Home improvements that are – and aren’t – worth the money

modern inside of home with kitchen and living area

Erin Delahunty

Posted January 12, 2023

When renovating, many Australian home owners wisely have a potential future sale in the back of the mind.

What would a prospective buyer like? What sort of things will bump up the asking price? And what improvements will be worth the investment?

Thomas McKenzie, Business Development Manager at RACV Solar, and Dean Morrison, director of RACV Solar partner Arden Homes, one of Victoria’s largest new home builders, explain which home improvements are – and aren’t – worth the money.

Seven home improvements that are worth the money



Improving insulation is one of the simplest and cheapest ways to make a home more energy efficient and appealing to buyers, McKenzie says.

“In the energy efficiency conversation, insulation is often overlooked. If your home doesn’t have insulation or is poorly insulated, you’re using power for the sake of it and paying for it, which doesn’t make much sense,” he says.

Data shows about 80 per cent of Australian homes have inadequate insulation or insulation that has moved out of place over time, making it ineffective. A five per cent gap in ceiling insulation, for example, can reduce the effectiveness of insulation by 50 per cent. “For often a small outlay, insulation makes a big difference."

Energy-efficient cooling and heating

Almost every renovation includes considering how a room or part of the home is climate controlled. So it makes sense to install energy-efficient cooling and heating systems; the single biggest users of power in most homes, McKenzie says.

“Wall-hung electric split systems are a great energy-efficient option, as they can be used in isolation, so you only heat or cool the spaces you need to, not the entire home, as is the case with old-style ducted systems,” he says. Many newer, electric ducted systems allow zones to be set up too.

Rooftop solar

Putting solar panels on the roof used to be seen as a way to make money, by selling excess power back into the grid, but it’s now about protection from the soaring cost of household bills, as well as doing the right thing by the planet and not relying on the grid.

“We know in the next 12 months, households are going to be paying up to 40 per cent more for power. By investing in solar; and then generating and using your own electricity; householders can protect themselves from that,” McKenzie says.

For an outlay of anywhere from $7000 to $11,000, home owners can save between $800 and $1400 a year. It doesn’t take long for that to pay for itself. And for prospective buyers, solar is a win-win.

Heat pump hot water

The average Aussie home uses up to 30 per cent of its energy on generating hot water, making up a big chunk of power bills, McKenzie explains.

“A heat pump water heater, which can cost between $2500 and $6000, is the most efficient hot water system. They are roughly three times more efficient than traditional electric water heaters, so they are a great option for those looking to update,” he says.

“If you have rooftop solar, you can use that solar power to heat the water during the day and store it for use, effectively storing the solar energy as hot water and slashing your water heating bill.”


Smart home technology

Incorporating smart technology – from thermostats that can learn a family’s habits and heat or cool rooms in line with them, to sprinklers designed to reduce water usage to smart plugs that switch off appliances when not in use – is a great way to save cash, as well as create a more clever home, McKenzie says.

It can be as simple as using a timer on the washing machine, to run it at a cheaper time and save money on power and water, or something a more significant, like installing smart shades that open or close on a schedule. The cost of entry is low, but the impact can be big.

Battery storage

Battery storage – which allows householders to store excess solar power to use when they want to – can deliver savings of up to $2000 a year, making it a worthwhile investment, McKenzie says.

“Instead of sending your excess solar power to the grid and buying it back at night for a higher price, battery storage allows you to store it for use when you need it. It also means you can be independent of the grid and have power when it’s out all along your street when there’s a failure,” he says.

Usable study spaces

With an increasing number of Australians working from home, “thoughtful and usable” study spaces are a must-have and hugely desirable with buyers.

While in the past, studies were “plonked at the front of the house without much thought”, Morrison says they now need to be in a “desirable location”, preferably with access to an outdoor area or at least great ventilation.

“It’s also smart to add other study spaces for children, in locations where the parents can supervise and help them.”

study next to window

Thoughtfully designated study spaces can be an additional selling point. Image: Getty.

Three home improvements that aren't worth the money


Inferior 'green' products

Buyers often look at the energy star rating and brands of new appliances when inspecting a property, so it’s wise to consider green products in any renovation. But choosing the right ones is key.

“You should always buy the best you can afford in the energy-efficiency space because as a general rule, you get what you pay for,” McKenzie says.

Also look closely at the warranties, as a product is “only as good as the company selling it”, he adds. “You need to have confidence in the company you’re purchasing from.”

Swimming pool

A pool can be a Godsend on a hot summer’s day – and it’s now possible to run a pool pump using excess power from rooftop solar, making it somewhat efficient – but it’s not an addition that’s worth the money in most cases, especially given they can cost up to $100,000 and have ongoing running costs.

“It does depend on the individual buyer and where they are in their life cycle … that’s what determines if it’s wasteful or not. But broadly speaking, we are seeing more people thinking green (with a large investment like that), whether that’s an electric car charger in the garage or a battery,” Morrison says.

Butler's pantry

The popularity of the butler’s pantry – a smaller galley connected to a kitchen to hide appliances and pantry and preparation space – is declining in Australia and for good reason, as it’s effectively a second kitchen, wasting resources as well as energy.

“The demand for them has died off,” Morrison says. “Having a second sink set-up in a butler’s pantry attached to the main kitchen is a bit wasteful, as it means you have two of everything, two sinks, two taps,” he says.

Morrison says most Australians are now looking for more creative storage solutions ahead of a butler’s pantry.

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