7 Hot Home Improvement Trends that Make Your Home Work for You

 

By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Home improvement trends embrace energy efficiency, low maintenance exteriors, and double-duty space

Today’s home improvement trends show that we like our houses to work harder and smarter for the money we spend maintaining and improving their value.

We no longer want bigger; instead, we want space that’s flexible, efficient, and brings order to chaos.

We’re watching our wattage with monitors and meters, and guarding our weekends with maintenance-free exteriors.

Here’s a look at 7 hot home improvement trends that improve the way we live with our homes.

Trend #1: Maintenance-free siding

We continue to choose maintenance-free siding that lives as long as we do, but with a lot less upkeep. But more and more we’re opting for fiber-cement siding, 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 won’t rot, combust, or succumb to termites and other wood-boring insects.

At $5 to $9 per sq. ft., installed, fiber-cement siding is more expensive than paint-grade wood, vinyl, and aluminum siding. It returns 80% 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. Repaint every 7 to 15 years. Wood requires repainting every 4 to 7 years.

Trend #2: Convertible spaces

Forget “museum rooms” we use twice a year (dining rooms and living rooms) and embrace convertible spaces that change with our whims.

Foldaway walls turn a private study into an easy-flow party space. Walls can consist of fancy, glass panels ($600 to $1,600 per linear ft., depending on the system); or they can be simple vinyl-covered accordions ($1,230 for 7 ft. by 10 ft.). PortablePartions.com sells walls on wheels ($775 for approximately 7 ft. by 7 ft.).

A Murphy bed pulls down from an armoire-looking 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). Just search online for sellers.
And don’t forget area rugs that easily define, and redefine, open spaces.

Trend #3: A laundry room of your own

Humankind advanced when the laundry room arose from the basement to a louvered closet on the second floor where clothes live. Now, we’re 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 boxes of detergent.

Look for spaces that already have plumbing hookups or are adjacent to rooms with running water to save on plumbing costs.

Trend #4: Souped-up kitchens

Although houses are trending smaller, kitchens are getting bigger, according to the American Institute of Architects’ Home Design Trends Survey.

Kitchen remodels open the space, perhaps incorporating lonely 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-sized, 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 pull-out drawers.

Trend #5: Energy diets

We’re wrestling with an energy disorder: We’re 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.

These new tracking devices can gauge electricity usage of individual electronics ($20 to $30) or monitor whole house 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.

Trend #6: Love that storage

As we bow to the new 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, 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.

Trend #7: 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 room niches are morphing into working nooks. After a weekend of de-cluttering, basements and attics are reborn as work centers.

10 Tips for Keeping Your Home Safe While on Vacation

 

by Sara Elliott

Don’t let the anticipation of a well-deserved vacation blind you to the risks of leaving your home unprotected. Go ahead and plan your beach, camping or city shopping holiday, but take precautions before you leave. We subscribe to the "better safe than sorry" philosophy, so review your home safety checklist before you head out. A little extra vigilance will help keep your property and belongings safer while you’re gone — and will keep you from obsessing about security once you’re on the road to fun and adventure.

Consider Hiring a House-or Pet-Sitter

The best way to make sure your house is safe while you’re gone is to have someone you trust still living in it. You may be lucky enough to have a tidy and conscientious relative who’ll move in temporarily and water the plants, feed the pets and pick up the newspapers. If not, there are services you can use for house-sitting and pet-sitting while you’re away. This can be a pricy option, but it’s a solution that touches all the bases.

Hold Your Mail

When you’re leaving for more than a couple of days, call your local post office to stop mail delivery until you get back. They can hold mail from three to 30 days. In many locations, you can even submit a stop mail request online. Just enter your address and stop and start dates. This is a free feature courtesy of your friendly United States Postal Service.

Stop Newspaper Delivery

A pile of yellowing newspapers on the doorstep is a movie cliché for a home that’s unoccupied. Stopping the newspaper when you leave town for a while is an easy detail to forget and one that will make you a sure target. If you’re still reading newsprint, make sure you stop service when you leave on vacation.

Keep Eyes on Your Property

Even if you stop newspaper delivery and mail service, there are still some gotchas that can make it obvious that you’re not around. How about those fliers that peddlers leave on your doorknob, or those periodic yellow page book deliveries? Because you can’t plan for every contingency, have someone in the area check your house periodically. Whether it’s a neighbor or relative, nothing beats having a person check the premises every day or two while you’re gone. Hey, while they’re there, they can water the petunias.

Make Your Home Look Lived In

An occupied home looks lived in. Lights go on and off, and cars come and go. When you’re away, everything stops. To help create the illusion that the residence is still occupied, invest in timers that turn on the interior lights for a few hours every evening. If you can get a neighbor to take out your garbage and put the cans back after the garbage pickup, it’s another way to send the message that everything is proceeding normally at your house.

Keep the Landscape Trimmed

If you’re a diligent homeowner who mows his lawn every week, and things start to look overgrown and neglected, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that you’re not around. If you plan on being away for an extended period of time, hire someone to take care of the landscaping chores in your absence.

Lock Up

This seems so obvious, but hey, it’s easy to forget. If you keep a window unlocked to allow the cat easy access, or never bother to turn the deadbolt on the kitchen door, now’s the time to clean up your act. Locking your home makes it less attractive to opportunistic burglars. If you don’t make it easy, there’s a better chance that when you get home, your house will be in the same condition as when you left it.

Don’t Project Your Moves

Show some caution when you talk about your trip. Your blog isn’t the best place to announce that you’ll be away from home for a month. Being aware of who’s around when you discuss your trip in restaurants and even at work isn’t a bad idea either. Make sure that your children are discreet, too. No one is saying that you should be suspicious of everyone you meet, but even a chance remark has the potential to lead to unintended and unfortunate consequences. The less information you put out there, the less likely it is to reach the wrong ears and eyes.

Pull the Plug on Electronics

Disconnecting the power to some of your electronics, like your desktop computer, coffee pot and television can save you money while you’re gone and eliminate the worry that you’ve accidentally left them on by mistake. Turning off your garage door is also an effective way to keep thieves from opening it with a universal remote. Oh, and don’t leave a portable GPS in your car when you use long-term parking at the airport. It’ll alert thieves that you’re not home and give them a convenient map to your house.

Install Added Security Features

Installing a home security system or even just exterior lights that run on timers is a good way to ramp up security around the old homestead and make your house safer whether you’re around or not. One of the nice things about these features is that they’re working when you’re awake, asleep, on vacation or hosting an outdoor barbecue. They fade into the background as far as you’re concerned, but still make your property less attractive to opportunistic thieves.