Home & Garden

For Curb Appeal, Simple Details Make a Big Impact

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What sets your home apart from every other property on the block? Learn from the local experts how small details, like your roof, doors, windows and garage, have an oversized impact on the appearance of your home.

Roofing, windows, front doors and garage doors can have an oversized impact on the appearance of your home’s exterior. Look for ways to tie together these styles, like the way this home repeats the arching windows on the garage doors, second-story windows and front door.

In many a suburban neighborhood it can prove challenging to set your home apart from every other property on the block. And yet, there are smart ways to infuse your own personality into your dwelling. Attention to the right details can have a big impact on your home’s curb appeal.

Whether you’re looking to sell your home in the next few years or trying to personalize it for years to come, now is a good time to invest in those exterior elements that can wow potential buyers and boost your own satisfaction.

We spoke with local experts in roofing, windows, front doors and garage doors to see how these often-overlooked parts of your home’s facade have an oversized impact.

Start at the Top

Driving around your neighborhood, Gary Rogers can quickly identify the homes that need his help: roofs stained with black streaks, cedar shingles blanketed in mossy growths, siding sporting green patches, patios stained by dirt.

For these and other home surface issues, the general manager of House Shampoo Inc., based in McHenry, has a solution – literally. His company cleans and restores properties using a customized solution application process. Applied with no more pressure than that of a garden hose, these chemical solutions are safe around garden plants and prevent the harsh effects of power washing.

House Shampoo’s most obvious effect is cosmetic, but it’s beneficial in many ways. One treatment can prolong the life of your home’s exterior surfaces.

What people don’t realize, Rogers says, is that discolorations on your roof are the product of growing, living algae colonies. Such growths host lichens that loosen shingle granules and cut in half the lifespan of your roof.

“The untreated algae and lichen infestation, on your shingles, is nickel- and dime-sized voids where there’s no more shingle grit,” says Rogers. “That condition allows UV rays to decompose the shingles, encouraging water to seep in – which ultimately weakens the substrate materials. Eventually, that moisture gets into your attic and home, causing all sorts of problems, like mold.”

Black streaks appear most commonly on standard asphalt shingles because of the limestone incorporated in those products, says Rogers. When it comes to cedar roofing, the natural wood is a tempting target.

“It’s the perfect organic material to use in roofing, but when you add moisture, food and shade, flora is going to proliferate,” he says. “Those growths simply break down a cedar roof. If the roof is cleaned and maintained regularly, it should last for 50 years.”

Rogers knows that some homeowners grumble about the cost of cleaning a roof, siding or other features, but he also knows they’ll grumble even more about replacing them. Keeping your exterior surfaces cleaned generates real value by protecting your investment, he adds.

“A common shingled roof costs roughly $6,000 to $8,000 to replace,” he says. “You expect it to last 30 to 50 years like the manufacturer warrants, but that only happens if it’s maintained. Without cleaning this expensive feature, you’re essentially paying double.”

A well-maintained property is also a major selling point for potential homebuyers. Rogers receives increasingly more calls from people requesting a whole-house detailing before putting the home on the market.

“When you pull up to a house and it has black streaks on the roof, dirty sidewalks and a green fence, a potential buyer is probably looking at the home and thinking, ‘This looks like it needs a lot of work,’” Rogers says. “We show up at 8 a.m. and are out of there by 1 p.m. – and your home looks squeaky-clean, restored and very close to brand-new. Some homeowners don’t want to spend money on cleaning, but if it gives you the edge, consider it money well-spent.”

A Look at Windows & Doors

Your home’s windows can either complement the exterior or they can clash. Think about ways to tie together your overall look.

“You’re not going to take a really contemporary home and throw double-hung windows with Colonial grills on the front of the house,” says Pat Creasy, general manager at Blue Ribbon Millwork, in Woodstock. “There are so many grill styles. There’s plain glass, no grill. You can do a grill that’s removable from the inside. You can do one that’s stuck to each side of the glass, and you can do a grill in between the glass.”

Blue Ribbon carries two lines of Marvin windows: the budget-friendly Integrity brand, which is made with a fiberglass exterior, and the more traditional Clad brand, which is made using wood and aluminum components. On the Clad side, Marvin offers some 19 exterior colors (Integrity has six), plus six types of interior wood species, each with a range of stain choices.

White remains the most popular exterior choice for window frame and sash, but in suburban Chicago, pebble gray and ebony take a close second. A new line of Marvin colors integrates metallic finishes that have a silver, brass or gold glint in the sunlight. It’s not unheard of for homeowners to mix and match frame and sash colors, but Creasy advises caution.

