Old houses, new trends at Industry Summit

A tip from Kevin O'Connor, co-host of 'This Old House': Tree houses are not trending

ProDealer Industry Summit keynote speaker Kevin O'Connor.

Charleston, S.C. — Kevin O'Connor stepped into his role as keynote speaker at the 2016 ProDealer Industry Summit with the same folksy charm he brings to his role on television as the host of "This Old House," the nation's longest-running home improvement show.

And he brought with him observations about what has been happening in the home renovation world, as well as what's not happening.

For instance — despite what you might have seen across the spectrum of television home show entertainment — tree houses and tiny homes aren't very popular.

And O'Connor added: "People doing the work renovating houses are generally not good looking twins, or women in tank tops. They are people who look like you in a lot of flannel."

Having debunked those home industry concepts, O'Connor shared building industry observations from his 13 years on the show bolstered by research on home trends.

Size of the house is steadily growing. "We found people want their house to be as big as they can afford." He pointed to statistics showing the average American home measured about 1,000 sq. ft. in 1950, and jumped to 2,300 sq. ft. in 2000. And despite some give and take, the figure has generally increased since then.

On the topic of prefabricated or "modular," O'Connor said they have certain advantages over traditional building. But on the whole, the concept doesn't rank as a trend, he said. Rather, the vast majority of home building remains and probably will remain an exercise among small groups of tradesmen at a job site. At the same time, the concept of prefabricated components — long popular in the form of pre-hung doors and windows — is spreading to other areas of the house. The idea is to relieve the contractor of extra steps or simplify the on-site tasks.

And in response to a question from the audience about computer hacks on smart home devices, O'Connor said connectivity will increase regardless: "Connectivity's benefits will outweigh the negative. And I don't think there's a way to put the genie back in the bottle."

Other observations from the co-host of "This Old House":

  • Home owners desire white kitchens. "We're almost always installing a white kitchen cabinet, unless the designer talks the homeowner out of it."
  • Islands are the new king of the kitchen.
  • While renovations usually start with the kitchen, pantries and mud rooms are the two most requested rooms.
  • There is huge and growing emphasis in shower upgrades.
  • Rustic and reclaimed is a big trend — think barn doors. It's rare for an entire house to adopt this style. One layer, or one spot, is usually all it takes.
  • PVC, composites and fibers as alternatives to wood are gaining acceptance from homeowners. All new houses have at least some of these materials, he said.
  • Energy efficiency is coming to the American home by code, not by consumer choice. And while green building makes a great story for the media, the actual adoption is not there. "Does it exist? Yes. Is it a trend? I would argue no," he said.
  • Along those lines, O'Connor cautioned against taking to heart what is being broadcast across the explosion of home improvement entertainment shows.

"We tell people things that are new and exciting, and sometimes they are new and exciting only to us," he said.

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