Comfort, health and safety are very much on the minds of American homeowners.

An extensive survey of homeowners conducted by Honeywell Inc. shows that an overwhelming number of Americans - some 91 percent - are satisfied with their homes. Yet, when asked what bothered them the most about their houses, these same homeowners were quick to offer their complaints.

When the responses were tabulated, the most frequent answers were rendered into a David Letterman-style list, the "Top 10 Home Pet Peeves" (at right). The results of this question provide an interesting glimpse into the mind of today's homeowner, with implications that should be of interest to anyone in the contracting field.

Pet Peeves

Several of the top 10 complaints centered on air temperature and air quality. Inconsistent temperature - between rooms, levels or times of day - was the No. 1 complaint. Dust, pet hair and allergens came in at No. 2, and dry air in the house emerged as No. 4 on the list. Stuffy rooms also made the top 10, making four of the top 10 complaints directly related to air temperature or air quality.

Seen from the PHC contractor's perspective, the list could be read as an implicit indictment of today's forced-air heating systems, with obvious benefits for those contractors marketing hydronic and radiant alternatives.

A closer look at the list of pet peeves should provide clues to current and future remodeling and construction trends. Taken individually, the complaints show specific problems that today's homeowner would like most to address. Yet at the same time, the list of pet peeves shows that homeowners have the same basic concerns - for comfort, health, safety and cost - that they have always had.

An Overview

The Honeywell survey was conducted by telephone in August and September 1999, with more than 1,000 homeowners interviewed. The margin of error is I3 percent. For the most part, survey respondents were pleased with their homes, with 50 percent of the respondents indicating they were "very satisfied" with their current homes, and another 41 percent stating they were "satisfied." Almost nine of 10 homeowners agreed that their homes were a reflection of their personalities, and three out of four intended to stay in their homes for at least another five years.

The implications for remodeling are evident: Homeowners are staying put and looking to update and improve their homes. When asked to envision the "house of the future" in the year 2020, nine out of 10 responded that it would be similar to their current houses, with some upgraded components. Three out of four also asserted that their houses were not too old to update, and seven out of 10 expressed an interest in modernizing their homes.

Despite overall satisfaction, homeowners in the survey were not shy about listing problems they have with their houses. While a few responded with answers such as "It's not paid for," "My neighbor is a pain" and "I wish someone would clean it" - most concerns centered on key issues of comfort, health and safety, with cost as an underlying factor.

Comfort, Health and Safety

Indoor temperatures jump out as the primary concern of homeowners in the survey. Temperature fluctuation and variation was the No. 1 complaint - be it between rooms, levels of the house or different times of day. Humidity levels were another comfort concern with dry air, window condensation and damp basements all in the top 10.

Household odors also cracked the top 10 list. With Americans spending about 90 percent of their time indoors and 65 percent of that time at home, according to the survey, it is no surprise that indoor comfort and air quality are major concerns. And this is a demand that contractors offering temperature zoning systems and hydronic heating can fulfill. Health matters also are evident in the survey: Dust, pet hair and allergens combined to place No. 2 in the survey. Increased awareness of the effect of air quality on such ailments as asthma and allergies is good news for those selling air filtration systems - as well as those providing alternatives to conventional forced-air heating, such as radiant technology and baseboard heat.

Safety was also a key concern, with home security from burglary the No. 8 complaint. As for fire safety, while 98 percent of those responding to the survey owned a smoke detector, other safety devices, such as indoor fire sprinklers, were far less common, owned by one in 20. Seventy percent of survey respondents professed interest in a system that could notify them remotely of water or gas leaks or freezing pipes.

The Bottom Line

In all of these areas, survey respondents weighed cost as a factor. After all, "high utility bills" was the No. 3 pet peeve. Contractors with an eye toward installing new systems should pay particular attention to the impact on customers' monthly utility bills. Homeowners in the survey listed lower energy costs as the most important advantage of any new technology, followed by safety and health concerns and simplifying their lives.

For a copy of the survey contact the Honeywell "Your Home Expert" Web site at