Maximize Your Home Investment: Reduce Expenses on Roofs, Decks, and Trees

A survey of where owners spend money on home maintenance shows why the initial materials you choose have such a lasting financial impact.

homeowner woes

If you had to guess where most Americans pour regular money into their properties, you might think of lawn care or driveway coating, or replacing an aging oil furnace. But you’d be wrong. 

The big money goes to little-considered upkeep: tree cutting, repairing old decks, and fixing or replacing roofs. Thumbtack publishes an annual Home Care Price Index that has shed some light on these “hidden” costs.

Overall, the cost of maintaining a home in this country has increased 6.54% in the past year alone, and that’s without factoring in local property taxes and utility hikes.

What’s going on? Partly it’s inflation, certainly. Everything costs more. For example, a tube of silicone caulk has gone up about 60 percent over 2018 prices. It all adds up and cuts deeply into personal finances. From cleaning supplies to labor to equipment, homeowners are reeling. A lawn mower that cost under $200 four years ago is $399 now. 

Let’s look at what the Price Index found:


Source: Thumbtack

Who’s Holding the Line?

Before I talk about why some costs are so high, scroll down to the bottom of the table. You’ll note that some categories, such as appliance repairs, have remained relatively low, along with lawn care. The former is a testament to the high quality of most appliances. Despite the transition to high-tech smart controls and induction technology, for instance, most appliances tend to outlive their warranties by 200 to 700 percent.  

Here’s what Consumer Reports and Yale Appliance Blog say about lifespans:


I should also give a nod to lawn care (landscaping) companies. The relatively slow rise in cost might be attributed to their small size. About 600,000 companies exist nationally, most of them comprised of two employees. They may not have the leverage to hike prices dramatically, the way some corporations have.

The Big Three Home Expenses

So what about trees, decks and roofs? Let’s look closer.

1. Trees in Transition

It’s not just equipment and fuel costs that have increased spending on tree trimming and removal. Research has shown that Climate Change is making many species of trees more vulnerable to damage and breakage. Combine this with more powerful storms, and it makes sense that more homeowners are taking action. They’re not necessarily paying a lot more for tree removal. They’re just getting a lot more work done.

A new report shows, for example, that in large sections of the U.S. there are far more trees than there were a few decades ago, thanks to aggressive reforestation. The trees have been essential to managing temperature rise, but they also have to be trimmed and managed in suburban and urban areas. In other words, it’s partly a “knock-on” cost related to the Climate Crisis.

Cost Savings: Tree Trimming Strategies

  • Regular Maintenance: More than anything else, don’t wait for trees to become gargantuan. Most trees can be pruned up to 30% annually. This also allows you to “shape” trees the way you want them.
  • Labor Share: Coordinate with neighbors for tree services. A lot of tree cutters will offer discounts for bulk jobs on your street.
  • Off-Season Scheduling: Book tree services in late winter or early spring for lower rates.
  • Mulch It: Don’t ask tree cutters to haul away the cut wood. Donate larger logs to neighbors with wood burners. Rent a chipper and convert trimmed branches an leaves into mulch for your garden. Mulch is expensive. Take advantage of free chips.
  • Scale Your Canopy: If planting trees, consider the size of the lot. Dwarf varieties may be better sized for the long-term landscape you have planned.



Tree growth in the Southeast especially helps combat overheating, but has to be managed in denser areas.

2. The “Lifetime” Roof

Most respectable realtors will suggest that a would-be homeowner check several “dealbreaker” aspects of a home: the condition of the roof, the age of the HVAC, and any rot or insect damage in the basement. They’ll send in a building appraiser to assess the remaining lifespan of various systems in a home.

In recent years, however, buyers and owners have been so desperate to close a deal that they’ve kicked major repairs down the road. But roofs are not created equal. An economy asphalt shingle roof that’s 10 years old may be nearing retirement. A metal one may have 50 years of service left. Tile or concrete can last for decades too. 

When fixing or replacing a roof, buyers are getting some major sticker shock. 

In the 1990s, the cost for a shingle roofing job on a 2,000-square-foot home could range from approximately $2,000 to $4,000, translating to about $1.00 to $2.00 per square foot. This estimate includes both labor and materials.

Today, according to, the average cost for a similar shingle roofing job can range from $5,000 to $12,000, or roughly $2.50 to $6.00 per square foot, reflecting significant increases due to inflation, improvements in material quality, and labor costs.

In the Price Index, roofing tops the list partly because replacement costs are rolled in with repair costs. Keep in mind that when a roof reaches the repair stage, it’s probably nearing the end of its useful life. It’s on borrowed time.

So what can be done to crush this annual expense? Play the long game.

Cost Savings: Don’t Roll the Roofing Dice

  • Regular Inspections: Conduct yearly inspections to address minor issues early. These would mainly include damage from animals or falling branches or ice dams (in the North). 
  • Durable Materials: Choose metal, clay, or concrete tiles for their 40-70 year lifespan, offering long-term savings. Be sure to combine this with the right underlayment.
  • Ventilation, Insulation and Solar: Improve attic ventilation or add insulation above the roof deck (when reroofing to greatly reduce damage to the underlying roof deck over time. Solar panels can also help extend roof longevity by protecting it from extreme heating.
  • Quality Underlayment: Use self-adhesive underlayments and new, high-tech products that are self-sealing and long lasting to prevent leaks. 
  • Remove Tree Debris: No roofing material is immune to the effects of heavy deposits of leaf matter and pollen. Clear valleys and gutters regularly, so they don’t “wick” water up under the surface and rot roof decking or rust metal panels.


