Chicago Exterior Remodeling Q&A With Arete’ Renovators

exterior remodeling

What are some common exterior renovation projects?

So I’ll just kind of run through them, but keep in mind, any one of these can be done independently. They are siding, roofing, windows, doors, soffit, and facia, and then there’s trim work. One other thing you could add that kind of falls in line with siding, is masonry. Masonry involves using mortar and putting stones up block by block. Then there’s a product called veneer, and it can be hung up as well. So if people are looking for that stone look, but don’t want a process that’s quite so involved, they can go with stone veneer.

What are the benefits of doing these exterior renovations?

The benefit is going to be curb appeal. By giving your home a more modern look, you can get people in the door when looking at the home to buy, and it’s also going to raise the value of the home. For some, it is about having a home that they’re proud of, and then some people aren’t even going to live in it, they’re just doing it to raise the home value.

What is the typical timeline for one of these exterior renovations? Are those strict? Or do you prefer they’re flexible?

Like most contractors, you always want to have some buffer because unforeseen issues can arise. Typically, I’d estimate a lead time of about two months. The reason for this is that ordering materials usually takes around a month to arrive, except for doors and windows, which can take anywhere from three to six months. In construction, allocating personnel is sometimes the bottleneck. Other projects must be completed before a crew can move on to the next.

During COVID, it was even longer, sometimes up to a year in some cases, which was quite challenging. The additional time allows for the proper allocation of resources once materials are on hand. In construction, projects rarely end exactly when expected; they might finish a bit early or run slightly behind schedule.

That’s why I usually give clients a timeframe, ensuring the project begins no later than a certain date and finishes within a specified timeframe. This buffer accounts for potential delays in material delivery and personnel allocation. So you’re not knocking out a whole home renovation in a weekend. Not quite.

Are there any local regulations or permits that you have to deal with? Do you look into that, or is that on the homeowner?

Yeah, you’ll need to look into that. There are different municipalities, and a lot of that depends on where the project is located. So there are certain areas, like I came from Milwaukee, there are plenty of areas in the inner city where you don’t even need a permit for roofing. But then there are other areas as you work your way out of the city and get into the suburbs that will require a permit for the same kind of work.

You absolutely will need those permits when they’re required. So we need to check with local municipalities and see what they’re going to require. We’ll do that so the homeowner doesn’t have to. We’re used to doing it because we’ve been around for so long we don’t even need to look, we already know what the municipalities are. Even the cost of the permit is different depending on the municipality as well.

There are even areas, like some high-end neighborhoods, with even stricter regulations. For example, in the world of roofing, there are multiple different styles, like cedar shake, normal asphalt shingles, and so on. There are certain neighborhoods where you can only do a cedar shake because they’re trying to ultimately protect the integrity of the neighborhood and keep things looking high-end.

Can you stay on budget? How do you work with a budget?

With exterior remodeling, the dynamics differ from interior projects, particularly when it comes to involving plumbers or electricians, which can indicate significant issues. My point is that we often require less contingency wiggle room compared to interior remodels. Exterior work often involves surface redecoration, unless there’s major water damage.

In such cases, sheathing replacement may be necessary, either behind the siding or below the shingles. This issue is typically foreseeable if water damage has already been detected indoors. So, in most cases, we usually stick close to our initial price point. However, if change orders arise due to unforeseen circumstances or client preferences differing from the initial vision, adjustments may be needed, but that’s different than going over budget and having to kind of hit them with hidden damage.

How do you decide on what materials to use for a project?

When it comes to materials, some are superior to others, and it’s often up to the contractor to make informed decisions based on their expertise. For instance, in the company I worked for, we had certain standards. For example, we preferred engineered wood over vinyl siding due to its durability and insulation properties. We wouldn’t compromise on quality, even if it meant turning down a sale.

It’s essential to consider the neighborhood’s aesthetic when choosing materials. Realtors often advise matching the surrounding homes for resale value. If it’s not your forever home, investing too much in premium materials might not be wise. Similarly, using lower-quality materials in an upscale neighborhood can detract from the home’s overall appearance.

Then we will create renderings, look at trending colors, and trending styles together, and find what you like. As a professional, I can tell you what’s common, what’s new, what has the likelihood of potentially staying in style or what’s a fad that is going to move out of style. Then, of course, the homeowner has to love it too, so I’ll give some insights there. I won’t tell somebody that it’s my way or the highway, people like what they like, but I’ll give my opinion on industry trends.

