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Jeremy Van Wagoner specializes in residential remodeling projects because it gives him an opportunity to flex his creative muscles.

He is owner of Pinnacle Remodeling and frequently carries a pencil and a notebook to a job site to sketch out ideas for his clients.

His creative juices start flowing whenever a customer gives him the latitude to come up with a plan that’s a little more involved than changing out cabinets and installing new appliances.

“If clients want something that looks cool, they let me know,” Van Wagoner said. “It’s nice to be able to use artistic license and come up with an idea and really take it outside the box.”

While remodeling the master suite and an accompanying bathroom at a home on Cassia Drive, Van Wagoner's customers were after an eclectic look. Modern cabinets, a freestanding copper tub and a glass shower stall contrast with rustic panels fashioned from random lengths of barn wood.

The sliding door between the bedroom and bathroom would be at home in a barn. It's made from salvaged planks wrapped in metal banding.

“These kinds of barn doors are becoming really popular,” Van Wagoner said

Shelves in the walk-in closet are also fashioned from rough-hewn boards. But rather than buying stamped shelf brackets from a home center, Van Wagoner had the brackets fabricated from plumbing fixtures and lengths of copper pipe.

According to a recent study by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, Americans are expected to spend $310 billion on home repairs this year. That's an 8.6 percent increase over last year, and close to the $327 billion spent in pre-recession 2006.

The home remodeling industry has proven to be resilient, declining less than 13 percent during the recession, compared to a 60 percent drop in construction of new homes during the same time, according to the Harvard study.

The website Home Advisor says a typical kitchen remodeling job costs around $20,000, although price tags of $30,000 to $50,000 aren't uncommon. Prices vary, depending on the size of the kitchen, the quality of the materials and whether the job includes changing the layout. A bathroom renovation often costs between $6,000 and $12,000.  

Publications frequently come up with estimates on whether a home improvement project will pay for itself, in part or in whole, when it’s time to sell the home.

Van Wagoner said he doesn’t pay too much attention to these kinds of estimates because his customers usually plan to stay in the home for a long time. 

They’re more interested in making their homes more comfortable or useful rather than trying to recoup costs in a resale, he said.

On the other hand, a homeowner planning to sell a home within a few months will likely lose some home value if the kitchen or the bathroom are obviously outdated or need repairs, Van Wagoner said.

“The people we work with are interested in staying in the home for a long time,” said Jeremy Freyenhagen, owner of Freyenhagen Construction. “We don’t do a lot of business with house flippers.”

Freyenhagen said the remodeling market in Billings continues to show strength, as kitchen and bathroom renovations continue to be a mainstay.

The open-concept kitchen, complete with an island bar, allows the cook to interact with family members who might be relaxing in the living room or doing homework at the table.

“These days, people are spending more time in their kitchens. That means opening up space,” Freyenhagen said.

New construction tends to be relatively straightforward. The builder follows a detailed set of plans, and the house gets built. But surprises are common in home renovations. Sometimes the seemingly simple task of tearing out a wall becomes more complicated when builders discover that it's a load-bearing wall.

Such was the case when Freyenhagen's crews embarked on a kitchen renovation on a historic home near downtown.

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