They may cost more up front, but these low-maintenance materials save later on frequent repainting and replacement—without skimping on curb appeal.
With some careful choices and some extra resources, you can upgrade your house with long-lasting materials that will take some maintenance chores off your to-do list.
Read our guide to learn more about low-maintenance building material choices from your home.
Types of All-Weather Trim
Duration crown molding
This 9-inch-wide molding is milled from TruExterior poly-ash, a material impervious to water and barely affected by temperature swings. It’s also approved for use in areas prone to wildfires. Cuts smoothly with ordinary carbide saw blades, and you can fasten it with 15- or 16-gauge nails as close as 1⁄8 inch from an edge without it splitting or crumbling.
$19 per linear foot; Duration Molding & Millwork
What is Poly-Ash?
This amalgam of adhesive polymers and fly ash recovered from coal- burning power plants is marketed under the name TruExterior. Its uniformity allows it to be milled into paint-grade exterior products, such as siding, molding, and trim, and its dimensional stability in all temperatures helps paint applied to it last longer. It can also survive ground contact. All TruExterior products are covered by a 20-year warranty.
Canvas Series Beadboard
This tongue-and-groove product for porch ceilings and soffits is made of cellular PVC with a water-resistant, wood-look laminate film bonded to one face. It’s a low-upkeep alternative to real wood, especially in high-moisture coastal areas. Comes in five finishes, and is also available in V-groove, bed molding, and 4-inch crown profiles. All have a limited lifetime warranty on the substrate and 12-year coverage on the laminate.
About $4.50 per square foot; Versatex Building Products
Low-Maintenance Fencing Options
Elements Performance Fencing
These dog-ear pickets, 5 5⁄16 or 6 inches wide by 6 or 8 feet tall, are made of wood strands held together with water-resistant resin, and treated with zinc borate to stop fungi and termites. A painted, resin-saturated overlay offers added protection; the finish has a limited 10-year warranty and can be repainted. This fencing won’t warp, but any cuts or nails that penetrate the overlay must be covered with exterior-grade paint. Comes in four colors.
From about $4.50 per picket; LP Elements
What is Engineered Wood?
Basically, it’s wood sliced into veneers, flakes, or strands and glued back together to make boards, beams, or sheets. These reconstituted products are stronger and more stable than the wood they came from originally, but are also more vulnerable to the effects of moisture. Widely used for interior applications, including framing, flooring, and cabinetry, engineered wood needs to be completely saturated with preservatives to survive outside.
Types of Low-Maintenance Siding
Everlast Lap Siding
Available with either a 4 1⁄2-inch- or a 6 7⁄8-inch-wide exposure (shown), this interlocking lap siding is made with a mineral-enhanced PVC-foam substrate bonded to a UV-resistant, embossed acrylic outer layer that never needs painting.
Each piece interlocks with its neighbors, top and bottom, enabling the siding to survive high winds (up to 198 mph for the 4 1⁄2-inch option). Because the substrate repels insects and water, and stainless-steel brackets reinforce the joints, there’s no need for caulk or primer. Available in 15 colors with matching trim pieces, with a limited lifetime warranty.
From $5.75 per square foot; Everlast Advanced Composite Siding
Cedar Impressions individual 5-inch sawmill shingles
Sun and weather quickly rob cedar shingles of their fresh-cut look, but these solid polypropylene ones keep their color for years. Molded-in saw marks, varied widths, and one-at-a-time installation give walls a true shingled look. A lifetime limited warranty covers defects; no-fade coverage lasts 10 years. Comes in 17 colors.
About $9 per square foot; CertainTeed
James Hardie Artisan shiplap siding
The 9-inch-wide faces of these tongue-and-groove, fiber-cement planks nestle together, leaving a narrow nickel gap between each face. The material is primed, fire resistant, and hardly affected by temperature swings, so paint adheres longer. When installed correctly, this material is covered by a 30-year warranty.
About $4 per square foot; Builders Warehouse
What is Fiber Cement?
Blending wood fiber into wet cement preserves those fibers in a high-pH, rot-free environment, and makes the cement stronger and harder to crack. The resulting siding or trim is heavy, but virtually unaffected by temperature changes, so paint holds up for many years.
