Less-is-more in homebuilding
LAS VEGAS (AP) – Think of it as the shrinking American dream.
What’s out: Outdoor kitchens and fireplaces, two-story foyers and deluxe bathroom features like multiple showerheads in the master bathroom.
What’s in: Smaller homes with lots of natural light, storage and energy efficiency features that save money – and don’t cost too much.
“There’s no more ‘la-dee-da, green is wonderful,” said Calli Schmidt, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Home Builders.
The housing trends were highlighted in separate surveys conducted by the Washington-based trade association and Better Homes and Gardens released this week at the International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas, which ends today. The surveys showed there’s less appetite than in recent years for big homes decked out with high-end amenities.
Now, the mantra for many homebuyers reflects a desire to keep costs down. They want to reduce wasted space like high ceilings that drive up energy bills. They favor features like smart appliances that help cut household energy costs.
The average size of an American house shrank about 100 square feet last year to about 2,400 square feet, according to the NAHB survey. The percentage of homes with three or more bathrooms fell for the first time since 1992, while homes with four or more bedrooms declined for the third year in a row.
Builders said they’re less likely to build homes this year with outdoor kitchens, media rooms and sunrooms. The next generation of homes, builders said, are more likely to have a walk-in closet in the master bedroom, a laundry room, energy-saving windows, energy-efficient lighting and appliances, and an insulated front door.
About a quarter of 1,100 exhibitors at the Builders’ show were hawking green homebuilding products. The displays included everything from streamlined solar panels to energy-saving windows. There were water and energy-stingy appliances, as well as an array of flooring materials made from sustainable or recycled materials.
Up to a quarter of all new homes built last year received an Energy Star rating, which means they met the guidelines for energy efficiency set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That’s up from 11 percent in 2007.
Solar energy continues to be a big draw.
CertainTeed Corp. showed a new roof solar power system designed to fit flush with asphalt shingles, giving it a more streamlined look than traditional solar panels.
A similar solar energy system unveiled by Dow Chemical last year impressed Beazer Homes, which plans to use it in a test house.
“I’ve just not seen anything that thin,” said Tony Callahan, an executive with Atlanta-based Beazer Homes USA Inc.
Another company, Broan-NuTone, showcased its sunlight-powered roof fans, used to vent the hot air that builds up in an attic. A single unit can ventilate up to 1,600 square feet.
Light-emmitting diodes, or LEDs, continue to be a pricier, though longer-lasting, alternative to compact fluorescent lights. One knock against LED home fixtures is the light they produce doesn’t approach the warm, soft glow of an incandescent light bulb, but the technology is improving.
Cooper Lighting’s new Halo LED recessed lighting fixtures consume 75 percent less energy than a 65-watt incandescent light, but last 50 times longer. They also boast light that is comparable in color and reach to an incandescent light.
Many of the latest innovations were expected to be part of the New American Home, a house traditionally built in conjunction with the convention to spotlight state-of-the-art design and construction.
But in a sign of the times for the industry, the builder on the project wasn’t able to get a loan to finish the 6,078 square-foot house in Las Vegas in time for the show. The number of exhibitors was also down by a quarter.
The remodeling industry should see the worst of the downturn early this year, a report Thursday showed. Spending on renovation projects is expected to total $103.9 billion in the January-March period and rise to $110.9 billion by autumn, according to the Harvard Joint-Center for Housing Studies.
Still, pricey green products won’t be driving that recovery. Many homebuyers are eschewing energy-saving features and recycled products that don’t offer enough quick savings.
“A lot of buyers who can’t see a return in five years or seven years … it’s a struggle for them to put forth any extra money,” said John Freer, president of Riverworks Inc., a green custom home builder in Missoula, Mont.