The kitchen and bathroom are at the top of most home remodeling project lists. But homeowners intent on remodeling should also consider investing in the exterior of their homes - maybe even start there.
That's the advice of Sarah Susanka, one of the nation's leading voices for redefining the American home, and author of the Not So Big House series, a collection of nine books focusing on home design, architecture and remodeling.
The reason for investing in the exterior is simple. The exterior should set the tone for your home's interior look and feel. Also, first impressions really do count to the long-term value of a house, especially when it comes time to sell it.
"I firmly believe that the experience we have in living in our homes can have a profound impact on the way we look at life," Susanka says. "That experience begins the moment we walk, bike or drive up to it, and extends through the transitions we make as we move between the landscape, the exterior and the interior of the home."
The feeling of satisfaction that comes from making your house look good on the outside is experienced at many levels - from the colors and textures of your home to the quality of the materials used to build or remodel it, to the benefits of those materials in the long term, such as the character they lend, or the ease of maintenance they offer. The good news is that if you haven't remodeled your house in a long time, there are a number of new, sustainable products that are helping homeowners create exteriors that are both beautiful and green, such as APEX siding and Integrity windows, both made with pultruded fiberglass, a tough, low-maintenance, sustainable material offering a rich selection of colors.
"A Not So Big House is not only built better rather than bigger," adds Susanka. "It is also designed to be a good custodian of the planet's resources. It's built to last. Finding green products that also make it easy for homeowners to maintain the home is a big step toward true sustainability. If a house isn't both beautiful and practical, no matter how green the materials used, it won't live up to its sustainability goals. People only look after what they love, and beauty is a big part of that picture."
If you're thinking about remodeling in the near future, here are several more ideas to make the most of your remodeling budget:
Create a master plan. Many homeowners cannot afford to do a complete remodeling. Most do it in chunks. Before you lift a hammer, hire an architect to create a master plan for your home, which will guide your remodeling efforts for years to come.
Connecting inside with outside. The interior and exterior of your home need to work together. They need to be integrated and harmonize with one another as you move from the surrounding landscape to the interior, or as you look out from inside your home to the garden beyond. To enhance this connection, think about the first impression you want to give a visitor. Do you want it to communicate comfort? Connectedness to the outdoors? Creativity? Or tradition? All these can be accomplished with thoughtful detailing of the home's exterior, as well as landscaping.
Small changes; huge impact. Small changes to the exterior, such as adding another color to the exterior palette, adding texture such as stone, brick or lap siding, or framing the windows with wider trim boards, can have a huge impact on the look of your home, and make it feel both more expressive and more inviting.
Choose sustainable products. It's important not only to the environment, but to the overall maintenance and longevity of your home. Consider remodeling your house with some of the new, high quality sustainable products that are entering the remodeling marketplace, such as APEX Siding, Susanka's current favorite find, which is made from pultruded fiberglass, derived from sand.
Reduce maintenance and future repairs. Another key to remodeling is to use materials and building methods that are resistant to wear, tear and the elements (rain, sunlight), which reduce the likelihood of needing to make expensive repairs in the future, as well as reducing the amount of time spent on maintenance. Knowing that your home is well protected from the elements is an important part of the overall satisfaction with your home.
Mix it up. Many people are afraid to use more than one color on the exterior of their home. That's why so many houses appear dull and lifeless. Consider using two colors of siding and a third color for your trim boards to add personality and vitality to the exterior. Products like Apex fiberglass siding and trim, and Integrity windows, for example, are available in a palette of rich and attractive colors. Also, consider adding a trim band, or belt line, below main level windows of your home, and using a contrasting color of siding below that band to help ground the house and connect it in with the surrounding landscape.
Invest in quality over quantity. Even with a limited budget, try to invest in high-quality products that will look good for the long haul, and will stand the tests of time, rather than buying lower-quality products that may offer the short term benefit of getting a greater share of your remodeling projects done, but which end up looking dilapidated and unattractive in short order. You'll feel better about the integrity of your home by focusing a significant part of your budget on the bones and outer clothing of your home - the roof, siding, windows, electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems.