Buck Wargo is a real estate reporter and writer based in Las Vegas.
A Vision for the Greenest Homes Ever
This year’s New American Home, an annual concept build at the International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas, reflects the most technologically advanced methods of achieving energy efficiency.
February 20, 2020
It’s not new-fangled gadgetry that makes the New American Home, a model reflecting the latest in construction and design standards, so cutting-edge. The 6,428-square-foot, five-bedroom property, which was unveiled at January’s International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas, doesn’t spare technology—check out the “transitional” outdoor entertainment space with a custom fireplace and “vanishing edge” pool. But it’s the multitude of ways the home slashes energy costs that’s most noteworthy.
Located in Henderson, Nev., overlooking the Las Vegas skyline, the home was constructed using the industry’s most advanced building products and techniques to optimize energy efficiency, according to the National Association of Home Builders. The property is expected to achieve LEED Emerald-level status—the National Green Building Standard’s highest efficiency rating.
The home features spray-foam insulation, high-quality solar panels, automated LED lighting and green appliances, and the most energy-efficient doors and windows, according to Drew Smith, a Florida energy and green building consultant who worked on the project. While the average new home has a HERS rating of 100, the New American Home scored –16. “That’s tied for the lowest for a New American Home,” Smith says. “Solar made a difference. Without it, [the home’s HERS rating] was 49. And for a house that large, that’s the lowest HERS index we have ever seen. The calculated energy savings is about $4,000 a year because of the solar and total design of the home.”
The building standards of the project reflect how home builders across the country are prioritizing high-performance construction practices, NAHB officials say. A new study from the association shows that 91% of builders are incorporating energy-efficient practices—including tight building envelopes and high-performance ventilation systems—and 69% do so on a majority of their projects. “These findings complement the results of a recent study where home buyers ranked high-performance products and practices among the top features they want in a home,” says John Barrows, chair of the NAHB’s Sustainability and Green Building Subcommittee. “This shows us that the value of home performance is increasing among builders and consumers.”
But while builders credit consumer demand for prompting increased eco-friendly construction, they say even higher demand is necessary to influence more meaningful growth in the green-home market. Only a third of builders—still an impressive number—identify as green, according to Donna Laquidara-Carr, industry insights research director at Dodge Data & Analytics, which conducted the NAHB study.
A majority of builders and remodelers say their customers perceive green homes to be more expensive than traditional homes, Laquidara-Carr says. Still, about 70% of single-family home builders believe their customers will pay more for a green home, she adds.
Other Emerging Building Trends
The NAHB released a separate study naming the home trends, buyer preferences, and must-have features for 2020, including energy efficiency. Efficient lighting, programmable thermostats, and Energy Star–rated appliances are the green features most likely to be included in new homes this year, according to Rose Quint, the NAHB’s assistant vice president of survey research.
Additionally, the study shows that the average home size continues to decrease after peaking at 2,689 square feet in 2015. It has fallen four years in a row to its current 2,520 square feet and is at its smallest since 2011. The majority of both first-time and repeat buyers say they would rather have a smaller home with high-quality amenities than a bigger home with fewer features, Quint says. The percentage of homes incorporating four or more bedrooms, three-plus bathrooms, and garages for three or more cars has also dropped to levels not seen since 2012, she adds. “This points to an industry trying to meet the demands of the entry-level home buyer. Builders are struggling to meet these demands because of factors such as restrictive zoning regulations and lot prices, with the price of a new lot in 2019 averaging $57,000.”
The NAHB also highlighted home design trends coming in the future, including:
- Colorful kitchens incorporating aqua, dark woods, and new, colored textures.
- Crisp colors paired with warm woods.
- Expansive, large-format windows.
- High-quality signature front entries and improved streetscapes.
- Nontraditional storage solutions. Instead of cabinetry, designers are opting for shelving, both as a storage solution and a design element.
- Seamless indoor and outdoor connections.
- Increased use of mixed metals, materials, and textures, including wallpaper, to add depth to designs.
- Wood detailing to create texture.
Prefab Technology Evolves
Japan’s largest home builder, Sekisui House, and its American subsidiary, Woodside Homes, used the backdrop of January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to unveil its prefabricated homebuilding technology, which can speed up construction, address a shortage of skilled labor, and build homes more resilient to natural disasters.
The companies provided tours of a multimillion-dollar concept home in a luxury Vegas enclave as part of the unveiling. The companies’ leaders say the two-story, 7,200-square-foot home, with four bedrooms and five-and-a-half baths, showcases design and construction systems and techniques that are unlike any the U.S. homebuilding industry has ever used.
The model home was built using a technique called Shawood, in which lumber, with the aid of computers and automation, is precision-engineered, cut, and drilled in a factory near Tokyo and shipped to the U.S. The pieces were put together in the field using number sequences on a blueprint as a guide. It’s a holistic system that has been used in Japan for more than two decades, covering the home’s framing, foundation, and flooring, the companies’ officials say. That enables a simpler, faster, and more precise building process, including fire-resistant porcelain siding that also helps protects the home from earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters, says Joel Abney, vice president of operations at Woodside Homes.
“The goal is to showcase how the trends are changing in housing and what the future can look like,” Abney says. “There hasn’t been much technological advancement overall in single-family home construction because we’re building the same way in the U.S. as we were 20, 50, and 100 years ago. This is looking at advancing it to that next level. The home provides U.S. companies with a template for how to build houses that are significantly more resistant to Mother Nature’s forces than the traditional American stick-frame structure.”