Weekly Home Help with new trends in the 2012 housing industry, 'connected appliances' debuted at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show and more.

A significant shift in consumer preference in new-home purchases is the latest by-product of the still-struggling economy: the residential construction market is shrinking, and so are houses.


Homebuilders expect newly constructed single-family homes to average just 2,150 square feet by 2015. That's 10 percent smaller than previously estimated, according to the National Association of Home Builders, which conducted the survey.


To maintain this compact size, luxuries will be out and practicality will be in. Formal living rooms are going by the wayside, NAHB says, making way for smarter, multi-function layouts. What we'll see more of: eat-in kitchens that eliminate the need for a separate dining room, and great rooms that can accommodate entertainment as well as office space.


Keep the following tips in mind if you're thinking of investing in an addition or a significant remodel:


* Select a professional contractor with experience, knowledge of local codes and a good reputation for quality work, says the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, which calls this the single most important step in your project.


* Before you finalize your remodel decisions, research the improvements that will likely bring you the highest return on your investment. A minor kitchen remodel should return more than 70 percent of its cost at resale, according to the 2010-2011 Remodeling Magazine Cost vs. Value Report. Adding a bathroom pays back more than 53 percent.


* During the latest housing boom, remodels were all about big and bold. Now there is less emphasis on luxury and more on practicality. Take advantage of that trend, and you'll make your home more competitive at resale, and your dollars will stretch a lot further.


-- ARA


Decorating Tip: Treat your feet to warmth


Textile designer Khristian Howell says, "Put your feet first. A dramatic and easy way to change things up in a room is by bringing in a great rug. Sheepskin rugs are so wonderful for the winter months. They feel wonderful underfoot and bring lots of warmth into the room while keeping a light, airy feeling."


-- HGTV/ Scripps Howard News Service


Home-Selling Tip: Research before remodeling


The right remodel may sell a house quicker, but it is important to research which ones will give you the most return in value. For example, according to Remodeling magazine, a mid-range attic bedroom is expected to return 72.5 percent of costs upon resale in 2012, while a minor kitchen remodel may return up to 72.1 percent of costs and a wood deck addition up to 70.1 percent.


-- National Association of Realtors


Going Green: Solar-powered Kindle cover


A company called SolarFocus, specializing in portable solar-charging solutions, unveiled a solar-powered cover for the Amazon Kindle at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show. Simply put on the light, flexible cover, and it will charge your Kindle as well a built-in reading lamp. It’s called the SolarKindle Lighted Cover, and it costs $79.99. 


-- Earth911.com


Did You Know …


Nationally, the average cost for a minor kitchen remodel is just under $20,000 and is the least expensive way to give an existing kitchen a complete facelift. – Realtor.org


New Product: WiFi-connected appliances


Samsung and LG were doing their parts to represent the home improvement section of the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, most notably with the "impending release of a horde of 'connected appliances,'" meaning all major appliances in a home that can communicate with each other via WiFi, according to Consumer Reporters' Electronics Blog. Things to look for in the future: controlling the washer and dryer cycles from your smartphone, streaming TV from the fridge's front LCD monitor and setting the temperature on your oven from the same monitor.  


Garden Guide: Create your own Chia Pet


A fun project for children is to create a head of green hair on an upside-down flowerpot. For this project, you will need a clay flowerpot, dish, colored crayons, grass seed and soil.


Turn the flowerpot upside down, and draw a face on one side with the crayons. Place the flowerpot in the dish. Put a thin layer of soil on the top of the pot, and cover it with grass seeds, pressing them gently in place. Keep the dish under the flowerpot filled with water. The water will soak up through the porous pot, and the grass will grow longer and longer on top of the "head." Don't forget to give it a haircut now and then!


-- University of Illinois Extension


GateHouse News Service