Fiber cement isn’t immune to moisture—those fibers can still suck up water—so any cuts or overdriven nails have to be primed or caulked, and siding and trim must stay clear of the ground and any adjacent roof surfaces.
AZEK Shingle Siding
These 48-inch-long, cellular-PVC panels install faster than individual shingles, yet retain the offset gaps and variable widths of a traditional shingled wall. Choose either a straight or staggered pattern (shown); both have 1⁄4-inch-thick butt ends. The surface is treated to accept 100 percent acrylic paint. A limited lifetime warranty covers manufacturing defects.
About $4 per square foot; AZEK Exteriors
What is Cellular PVC?
It’s vinyl—like the floppy stuff used as siding—but during manufacture it’s injected with nitrogen gas to make it swell. The resulting boards, moldings, and siding have the same density and dimensions as solid pine, but are free of defects and are immune to decay and insects.
They expand and contract lengthwise as temperatures change, movement that has to be factored in when long lengths are installed.
Celect Cellular Composite Coard-and-Batten Siding
The rustic simplicity of this vertical siding is achieved with 9-inch-wide planks of cellular-PVC foam. Molded-in battens make installation faster than the wood version, and they interlock for weatherproof joints without caulk.
The factory-applied PVDF paint, in 15 colors, has a 25-year warranty against peeling, chipping, and cracking.
About $30 per square foot; Royal Building Products
Lifespan Solid Select Beveled Siding
This 1⁄2 x6 siding actually is made from trees: plantation-grown radiata pines that yield long lengths without finger joints or knots.
But since raw radiata has almost no resistance to rot or insects, this product is pressure-treated with insoluble, EPA-approved preservatives, and is double-primed; its durability is backed by a limited lifetime warranty. It’s also available in a variety of exterior trim and molding profiles.
About $3.75 per square foot; Timber Trading Group
Durable Decking and Railing Options
This PVC-and-wood-fiber composite, coextruded with a high-gloss, scratch-resistant acrylic cap, has the classic look of a perfectly painted wood railing, and a 25-year warranty. It’s strong enough to bridge spans up to 8 feet wide (10 feet with extra aluminum-tubing reinforcement), and the post-to-rail connections are hidden. Comes in five colors.
About $41.50 per linear foot for a complete rail assembly; TimberTech
Legacy Porch Flooring
The 6-inch-wide face of this tongue-and-groove flooring harks back to the wide wood planks found on early American porches. But its water- and insect-proof, solid-PVC core has a fade-resistant, textured acrylic cap that meets ADA slip-resistance standards and keeps maintenance to an absolute minimum. Comes in three colors, with a limited lifetime warranty.
About $12 per square foot; Aeratis
Apex PVC Decking
Thanks to a core of cellular-PVC foam reinforced with strands of bamboo, these 5 1⁄2-inch-wide composite boards are 45 percent lighter than standard wood-plastic composites and expand and contract 25 percent less than solid PVC. An acrylic cap, double-embossed for a realistic wood look and high slip resistance, helps stop abrasion and fading. Comes in four colors, with a 25-year warranty.
About $4.60 per square foot; Fortress Building Products
What is Composite Decking?
The original composites were made from recycled milk jugs that were melted, mixed with wood fiber, then extruded. Now manufacturers tweak their mixes with different materials to reach a desired performance and price point.
The best composites are capped with a layer of acrylic, a UV-resistant polymer that can be colored and textured to look like wood, but won’t decay or suffer insect damage. A textured surface also plays an important role in slip resistance when a deck is wet.
Learn how to beat these pulp-munching pests. See how to how to avoid turning your biggest investment into an insect gut job.
The scientific word for these voracious pulp-eaters is cryptobiotic: They're so good at hide-and-seek, you may not know they're there—but they are. The most common subterranean variety nests in moist soil in every state save Alaska.
While termites may be helpful in the forest, where all that munching dispatches dead stumps, when they move from the yard to your house, they can clean you out. And guess what: Insurance doesn't cover the damage. Here's how to avoid turning your biggest investment into an insect gut job.
Detecting Termites in Your Home
They're sneaky: Termites tiptoe through moist mulch and soil, while winged ones fly during swarming season—which is now. But they nest out of sight. An infestation may not come to light until you renovate or an inspector pokes around.
