annie v. schwemmer
Steam showers are one of the up-and-coming trends.

At this time of year the design community starts the trend talk, discussing home-remodeling trends they foresee for the coming year. Most trends are dictated by consumer priorities, lifestyles and the economy — in other words: demand.

Other trends are more about the aesthetics of a home. These trends are usually more short-lived and somewhat seasonal. They come and go like fashion trends for clothing.

If you are planning a remodel this year and you like the trends of the season, by all means include them as design options for your project. We are not opposed to considering bronze bathroom fixtures because that is what "they" say is in style right now. However, we suggest that your final choice be based on your personal preferences and what goes with your home style than just going with the trend of the year.

Also remember that the more permanent an item is (tile, plumbing fixtures, etc.), the more "timeless" it should be. Trends are best expressed in ways that can be easily changed, such as paint, rugs and accessories such as pillows and lamps.

That said, there are some interesting trends the design community is chatting about for 2012. Some of the more interesting trends we found are definitely green.

One of the top trends for 2012 is trading out carpet for bare flooring. More of our clients are opting for laminate flooring, cork, hardwood or tile in place of carpet. For the environmentally conscious, there are many flooring options made of recycled and environmentally friendly materials. For instance, cork offers a resilient alternative to traditional carpet and hardwood floors. It is a product of trees that can live for 500 years, and the material used for cork flooring is actually the bark of the tree, which is naturally shed every nine to 15 years. Thus, no trees are sacrificed for this material. Another recycled flooring material is a recycled paper tile that resembles natural slate. Made from recycled FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified paper, it looks and feels like slate. In fact, the manufacturer, Straw, Sticks & Bricks, claims it is warmer, stronger and more environmentally friendly than real quarried slate.

With the bare flooring trend comes a campaign to include radiant heating throughout the house. While a true hydronic system requires a boiler and extensive retrofitting, electric mat heating can be easily installed while you are changing the flooring anyway. This usually does not replace your forced air system but adds some comfort and ambiance by taking the chill off hard-surfaced floors.

Another green trend is an uptick for solar thermal systems — not only solar water heaters, but also solar energy generators that use advanced technology to directly convert sunlight into electricity. This type of system will lower electrical bills and reduce carbon emissions, leaving homeowners eligible for a Federal Tax Credit. The tax credit is 30 percent of the cost of a renewable energy system (it works for both photovoltaic and solar thermal, along with small wind and geothermal heat pumps).

The 30 percent credit includes all cost of labor, as well as equipment costs for the renewable energy system. The credit can also be carried forward to future tax years if you cannot take the full credit in the year the system was installed. This tax credit doesn't expire until 2016, so there is still time to get paid back to go solar.

Over the past 20 years, solar electricity generation technologies have grown by leaps and bounds, registering annual growth rates between 25 percent and 41 percent. While the cost of such systems has fallen by 80 percent, the payback period for solar systems is still fairly long. However, coupling the more attractive cost of the initial installation with the potential for future skyrocketing energy costs may create the perfect storm to launch the solar power movement of 2012.

Technology of all kinds is not slowing down for home improvement trends. Developers are coming up with more wireless home-monitoring systems that allow homeowners to control their lights, appliances, TV and stereos, thermostats and security systems from anywhere that has Internet access. Think pre-heating the oven from your smart phone! The idea is to virtually control your energy use and create a more energy-efficient home.

Other current trends are not necessarily new but are still worth mentioning. Designers foresee a rekindled demand for steam showers, soaker tubs, mud rooms, universal designs and open floor plans. Plans for outdoor living space and four-season pools were also on the rise on a national level for 2012.

Color therapy LED bath lighting is another trend to watch for in 2012. This trend has designers using colored lighting to create desired moods. For example, blue light is the source of true relaxation, calming in stressful times and indulgent to the senses. Red, on the other hand, stimulates and rejuvenates, creating a mood of excitement and activates circulation.

As for paint and wall colors, the trend for 2012 is moving from flashy colors to warm, earth tones inspired by nature.

Overall, we can see the theme for 2012 is creating a more comfortable, energy-efficient living space, foregoing excess and embracing sustainable designs that will shrink our carbon footprint.

We can't wait to see how it all turns out!

www.renovationdesigngroup.com, a local design firm specializing in home remodels.