7 Top Home Improvement Trends

Though it’s not quite a return to boom times, the 1,226,000 new homes built last year. Add in the fact that Americans are projected to spend a near-record $317 billion on home improvement this year, and the housing industry is clearly on its most solid footing in years.

That translated into plenty of energy and excitement at this year’s Design & Construction Week, in Orlando, Fla. The event combines the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show and the International Builders’ Show.

A team of Consumer Reports home editors and market analysts joined more than 80,000 design and construction professionals at the Orange County Convention Center, where about 1,500 manufacturers and suppliers unveiled their latest appliances, kitchen and bath fixtures, building materials, and more. A trade show of this size and scale almost defies trendspotting, but patterns did emerge as we traversed the 569,000 square feet of floor space. Here are seven developments we expect to see more of in 2017. We included pricing and availability information, where we could.

Indoor Gardening Goes High-Tech—and High-End

Houzz, the home design website, released a survey at the show that found a third of homeowners report leading a healthier lifestyle after a kitchen renovation, from eating more fruits and vegetables to preparing more meals at home.

That’s creating a market for products that help homeowners grow fresh produce in the kitchen. Exhibit A: the Urban Cultivator (pictured), a climate-controlled, irrigated indoor garden that’s about the size of an undercabinet wine chiller. Bobby Berk, a designer based in Los Angeles who took home the NAHB’s 2017 Gold Award for Best Interior Design, said he has been installing the Urban Cultivator on more and more projects, especially in extreme climates like Las Vegas, where it’s tough to garden outdoors.

“It definitely caters to health enthusiasts, but also my clients who are into tech stuff,” he said, adding that he’s also put them in garage studios and wet bars (think mint juleps and Thai basil mojitos).

The Urban Cultivator includes all of the equipment needed for hydroponic growing; you just need water and electrical lines. At $2,500 the unit isn’t cheap, but given the cost of many artisanal greens, from sorrel to sunflower, you could make it back … eventually.

At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, we saw more evidence of the indoor gardening trend in Whirlpool’s Zera Food Recycler, an indoor recycler that is said to use a combination of oxygen, moisture, heat, and mixing to speed up the decomposition process, converting a week’s worth of food waste into ready-to-use homemade fertilizer within 24 hours. The Zera system is expected to be available in September 2017 through Indiegogo. You can pre-order it through Indiegogo at a promotional price of $999, down from the $1,199 manufacturer’s suggested retail price.

Smart Home Technology Grows Up


We’ve been watching the smart home trend build for several years now, and it seems to be reaching critical mass. In 2017, 33 percent of homes are expected to have at least one connected device, and the household penetration should top 60 percent by 2021, according to Statista, a market research firm.

Home security systems and security cameras are among the most desired smart tech features to consider, according to the National Association of Home Builders’ 2017 Home Buyer Preferences report.

The company Ring, looking to build on the success of its Ring Video Doorbell, showed off its Floodlight Cam Security Camera, $250. The hardwired device replaces a traditional floodlight and includes a motion-activated security camera with built-in floodlights, a 110-decibel siren alarm, and two-way talk. Live streaming video and audio are available through the free Ring app, allowing you to monitor your home from anywhere.

Connected appliances are starting to resonate, partly thanks to voice-activation technology from the likes of digital voice assistants Amazon Echo and Google Home. For example, all of GE Appliances’s WiFi-ready appliances feature a digital assistant called Geneva that communicates with Amazon’s Alexa. So if you’re within earshot of an Echo, you can issue commands such as, “Alexa, ask Geneva when the dishwasher will be finished,” or “Alexa, tell Geneva to preheat the oven to 350 degrees.”

We also saw more home sensors that can detect leaks, along with other environmental conditions in the home. One of the most promising is Wally (pictured), a wireless home sensing solution that detects and alerts you to water leaks as well as significant changes in temperature and humidity. Better yet, a connected shutoff valve will turn the water off if a leak is detected while you’re away from home. The shutoff valve will be available this spring through the Sears website for $200. A $99 starter kit, including the hub and sensor, is out now.

Homes Are Getting Smaller but Fancier


For the first time since 2009, the average size of new homes built in 2016 went down from the prior year, to 2,634 square feet, according to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“We were building homes that were much larger than what the typical homeowner was interested in buying,” said Rose Quint, assistant vice president for survey research with the NAHB, who presented findings from her organization’s Home Builder Preferences Survey.