There are a lot of people doing these wood pillars around their homes lately. Sometimes those pillars are structural, and that is a different conversation. However, in a lot of cases, they’re just cosmetic. If that’s the case, our job is much easier. We’re just redecorating a pillar, whereas if they truly are structural, we need to support that section of the house while we do the replacement.

You’re seeing a lot of dark accents now. I mean, I’ve even done a couple of houses that were all black. Which is hard to say if that’s going to be a fad, or if it’s here to stay for a little bit, we’ll see.

That’s another thing, if your house is huge, and you were to do all black, it gets to be a lot. Or it can be. The size of the house can determine some of these things too, not just from a color standpoint, but you can get siding in different sizes.

For example with that same big black house, you’re going to likely want to choose siding that has a larger exposure, because what happens is then you put something with smaller exposure on a large house, you have that many more pieces of siding, which means you have that many more scenes, which just tends to look busy.

Did COVID affect the pricing of the materials you most commonly use?

While all products seemed to have increased in price during COVID, lumber and aluminum were exceptionally inflated. Prices have dropped a bit and stabilized, but have remained inflated in comparison to pre-COVID industry standards, much like a lot of products.

When it comes to those types of materials, does it become harder to acquire them sometimes? Covid of course made it hard, but does that ever happen otherwise, and is it because they’re in short supply, or because the prices of said materials are so high?

COVID-19 presented significant challenges across the board. Nearly every aspect of production was affected due to logistical issues faced by manufacturers. This was particularly evident in the case of windows and doors, which are custom-made to specifications. While standard sizes can help streamline the process and reduce costs, customization options such as color choices still contribute to longer lead times.

Conversely, materials like siding and roofing, especially roofing, typically have fewer variations and are produced continuously based on the previous year’s projections, so disruptions were minimal compared to windows and doors, both during and outside of the COVID period.

Is there a price/quality difference between buying windows off the shelf compared to going custom-made? Or is it pretty close when it comes to trying to budget for something like that?

Finding standard-sized windows readily available for purchase is quite rare, especially for more sophisticated homes. Standard sizes were more common in older homes from up to a century ago, as customization options were limited during that time. Consequently, many rough openings were built to accommodate these standard sizes. However, if you’re fortunate enough to have a standard-sized opening, you might be able to find a suitable window off the shelf.

Nonetheless, it’s important to note that such readily available options often come with lower quality compared to custom-made ones.
It’s a hole in your wall so you want it to be decent. A high-end window isn’t going to have a higher R- value than the insulation of your walls, R-value is important to an extent, but what’s more important is making sure the window is installed properly and is sealing properly. Oftentimes it can be an installation

issue where they didn’t frame it out correctly and now you’re getting a bunch of air intrusion from around the window itself.

What steps do you take to protect your client’s property when working on projects that require tearing something down, replacing structures, or anything that could cause potential damage?

With all exterior remodeling you’ll want to tarp any type of shrubbery, HVAC units, or anything that’s of significant importance or you know is maybe vulnerable. For instance, if your HVAC unit happens to be situated in a spot where a ladder is necessary, we’ll frame out an area to cover it with wood and sheathing. This ensures protection during the process. We take precautions such as tarping shrubbery and any areas where nails or equipment might accidentally fall or get lost.

Once the work is completed, whether it’s siding or shingling, there will inevitably be scrap material left over. This scrap, along with any stray nails, needs to be cleaned up meticulously. After tarping and covering everything, we carefully pick up the scrap by hand. Additionally, we have a designated person, whom I refer to as a “runner,” responsible for miscellaneous tasks. They use a large, heavy magnet weighing around 200 pounds to sweep the property. This magnet collects all the stray nails, making the cleanup process much safer and more efficient.

What is a typical daily schedule for an exterior renovation project, and how is the schedule determined?

Earlier, we touched on the importance of providing a flexible timeline due to the possibility of projects extending or concluding earlier than anticipated. This flexibility is essential, particularly because unexpected events, like adverse weather conditions, might require adjustments. There have been times when we have had to work around a two-day delay in our start date under such circumstances.

The main point to understand is that this period before we commence work is the only time when adjustments to the timeline might be necessary. Once our team is on-site, we are committed to staying and completing the project without interruption. Unlike some contractors who may start work only to leave and return sporadically, once we begin, we ensure continuous progress until completion. A foreman will always be present to oversee the work, supported by a project manager to ensure everything runs smoothly.

In my previous role, which involved both estimation and project management, I would frequently visit the site. My responsibilities included conveying expectations to the foreman, facilitating introductions between the homeowner and the foreman, and ensuring that the project was on track. I aimed to check in three to four times a day to oversee the project’s progress.

