Fewer people are buying new homes these days, opting instead to do home renovations - you know, just to spice things up a little. Maybe you turn your bathroom into a high-tech spa or get some smart appliances in the kitchen. Maybe you do some green upgrades or maybe you do something purely for luxury.
So, what's the new rain showerhead, the new infinity pool? We talked to contractors, designers and developers all over the country and here are the Coolest Home Upgrades.
A water feature with fire shooting out of the middle can instantly remind you of that Hawaiian vacation (maybe pump some hula music into the outdoor speakers) or just ensure that you not only keep up with the Joneses but knock their socks off when they come over for a barbeque.
They can be rectangular trough-like structures with broken glass in the middle where the fire shoots out, or circular like this one in the picture at left. They can be freestanding, attached to a pool or create a big ridge of fire in a stoned wall. Have a seat because you can control it all by remote control!
OK, who wants toasted marshmallows?
3. HOME GOLF SIMULATOR - Golfers have been practicing their swing at home for years but not quite like this - a floor-to-ceiling golf simulator with a massive screen to let you "play" on some of the coolest courses in the world from Hawaii to England.
A golf simulator like the one from Trugolf at left is the ultimate addition to your game room next to the pool table and pinball machine.
Not only do you really feel like you're on the course but it helps you with your game, with sonic ball-tracking sensors and a program that gives you valuable feedback on your swing. They run from $20,000 to $60,000 or more.
She winds up the swing, good form and... Four!
4. GLASS ROOMS ON THE PATIO - Outdoor patios with full kitchens are getting even huger these days, with some nearing 10,000 square feet, said Stephann Cotton, owner of the real-estate sales and marketing firm Cotton & Co.
They've got the Rolls Royce of grills, outdoor wine fridges, fireplaces, sweeping views -- you name it. But guess what else they've got? Bugs.
Cotton said his high-end clients with penthouses in Boca Raton, Fla., are increasingly asking for these glass structures, out at the end of the patio where the best views are. They're turning them into everything from outdoor dining areas and zen gardens to man caves and music studios.
A four-sided glass structure means there aren't just northern views or southern views, Cotton says, there are north, south, east and west views!
5. EXOTIC LANDSCAPE LIGHTING - So you've got spotlights and those little solar path lights but this is taking your backyard to the next level and doing exotic landscape lighting.
Maybe it's uplighting on the palm trees, Cotton explained, or in the waterfall that spills over into the pool.
The cool thing is, Cotton said, you can even use solar lights - so it won't cost you an arm and a leg in electricity! Take a solar light, put it in a spotlight and turn it upside down shooting up into your landscaping or water feature like a fountain or koi pond.
"Landscape lighting in the water is fairly easy to do," Cotton said. "You get that constant reflection - It's very romantic mood light. It produces a romantic and flickering light - just like a fire does." ...
6. MASTER CONTROL FOR ENERGY CONSUMPTION - You know you can control your entire house now from a laptop, iPhone or iPad. Everything from the lights and thermostat to the stereo - and even the pool. Here's taking it to the next level - a master control for energy consumption.
"This is very, very new - people are just experimenting with it," said Ron Rimawi, who co-owns Digital Interiors in Atlanta. "It helps make you more aware and more conscious of your energy usage, so you don't waste energy."
Basically, they're small digital panels that connect with the utilities and track various appliances and systems in your home. They can tell you everything from your usage to the temperature and how much it's all costing you!
"We have long held the belief that the promise of the Smart Grid can only be realized if the consumer is front-and-center in the design of demand-response systems," said Control4, which makes the master control for energy consumption pictured at right.