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The most popular home improvements right now

Super sheds and gorgeous gardens or spa-like bathrooms and chef-style kitchens. What are the top improvements Brits are making right now?

Words by: Nic Hopkirk

Senior Editor

Planning applications for home improvements shot up by 25% between 2019 and 2021, as the pandemic fundamentally changed how people value their homes, alongside their relationship with them. 

The latest Home Improvement Report for 2022 published by Barbour ABI reveals how Covid - and the successive lockdowns that came with it - sparked an exceptional desire across the UK to invest more in our homes. 

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Barbour’s report also revealed what types of home improvements the nation got busy undertaking. 

Let’s take a look at the top three.

 1: Gardens, terraces and super sheds

With nowhere to go, homeowners started focusing a lot more on their outside spaces in 2020-21. 

Keen to make better use of their gardens - and free up more space in general - households made 25% more applications for landscaping works in 2021 than they did in 2019. 

In that same period, applications for garden buildings and works went up by 45%, as sales of timber and joinery rose by over 40%.

With the daily commute out of the question, home offices were springing up in gardens across the land.

Meanwhile in cities, applications for roof terraces went up by almost 50%, showing the desire to improve outside space spanned across multiple property types.

2: Improvements to energy efficiency

Climate change and rising fuel bills prompted homeowners to find ways of making their homes more resilient to shifts in the environment. 

Households began looking to protect their homes against extreme weather conditions, such as flooding and heatwaves, while also making them more energy efficient. 

Many households began combining energy efficiency upgrades with other improvements to make the construction work on their homes more cost effective.

The drive in energy efficiency measures was further sparked by working from home, which led to greater energy consumption within the home. 

Applications rose by 50% for projects involving insulation and 66% for projects involving solar panels.

Going forward, reducing energy consumption is likely to be a growing factor in the future of  home improvements, as energy ratings become a growing part of the home sales market.

3: Home offices

The huge rise in planning applications for home offices, admittedly from a low base, demonstrates how the pandemic sparked a need and desire to create more workspace at home. 

Applications for home offices rose by 250% between 2019 and 2021.

Largely seen through increases in applications for extensions, loft conversions and garage conversions, applications for home offices - or spare bedrooms that might double as a home office - rose dramatically as work places closed down.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, three quarters of home office applications came from the more affluent parts of the UK, particularly rural areas favoured by commuters.

Planning applications in rural vs urban areas

Applications for loft conversions and basements were more widely seen in urban areas, while applications for garden buildings and home offices were more typically seen in rural settings.

The data for planning applications across the UK shows that private homes in rural areas are more likely to be improved than those in urban areas.

And areas rich in 'ageing rural dwellers' are among the most likely to put in applications for home improvement, largely because this sector of the population has more disposable income.

Equally, households in suburban areas account for 29% of all planning applications.

Will my application get the go ahead?

Just 10% of home improvement applications tend to be refused, with 85% or so approved and a further 5% withdrawn. 

Interestingly, the proportion of refused applications rises in areas where house prices are higher. 

This suggests that people may be putting in more ambitious plans because the gains are more attractive where house prices are higher.

We’re spending more on our homes than ever before

Brian Green, author of Barbour’s Home Improvement Report for 2022, says: “Given the price of housing in the UK, and indeed globally, two years ago for many people it may have seemed hard to imagine that we could spend an even bigger share of our income on our home than we already were.

“But allocating ever more of our income to housing has a long history.

“Before the 1980s the average British adult was likely to spend more on 'fags and booze' than housing. 

“Indeed, before the 1960s people spent more on clothing than housing, which seems hard to accept when we look at the tattered clothing worn in black and white footage of the period.

“But as the relative price of staples like food, fuel, and clothing fell, helped by cheap imports, this left households more able to spend on housing.

“They did and, unsurprisingly, house prices have risen hugely as demand increased and combined with a very different set of social, economic, and regulatory circumstances.”

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