Get a more comfortable, storage-savvy, and energy-efficient home when you invest in these updates. 

By Kristina McGuirk
July 15, 2021
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Whether you recently purchased a new house or you're planning a long-dreamt-of remodel, you can feel good about investing in your home, and ultimately your quality of life, with these expert-approved upgrades. A mix of practical updates will better protect your house and make it more efficient, while also creating opportunities to customize for your lifestyle. Although some of these ideas are a big commitment, the result of your investment is a more stylish, comfortable, and functional home. These interior and exterior upgrades add value to your everyday life—and many are great for resale value, too.

Before beginning any home renovations, be sure to check local building code requirements to ensure maximum safety and compliance.

sliding glass and tile shower
Credit: Marty Baldwin

1. Zero-Threshold Showers

Eliminate barriers and get a sleek look by switching to a shower that lacks the lip or edge of a traditional shower floor basin. "Zero-threshold showers are a huge advantage if you're building your 'forever' home or remodeling a primary bathroom to enjoy indefinitely," says Jamie Gold, a wellness design consultant. "There's a bit more work and expense involved, but it can definitely be worth it for future-proofing your investment," she says, referring to the benefits of barrier-free showers for those who are aging or injured. As larger showers continue to trend in bathroom renovations, this accessible design style is both practical and stylish.

2. Cool Roofing

Heat is the problem everyone is interested in tackling right now, according to Matt Power, editor of Green Builder magazine. For peace of mind and savings on your energy bill, Power suggests investing in cool roofs, which reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat than a traditional roof, improving indoor comfort and decreasing energy used to cool the home. Cool roofing materials are available as reflective coatings, sheet coverings, tiles, and shingles, as well as metal roofing. While you have the most choices to consider when replacing your roof, you can upgrade an existing one with reflective coatings or retrofitted reflective material to achieve some of the benefits of a cool roof, too.

3. Kitchen Countertops

Countertops are an integral part of your kitchen's style and function. Visually, they make a big statement, and physically, they have to withstand food prep, spills, craft time, and frequent cleaning. If you have quality cabinetry but your countertops are an eyesore or they're difficult to maintain, it's worth investing in new countertops.

Choosing a material like quartz—the top countertop material in 2021 trend reports from both Houzz and the National Kitchen and Bath Association—offers a fresh look while making your kitchen more functional and easier to maintain. It's important to note that replacing countertops can impact the existing backsplash, sink, and faucet, too. This small kitchen renovation is the perfect opportunity to consider an easy-to-clean configuration with brushed faucets, an under-mount sink, and a slab backsplash.

White wooden house garage yellow door
Credit: Rett Peek

4. Updated Garage Doors

With so many great styles to choose from, a new garage door is a quick and easy way to punch up curb appeal, according to Warren Wilson, general contractor and owner of Wilson Homes in Vancouver, British Columbia. If your garage is used for something like a workshop, a new door with better insulation or windows for natural light can make it more comfortable, says Wilson. Plus, according to 2021 cost versus value remodeling data, a garage door replacement has one of the highest returns on investment when it comes to resale value.

5. Radiant-Heat Flooring

Installed below the floor, a radiant heating system warms rooms from the bottom up, providing evenly distributed heat that's cozy for your feet. Adding a radiant system to your home requires tearing out the existing flooring—and while it's a big project, the upgrade produces big benefits, too. Not only is it luxurious on cold mornings, but radiant heat is also quieter than rattling radiators and rumbling forced-air vents. Plus, it's often more energy-efficient and can be added to many rooms in the home. "One of the most popular uses is the primary bathroom floor, but whole-house projects are worthwhile," says Gold. While some approved vinyl and laminate floors can be paired with radiant heat, it works best with ceramic and porcelain tile and natural stone. Gold notes that radiant heat is popular in all climates and that it's even being installed in outdoor living spaces.

6. Automatic Bathroom Vent Fans

You might be surprised how many homes have outdated bathroom ventilation fans or models that do not match the size of the space. An exhaust fan should quickly clear a steamy mirror and remove humid air after a shower. Specifically, look for a model with a humidity sensor that activates the fan automatically—it is perfect for those who forget to turn it on before bathing, and it prevents you from wasting energy if you forget to turn it off. 

Some older homes do not have ventilation at all, or they dump the exhaust into an attic or other area of the house. New ventilation will be a bigger project in these homes, but you can feel confident about investing in a system that prevents mold and mildew with little manual effort after installation.

7. Tankless Water Heater

Wilson recommends replacing a traditional water heater with a space-savvy and energy-wise tankless water heater. Instead of continuously using energy to keep a large tank of water heated, a tankless water heater provides on-demand hot water, meaning it expends energy to heat water only when, and to what temperature, it is needed. "They're small, they can bolt onto the wall, and they take up much less room," says Wilson. "Plus, they last about twice as long as a standard unit." Another benefit of a tankless unit is that your hot water supply isn't limited to how much water the tank can hold. Tankless water heaters do have higher upfront costs than traditional water heaters, due to both the purchase price and installation costs, which can require rerouting gas lines.

large patio area pavers bright chairs pillows umbrella
Credit: Edmund Barr

8. Decks and Patios

Interest in outdoor spaces exploded last year, and it continues to be a place homeowners seek to enhance and enjoy. Large or small, a new deck is a simple way to add a lot of value to your property. With just a few pieces of furniture and lighting, it becomes a flexible space where you can work, play, and entertain. Although lumber has been expensive and a wood deck might seem like a splurge, you can feel good about its resale value. Alternatively, composite decking is durable and eco-friendly, and it has a great return on investment, too.

9. Enhanced Kitchen Storage

Now is the time to invest in those cooking skills and supplies you acquired during the pandemic. Adequate storage for all your utensils, appliances, and pantry items will play a role in making your kitchen more orderly, functional, and enjoyable to use—and help you nurture those new culinary talents. Adding specialty organizers to cabinets and drawers makes the most of your existing cabinetry. As traditional pantries are seeing a comeback, consider building out an underutilized corner of the kitchen, tapping into the wall of a nearby room, or converting a nearby closet if you have one. This increased storage is not only better for your everyday use, but it will also add value to your home.

10. Solar Energy

Decreasing costs for materials, paired with tax credits and incentives, has continued to make solar power a more achievable option for homeowners. Although it's still a significant financial investment, the need for renewable energy is bringing solar closer to home. Supplementing your home with solar power can reduce both your energy bills and your carbon footprint, and Power says it has appeal for homebuyers, too.

But you don't have to invest in running your entire home on solar right away. Power suggests one way to approach solar is as an emergency backup: something that can keep the lights on and the fridge running when the power goes down. Rather than buying a gas-powered generator, he recommends selecting battery size and panels to accommodate this kind of power supply for your home.

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