4 essential home upgrades almost no one sees

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | September 1, 2014

There are things in life we have to pay for that are no fun -- dental work, retaking the SATs, a new transmission. Improvements for your house sometimes fall into that category.

Home improvements with big price tags and no bragging rights can feel like a root canal or paying off school loans when you haven't landed your dream job yet. Nevertheless, it's important to understand that the necessary, but boring, maintenance and upgrades to your home are just as much a valuable investment as the neighbors' new kitchen remodel or your cousin Harriet's en-suite spa. You aren't likely to invite friends over to show off your beefed-up insulation, attic fan, or new furnace, but they keep your house sound and its occupants comfortable and safe. Over time, they may even pay you back and reduce your carbon footprint.

Probably the only ones who get really excited about the following kinds of home improvements are the salespeople who leave your house with a signed contract in hand. Still, you should feel pride in ownership of your home when you make these unglamorous, yet responsible and vitally important home upgrades to maintain and improve your home's value.

Roofing to protect your home

No matter how nice-looking or high-quality your roofing is, most people don't spend a lot of time admiring it. Your roof protects your house, and therein lies its true value. Four out of five homes have asphalt shingles not because they are the most attractive but because they are the most reasonably priced. There are more upscale and far longer-lasting materials with which to crown your home, but asphalt does the job. It should last about 15-20 years when maintained and inspected regularly for problems such as curling and cracking shingles. Not investing in repairs or a properly installed new roof when the old one is no longer viable can eventually lead to rotted interior walls, ceilings, and beams, which can further cause mold damage.

Attic ventilation to protect your roof

Poor attic ventilation can cause condensation on the underside of the roof, which can lead to problems on top of the roof such as ice damming. If left unchecked, condensation as well as heat gain in warmer months that becomes trapped in the attic may hasten the deterioration of your roof, not to mention your insulation. If you want to protect your roof shingles (and your investment), be sure to have your attic's ventilation evaluated. If it's inadequate, there are several types of roof and soffit vents you can install depending on the style and shape of your roof. For insulated ceilings, the guidelines are 1 sq. ft. of vent for every 150 sq. ft. of ceiling or, if the insulation has a vapor barrier, 1 sq. ft. per 300 sq. ft. of ceiling space. Don't spend money on powered vents; they are energy wasters and can pull bad air into your house, and cool, conditioned air out.

Ceiling insulation for comfort

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the most energy-efficient home improvement you can make is to properly insulate your ceiling and attic. Ceiling insulation reduces heat gain in summer and loss of heat in winter -- and it helps to more evenly distribute the temperature between your attic and your ceiling to make your home more comfortable. The higher the R-value of the insulation, the better its ability to resist heat transfer. EnergyStar.gov has determined optimal R-values of additional insulation for uninsulated ceilings and ceilings with existing insulation in all climate zones throughout the U.S. If you do this improvement yourself, be sure not to block the attic vents.

Furnace to save on heating bills

If your furnace is over 15 years old and has been needing frequent repairs, it could be time to put it out of its misery -- and yours. An inefficient furnace can be hiking up your utility bills. A new, EnergyStar furnace can be 15 percent more energy-efficient than your old furnace. While you won't recoup the cost of installing the new one as soon as you may like, EnergyStar.gov estimates that it can save you up to $200 a year. Proper installation is a factor in how well the new equipment works, so do your homework and find a qualified technician to do the job.

When you go to sell your house, be sure your real estate agent informs potential buyers of any recent improvements you have made that they cannot see. A savvy buyer can appreciate these upgrades as a sign that your home has been well-cared for and that they, like you, are making a worthwhile investment.

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.