3. Decaying Decks

In 2018, wood decking had about 79% of the market. That number is shrinking, but so is the overall market for new decks. The NAHB reports that the number of builders including decks with new homes is now at about 18%. At the same time, the composite decking market share is growing.

It’s not that people don’t want decks. It’s that many can’t afford either the upfront cost or the ongoing maintenance. 

Anyone who has owned a deck knows how rapidly they deteriorate. On average, wood decks get replaced within 10-12 years, although they may show serious signs of aging much sooner. And again, Climate Change is having an impact. High levels of heat and moisture put more stress on decks.

To survive longer, wood decks especially need regular cleaning and coatings. These chemicals reduce UV damage and moisture infusion that leads to cracking and spalling. These coatings are not only expensive, but they also have a large environmental “footprint.” 

That’s not to say wood decks are all bad. Most modern wood decks are treated with alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ), and studies have shown that overall, using wood has less negative ecological impact than using longer-lasting, lower-maintenance wood-plastic composites (WPC).

Not all WPC products, however, are made the same way. A company such as Trex, with high levels of recycled content, will have a “greener” footprint than others that use virgin PVC in their products.

Let’s do a quick cost-value analysis of different deck materials:

Initial Cost Assumptions (Per Square Foot):

  • ACQ Treated Wood : $15-$25
  • Wood-Plastic Composites: $30-$40
  • Cement Composite Decking: $50-$60

Maintenance Costs (Annually):

  • ACQ Treated Wood: Requires staining/sealing every 2-3 years at a cost of approximately $2-$3 per square foot.
  • Wood-Plastic Composites: Minimal maintenance, perhaps a yearly wash. Estimated cost: $0.50 per square foot per year.
  • Cement Composite Decking: Similar to composites, with yearly cleaning costs. Estimated cost: $0.50 per square foot per year.

Replacement and Repair:

  • ACQ Treated Wood: Might require board replacements due to rot or damage. Assume an additional 10% of initial cost over 20 years.
  • Wood-Plastic Composites and Cement Composite Decking: Less likely to require repairs. Assume 5% of initial cost over 20 years for unforeseen issues.

Cost Analysis Over 20 Years:

To calculate the total cost over 20 years, we'll add the initial cost to the sum of maintenance and any additional repair or replacement costs. For simplicity, let's assume a 200-square-foot deck.

ACQ Treated Wood Deck:

Initial: $3,000-$5,000

Maintenance: $1,200-$1,800 (every 2-3 years for 20 years)

Repairs: $300-$500

Total: $4,500-$7,300

Wood-Plastic Composite Deck:

Initial: $6,000-$8,000

Maintenance: $200 (yearly wash for 20 years)

Repairs: $300-$400

Total: $6,500-$8,600

Cement Composite Decking:

Initial: $10,000-$12,000

Maintenance: $200 (yearly wash for 20 years)

Repairs: $500-$600

Total: $10,700-$12,800

Long-Term Prognosis:

  • ACQ Treated Wood decks are cheaper initially but incur higher maintenance and repair costs.
  • Wood-Plastic Composites have a higher initial cost but lower lifetime maintenance, reaching cost parity with ACQ treated wood around the 10-15 year mark.
  • Cement Composite Decking, while the most expensive initially, offers the longest lifespan with minimal maintenance, but its break-even point with the other materials would extend beyond 20 years, making it the least economical option within this timeframe.

So how do you bring deck maintenance costs down to earth?

  • Apply Higher End Protective Finishes. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some of the more expensive coatings can extend deck life. For example, Behr Premium DeckOver is designed to fill in cracks and holes and give wood decks a “facelift.” Look for products with UV resistance and good consumer reviews.
  • Avoid Soil and Water Contact: Elevate the deck to prevent moisture absorption and use metal standoffs and flashing to protect against water damage at critical points.

Cost Savings: Decking Considerations

  • Pay it Forward. Wood-composite and fiber-cement-based decking tends to last longer than treated wood, with a lot less annual maintenance. These materials will cost you a lot more, but because they last longer, should reach cost parity with wood after about 15 years. What you’re saving isn’t overall dollars, it’s labor and hassle
  • Use Proper Design and Construction. Ensure good airflow and water drainage to prevent moisture damage, and choose corrosion-resistant fasteners to prolong deck integrity.
  • Perform Regular Cleaning and Inspections: Annual checks for structural issues and gentle cleaning can prevent major damages, extending deck life.

The Costs of Conformity

As you can glean from the decking example, there’s no way to escape high annual costs completely. You’ll either pay now or pay later, but if you want a deck, there’s no secret path to keeping one on the cheap.

In fact, as you go through the Price Index list, it’s hard to identify costs you could do without. Pull out one cost and another rises. For example, if you stop pressure washing your decks, they’ll age faster, costing you more over time. If you forego HVAC maintenance, you may end up replacing a heat pump sooner, and on and on.

Now add in the exploding costs of property tax and insurance, and you can see why the housing market is on the verge of a major crisis. For those who can afford them up front, more durable materials and products reduce the annual financial strain of upkeeping a home. 

For everyone else, renting a home starts to make more financial sense than owning. But what happens when the corporate landlords pass on those maintenance costs to the tenant? It’s a no-win scenario, with little relief on the horizon.

Publisher’s Note: This content is made possible by our Today’s Homeowner Campaign Sponsors: Whirlpool. Whirlpool takes sustainability seriously, in both their products and their operations. Learn more about building and buying homes that are more affordable and less resource intensive.

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