If you're considering remodeling or are in the throes of plans for new materials, fixtures, and appliances, then you know that choosing your products and staying within budget can be a huge challenge. But it can be done.

On the back of the strong housing market, thousands of Americans are improving their homes.

"Given a resilient housing market and low interest rates, homeowners continue to reinvest in their homes in the midst of a sputtering economy," said Nicolas P. Retsinas, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, in July.

And the National Association of Homebuilders reported earlier this month that professional remodelers were busier in this year's second quarter than any other period in the past two years.

If you're remodeling, you know the confusion that festers when it comes to deciding which flooring and countertop materials, which appliances, and which fixtures will function best in your house, look good, and stay within your budget.

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry says it can be difficult to tell at face value if a product is reliable and if it will last.

Contractors affiliated with NARI say there are many considerations to keep in mind, including:

  • Price isn't necessarily indicative of quality. Try to judge each product on its own merits and do not use price as a factor in determining quality.
  • If you have a question about the life of the product or its effectiveness, talk to your remodeler. If he or she cannot help you, seek advice from professional showrooms or from the manufacturer of the product.
  • Don't make uninformed decisions about a product -- find out its strengths and weaknesses over other choices available.
  • Divide the cost of an item by its anticipated longevity to figure the annual cost. An expensive product that will last for 20 years may be a better choice than an inexpensive product that will only last five years. Product life should be a factor in your selection process.
  • Ask about manufacturer guarantees and service options available on each product choice. Some offers will be better than others. Written copies of manufacturer warranties should be available from your contractor.
  • Talk to your contractor about which product will best suit your needs. Some materials wear better than others in given circumstances. For example, painted surfaces might chip and peel more in a humid environment like the bathroom. Your contractor will be able to guide you toward the best choice for your lifestyle and environment.
  • Some products have internal parts that will need to be replaced at some point. Ask your contractor about the maintenance and repair costs for each of your product choices. You don't want to spend a lot of money on a fixture that can't be repaired down the road.
  • Some products are better investments than others in adding to the resale value of your home. Your contractor should be able to offer an opinion on whether a specific product is a good option for particular situation.

    If energy efficiency and saving money on your utility bills are a priority, then you'll want to look for an Energy Star label -- a federal designation that means the product uses less energy than its counterpart. Energy Star product categories include dishwashers, refrigerators, central air conditioning, ceiling fans, programmable thermostats, light fixtures and bulbs, home electronics and office equipment.

    Finally, don't make hasty decisions. Do plenty of research and think about the future of the house. For example, if you know you'll be selling five years down the road, choose products that have universal appeal -- don't choose the red appliances or the blue carpet. Go with materials that are durable, have a good reputation and are timeless.

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