Low maintenance and high-technology are two features that appeal to many homeowners. Across the country, real estate trends are moving in this direction, and those who are interested in renovations may focus on energy-efficient, affordable upgrades. 

For anyone performing home improvements, a property inspection can be a valuable asset. A licensed professional can offer insight into a number of problems and help ensure that a house is in great condition. Homeowners planning changes may want to look at cost-effective strategies to both spruce up a house and save money in the long run.

Housing rebound changes real estate preferences

Home improvement trends change quite often. Over the years, popular items ranged from wood paneling to laminate floors, but today's owners have different things in mind. According to a recent survey by the American Institute of Architects, specialty rooms, new systems and technologies are highly popular -  all with an emphasis on energy efficiency. 

Homeowners may want to capitalize on these trends, since popular upgrades could boost the house's value and make it easier to sell when the time comes. Also, a home inspection can point out areas that need work, possibly spurring on a new project.

"High demand for systems and technologies in the home that helps to lower utility bills and promote sustainability continue to rule the day in residential design," said Kermit Baker, the chief economist for AIA. "But as economic conditions have improved, there has also been a resurgence in the preference for dedicated 'special function' rooms within the home."

Special function rooms can be defined in several ways. The most popular type for homeowners in 2013 was the outdoor living space, based on the survey results. Out of the architecture firms questioned, 29 percent noted that this room was the most popular. Also high on the list were mud rooms, home offices and au pair or in-law suites.

In addition, homeowners enjoy energy-efficient upgrades. A property inspection could find locations around the house that might need a boost in this regard.

Ways to save money on monthly bills

As more people look toward cost-effective design strategies for their houses, other owners may want to take advantage of these same features in their own properties. These may cost more at the beginning, but the savings could add up as time passes.

Homeowners have a number of options when it comes to renovations, improvements and design features. According to Michael Camacho, in an article for Pacific Daily News, energy-efficient windows can be a great place to start. Many have multiple panes of glass to help control the heat, and most come with a performance rating to assist consumers with the decision-making process.

Moreover, an air conditioning system may be a source of wasted energy. Camacho noted that window units are the least efficient, but they have the lowest cost to install. They also provide users with flexibility - individual air conditioners can cool specific rooms. On the other hand, central air is eco-friendly, but costs more to put in place. 

Thankfully for homeowners, the options don't end there. A home inspection could help locate problems with these types of systems, and offer solutions to improve efficiency and possibly save money. Also, residents could look to renewable energy sources as another means to cut costs.

Camacho explained that recently, the price for solar panels has been on the way down. While still slightly expensive, solar panels often start to pay for themselves as soon as they're installed, and monthly bills will start to decrease. Solar water heaters and wind power are also possibilities, and property owners should explore all of their options before starting a home improvement project.