They overshare: Foraging workers leave the nest in search of food, often scored in a warm, humid place, like a poorly vented crawl space. They then return home to share the ingested goods, using a skill known as "the mutual exchange of gut contents"—gross, but helpful in distributing poison through a colony.
They've got a taste for...Foragers are drawn to decaying wood and plants, some kinds more than others, and warmed up if possible—a board under a leaking hot-water pipe, say.
They tunnel through the soft springwood, leaving behind the harder grain, making today's softer, fast-grown lumber a real termite treat. FYI: Several colonies can thrive in one house.
They eat nonstop: Chomping 24/7, they use moisture, sharp mandibles, and intestinal micro-organisms to turn cellulose in wood, plants, and even paper into food.
They leave evidence: Giveaways include spongy wood and narrow mud tubes, which termites make with saliva and bits of wood or drywall; if you break one open and see workers, you've got a problem.
Swarmers shed their wings before burrowing out of sight; if you find shed wings indoors, call in a pro.
They have complex social lives: An elaborate caste system doles out tasks: foraging; feeding and grooming other termites; shoring up the colony's defenses; and simply multiplying.
Once swarmers find juicy terrain and shed their wings, they start procreating to form a subcolony or a new one. It may take years to mature, and then it means trouble.
How to Keep Termites Out
Cut off their food and water: Store firewood at least 20 feet from the house. Maintain a 6- to 12-inch line between mulch or soil and wood parts of the house; foliage should be at least 3 feet away. Aim lawn sprinklers away from the foundation, and direct downspouts away from the house.
Take precautions: Don't bring home lumber unless it's been treated to turn off termites—most new boards have. Keep vents clear so dry air can circulate. Air out attics, basements, and crawl spaces regularly.
Go on the defensive: Fill or fix any entry points, from torn flashing to cracks in your basement's concrete. Monitor porches, fence posts, and sill plates for signs of termite interest.
Let down your guard? Hire a pro: Get three bids, check references, compare battle plans, and read the fine print. Liquid termiticides work by entering the foragers' digestive systems and moving through the colony when food is shared. It's an ugly business, but get real: This is your house, not theirs.
Need professional help controlling pests? Here are a few in-depth resources:
Excessive dryer lint buildup can pose a fire hazard, so it’s important to clean it at least once a year. Read this guide to learn how to clean your dryer vent in five easy steps.
Your laundry room might be one of the busiest in your house, but it may not be top of your list when it comes to your regular cleaning regimen. Many of us neglect to clean our washer and dryer regularly, and that’s a problem.
How Often Should You Clean Your Dryer Vent?
You should clean your dryer vent at least once a year—make it a part of your annual deep clean. But also watch to see if your dryer seems to be taking longer to dry clothing, since that might signal there’s a buildup of dust and lint in your dryer vent.
Excessive dryer lint buildup can also pose a fire hazard, since lint is extremely combustible. A significant number of fires are caused by an accumulation of dryer lint—a critical reason to exercise vigilance and clean your dryer vent regularly.
5 Easy Steps to Clean Your Dryer Vent
Step 1: Disconnect Dryer from Power Source
This may mean just unplugging your electric dryer from the outlet. If you have a gas-powered dryer, take care to not to disconnect the gas from the supply valve; simply turn off the gas valve so it’s not flowing to the dryer while you work on it. (If you are uncomfortable working with your gas-powered dryer, have a professional maintain your machine.)
Step 2: Disconnect the Duct from the Dryer
While working with your dryer vent, wear a protective dust mask. Carefully and gently move the dryer away from the wall so you have access to the rear dryer vent on the back of the machine. You can now disconnect the exhaust duct from the machine (typically connections are simply clamped in place, but in other circumstances, you may need to use a screwdriver). Inspect the dryer vent—usually a tube made of flexible plastic or rigid or semi-rigid metal—for any breaks or damage.
Repair any small tears with non-paper tape, like duct tape or metal duct repair tape. If the duct is very damaged, replace it.
Note: Experts, like the International Association of Home Inspectors, recommend replacing any flexible vent tubing with a rigid type if at all possible. This is because lint can build up in the ribbed curves of the flexible style tubing, which causes it to build up faster, increasing the risk of fire. Here are our step-by-step instructions on how to upgrade your dryer vent for enhanced safety and efficiency.
