You only have one chance to make a good first impression. That old saying is true for you and for your home too. All too often, however, homeowners dwell on how a house looks and feels on the inside and neglect the outside. A new granite countertop may add sparkle to your kitchen, but maintaining your home’s exterior appearance — or curb appeal — also is important to your enjoyment of the place where you spend most of your time and have invested much of your money.
According to Lorin Miller, president of Miller Custom Exteriors in Fredericksburg, Ohio, and a Holmes-Wayne Electric Cooperative member, pride of ownership motivates many people to improve their home’s curb appeal. “They want a house,” says Miller, “that immediately looks good when they’re entertaining family and friends.” Other customers want to give their home a fresh, updated appearance. “People get tired of the way a house looks, but if they change the siding or install a cultured stone product, they’ll get a totally different exterior,” says Miller.
Located in the heart of Ohio’s Amish Country, Miller Custom Exteriors has been in the home improvement business since 1978. While its renovation and remodeling projects are mostly in rural areas and small towns, the family-owned company also does jobs in suburban Cleveland and Columbus.
“We specialize in ‘Wow!’” says Miller. “Our goal isn’t just to cover up the outside of a house, but to create something that stands out. We want to give a house character and make it unique in the neighborhood.”
A few years ago, the work his company did on a Canton, Ohio, house earned a Contractor of the Year award from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. The Victorian-era home’s makeover involved new roofing, siding, and windows. “We took the house back to its original appearance as much as possible but used modern materials,” says Miller. “It’s a good example of how combining the right colors and style creates curb appeal.”
The Canton house is light gray with burgundy and charcoal gray architectural features, and Miller Custom Exteriors installed seamless steel siding on its walls and vinyl shakes in the gables. It used similar materials for a recent historic renovation that transformed a Medina, Ohio, home from bland to beautiful. The Queen Anne house now sports colors of russet red, classic blue, charcoal gray, and almond.
“Color,” notes Miller, “is an expedient way to add curb appeal. The better siding products available today have no issues with darker colors fading, and there are lots of color choices for siding and trim pieces. We’re no longer limited to neutrals like white, beige, or clay.”
But homeowners want more than a house with a pretty face. Sprucing up the outside also presents an opportunity to say goodbye to chores like caulking worn-out windows and painting old siding. “With so many limitations on everyone’s time today,” says Miller, “people don’t want to spend their free time maintaining their home’s exterior.”
Many of Miller’s customers choose ABC Seamless® siding, a galvanized steel product with a baked-on finish. “It’s stronger and lasts longer than vinyl siding,” says Miller. Since each length is custom-cut on the job site, seamless steel siding fits a house exactly and has no unsightly splices or gaps. In addition to its durability and good looks, steel siding is manufactured from recycled material and can be recycled. “It’s ‘green,’” says Miller, “and never goes into a landfill.”
Because it’s relatively inexpensive and available in numerous colors, finishes, and profiles, vinyl siding has been America’s number-one exterior cladding for decades. Its quality varies, however, and thin, cheap vinyl siding eventually undermines curb appeal by sagging or losing its luster. Miller prefers to use a thick vinyl siding that is sturdy, impact-resistant, and made in extra-long lengths to minimize seams and splices. He also advises homeowners that proper installation is paramount to vinyl siding’s looks and performance. “Installation is really important,” says Miller, “because if vinyl siding is put on right, it lays straight and flush and won’t blow off.”
Since it consumes so much space, the roof can enhance or diminish a home. An attractive roof in good condition increases curb appeal, but stained or missing shingles are both an eyesore and a red flag for a house in poor repair. In fact, in the 2015 Remodeling Impact Report from the National Association of Realtors®, new roofing ranks highest among exterior projects appealing to home buyers. A roof that keeps out the elements and keeps up appearances protects homeowners as well as their property investment.
Asphalt shingles are the nation’s most common residential roofing material. They can last for years; are available at different price points; and offer design options ranging from traditional three-tab shingles to dimensional shingles to shingles that mimic wood shakes and slate. Miller acknowledges that asphalt shingles remain a “very popular choice” for renovations, but his company also has installed hundreds of steel roofs on homes. Metal roofing costs roughly twice as much as asphalt, but says Miller, “The real payback is how much longer it lasts down the road.”
Excellent for anyone who plans to remain in a home long-term and wants to avoid future maintenance headaches, the steel roofing Miller uses has a hidden fastening system and is made in eye-catching patterns that look like pricier shakes and slate. “We installed new metal slate roofs on the Medina project as well as a smaller ranch-style house,” says Miller. “They’re perfect for homeowners wanting something impressive.”
When replacing windows, selecting the frame, says Miller, “is mostly a matter of style.” The Medina house’s double-hung windows, for example, complement its architecture and have white vinyl frames, which don’t require painting or staining and are more budget-friendly than wood or fiberglass. Vinyl manufacturers offer numerous exterior colors and even wood-grain finishes to match interior trim, but white predominates. “About 80 percent of people want white windows,” says Miller. “Their thinking is that white goes with everything.”
Trading drafty, dilapidated windows for modern, energy-efficient ones not only boosts curb appeal but also makes a house more comfortable and less expensive to heat or cool. In the Medina house, Miller installed double-pane windows consisting of two sheets of glass with insulating argon gas filling the space between them. “They’re highly efficient windows with a low e-coating that further reduces energy loss,” says Miller. If homeowners can afford the upgrade, he recommends triple-pane windows. “They’re way more efficient,” he explains, “and help with noise reduction too.”
Miller also reminds customers not to forget their front door. “The entry door is one of the most important aspects of curb appeal,” he says. “It’s the first thing people see, and everything about the door — color, design and, even hardware — forms their opinion of a house.”
Wood doors lend sophistication, but because they’re costly and require routine care, many homeowners opt for steel or fiberglass. Generally, steel doors are less expensive and better for painting because of their smooth surface. Fiberglass doors — which can be made with wood-grain textures duplicating mahogany, cherry, or oak — look great stained or painted.
Although steel and fiberglass doors are virtually maintenance free and available in a multitude of styles and decorative glass designs, Miller cautions, “You get what you pay for.” Doors with tight-fitting frames, energy-efficient foam cores, and glass inserts have higher price tags, but they’ll look nicer, function better, and survive longer than bargain-basement products. “I’ve seen cheap steel doors that rusted out in less than five years,” says Miller.
A dazzling front door is also an asset when it’s time to sell your home. The National Association of Realtors® included new steel and fiberglass doors in its 2015 report on projects with maximum buyer appeal, and NAR president Tom Salomone concurs with Miller about the far-reaching benefits of an outstanding exterior.
“One thing that will never change is the importance of curb appeal, because it serves as the first impression of a home,” says Salomone. “If buyers don’t think a home is attractive when driving by, chances are they won’t ask a realtor to see more.”
Photos courtesy of Miller Custom Exteriors.