Home renovations can do much more than just create an attractive living space: they can make your home more durable, modernize your appliances and even lower your energy bills. Since taking on such a project can cost a considerable amount of money, the trick is to make sure you spend wisely.

Home Renovations: Elle Décor Reveals How to Make the Most of Your Money

To bring you tips on how to make the most of your money when planning home renovations, Ally Bank’s Straight Talk blog recruited Elle Décor magazine’s senior editor/writer Ingrid Abramovitch, and executive director of home furnishings Karen Elizabeth Marx. Here’s what the editors recommend.

Factor Costs Accurately

While a price estimate for a house renovation can be significant, the actual cost often goes much higher. “Some people told me that the rule of thumb is to add 30 percent to your budget and your timeline,” says Abramovitch, who authored the book Restoring a House in the City. “And that’s for jobs that go well.”

Marx – who recently renovated her own one-bedroom Manhattan apartment – limited construction time to three weeks. “I think the more time you have, the more anxiety you get and the more money you pay,” she says. “Set a time limit.”

Don’t Call It an Investment

If you’re renovating strictly to raise home value, you may want to reconsider. “Leave the house-flipping to the flippers,” Abramovitch says. “I once read that nobody recoups what they put into a renovation. I recommend a five-year horizon for renovation, which will compensate for the time and expense you’re putting into it.”

Adds Abramovitch, “Don’t renovate because you’re trying to make money. Do it because it’s right for you and your circumstances.”

Find a Contractor You Can Count On

“Know your contractor,” says Marx. “Trust your contractor. Ask them if they’ve ever worked in your building before. My contractor had actually worked in that apartment before. When I started to think about kitchen appliances, he said, ‘There’s a gas line under the floor. If we do this, we could run into a problem, and if that happens, it could cost us way more.’”

Says Abramovitch, “The expert you choose is the most important decision you’ll make. Don’t shortchange your research. Check with the Better Business Bureau. Get referrals. And when checking out references, ask past customers about work quality and promptness. Also ask to check out the architect or contractor’s work in person – don’t just rely on pictures.”

Finally, Abramovitch recommends getting three estimates, “and have a healthy distrust of the cheapest one, since that workmanship often won’t be as good.”

Look For Materials That Will Last

It can pay to invest in materials that will – not only look great – but stand the test of time.

For instance: Abramovitch notes that kitchens and bathrooms are the most renovated rooms because those fixtures need to evolve with the times. Abramovitch also notes that they are “the hardest working rooms. They take the most abuse in the home. I would invest in the surfaces that take the most abuse.”

That means putting money into countertops, for instance. “Granite is a little bit ten years ago,” she notes. “Granite is beautiful but any natural stone or marble needs to be sealed at least once a year. And it’s fragile – you put a wine glass down and it stains. Some people in my world call it ‘patina.’ But not everybody likes that.”

Instead, Abramovitch recommends quartz or recycled stone. “You don’t have to seal it. It won’t be damaged by water. It’s bulletproof. It’s expensive, but that’s definitely where you should put your money.”

Be Smart About Painting

When it comes to painting a room, you’ll need to do more than just choose a color. You’ll want to make sure your walls are in good shape before you begin.

“Wall repair is one of the most important things,” Abramovitch says. “It’s all about somebody who really knows how to prep the walls. Otherwise you’re going to have to repaint every few years. If a wall isn’t properly prepped, it’s going to crack.”

Use Glass to Your Advantage

If it seems like much of the new luxury construction boasts big windows, there’s one possible reason for that. “Glass technology is amazing now,” Abramovitch says. “It lets you bring in more light, it can protect your interior from UV light, dampen noise and insulate your home more.” Low-e (low-emissivity) glass in particular is coated with metallic oxide to repress heat flow.

Skip the Customization

Ordering custom materials for a home renovation can add a significant amount of time and money to your project. Because of this, Marx advises purchasing materials that are in stock and ready, whenever possible. “It’s in a warehouse somewhere,” she explains. “It doesn’t have to come in on a boat. With Home Depot, you can walk in and out with what you need.”

Have you completed a home renovation? How did you ensure you were getting the biggest bang for your buck?