Step 3: Use Vacuum Hose and Brushes to Clean the Lint Catcher and Vent
Your vacuum’s crevice tool should be effective in cleaning out much of the lint from your dryer’s lint trap, but you can also use a soft rag.
If available, use a flexible long brush (such as one for cleaning refrigerator coils or one designed for ducts) to get into otherwise inaccessible nooks and crannies in your lint trap. (Make sure you clean the lint from the trap after every load of laundry.)
Around the back of the dryer, use the vacuum to clean lint from the machine end of the exhaust duct. Then vacuum debris, lint, and dust from the duct itself. You may want to purchase a simple duct brush kit with an extendable pole to stir up stuck-on dust you can’t reach in the duct.
Finally, while the machine is pulled out, vacuum any dust from the floor around it.
Step 4: Clean the Dryer Vent from the Outside
As long as you have access, you should be able to easily get to the outside port for your dryer vent. This is typically located on an exterior wall (often with a screen or cover to keep animals out).
Unscrew any cover and check for signs of damage that need repair. Use your vacuum to once again suck out any lint and debris, or use your vent brush attachment to gently release lint and then remove it with the vacuum.
Depending on the amount of buildup, you may need to empty your vacuum bag or bin several times during this cleaning cycle.
Step 5: Reattach the Vent and do a Test Run
When you’re satisfied you’ve cleaned your dryer vent completely, reattach the outer vent cover. Then reattach the interior vent to the dryer itself, careful that it is secured.
Slide your dryer back into place and plug it back into the electrical outlet or turn the gas valve on.
Check your handiwork with a quick “air” cycle to test flow from outside or run a small load of laundry and make sure the vent stays in place and is working efficiently. You can also test airflow from the outside by holding your hand outside the dryer vent to test the strength of the dryer exhaust.
Make sure to clean out your dryer vent at least once a year, or more often if buildup accumulates quickly.
Hot tubs are meant for relaxation, but there’s one aspect of owning one that may be stressing you out: draining the water to clean the tub. Read our guide to learn how to drain your hot tub.
Here’s the good news: The chemical additive you use to purify the water, whether it’s chlorine or bromine, will keep the water clean for three months or longer, depending on how frequently you use the tub, so there’s no need to empty it more often than that. But you will want to replace the water and start fresh every few months or so, or your hot tub will start to look and feel pretty grimy—or, worse yet, be contaminated by bacteria.
Methods for Draining a Hot Tub
There are three methods for draining a hot tub: through the drain spigot (a.k.a. drain plug), using a submersible drain pump, or with the help of a wet/dry vacuum. Before you start draining the tub, however, cut off the power supply so the jets and pumps can’t accidentally be during this procedure.
Also, check the ordinances in your area for any guidance or restrictions on discarding chemically treated water. Some towns may have laws on emptying pool or hot tub water into the street or within your own yard.
Using the drain spigot
Your hot tub comes equipped with a drain spigot, which is located on the outside of the tub, near the bottom rim. (Some models have two spigots, a primary and an auxiliary. The primary spigot is the one you’ll use to drain the hot tub; the auxiliary one is for bleeding the internal lines.)
If your drain spigot is located directly over a drain in the ground, just open the valve to allow the water to flow into the drain. If the drain or sewer is situated farther away, attach a garden hose to the spigot, position the other end of the hose over the drain, and open the valve. Note that if your drain or sewer is positioned uphill of your hot tub, you’ll need a submersible pump to drain the tub completely.
It should take one to two hours to drain the whole tub through the spigot. Depending on the contours of the tub, there will likely be some puddles of water left in the end. If you don’t own a wet/dry vacuum, which can be used to suck up these puddles, use your hands or a brush to scoop the water toward the interior drain.
Using a submersible pump
This is a faster way to drain a hot tub, since the pump acts to forcibly move the water out.
Start by attaching an outflow hose to the pump, then place the pump flat on the floor of the hot tub, at the center. See if the other end of the hose is long enough to reach the nearest drain or sewer. If it isn’t, attach a garden hose to the outflow hose to extend it. Then just turn on the pump and let it remove the water.
