Whether it’s the form, function, or aesthetic of their home, Americans would do well to take a look at what’s going on in international communities. From adding a distinctive flavor to your home to reducing your monthly utility expenses, people in other parts of the world have developed innovative solutions over the past year and previous centuries. Take a look at these three areas of home improvements and whether it’s time for you to import one of these international innovations.
Home Heating Costs: Latin-American Tankless Water Heaters
In truth, tankless water heaters are the dominant form of hot water in most places outside of the U.S., but a lack of reliability in the public water supply makes tankless water heating particularly popular in Latin-America. Of course, tankless water heaters are becoming more common in the U.S., as energy conservation becomes a bigger and bigger issue. Most of these new systems, however, are designed to provide hot water to the entire home and can cost quite a bit to install. Latin-American homeowners get around this issue by installing an electric shower head that heats the water as it comes out of your shower head. Rather than installing an expensive tankless water heating system, you can simply turn down your hot water tank to a minimal temperature for the rest of your home. This type of low-cost alternative is sure to be the sort of thing that more and more Americans look at, as they try to scale back their monthly expenses.
Most electric showerheads cost less than a $100 and use 50 percent less energy to heat your water. On the home improvement front, homeowner demand for tankless water heating systems has increased by more than 50 percent, according to ServiceMagic, leading online resource connecting homeowners and home improvement contractors.
Home Exteriors and Interiors: European and Middle Eastern Tiles
One of the very first home improvement imports was the clay-tile roofs European settlers brought with them. Further back, tile roofs are present in early Greek civilization, nearly 2,500 years ago. While roofing tiles have since expanded into slate, metal, even concrete, almost every form of tiled roofing has demonstrably better performance than conventional asphalt shingling. Most of these high-quality roofing materials will last 50 years or more, while asphalt may be good for only about a dozen or so years. Thus, though you may pay two to three times as much for your roofing installation for roofing tile, it remains one of the most cost-effective upgrades in the home improvement industry.
Meanwhile, decorative tiles, one of the hallmarks of Middle Eastern and Islamic art, are another part of the ubiquity of residential tile. Whether it’s a kitchen backsplash, a decorative accent for the dining room ceiling, a way to spruce up a bathroom shower, or to create dynamic borders for your flooring, decorative tiles and mosaics are a handy, underutilized home fashion. Indeed, with the most recent, drab decorating trends behind us, a renewed interest in vibrant colors would do good to look at this Middle Eastern tradition.
Tile installation of almost every kind is holding steady or experiencing growth in the residential sector, according to ServiceMagic. The tile project showing the fastest growth is glass tiles and blocks with an increase of more than 30 percent in homeowner demand from last year.
Home Design: The Chinese Courtyard
The Chinese courtyard residence, or siheyuan, is nearly 3,000 years old, but the principle and appeal remain alive today throughout the world. Popular in sunny climates in the western half of the U.S., you’ll probably never see outdoor entertainment areas in the same way with a residential courtyard. Meanwhile, American isolationism has hampered the architectural possibilities. Fighting over fences, hedges, and property lines is a pretty far cry from sharing a wall with a neighboring siheyuan. In many neighborhoods, many siheyuan are built adjacent to one another to form alleyways, known as hutongs. These walkways, however, aren’t so dissimilar from backyard walking paths. Here, too, is an interesting landscaping possibility, as Chinese neighborhoods frequently have ornate gates that mark the entrance to a hutong.
U.S. Home Improvement Exports
It’s a well-established fact that the number one U.S. export is pop-culture in the form of movies, music, TV, etc, but this is far from the only thing. Home builders are taking their business overseas, building American-style suburban homes in northern Iraq. Indeed, American infrastructure isn’t so much a national commodity as it is an international one. In fact, this past year, the Department of Commerce reported that amongst our 14 free trade partners, the U.S. was actually running a $2.7 billion trade surplus for manufacturing exports during the first five months of the year.
Recent cries for protectionism aside, it’s hard to doubt that international trade is still the driving force of a continuously developing global economy. As a homeowner, if you ignore international trends and innovations, you’re likely to be left behind the curve, whether it’s maintaining a sustainable, cost-effective home or displaying a bold, appealing home interior.