Homeowners once had to make a choice: the beauty of genuine wood and stone, or the easy maintenance of a man-made alternative.

Installing vinyl siding over wood shingles, for example, meant you’d never have to repaint again, but also required sacrificing architectural charm — and possibly getting kicked off your neighbor’s dinner party guest list.

Now, though, you can have it all. A new breed of manufactured products available at home centers and specialty shops looks realistic enough to preserve or even boost your home’s appearance.

While some of these modern materials are pricier than the natural versions, they will save you money and effort over the long term.

Plus, “it’s a compelling one-two punch for selling,” says Lake Forest, Ill., realtor Carol Russ. “The traditional looks draw buyers in, and then I tell them that they’re actually seeing new, super-durable materials.”

On the slides that follow, you’ll find six imitations that might be better than the real deal.

Fiber-cement siding

These clapboards and shingles are cut from sheets of special, slightly flexible cement mixed with wood fibers. This siding won’t rot, warp, or cup. The pieces are typically factory painted, then nailed one by one onto your house, just like the real thing. That creates an authentic, handcrafted look, says Russ.

Care: Factory paint will last 15 years. Then repaint every seven to 10 years, compared with five to seven years for wood. (Painting costs at least $3,000, possibly much more.)

Life span: A 30-year warranty is standard; real cedar has no warranty and lasts 20 to 50 or more years, varying by climate.

Cost: Re-siding an average-size home could run $13,000 to $18,000, about 10% less than wood, including painting.

Cellular PVC trim

This natural-looking trim is made from the plastic used for plumbing drains, with air added while the material is molten for woodlike density. Your contractor can cut, shape, and install the boards just like lumber.

Care: PVC doesn’t need painting, though a couple of coats will add realism. If you do, repaint every 25 years, vs. five to seven years for wood. Hiring a pro to paint only your trim might cost $1,500 or more.

Life span: You’ll get a 25-year warranty and can expect PVC to last virtually forever, says Charleston, S.C., realtor and architect Chris Bonner. Pine typically lasts 10 to 30 years.

Cost: Figure about $75 to trim a window (including installation), or $3,500 for an entire house, both about 10% more than pine.

Quartz countertops 

 Made from chips of natural quartz mixed with high-tech resins and pigments, today’s engineered stone has hyper-realistic veining and variety that versions made just a few years ago lacked. You can buy the slabs in virtually any color at stone yards or browse online at sites like cambriausa.com and silestoneusa.com.

Care: Quartz needs only standard sponge cleaning. Compare that with sealing annually for granite and perhaps twice a year for marble and limestone.

Life span: Like natural stone, quartz will outlast every other part of your kitchen — and probably your house. Unlike natural stone, particularly marble and limestone, it won’t stain from dark liquids, etch from acids like orange juice, or chip if an edge gets hit by a heavy jar. (Those problems may be fixable by a stone shop for $500 or so.)

Cost: You’ll pay $4,500 to $6,000 for an average-size kitchen, roughly equivalent to mid-grade granite.

Solid vinyl fencing

If you want a white fence, going with wood means endless repainting. Hollow vinyl and aluminum need no paint, but don’t quite pull off the look of wood. For that, you’ll want solid vinyl, a product made from the same cellular PVC used for trim, but with factory-applied paint. Find it at walpolewoodworkers.com and some custom fence shops.

Care: Power-wash now and then, and you may need to repaint … in 25 years. Wood needs painting or sealing every five years or so (at least $1,000).

Life span: The fence and paint carry 25-year warranties; cedar might last eight to 12 years.

Cost: Fencing a small yard with a six-foot, open picket design runs around $12,000 to $25,000. That’s at least twice the cost of cedar, so solid vinyl makes sense only if you’re planning to stay in the home for the long haul.

Fiberglass entry doors

The faces of these doors are made of thin, waterproof fiberglass skins embossed to look as if they have traditional panels, moldings, and even woodgrain. Inside is an insulating foam that’s three times as energy-efficient as wood.

Care: As with wood, you’ll need to touch up the paint or apply a fresh coat of varnish every five years or so (about $100, assuming you already have a painter or handyman coming to tackle other projects). Yet these doors will never warp, crack, or split.

Life span: A lifetime warranty is standard; wood door warranties are generally five years.

Cost: About $2,000 to $4,000 and up (installed), 10% to 20% less than a wood door.

Clad windows

Vinyl windows are the most affordable wood alternative, but they look and feel cheap, says Bonner. You’re better off with real wood windows covered in an exterior aluminum skin.

Care: The factory paint is guaranteed for 20 years. Wood requires painting (maybe $1,500 to $2,000 for the whole house) every five to seven years.

Life span: Clad windows and wood windows typically come with a 20-year warranty but should last at least 30 years.

Cost: About $600 to $1,200 per window, or 15% to 20% more than unclad wood. But it’s a wash when you factor in the initial paint job for wood, Bonner says: “Plus, you get a product that looks better, lasts longer, and creates greater value.”

Repainting the right way

When you do need a fresh coat, try these tips, says veteran Fairfield, Conn., painter Tom Klouman.

Use a light color: Pale shades help your paint — and the siding and trim underneath — last longer because they won’t absorb as much damaging solar heat.

Go top of the line: High-end paint adds only 2% to 3% to a pro’s price (or about 25% to a DIYer’s costs), but pays for itself many times over by making the work last as much as two or three additional years.

Touch up: Fix cracks or peeling spots right away. You may postpone a full repainting for several extra years — and prevent damage to underlying materials.

(Sorce: CNN Money)


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