To take care of the leftover pools of water in the end, place the pump directly into a puddle to siphon the water. But keep an eye on the pump to make sure it’s always drawing water in taking in too much air can cause the pump to overheat.
Using a wet/dry vacuum
This method is slower than using a submersible pump, but faster than using the drain spigot.
Attach the wet/dry vacuum’s hose to the machine and place the open end of the hose in the water. Turn the vacuum on so water starts flowing through the hose. Once it does, turn the vacuum off and disconnect the hose from it. The water should continue to flow. Position the open end of the hose over a drain or sewer to let the water pour directly into it.
Once the water becomes too shallow to be siphoned out effectively, reattach the hose to the wet/dry vac and use it to draw out the remaining water. Make sure you vacuum up all the small pools of water at the end.
Annie Selke decked out the basement of our 2020 Idea House: the Cottage on the Cape. Watch the full staging in this time-lapse video!
Featuring “coastal chic” design elements, the basement of the 2020 Idea House: The Cottage on the Cape is bright and airy, with nautical-inspired wall art, colorful chunky rugs, and beachy accessories.
Home Decor: Annie Selke
Decades in the making, this terraced garden offers 360-degrees of color, while providing layers of privacy from nearby neighbors and a lush habitat for visiting wildlife.
Cut into a steep hillside, homeowner Diana Magor’s house in Santa Cruz, CA, overlooks a Japanese-inspired front garden and Monterey Bay, while the back offers views of a colorful terraced flower garden. Dense plantings along the sides of the one-third-acre property provide privacy.
Not every homeowner welcomes backyard sightings of bobcats and gray foxes. Nor do many make a habit of eating lunch while watching monarch butterflies lay eggs in potted milkweed plants.
A Garden Sanctuary
But Diana Magor is the exception. Her garden is as much a sanctuary for her as it is for the wildlife that take refuge there. A zoologist by training and profession, Diana spent her younger years studying manatees in the Amazon, Puerto Rico, and Belize. Now retired, her scientific observations take place much closer to home—oftentimes in her own backyard, where all but the deer and gophers are made welcome.
From the start, Diana set out to create a serene natural setting—“a house inside a garden,” as she describes it. Perched on a terraced hillside in Santa Cruz, California, with sweeping views of Monterey Bay, her house defies its suburban setting, its garden enclosed by mature trees and packed with fragrant flowers handpicked to lure birds and other pollinators. “It’s like living in a tree house,” she says. “From every window you can see something green.”
The scenery was quite different back when Diana purchased the property 30 years ago. The house was a typical 1970s California Contemporary—clad in vertical plywood siding with awkwardly placed windows—built into a steep hillside of clay soil prone to puddling. “The prior owner told me I’d need heavy-duty muck boots if I wanted to garden here,” she says. “He wasn’t kidding.” As luck would have it, just three days after closing on the property, an earthquake struck, prompting Diana to start upgrading the house sooner than planned.
Following the advice of engineers, she reinforced the foundation and replaced a rotting redwood retaining wall along the parking area with one made of reinforced concrete—“mudslides do happen here,” she points out.
Rebuilding the back deck came next, then installing a French drain beneath it to improve stormwater drainage. Diana replaced a 4-foot retaining wall bordering that deck with one just under 2 feet. The ground behind the wall was level—until it reached another retaining wall farther uphill, that is. So she regraded the level area into a slope, terracing it with low, dry-stacked rock walls, to put the entire garden on display. “I wanted to see every plant from inside the house and while sitting on the deck,” she explains.
Working with the Clay Soil
Roses, magnolias, and wisteria were among the first plants to go in, all adhering to a palette of soft pink, peach, blue, purple, and white, with pops of magenta. The soil, however, presented a challenge. No amount of trucked-in topsoil or compost ever turned the heavy clay into friable loam. “I eventually just gave up trying to amend it,” Diana concedes. Through trial and error, she settled on this planting method: She digs a planting hole at least twice as wide as the plant container and a little deeper, adds drainage rock, secures the hole’s downhill sides with two or three stone ledgers, then backfills with organic potting mix and a little native soil.
Through the years, Diana has also assembled a trusty list of clay-tolerant plants, which includes blue-flowering Pride of Madeira, everblooming Santa Barbara daisy, and magenta-hued watsonia, one of the few perennials Diana saved from the previous owner’s garden. As for drainage, the slope partly compensates for the heavy clay. “Good Mediterranean plants and natives are really what you need here,” she says—although she’s too much of a plant lover to garden within those boundaries.
