15 Jan 2024

Innovations, Challenges and the Future of Self-build and Home Renovation

Michael Holmes, Property Expert for the Homebuilding & Renovating Shows (HB&R Shows), shares insights on the evolving trends in home renovation. From open-plan living to the influence of the pandemic, Holmes provides a concise overview of challenges, innovations and the future of home design.


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How have you seen the field of home renovation evolve over the past three decades?

Everyone wants more space, more light and a home that is cheaper to run and maintain. These are the key drivers of most renovation projects. We all want an open-plan kitchen with a nice dining area, a separate utility room for the laundry, an en-suite bathroom, a comfy entertainment room with a big television and most of us need a home office, too.

Most people don’t use the garage to park their cars anymore and are willing to convert it into living space. Few people want a formal, separate dining room and want to knock through to the kitchen. Conservatories have been replaced by extensions with big glazed, sliding doorways and open fireplaces have given way to woodburning stoves.

Renovators have become much more confident with open-plan layouts, and nowhere is this more so than in the kitchen. Elevated from a small, functional, utilitarian space usually tucked away at the back of the house, the kitchen has been transformed into the epicentre of family and social life. Meanwhile, most of the functions of the old kitchen have been relegated to the utility room, which is dedicated to laundry, ironing, storage, boiler, pets, etc.

Can you share some of the most significant trends or innovations in home renovation that have emerged in recent years?

The evolution of home design closely reflects social change. Relationships are less formal and deferential, there is greater sexual equality (both partners usually now go out to work), families are wealthier and can afford to entertain at home, more people work from home, families rarely sit together around a single TV set and we are all more obsessed with fitness and cleanliness. Queue the open-plan kitchen, home office, media room, gym and en-suite bathroom facilities for every bedroom.

Trends are usually driven by innovation – the open-plan kitchen could not function without highly-evolved extractor fans to prevent cooking smells from permeating through the entire house. With few walls for radiators in open-plan homes, underfloor heating has become standard on at least the ground floor of self-build homes, renovations and conversions.

Open-plan layouts rely on borrowed light from large areas of glazing, made possible through the development of sliding and folding sliding door technology, rooflights and lanterns that are ever-more energy efficient yet prevent overheating from solar gain.

Few homes are now without some element of smart technology, especially entertainment tech. The introduction of high-speed fibre broadband has made working from home a reality and opened up on-demand streaming of music, TV, films and gaming.

How has the HB&R Show contributed to the evolution of home renovation practices?

Self-builders are ‘early adopters’, pioneering and embracing innovative ideas from tech to whole construction systems. The HB&R Show has often proved to be the best place to build a market for new ideas. It has been instrumental in promoting the uptake of building systems new to the UK, such as Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs), Insulated Concrete Formwork (ICF) and post and beam timber frames, whilst also helping revive traditional building systems like oak frames.

The show has also been a huge champion of green technology, spreading the adoption of solar thermal and solar PV panels, air- and ground-source heat pumps, biomass boilers and thermal stores years ahead of their current ubiquity. The same applies to green features, such as mechanical ventilation with heat recovery, waste water heat recovery, rainwater and greywater harvesting, and building standards, such as Passivhaus.

Through its programme of seminars and masterclasses, the show helps educate consumers so they can make informed decisions on their projects and avoid common pitfalls.

What are some of the most common challenges that homeowners face when embarking on a renovation project?

Homeowners often don’t know where to start their project: with a builder or designer. The best place to start is usually the bank. Getting the money in place and ensuring the funding matches the scope of the project is vital but often ignored. Deciding whether it is possible to stay in the property for all or part of the project or if it’s better to move out is another important early consideration.

Sometimes, the scope of work is so extensive that it makes more sense to demolish the existing house and build a new one to benefit from zero-rate VAT on a new build, but this can be a very difficult concept to accept for someone who has invested considerable time and money on developing a design, only for it to become redundant and replaced by a blank sheet.

Homeowners often don’t understand the importance of investing in design at the drawing board stage – especially detailed design and specification. No one likes paying fees, but without a detailed design, it’s impossible to estimate costs accurately or resolve issues that will delay the construction programme unless they are thought through well in advance.

Homeowners are often nervous about engaging builders, too. Largely because the very small number of cowboys who ask for cash upfront and then disappear or are chronically incompetent get a lot of headlines. Distrust isn’t helped by the competitive tender procurement process, where builders often compete for work on price alone. The builder is incentivised to present the cost in the most optimistic light possible and then win back the margin once they have the contract. The client-builder relationship is, therefore, immediately adversarial. An open book, cost-plus contract is one way to overcome this, but it relies on a lot of trust.

How has the pandemic influenced renovation trends and priorities?

The move away from purely open-plan living to ‘broken-plan’ room arrangements has accelerated since the pandemic. Families forced to occupy the same space during the lockdown, with working from home and homeschooling added to the day-to-day living requirements, have put pressure on space. Having separation for some activities has become highly valued, so there is a move towards retaining at least one separate, enclosed living room for TV, gaming, entertaining, etc.

Open-plan living and dining spaces are perhaps only linked to the kitchen on one side – retaining three walls and increasingly separated by informal partitions, such as double doors or sliding pocket doors, or a double-sided fireplace or stove. There has also been a significant increase in the popularity of dedicated home office/study spaces, with many homes now having two, one for each parent.

What might the future of home renovation look like?

Homes will become smarter, more secure, sustainable, healthier and more comfortable. Your home will have AI technology built into its core and it will know more about you than you know about yourself – with multiple data feeds from smart tech integrated into almost everything you touch, use or consume, from your clothing to the packaging on your food, on all appliances from white goods to your refuse bins, and even the WC and sewage treatment plant. You will be able to interact with it in ways you can’t currently even conceive of – often without knowing.

Your home will know your mood, if you are sick, injured or stressed, long before you realise yourself and will help guide your future recovery. It could help to head off health issues by encouraging you to change your daily routine, diet, sleep pattern or exercise. It may use ‘nudge theory’ to get you to change your behaviour without you even realising it through subtle environmental changes or suggestions for media content.

Connected to abundant, cheap, clean electricity and almost entirely carbon neutral, your home will be infinitely more sustainable. It will certainly adjust the temperature, humidity and lighting – with air conditioning being standard in a globally warmed UK climate – so you don’t even have to think whether you are too cold or hot.

Your home will nurture you, look after you and encourage you so you can live your best life. At the same time, in a more divided, polarised and partisan world, your home’s role in protecting you, your family and your belongings will become more important than ever.

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