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5 housing materials that provide more value for less

Dive into a reno project and you'll quickly realize material selection makes a big difference to your budget. Here are tips for picking the right material for 5 home upgrades that add value
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Regular upgrade projects are a normal part of homeownership and with the popularity of home improvement shows, such as those found on HGTV, it’s easy to understand how people get inspired to take on their own projects.

In a report from U.S.-based Homeadvisor, approximately 80% of homeowners indicated they planned to stay in their current home and about half planned to remodel. While there are loads of blogs and sites dedicated to how much value a particular upgrade or reno will add to a home, many of these homeowners struggle to find information on specific material choices.

While some projects offer a better return on your investment there are also some materials that offer more value — either they last long or they retain their value over time — and this can impact whether or not a homeowner will see a  return on their home renovation plans.

Figuring out where and what materials are the best use of your hard-earned dollars isn’t easy, so here are five housing materials that save money but provide value.

1. What are cost-effective alternatives to wood flooring?

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Hardwood floors are not only on trend but also are something that never goes out of style. However, real hardwood flooring is quite expensive, running $5 or more per square foot plus the cost of installation. (Yes, you can get cheaper but the price reflects the quality of the material.) Fortunately, there are a few options that cost less, are durable and make your home look beautiful.

  • Laminate: Laminate has a similar look to hardwood but is much less expensive than real wood floors (plus laminate is a suitable floor for below grade floors, whereas most hardwood is not).  However, be careful about the quality of the laminate you buy. Take samples home with you and abuse them — soak them in water, hit them with a hammer and try to peel up the edges. Even though you’re on a budget, you want the materials you use to last.
  • Wood-look tile: Think durability of tile but the look of wood. Introduced (and VERY popular) a few years ago, these wood-like tiles are typically less expensive per square foot than hardwood. However, costs can really creep up if you have to pay for installation. If you opt for wood-look tile, consider a contractor that works on time + materials, or check out your local home improvement store. Quite often, local hardware stores will offer classes on how to install your own tile so you can save a bundle.
  • Hybrid wood floors: Consider engineered hardwood, which has a layer of hardwood on top rather than throughout, and is usually more cost-effective than solid hardwood flooring.
  • Wood-look vinyl: There are a couple of options for getting real wood without spending so much money, such as the Smartcore hybrid floors. These vinyl floor sheets look like hardwood but are highly durable and waterproof. If you want to check out this product go to any big box hardware store, or spend a day at the mall. Many retail outlets that install “hardwood” actually use this vinyl tile that looks like hardwood because of its durability.

Remember: Look for bulk pricing and discounts on the material you finally choose.

2. What are cost-effective alternatives to granite countertops?

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Over the years a few materials for countertops have become highly popular but the winner, for most homeowners, is the granite countertop. (It’s found in just about every chef’s kitchen and now even in condos and middle-class homes!) Still, cost out a slab of granite and you’ll soon notice how quickly costs rise. Three great granite alternatives that can accommodate the budgets and preferences of most homeowners include: Butcher block, engineered stone and laminate

Keep in mind even a minor kitchen remodel can offer a solid return on investment. While granite countertops are beautiful and timeless, they are also quite expensive. Fortunately, these three options can still upgrade the look and feel of your kitchen but save you money.

  • Butcher block: Wood countertops are much less expensive than granite, and when sealed correctly, are very durable. Another option is to pay more for granite for some spots and mesh with butcher block in larger spaces, such as your island.
  • Modular engineered stone: Manmade stone looks very much like granite, but you’ll save on the material, and installation is easy, even for DIYers.
  • Laminate: Gone are the ’70s orange and brown laminate countertops. Today’s laminate looks like natural materials and comes in a variety of neutral colours. The cost of a laminate countertop is approximately $1,200 for 30 square feet, while the price of granite is roughly $3,500 for 30 square feet.

Remember: You could also buy granite tiles and tile your countertop, but you will need to be happy with mortar lines if you opt for this granite countertop option.

3. Should you install energy-efficient windows?

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Replacing the windows in your home saves money on energy costs and improves the value of your home. Recoup around 74% of your investment in new windows as well as upgrading the overall look of your home both inside and outside. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Do the new windows mesh with the overall design of your home from the outside?
  • Windows offer different energy savings depending upon their design and quality. Buy windows in your budget but with the highest energy-efficiency rating possible.

Remember: If you can’t replace every window in your home, start with the side of your home that takes the brunt of wind when a cold front comes through. Slowly replace the other windows as your budget allows.

4. What bathroom upgrades make sense (without costing loads of cents)?

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Bathroom remodelling projects don’t have to cost a bundle. Try these upgrades to bring your bathroom up to contemporary standards:

  • Install a lower, more accessible toilet for help when you grow older if you plan to be in the house a while.
  • Refinish your bathtub rather than replacing the entire thing.
  • Tile around the top of your bathtub insert to freshen up the entire look of the space.

Remember: Bathroom remodels often grow costly, but they don’t have to be if you keep an eye out for a bargain and repurpose materials you already own.

5. A new coat of paint is a good idea, but what paint should you use?

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One final investment is spending a bit more on the paint you use when repainting your home. Washable paint is a must when you have pets and children. You will pay a little more per gallon, but you’ll save in the long run by extending the life of your paint job. Some other options:

  • Choose an inexpensive flat paint, which is easy to touch up when the wall gets a scuff mark.
  • Paint the entire house the same colour and buy 5-gallon buckets of paint, which saves a little money.
  • Use a semi-gloss, which you can wipe down without wiping the paint off the wall.

Remember: One thing to keep in mind is that if your walls have flaws, you’ll want to invest in eggshell paint, which appears flat but is more washable because it hides drywall imperfections.

Update your home with the next buyer in mind

If your concern is resale value, look at your home through the eyes of a stranger. When home stagers set up a house for showings, they use neutral design elements.

You might adore copper kettles, but if you paint them on the main wall of your kitchen, it could be a turnoff for potential buyers in the future. Go for elements that stand the test of time and remain classics rather than trendy materials that date your home quickly.

Holly Welles
Holly Welles

Holly Welles is a home improvement writer and the editor of "The Estate Update." She firmly believes that anyone can learn how to make the most of their living space, which is why she shares tips for homeowners at every experience level.

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