Instead of sprawling McMansions with sky-high operating costs, look for smaller, more livable homes with flexible floor plans, energy-efficient appliances, and plenty of storage space. In terms of rooms, a separate laundry room tops the NAHB’s list of desired home features, and that was evident on the show floor, where appliance manufacturers pushed more matching washers and dryers. Then there was LG SIGNATURE’S 24-inch-wide Combo Twin Wash System (pictured), a compact unit that serves as both a washer and dryer, saving space in city apartments and other smaller homes.

Matte Finishes Make Their Move


Polished granite, sparkling chrome, and gleaming sleek stainless have been the favorite finishes for years, if not decades. But the pendulum is swinging in a big way toward matte finishes, which designers like for their warmth and elegance.

Black stainless steel was the most pervasive example at the 2017 show. Though the finish has been available at the higher end for a couple of years, it’s now being pushed across all appliance lines by just about every major manufacturer.

“I can promise you, it’s the next big thing,” said celebrity designer Nate Berkus, during an event put on in the booth for LG STUDIO, the manufacturer’s line of high-end appliances. Given his role as artistic advisor to LG STUDIO, you’d expect that level of enthusiasm from Berkus. But we heard the same from GE Appliances, Kenmore, Samsung, Frigidaire, and others.

Beyond appliances, matte finishes were on a wide array of fixtures and surfaces. Many major kitchen and bath fixture manufacturers unveiled expansive faucets lines in matte black finishes, which can coordinate neatly with black stainless steel. Check out Delta Faucet’s new Esque Collection of kitchen faucets with Touch2O Technology, and Moen’s Align single-handle lavatory faucet.

Even in countertops, honed finishes—as opposed to the polished look that has been so popular—deliver a complementary luster. Two quartz counters that caught our eye were Silestone’s Charcoal Soapstone in suede—its version of matte—and Caesarstone’s Statuario Nuvo in a honed finish.

Induction Cooking for the Rest of Us


Consumer Reports has been high on induction cooking for several years now, thanks to its precision heating and control. The only downside was the price: Induction cooktops and ranges often cost twice as much as standard gas or electric counterparts.

Frigidaire is changing that with its launch of the Frigidaire FS Induction Range, model FFIF3054TS, which will retail for less than $1,000. Its styling is pretty plain, but if the unit performs as well in our tests as its brand mate, the $1,500 Frigidaire Gallery FGIF3061NF, we’ll truly be entering a new era for induction.

Self-Cleaning Toilets


We’ve been talking for a few years now about toilets that do a better job of cleaning you, namely through the advancement of built-in bidets. Now toilets are learning to clean themselves better, too. Consider Toto’s Neorest 750H toilet, which took home the KBIS Best of Bath Gold Award.

The toilet’s “Actilight Cleansing Technology” starts by premisting the bowl before each use, minimizing waste adherence (or “sticktion,” to use the industry term). After each flush, the bowl is spritzed with electrolyzed water, which has a slightly acidic pH value, supposedly keeping the bowl fresh and clean longer. There’s also an integrated UV light in the seat that Toto says will accelerate the decomposition of inorganic substances in the bowl.

The latest Veil Intelligent Wall-Hung Toilet from Kohler also uses UV light and an electrolyzed water system to sanitize the bowl’s surfaces.

Mix & Match Appliances


Kitchen appliances are becoming more modular, allowing homeowners to mix and match their placement in new and potentially helpful ways.

Dacor introduced its Heritage Collection of column refrigerators and freezers, which also offers several smart technologies, including built-in cameras that let you check the contents from the grocery store or other remote location. (Dacor was recently bought by Samsung, whose Family Hub refrigerator was the first to offer camera technology.)

GE Appliance’s new Monogram Columns, available in October 2017, promise similar mix-and-match flexibility, along with a pretty cool “autofill pitcher,” which automatically refills cold, filtered water when you insert it into the dock located inside the fridge.

Appliance drawers are the other big trend in kitchen modularization. The drawers are typically 24 or 30 inches wide and house everything from dishwashers to microwaves to warming drawers to, you guessed it, mini-refrigerators. One of the most innovative appliance drawers we saw belonged to Viking Range. Its 30-inch-wide warming drawer is the first of its kind that doubles as a slow cooker, including a built-in meat probe and heavy-duty glides that can handle up to 200 pounds of meat.