This setup ensures that there is always someone with a deeper involvement in the administrative aspects of the project, ready to address any homeowner queries regarding lien waivers or permits. Meanwhile, the on-site foreman, with their keen attention to detail and extensive experience, guarantees the quality and continuity of the physical work.

How do you leave a project at the end of a working day? Do you have a cleaning procedure, do you leave materials out, how does that work?

Based on my experience, which may vary slightly for others, all scrap is typically discarded. There is always a dumpster present on site for this purpose. The only exception is nails; my team uses their magnet, and a runner spends a few hours on a sweep at the end of the day. Throughout the project, we maintain a clean environment, we get to about 90% cleanliness by the end of each day through ongoing cleanup efforts. Then at the project’s end, we dedicate special attention to detail, ensuring that no materials are left behind.

Final thoughts

Siding & Trim materials

For siding, real cedar is still available and used, though it is not commonly recommended for replacement. Occasionally, certain neighborhoods may prefer to reinstall cedar shake siding due to its aesthetic appeal, but this is an infrequent occurrence. Most neighborhoods do not specifically require cedar shake, making it a rare choice. The hesitation around using real cedar stems from its susceptibility to failure; it’s natural wood, it can rot, the paint can peel, and it lacks durability when exposed to the elements.

In contrast, engineered wood has emerged as a modern alternative to cedar. This material is combined with waxes and zinc borate to enhance water and pest resistance, offering a more durable and long-lasting solution. Engineered wood products often come with warranties extending up to 50 years, reflecting their reliability and the confidence manufacturers have in their performance.

When discussing siding options, you’ll primarily encounter engineered wood and vinyl as the two main choices. Engineered wood allows for expansion and contraction in environments, such as the Midwest, that range from temperatures that are subzero and up to 90. It’s important for vinyl siding to have some form of support system, as it is relatively thin, with thicknesses ranging from approximately .042-.048. Vinyl is already inferior to engineered wood, so it’s considered irresponsible to install the non-insulated backed vinyl.

Regarding window trim, it is usually pre-existing around the windows. If the wood trim is not rotted, it can be wrapped in aluminum, a common practice that allows for updating the exterior while choosing any desired color.

However, if the trim is rotted, it must be replaced because it will not securely hold nails. Alternatively, one can remove the existing trim altogether. It’s also possible to purchase engineered trim, which is designed to last for 50 years, providing a durable and long-lasting option for exterior detailing. Real wood siding is sort of out of the picture at this point.

Now people are talking about engineered wood, which contains real wood. The backside of engineered wood siding often resembles plywood because includes waxes and zinc borate. Waxes make it water resistant, while zinc makes it peat resistant. However, engineered wood is designed with a textured finish that closely mimics the appearance of natural wood, ensuring that it maintains the aesthetic qualities of traditional wood siding.


You can get them in fiberglass, or steel, or you can get a real wood door. As a contractor and a professional, one product that I am most fond of is an extruded aluminum door. That gives you something more robust that can weather on the exterior and then on the inside it’s more often than not a real wood, you can pick the species of the wood, you can pick the stain of the wood, and it protects the genuine look of the house.


The three-dimensional shingle, often referred to as the industry standard, is widely used. You’ll notice that roofs built around 10 years ago or earlier typically featured a different type, known as the three-tab shingle, which is now nearly obsolete. The key to a shingle’s durability lies in its asphalt content. Generally, the heavier the shingle, the more asphalt it contains, making it more robust.

There are also synthetic options available, such as thermal plastic shakes that mimic the appearance of real shake. Additionally, there is the option of real cedar shakes. However, the most common choice remains the three-dimensional shingle I previously mentioned. For those seeking more aesthetically pleasing alternatives, there are plenty of options available in the market.

These components should always be replaced. If you’re getting a new roof that should ideally last 25 to 30 years, anything that penetrates the roof should be replaced and reflashed. If not, and something fails, you would need to remove the shingles to access it. Fortunately, these replacements are relatively inexpensive.

Similarly, this applies to skylights. If your roof is expected to last 30 years and the skylight was installed at the same time, then your skylight is likely at least 30 years old as well. While they can last up to 50 years, if there are any signs of deterioration, it’s crucial to replace them without question. At the very least, the flashing kit around the skylight should be replaced.

Areté The Art of Remodeling is your trusted partner throughout the construction phase of your exterior makeover. We’re just a call away for any inquiries or support you might need. Our commitment is to forge lasting relationships built on trust and transparency, always striving to deliver exceptional craftsmanship that endures over time. Reach out to our Chicago exterior remodeling experts at Areté today at 773.683.3033, and let us elevate the curb appeal of your home.