Her forays into Japanese garden design are a good example. An admirer of Greene & Greene’s iconic Arts and Crafts designs, Diana undertook a dramatic whole-house remodel five years after moving in, turning her California Contemporary into a cedar-shingled Craftsman-style house.
In the early 2000s, after redesigning her driveway to gently curve rather than beeline to the parking area, she put in a Japanese-style front garden punctuated by non-clumping bamboo, Japanese maples, and a persimmon tree. She added a dry stream bed and a pond along the new driveway, and stone stairs between her sidewalk and the front entry. While not authentically Japanese, the thoughtful stone placement and palette of layered greens echo that aesthetic.
Now, decades into lavishing attention on this plot of land, Diana is mostly editing, and observes, “There’s always something flowering.” The magnolias and cyclamen are winter bloomers in her temperate climate, followed quickly by native ceanothus, or California lilac.
For this nature lover and birder, there’s often reason to get out her binoculars. Butterfly gardening is her latest fascination, causing her to break from her long-standing color scheme, as the hot shades she avoided are the ones monarchs like best.
And so she’s begun introducing milkweeds, Mexican sunflowers, and other pollinator favorites in sunny hues. A little surprised, Diana admits, “I actually like how the yellow nectar plants look with the purples in the back garden.” After all, just as a garden keeps evolving, so does the gardener.
1. A wall of windows across the back of the house looks out on a colorful hillside that blooms year-round; herbs and salad greens form a kitchen garden along the deck’s edge.
2. Stone steps leading up from the sidewalk to the house disappear into stands of weeping bamboo, Japanese maple, and purple-leaved Chinese fringe flower.
3. Magenta watsonia and the salmon-colored blooms of Leucospermum ‘Scarlet Ribbon’ punch up an otherwise pastel border featuring blush and yellow roses.
4. Stone steps off the back deck lead up to a Japanese-style redwood arbor engulfed in Chinese wisteria and a 20-by-10-foot flagstone patio with ocean views.
5. Sun-loving and drought tolerant, blue-flowering Pride of Madeira attracts droves of pollinators—the drivers behind Diana’s chemical-free, organic garden practices.
6. A dirt path cuts through the middle of the back hillside, providing wheelbarrow access for garden chores.
7. Diana designed this greenhouse around upcycled materials.
The 10-light entry door and two skylights (one operable), snagged from a house-parts recycling center, provide ample light and air. An antique Japanese finial decorates the roof, while leftover cedar shingles serve as the siding. Inside, wall-hung shelves provide storage and a work surface for starting seeds.
Pollinators, Fragrance & More: Incorporating Plants with Purpose
Some provide color and fragrance to lure pollinators, while others offer lush foliage
‘Sally Holmes’ rose (left)
(Rosa ‘Sally Holmes’)
Only slightly fragrant, this top-rated climbing rose earns its keep in Diana’s garden by growing vigorously and flowering profusely in shades of peachy pink all summer long. Zones 6 to 11
Bugle lily (right)
Splashes of fuchsia from the blossoms of this fragrant, summer-blooming bulb appear throughout the back garden. It has thrived over the years despite the clay soil, allowing plenty of divisions. Zones 8 to 10
Narrow-leaved milkweed (left)
A West Coast native, this easy-to-grow wildflower, blooming white to mauve, is an essential for any California butterfly garden; its foliage nourishes the monarch’s baby caterpillars. Zones 6 to 10
Sweet pittosporum (right)
In spring, this broadleaf evergreen’s creamy flowers fill the air with a gardenia-like scent and buzz with bees. Adaptable and easy to prune, it grows as hedges along the garden’s edges. Zones 9 to 11
Mexican sunflower (left)
These cheery orange flowers are a recent addition to the garden, to entice butterflies. They’re long-blooming and quick-sprinting annuals, known to top 6 feet in a single summer. Zones 2 to 11
Chinese fringe flower (right)
Purple-leaved cultivars of this carefree Asian import grow along the driveway, offering showy foliage through the winter, with long-blooming magenta flowers for contrast. Zones 7 to 10