When water and mold problems developed in Jessica Vogler’s home, she researched materials to replace the stucco exterior. Wanting a modern farmhouse look and a product that was going to be durable, long lasting, and high quality, she chose fiber cement siding.

“We are a family with three young children and two dogs, and we plan to be here for a long time,” said Vogler, who lives in Plumstead Township, Bucks County. “We wanted a product that was safe for our family that we were not going to have to replace.”

Last winter, Vogler installed James Hardie Plank Select Cedarmill in Arctic White, accented with Hardie Trim Batten Board and stone. She traded the two-story home’s original white vinyl windows for black Pella windows with a simple cross pane style, switching out the half-moon and arch shapes to all squares and rectangular windows for a more modern look.

“I felt that the arches we had were a bit dated and were also difficult to style on the interior,” she said. “We also added black gutters and downspouts to contrast with the white siding. I love the overall contrast of the black and white for a clean, classic, timeless look.”

Vogler is among the many homeowners who completed exterior building upgrades in 2020, according to the 2021 Houzz & Home Study. Outdoor projects were popular with 57% of renovating homeowners in 2020, a 6% increase over 2019. The top three most common projects were paint (20%), roofing (18%) and windows (18%), and spending increased for each project type by 13%, 20% and 3%, respectively.

“Homeowners don’t want to continually paint or power wash or worry if they are going to start degrading in some fashion,” said Ed Barnhart, principal of Always by Design Architecture in Queen Village.

While there are many home exterior materials to choose from, the costs and aesthetics vary. Vinyl siding is generally most affordable, though it can sag over time from the sun. Stucco and metal are also among the more affordable materials, though they won’t last as long and aren’t as interesting as other exteriors, said Ed Rudloff, owner of Rudloff Custom Builders in West Chester.

Vogler’s choice — stone veneer with Hardie plank siding — is most popular today for a clean, custom look, durability and affordability, Rudloff said. To add more appeal, siding can be installed vertically and horizontally and mixed with shake siding. Roofs and windows can also add more aesthetic value to a home with siding.

“We make our products engineered for climate, so specifically in the Northeast, we are engineered for snow, rain and freezing temperatures,” said Brian Magness, sales manager at James Hardie in West Chester. “Our product mimics the charm and craftsman style and look of wood but with less maintenance.”

In terms of cost, cedar wood siding is more expensive and requires painting more often than Hardie fiber cement products. How often a home needs to be painted depends on the climate conditions.

Another relatively affordable option is stucco, though internal rotting of the wall systems and mold caused by water leakage has kept homeowners wary. The product has since been reengineered and is back in the marketplace in a version that introduces a drainage plane, Barnhart said.

Brick, with a longstanding tradition in Philadelphia, and the durability that can stand for generations, is a step up in cost. While stone is among the most expensive exteriors, stone veneers simulate the look at about a 35% cost savings.

Reasons to replace windows include efficiency, damage and aesthetics. Black windows became popular about two years ago, said Rudloff, with about half of his customers now opting for them. While white makes up the other half, brown, red and other colors are also available. Grill patterns vary, from full grids to partial to no grids.

“The customization has been happening more and more as people have been getting bolder that they don’t need to go with a traditional white window,” Rudloff said.

It’s important to do your homework when choosing the best exterior for your budget, climate, and style tastes. Vogler drove around her neighborhood to see different options. Online sites such as Pinterest and Houzz show many possibilities. Be sure to hire a professional who knows how to properly install the product you choose, as all materials can fail if they aren’t installed properly.

“Everyone sees the exterior of your home, but very few come inside,” Magness said.

Have you solved a decorating, remodeling, or renovation challenge in your home? Tell us your story by email (and send a few digital photographs) to properties@inquirer.com.