The pandemic has led to a surge in home improvements, as homebound HGTV fans have been inspired to spruce up their surroundings. In 2020, homeowners spent $271 billion on home improvements, according to a recent study from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

With stimulus checks and tax refunds landing in your bank account, this may be the ideal time to get some projects done. But before you head for Home Depot or Lowe’s—or contact a contractor—consider which projects will deliver the largest return on your investment.

A good place to start is Remodeling magazine’s 2020 Cost vs. Value Report. The report details the average cost of about two dozen home remodeling projects and the estimated value each project retains if the property is sold. Some of the least expensive projects deliver the biggest payoffs.

Replacement garage door. Not glamorous, but the project retains more than 90% of its value, according to Remodeling magazine’s analysis. If you want to go for a more high-profile project, replace the old vinyl siding on your house with manufactured stone. The fancier cladding costs an average of $9,357 but retains 96% of its value.

New deck. If you need a more welcoming outdoor space, add a deck to your house that can be used as an outdoor home office by day and an entertainment venue at night. A 16-by-20-foot deck costs, on average, $14,360, and you’ll probably need furniture, too. Better Homes and Gardens’ Clayton Court 5-Piece Patio Dining Set ($450 from is a top pick among reviewers at the New York Times’ product-review site Wirecutter. The set, which comes with a table and four chairs, is made of steel and has cushioned seats.

Revamped windows and door. They don’t give you extra space to work or entertain, but new windows and a new front door will keep drafts (and bugs) out. Plus, tightening up doors and windows will help lower your utility bills. To replace 10 vinyl windows, you’ll pay, on average, $17,641, whereas wood windows can run you more than $21,000. Too rich for your budget? Replacing your front door with a steel one costs about $2,000, and you’ll recoup nearly 70% of the value.

Updated kitchen. A kitchen remodel that includes a new countertop, sink and faucet, energy-efficient appliances, and fresh paint costs about $23,500, on average, but will add to your home’s resale appeal. Plus, some utility companies offer rebates for buying energy-efficient appliances and equipment or making other improvements.

After your upgrades have been completed, review your homeowners insurance policy to determine whether you need to make any updates. In the event of a disaster, you want to be sure that your improvements are covered.

Bang for the Buck

Remodeling magazine compared the average cost of home improvement projects with the estimated value they would retain in 101 U.S. housing markets.