myself made me feel more settled and grounded and helped me be able to move on to the pragmatic decisions about how best to sequence the changes we would make to the house.
To some people in the real estate and construction industries all these initial down-the-rabbit-hole deliberations would I suspect come across as so much highfalutin hand wringing. I feel like I hear their voices yelling, "Stop putzing around and just get on with it whydon'tya!" But personally I feel a need to be deliberate about the process, to decide and design how I'm going to make decisions. I'm trying to embed my values in the decision-making process, trying to find a way to keep the ends static while I'm hashing out means, if that makes any sense.
I want to at the end of this project to be able to look back at all the decisions that I made along the way and to feel good about them. I know that they won't always be the right decisions, but I at least I want to know that I made them in alignment with my values and with my established end goals in mind. Wow this just got kind of heavy all of a sudden. Not my intention, but I'm okay with it. In another post, I'll move on to actually discussing the project's components [as they exist currently, and always subject to revision], sequencing, interdependencies, etc. Thanks for reading.