Building a new home is a process filled to the brim with important decisions.
So before you start, it might be worthwhile to consider the things other people are thinking about as they build their new homes – nationally and locally.
New home sales are on the rise in 2012, according to data from the National Association of Home Builders, growing 14.6 percent in the Midwest in June. CityScene, with help from local custom builders Truberry Custom Homes and Bob Webb Group, took a look at the new trends in home-building and explored some of the biggest ones.
Energy efficient features are enjoying great popularity due to the cost savings they can effect over time, says Stephen Melman, director of economic services at NAHB.
Low-emissivity windows to keep heat from escaping are one such feature, and while the expense of top-of-the-line windows with argon gas fills intimidates some, windows with metallic coverings are almost as good and much less expensive. A high-quality thermostat is another inexpensive tool for keeping energy costs down.
“That’s an investment in terms of hundreds of dollars, not thousands, that can really make a difference,” Melman says.
In addition to using 90-percent efficient furnaces, Bob Webb springs for double-thermopane, low-emissivity windows with argon gas fills to keep its buyers’ energy costs down.
“Low (emissivity) filters out a lot of that sunlight coming through,” says Neil Rogers, vice president at Webb.
Energy Star-certified appliances, proper insulation and energy-efficient doors are other opportunities for reducing energy bills. If kept simple and not overly confusing to the homeowner, an energy management system to monitor and manage electricity use can be another cost-saver, as can multiple heating and cooling zones to avoid wasting electricity in floors, or even rooms, that are unoccupied at a given time.
Truberry is well aware of the popularity of energy efficiency and works to make sure its homes are tighter than ever, says Scott Shively, company president.
“At Truberry, we currently use a Dow board that insulates the home so well, an infrared camera will only pick up window openings,” Shively says.
Everyone’s a chef these days.
Gourmet kitchens have enjoyed great popularity lately, Melman says, along with accessories like double sinks and walk-in pantries. Granite countertops are still beloved by buyers, but some are going for more advanced materials such as synthetic concrete and limestone.
“Even if somebody isn’t a gourmet cook, they want to have a gourmet kitchen,” he says.
Truberry has been seeing a good deal of demand for kitchen accessories that have only recently become in vogue.
“We are seeing more and more well-designed convenience items like beverage centers, interesting second sinks like vessels, creative exhaust hoods, larger-than-life ranges with five and six burners, and more storage space than ever before,” Shively says.
Many Webb customers have preferred slide-in ranges with an oven underneath and a gas range on top, Rogers says. Cabinets have also been a focus of buyers; white and off-white were popular for years, but that’s starting to change.
“Now it’s come back to wood cabinets again – a lot of cherry,” says Rogers.
Melman has seen big gains for nine-foot ceilings – they used to be an option, he says, but are now becoming fairly standard.
Ten-foot ceilings have been most popular for Truberry, thanks to buyers’ desire for energy efficiency and more intimate spaces. Multi-level and soaring ceilings still enjoy some demand, but 10-foot ceilings are the trend.
“Ten-foot ceilings are now more popular than cathedral ceilings in custom homes,” Shively says.
At Webb, customers have shown interest in raising ceilings on the first and second floors.
“We’re starting to do a lot more with 10-foot ceilings on the first floor and nine-foot ceilings on the second floor … and that really opens the house up,” Rogers says.
Ample storage has long been a priority for homeowners, but the trend lately hasn’t been “more” – it’s been “better.”
Smart storage is all the rage for keeping the household efficient and uncluttered, Melman says. Walk-in pantries, walk-in closets and second-floor linen closets are all popular, and home buyers want them to be designed for maximum storage without taking space away from other parts of the house. In larger bathrooms, Melman and his colleagues have seen some demand for granite countertops with storage to create mini linen closets.
“You can have a walk-in closet with a lot of space and have it done efficiently,” Melman says.
Truberry’s customers have tended to favor convenience centers and mud rooms regardless of family size.
“Everyone appreciates a place near the garage to quickly drop their stuff, hang their coat, dump their shoes and charge their phone,” says Shively.
Lighting is on the mind of every home builder and home buyer thanks to government mandates on energy efficiency, but there’s more to keep in mind than regulations.
There are many ways lighting can improve the look of an area – fluorescent lighting in basement and work areas is cheap and long-running, while LED lighting is expensive at first but saves money in the long run. The right lights can bring out the best in woods and paints, and proper exterior lighting under a tree or bush can make the whole yard look better.
“There’s no reason why you can’t design (lighting) to use all the assets,” Melman says.
Indoors, can lighting is a big item for Webb buyers – especially in the kitchen, but in plenty of other areas as well. Over- and under-cabinet lighting in the kitchen has seen some increases lately, as have puck lights in cabinets with glass fronts. Buyers often wait on exterior lighting until they’ve figured out the landscaping, but in the end, many of them decide to go with it.
“I have it on my house and I love it,” Rogers says. “I wouldn’t do it any other way.”
Porches and Patios
On a national level, porches are very popular, particularly L-shaped ones that wrap around two sides of a house.
Porch accessories with some prominence to them now include ceiling fans and screening for mosquito problems, Melman says.
Truberry buyers are big fans of porches, though Webb customers have tended more toward patios, which are less expensive.
“Now everybody’s going (with) paver patios, and they’ll tie it into their landscaping,” Rogers says.
Among the biggest outdoor accessories of the moment are outdoor grills, fire pits and fireplaces, which have surged ahead of outdoor kitchens in popularity. At Webb, some buyers have opted for two-foot walls of pavers around a fire pit to give the area a cozy feeling.
Still, almost as popular is the porch dedicated primarily to comfort, Shively says.
“Covered space off the back of the house filled with comfortable seating and a flat-screen TV is beginning to rival the fire pit trend,” he says.
Though the fireplace trend has cooled somewhat at the national level, it’s still going strong in central Ohio.
“I can’t remember one house we’ve built without a fireplace,” Rogers says.
Direct-vent fireplaces are the way to go right now – they’re easier to deal with, Rogers says, and they have a striking appearance when done right, says Shively.
“Our new fireplace format is the wide-view direct vent with a stone surround and one dramatic line of fire,” Shively says.
Alongside fireplaces, Webb customers have shown preferences for built-in mantles above them, often with big-screen TVs above those so the TV can be seen from the kitchen, Rogers says.
Garth Bishop is editor of CityScene Magazine. Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.