Here are our picks for the best home improvement materials that pay you back with more free time as well as additional appeal to potential buyers if you decide to sell.

1.  Fiber-Cement Siding

Fiber-cement siding is the curb appeal champ that seems to never age the way wood does. It comes in a variety of shapes and forms: horizontal lap boards, shingles, and vertical board-and-batt style. Simulated wood graining is nearly indistinguishable from the real thing at about half the cost.

2.  Metal Roofing

Metal roofing is one of the toughest, most maintenance-free roofing materials made. In addition to the traditional standing seam panels — the ones with ridges running from the peak to the eave — today’s metal roofing includes products that mimic slate, clay tiles, and wood shakes.

3.  Laminate Plank Flooring

Laminate plank flooring gets the nod here for its ease of installation (it’s a good “Do it Yourself” project), relatively modest cost, and easy-peasy maintenance. We like that it can mimic natural stone and exotic hardwoods like koa and rosewood for a fraction of the cost.

4.  Quartz Countertops

Almost 80% of designers responding to a recent survey from the National Kitchen and Bath Association said quartz countertops are their top choice. In addition to being long-lasting, quartz counters come in many colors and unique patterns to go with any motif. It’s composed of about 95% quartz particles with resin binders (quartz is one of the hardest naturally occurring substances). It’s about the same price as granite.

5.  Fiberglass Windows

Relatively new to the marketplace, fiberglass windows are gaining traction as homeowners, builders, and contractors learn how sturdy and low-maintenance they are. Fiberglass is moisture- and rot-resistant, won’t warp, and provides good thermal insulating properties.

Right now, fiberglass windows only have about a 2% to 4% market share, and prices tend to be higher than comparable vinyl windows (but still less than top-quality wood windows). That should change as more manufacturers start producing fiberglass windows.

6.  Composite Decking

Not so many years ago, composite decking looked about as natural as a used tire. No longer — today’s varieties do an excellent job of mimicking the color and grain patterns of real wood such as redwood, cedar, and even exotic woods like Brazilian walnut and teak. A real wood deck costs $25 to $80 per square foot.

7.  PVC-Capped Railing Systems
Like a lot of imitation items made for outdoors, PVC railing systems for decks and porches have come a long way since the obviously fake systems of not so long ago. More companies have come into the marketplace with PVC aluminum, composite, and fiberglass products that do a good job of looking like well-crafted wood railings and balusters. Hidden fastening methods do away with some of the tackier connectors painfully visible on older systems.

8.  Weather-Sensing Irrigation System

A weather-sensing, water-conserving irrigation system waters your lawn and landscape plants without your input. It gathers local weather data and automatically adjusts output to provide the right amount of moisture for your landscape’s growing needs.

If you take off on vacation, an automated system continues checking weather conditions and applying the proper amount of water to your trees, shrubs, and lawn.

Some automated irrigation controllers meet EPA guidelines; the EPA estimates that switching a clock-operated system to a weather-sensing, WaterSense-certified system saves the average homeowner 8,800 gallons of water each year. That’s good for the environment, and money in your pocket.

You’ll save on sleep, too. Program your system so that, while you snooze, sprinkler heads run during the wee morning hours, when temps are cool, evaporation is minimal, and water usage is optimized.

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