Tuesday, April 5, 2011

New Homes in 2015 Will Be Smaller, With a Touch of Green

By: Stephani L. Miller

Architects and builders think new homes will continue to shrink under the driving forces of demographic shifts and other influences.

According to a recently released survey by the NAHB, residential architects and designers, home builders, and others involved in the new home construction sector believe that the home shrinkage phenomenon of the recession years won't be reversing as the economy regains steam, but is actually here to stay. The sentiment among the majority of respondents to the NAHB's "The New Home in 2015" survey is that the average new home will continue to shrink by as much as an additional 10 percent—to about 2,152 square feet—by mid-decade.

Smaller footprints and greener features ranked at the top of the trend list among survey respondents, with 74 percent saying homes will get smaller and 68 percent saying homes will get greener in 2015—far surpassing the other trends the survey evaluated: more technology (29 percent), greater accessibility (20 percent), and more outdoor living features (10 percent).

It's interesting to note, however, that the green features cited as most likely to be included in new homes in 2015 are largely the most cost-effective methods for achieving energy and resource efficiency. Survey respondents indicated that low-E windows, engineered wood components (joists, beams, and trusses), water-efficient fixtures, and Energy Star Home ratings are likely features.

"According to our experts, consumers are really looking to reduce their energy costs. When they say 'green' that's what they mean: reducing the cost of heating, cooling, and running their house," says Rose Quint, assistant vice president for survey research, NAHB Economics and Housing Policy. Because other, potentially higher-performing energy-saving features cost more up front and have longer payback periods, and because mortgage financing is still so tight, many of the other features that would increase the green quotient of a new home fall further down on consumer wish lists, according to respondents.

It's not just economics and energy costs driving the size reduction in new homes, the survey found. Consumer expectations and preferences also are shifting. Homes no longer hold the equity they once did, and homeowners no longer view their residence as an investment that will fund their retirement or help them upgrade to a larger home, according to Quint. Also a driving force toward smaller houses is the population of aging baby boomers seeking to downsize.

As earlier housing trend reports have indicated, the NAHB survey found that single-purpose or special-function rooms (media and hobby rooms, mudrooms, dining rooms) are far less likely to be included in the new homes of 2015. The great room is again on the rise, combining a house's main living and entertaining space, workspace, and cooking/eating space. It was ranked the most likely room to be included in the average new home in 2015. The only area deemed likely to grow in the next five years, according to the survey, is the family room. Fifty-two percent of survey respondents said the living room will merge with other spaces, while 30 percent said it will vanish altogether.

"People have become more realistic about their needs, and they're going to base their purchases on needs rather than wants and lifestyle preferences," Quint says. "A house becomes less expensive when you take away walls and combine multiple living spaces into one room. It also allows for a sense of greater volume within a shrunken footprint."

Interestingly, while more universal design features were deemed only somewhat likely to be included, survey respondents' comments indicated that accessibility will be planned for in more subtle ways than creating a house that's fully accessible at time of sale. Rather, the infrastructure to ease future accessibility retrofits and renovations will be provided in new homes of 2015—which incidentally will play an increasingly important role in the remodeling industry.

Read more findings from "The New Home in 2015" report on HousingEconomics.com.

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