“Say you wanted to make the sash green – that was huge in the 90s,” he says. “Your windows will be there for 30 years, and you don’t want to make them a color where later you’ll say, ‘Now I have to paint those.’ They’ve already got a nice factory finish on them that’s warrantied for 20 years.”

Instead of following the latest trend, he says, try complementing a neutral-colored sash and frame with a colorful pair of shutters. When done properly the shutters should complement the colors in your front door.

Fiberglass is probably the most-requested front door material, Creasy says. Modern doors come in a variety of styles and many of them incorporate a wood look. Compared with an actual wood door, this low-maintenance look-alike won’t fade, even in settings where it’s exposed to harsh daylight.

Selecting the right door isn’t just a matter of style. Intangible factors, like window glass, will also impact your choice.

“Husband comes in and he’s 6-foot-4, wife’s 5-foot-4, and they’ll have different thoughts about where the glass should be,” says Creasy. “Dogs make a huge factor in front doors. We’ve got a little dog and he loves to sit by the front door; we’re going to do full glass. Or, we have dogs this big and I don’t want them seeing out the front door because they’ll jump all over the door and the glass.”

Door hardware is incredibly diverse, with a range of traditional and modern styles available. Matte black is most popular, as are door levers, which are more accommodating to arthritic hands.

Window screens, too, come in a variety of styles, all relatively customizable through Marvin.

“You can do it in a wood frame that makes the screen disappear,” says Creasy. “And they’ve got one that slides. Best place for it is over a kitchen sink – you only need it when the window’s open and you only need it three or four months out of the year.”

Creasy believes new windows and doors can add resale value to a home, but only to an extent. He recalls the advice of his mother, a former real estate agent, who was skeptical that windows could provide a return on investment.

“Had you realized five years ago that you needed new windows and you put them in, only now are you going to recapture some of that value, because you’ve had energy savings, and you’ve had ease and operation of the windows,” says Creasy. “You’ve gained something.”

Garage Doors: Small Price, Big Change

It may not be the first thing on your mind when talking curb appeal, but a new garage door can have one of the most dramatic impacts. Thanks to new technologies, it’s easier than ever to achieve high-end looks at an affordable price.
“The garage door is pretty much your biggest bang for your buck, because it covers a very large square footage on the front of the house,” says Aaron Poling, owner of ASAP Garage Door Repair Inc., in Huntley. “And when you compare the cost of upgrading the front door of your house, versus your garage door, people can spend $5,000 or $10,000 on a new front door, where they’ll spend maybe $1,500 on a garage door.”

The ASAP showroom is filled with examples of wooden doors – except they’re not actually wood. Most replicate the traditional carriage-style door. Some doors are simply a standard steel product imprinted with a wood image. Others replicate the texture, pattern and form of a carriage door.

“Some of them, from 20 feet away you can’t tell they’re not real wood,” says Poling. “It’s a low-cost, low-maintenance option with lots of curb appeal.”

Available on the market for about eight years now, these durable look-alikes are fairly customizable. Poling helps homeowners to narrow their selections by evaluating the exterior of their home. He looks for ways to tie in a new door with the home’s windows and window grills, brick style and architectural shape.

In one example, he helped a couple to revitalize their flat, no-paneled 1970s-era garage door with stunning results.

“See those grills on the window? They tie together with the front door,” he says. “The door has a vertical line, which ties in with the vertical lines on the brick. Everything fits very well. It took this home out of the ‘70s and into the modern age.”

More and more, Poling serves homeowners who want to replace a fully functional, standard garage door with something more attractive. They may replace the entire unit or simply the top panel, installing something with windows and visual interest.

Homeowners looking to sell in the near future stand to gain from a garage door update, Poling says.

“You can take a standard house, with a standard garage door, and put some windows in the door, maybe upgrade to a fancier style of door, add some metal handles that make it look like swinging doors – that makes a big difference in setting the house off from its neighbors,” he says. “When a buyer looks at homes these days, they’re on the internet looking at a picture. First impression is everything. The front of that house determines whether they want to look inside.”

Hit Refresh

Siding, roofing, windows and doors play a big role in the visual impact of your home. Though each component comes at a different cost and complexity, each has the ability to take a home from cookie-cutter common to something cozy and personal. Leaving this work to a trusted, local professional ensures the job is done right – and well.

“If it’s shingles, a front door, garage door, getting a professional to come out and give the homeowner advice goes a long way,” says Poling, who’s the third generation of his family to work in garage doors. “If you go to a big-box store, they’ll say, ‘This is what you can pick out,’ and you have three options. We have a variety.”

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