By Mary Kay Robinson
Recent home improvement trends have embraced energy efficiency, low-maintenance exteriors and double-duty space. What these trends show is that Americans like our houses to work harder and smarter for our money.
Homeowners no longer want bigger; they want space that’s flexible, efficient and brings order to the chaos. They’re watching energy usage with monitors and meters and preserving weekend leisure time with maintenance-free exteriors. Here’s a look at seven hot home improvement trends that improve the way we live.
Maintenance-free siding: Homeowners continue to choose maintenance-free siding that lives a long time, but with a lot less upkeep. Fiber-cement siding is one of the fastest-growing segments of the siding market. It’s a combination of cement, sand and cellulosic fibers that looks like wood but doesn’t rot, combust or succumb to termites or other wood-boring insects. At $5 to $9 per square foot, fiber-cement siding is more expensive than paint-grade wood, vinyl and aluminum siding. However, it returns 87 percent of investment, the highest return of any upscale project on Remodeling Magazine’s latest cost vs. value report. Maintenance is limited to a cleaning and some caulking each spring and repainting every seven to 15 years. Wood requires repainting every four to seven years.
Forget “museum rooms” that are used twice a year, and embrace convertible spaces that change on a whim. Foldaway walls turn a private study into an easy-flow party space. Walls can consist of fancy glass panels ($600-$1,600 per linear foot), or they can be simple vinyl-covered accordions ($1,230 for a 7- by 10-foot panel). Portablepartitions.com sells walls on wheels ($775 for approximately 7 by 7 feet).
A Murphy bed pulls down from a wall unit and turns any room into a guest room. Prices, including installation and cabinetry, range from $2,000 (twin with main cabinet) to more than $5,000 (California king with main and side units).
Humankind advanced when the laundry room rose from the basement to a louvered closet on the second floor where the clothes live. Now, homeowners are taking another step forward by granting washday a room of its own. If you’re thinking of remodeling, turn a mudroom or extra bedroom into a dedicated laundry room big enough to house the washer and dryer, hang hand-washables and store bulk detergent. Look for spaces that already have plumbing hookups or are adjacent to rooms with running water to save on plumbing costs.
Although houses are trending smaller, kitchens are getting bigger, according to the American institute of Architects’ Home Designs Trends Survey. Kitchen remodels open the space, perhaps incorporating dining rooms, and feature recycling centers, large pantries and recharging stations. Oversized and high-priced commercial appliances (Did we ever fire up six burners at once?) are yielding to family-size, mid-range models that recover at least one cabinet for storage. Since the entire family now helps prepare dinner (in your dreams), double prep sinks have evolved into dual-prep islands with lots of counter space and pullout drawers.
Americans are wrestling with an energy disorder. People are binging on electronics – cell phones, iPads, Blackberries, laptops – then crash dieting by installing LED fixtures and turning the thermostat to 68 degrees. Are we ahead of the energy game? Only the energy monitors and meters know for sure. New tracking devices can gauge electricity usage of individual electronics ($20 to $30) or monitor the whole house’s energy ($100 to $250). The TED 5000 Energy Monitor ($240) supplies real-time feedback that you can view remotely and graph by the second, minute, hour, day and month.
As all of us bow to the god of declutter, storage has become the Holy Grail. We’re not talking about more baskets we can trip over in the night. We’re imagining and discovering built-in storage in unlikely spaces: under stairs, over doors and beneath floors.
Under-appreciated nooks that once displayed antique desks are growing into built-ins for books and collections. Slap on some doors, and you can hide office supplies and buckets of Legos. Giant master suites, with floor space to land a 747, are being divided to conquer clutter with more walk-in closets.
Home offices come out of the closet. Flexible work schedules, mobile communications and entrepreneurial zeal are relocating us from the office downtown to home. Laptops and wireless connections let us telecommute from anywhere in the house, but we still want a dedicated space, preferably with a door, for files, supplies and printers. Spare bedrooms are becoming home offices and family rooms and niches are morphing into working nooks. After a weekend of decluttering, basements and attics are reborn as work centers.