Makeovers, upgrades, improvements—homeowners love them all. HGTV and DIY Network feature incredible before-and-after projects, and viewers respond by calling in a home remodeling expert or shopping for new gadgets, products and styles to replicate what they see. Whether people hire a certified professional to do a major renovation project or if they choose to tackle upgrades on their own, home inspectors are among those who will see the results of the good, the bad and the in-between outcomes.
Recently I talked with David Pekel of Pekel Construction and Remodeling, a design/build/remodeling firm based in Wauwatosa, WI (www.pekelconstruction.com), about trends and topics in the renovation and remodeling industry that could affect home inspectors on the job. According to Pekel, who is secretary of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, home inspectors can help their clients simply by being able to identify and use the most common new technology and trends in home renovations and by being able to spot signs of outdated renovations that may cause problems.
Home Renovation and Technology Trends
Pekel identified technology-based systems as the most noteworthy trend in home renovation today. He said, “Tech- nology in homes is moving at warp speed. Being in-the-know can be as easy as having a general under- standing of how a remote-controlled system works.”
The following technology-related products stand out.
Remote-controlled fixtures and features. Homeowners can install a variety of useful products that can be controlled using a home-based unit, smartphone or other device, including:
- Light bulbs, light switches and electrical outlets
- Garage doors
- Fire detection systems
- Mold and moisture control systems, particularly in bathrooms
Some technology “learns” the typical settings that a user chooses and automatically applies those settings on schedule or demand.
Home security systems. Whole-house security systems are on the rise. Home renovations typically involve installing cameras and intercoms that work with smart technology.
Safety systems are popular with aging adults, millennials with young children and people living independently. Electronic alerts allow users to see who is coming to the door even before the visitor rings the doorbell. Some technology allows users to set doors to unlock at a certain date or time so that an aide or neighbor can enter to do housework, deliver groceries, provide health care or check on a pet.
Technology in the bathroom. Home inspectors typically check exhaust fans in bathrooms—if you haven’t yet seen one that turns on when it senses motion or humidity, you probably will soon. These fans are designed to turn on and off as needed, depending on the relative humidity level in the room. New light fixture designs also sense and react to motion. These features are not only trendy but they also can add value by lowering the risk for mold and saving energy costs.
Home comfort and health. These technology-charged comfort and health-related features are gaining popularity, especially among people with allergies or other medical issues:
- Electronic air purifying devices
- Heat recovery ventilation (HRV) systems
- Water quality systems
Home Energy Trends
Solar power. “We’re seeing an increase in clients requesting solar-generated power as part of their remodeling projects,” said Pekel. As a result, home inspectors should understand some basics regarding solar power at home. For example, some solar systems don’t store the energy; the energy is used as it is generated. Other solar systems are equipped to store energy; people with these types of systems use batteries to store the power until it’s needed. Batteries may be kept on a wall rack, using vertical space.
In a home with solar power, home inspectors could ask these questions:
- Where are the batteries?
- What condition are the
- Is there ample air exchange in the location where the batteries are being stored?
Generators. Natural gas-powered generators can be a critical need for people with medical issues that require access to consistent power. Home inspectors can look at the overall functionality of the generator and transfer panels and check whether the unit’s location is safe (for example, an unsafe location for a generator is directly under a bedroom window).
Spray foam insulation. The sealing of attic space with spray foam insulation should not be too tight; however, adhering to this detail often depends on the installer’s expertise level. Home inspectors may want to note whether the air exchange rate is satisfactory, and if it is not, suggest that the client contact an energy auditor for a comprehensive assessment.
Geothermal heating and cooling. The use of geothermal power is gradually developing, especially in rural areas and among those who can afford to make the major changes required. Issues with geothermal systems are very different than those related to conventional forced-air or boiler systems, and, as a result, home inspectors should recommend that clients contact an expert with appropriate knowledge and training to make an assessment.
Rainwater and gray water recovery systems. In an effort to be ecofriendly, some people install rain or gray water recovery systems to collect water from their shower and sinks. The system diverts the excess water to a holding tank, and then the homeowner can use the water for other purposes, such as watering gardens or plants.
To learn more about any of these types of products or systems, home inspectors can search the Internet or visit a home improvement store to compare the examples of remodeling trends on the professional and retail level.
Outdated Trends and Sub-Par RenovationsHome remodelers are often hired to redo jobs that were not done by professionals. Pekel said, “To prospective homeowners who are touring a home at 30 miles an hour, it all looks good, but when they start living with it, they see the problems.” And, he added, they often need to call in professionals with the knowledge and practical experience to fix big and small issues.
Home inspectors often are in a position to notice issues associated with poorly executed projects or outdated remodeling trends. Pekel listed the following examples to watch for:
- Atmospheric water venting that routes up through the chimney and wastes energy
- Analog thermostats
- Ball valves: Remodelers now recommend using ¼-turn valves in sinks and bathrooms.
- Water heaters and washers in condos and in homes built without foundations: These previously had catch basins for leaks, but now they should have electronic automatic shutoffs.
- Shower tiles installed over inappropriate substrates or with incorrect adhesives: This can lead to failure, breakage and ongoing problems.
- Exhaust hoods in the kitchen that “vent to nowhere”
- Breezeways constructed with a lot of creativity, but perhaps not adequate skill
Buyer, Beware… and Home Inspector, Take Care
With the prevalence of DIY projects featured in the media, people feel empowered to attempt ambitious renovations in their own homes; however, a “buyer beware” outlook is important for a person planning to purchase a home with these “improvements.” Home inspectors can help prospective buyers go into a new home with eyes wide open.
Pekel concluded, “Generally, the goalposts keep moving in building systems and technology. It’s helpful for home inspectors to know what good working conditions look like. It’s also a good idea to expand your horizons so you can look beyond what you’ve seen before and become familiar with what’s to come.”
Carol Dikelsky recently joined the ASHI Reporter editorial team. Her experience includes more than 20 years of editing, writing and managing projects for a variety of association, health care and community-based publications.