Guide to Cost-Effective Home Upgrades. Exterior: Large Exterior Upgrades

The upgrades in this section have the most significant impact on home value and appearance. If you are trying to make an outdated house look modern, the upgrades listed here may be for you. Large upgrades cost more than $4,000, although some may take only a day or two

Installing Stone and Masonry Veneers



Solid masonry walls are expensive. However, brick or stone can be applied as a veneer over stucco or wood siding, adding richness to the exterior at a more reasonable cost than that of building solid masonry walls. A concrete footing is required for a wall with a brick or stone veneer. Also, you will need a 1-inch air space between the veneer and the wall it covers.

Artificial stone is also available as a veneer. It is less expensive than real stone and is easier to install because it’s lighter in weight and no concrete footing is required.

With real stone, every installation is unique because no two stones are exactly alike. Artificial stones are more uniform in appearance because they are formed of stucco that has been poured into molds and then painted. Although artificial stones have proven to be long-lasting, they can’t be considered as permanent as real stones.


Replacing the Siding



The most common choices of siding, listed in order by their cost-effectiveness based on their lasting quality, are wood plank siding, plywood siding, stucco, pressed-wood siding, and vinyl siding.

Wood plank siding is second in lasting quality only to brick and stone, and for this reason, it’s the most cost-effective exterior wall covering. It can be applied vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. If the house is currently sided with wood planks, every effort should be made to restore what exists. Properly maintained, wood plank siding should never have to be replaced—only refinished.

Plywood siding is far superior to vinyl, stucco, and pressed-wood siding but is not as good as wood plank siding. Proper maintenance is required to prevent delamination. If plywood siding is the replacement material of choice, and your budget allows it, it should be made from redwood or cedar. Fir siding will not last nearly as long. (If wood shingles are the material of choice, they should be applied over a solid siding, such as plywood, with a layer of felt paper between the shingles and the solid siding.)




Stucco is very brittle, and in areas where houses shift, it has a tendency to crack. To repair cracked stucco, see earlier section.

Pressed-hardboard plank or sheet siding is less apt to crack than stucco, but it expands and contracts radically compared to real wood. This movement can result in permanent buckling, especially with materials less than a ½ inch thick. When this material is used on the exterior of a house, it should be thoroughly painted, since moisture will damage pressed-wood siding more quickly than any other siding material.

Vinyl siding is preferred by some but has some drawbacks because it can’t be painted, it oxidizes, it has no insulative value, and it’s easily damaged and costly to repair. In addition, vinyl trim is generally flimsy.

The best re-siding job includes removal of the old surface, but this is expensive and not absolutely necessary. If you choose to add a second layer, you should be aware of a few minor drawbacks.

First, if the existing surface is irregular, you will have to smooth it by using furring strips to prevent the irregularities from showing. Second, you will have to use thicker window and door trim to compensate for the increased wall thickness. Third, you will have to extend electrical outlets, lightboxes, and water faucets. In addition, if the existing siding is wood, all areas with fungus or structural pest damage should be repaired.


Adding Slope to a Flat Roof


In a neighborhood of houses with sloped roofs, a flat-roofed house can be perceived as having less value. Adding a slope to a flat roof can be cost-efficient if you want to get the best return when selling a house in such a neighborhood.

When adding a slope to a roof, get help from an engineer. A sloped roof may redistribute weight, adding load to different parts of the house. A qualified engineer can determine whether this is the case and compensate for it. The roof must be properly designed to hold the type of roofing material that will be used. A stronger frame is needed to hold a tile roof than one covered with composition shingles. This determination can also be made by the structural engineer.

The old roofing material should be completely removed to take the weight off the structure. Use this opportunity to inspect for fungus damage. Some costs to consider when adding a sloping roof include adding insulation and extending chimneys, plumbing vent pipes, exhaust vent pipes, and skylight wells. (This is an opportune time to add more skylights.) You may also have to alter incoming utility wires (telephone, television cable, and electric wires).


Adding a Dormer


You can add a dormer to create additional floor space in the attic-level living quarters or simply to add a window through the sloped surface of the roof. Builders often add false dormers for aesthetic appeal, making the roof more interesting to look at and giving the house the appearance of being larger.

The most logical times to build a dormer are when the existing roof cover is nearly new, just prior to having roof care performed, or just prior to adding a new roof. This is because the area of the roof adjacent to the dormer will receive a lot of wear during construction, which may damage older and more brittle roof coverings. New roof coverings are more pliable and not as susceptible to damage.

A false dormer can be added to most roofs without major structural changes. However, even a false dormer can cost several thousand dollars to build. Although the inside of a false dormer can be finished off with window dressings such as drapes or blinds, most people paint the inside of the window with black paint.

Dormers can also be used to create extravagant skylights. However, this is best done only in more expensive neighborhoods where selling prices might support the high cost of such a project.

Planning a Complete Face-Lift



Older homes with deteriorated or outdated fronts can be revitalized very cost-effectively. Paint and newly fashioned decorative trim should be the first consideration, but if you don’t think they will be sufficient, new exterior siding is the next logical choice. It may allow the addition of shutters, planter boxes, or an interesting trim color scheme that wouldn’t have been possible with the old siding.

Curb appeal is dictated primarily by the appearance of the front of a house, so when you have to make changes that may negatively affect the exterior, make them at the sides and the rear of the house if possible, not the front. If you are considering a face-lift to the entire front of the house, contact a designer or an architect, who will provide a drawing (perhaps in perspective) to show you what the new front will look like after the work is done.

A complete face-lift can also include the addition of a porch with a sloped roof, a new front door, or a bay window. This is an excellent time to replace windows most cost-effectively.

Adding a Dormer: New stud notched to hold the rafter

Installing a Spa or Swimming Pool



Not every home improvement is as cost-effective as it’s enjoyable. Although a spa is a slightly better investment than a swimming pool, both these features are among the least cost-effective of all home improvements, according to national surveys. A barely 20 percent return can be expected on these investments in general. Yet in a neighborhood where many pools exist, they are considered a valuable feature.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t purchase a spa or build a pool if having one is important to you. It is a matter of personal choice, not potential monetary gain.

local_offerevent_note April 6, 2021

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