- Increased standard ceiling heights, from at least 8 to 9 feet on the main floor, and a shift away from the two-story great room to more effective use of second-floor space.
This was the top trend identified by NAHB, and one echoed by builders across the country. The reasons are simple: It makes the house look a little bigger than it actually is and helps promote a feeling of openness. Depending on the market, ceiling heights on the main floor are generally 9 or 10 feet, with architectural details that provide some variation from room to room.
But while ceiling heights have been boosted a notch, home buyers have made it clear that they'd rather have--and will pay extra to get--more usable space upstairs than a soaring, two-story great room that's murder on energy efficiency.
The one place that 18- or 20-foot ceilings are still being used is in the entryway. Long a staple in higher-end plans, the stately foyer, percolating down to the average house.
- Low-maintenance/no-maintenance materials, especially on exteriors.
When was the last time you got a warm, fuzzy feeling about repairing rotting fascia or scraping peeling paint at your house? You're not alone. Pressed for time and longing to relax, home buyers are looking for every possible shortcut when it comes to home maintenance.
Not surprisingly, ceramic tile and stone floors are popular, as is the latest generation of wood laminate flooring, which approximates the look and feel of hardwood floors without the upkeep.
As far as exteriors go, brick is the lowest maintenance material there is, but with the expense it adds to construction, only about one-fourth of the nation's homes are brick. And most of those are only bricked on the front facades.
- Bigger laundry rooms with space to fold clothes or engage in a hobby.
With time constraints on their schedule, who would have thought that people would actually want to spend more time in the laundry room? Well, if it were just to do laundry, they probably wouldn't, but it's a space that's gone well past the functions of wash, spin, and tumble-dry low.
Many builders have taken that idea a giant step farther, expanding the size of the laundry room to include space for folding clothes or doing crafts. It might also have a desk area for a computer, a phone jack, a TV outlet, and space for an extra refrigerator.
- Use of natural materials inside and outside the home.
No, we're not talking about building houses out of hay bales or rammed earth or recycled Coke bottles. But natural materials, such as stone, ceramic tile, brick, and wood, are making a strong appearance throughout the home. While the average production house once featured wall-to-wall carpeting, more homes today are being built with hardwood floors in the living, dining, and family rooms and the entryway.
- "Me" spaces--small enclaves where family members can be alone.
As floor plans become more open and inviting, home buyers apparently still have a need for some spots to call their own. Reminiscent of Dad's den with its dark paneling and the aura of privacy, "me" spaces are getaways where family members can decompress. It doesn't necessarily have to be a separate room, though. Builders can tuck in the spaces on landings, incorporating library shelves and an electrical outlet so that owners can create a cozy reading corner with a comfortable chair and a lamp.
With the popularity of telecommuting, the "me" space often translates into a home office. If a buyer has had an office at work, it's particularly attractive at home.
On the second floor, the "me" space is a quiet corner near a window, a place where the owner can put a desk and a chair, curl up with a book, or talk on the phone. Distinct from a retreat off the master bedroom that is just for the owner, the quiet corner is accessible to everyone in the house. Another available space is the finished attic, which can be used as virtually anything, from a home gym to a teen suite.
- Decline of the living room and the increase in "special" rooms, such as home offices and media rooms.
A third of homes built in 2002 had no formal living room. One of the reasons they're on their way out, is that as lots get smaller, houses don't have enough space for a huge room. On the floor plans, the space is described as a living room/study.
That room is still a key living area on the main level, but it's not used for formality. Maybe it's a home office or a sitting area that is more casually used. As we go up higher in price point, that room turns into a library.
- Technology advances.
Technology hasn't exploded in home building just yet, but we're "at the doorsteps,". It's common today for builders to prewire an entire house for everything from high-speed Internet access and surround sound stereo to central vacuum systems and lighting controls. Prewiring is a very good feature. Then you can add anything you want.
Keyless entry is coming, forever ridding homeowners of the dreaded event of locking themselves out of the house. Advanced technology is coming on strong in the kitchen with such appliances as stoves that refrigerate, cook, and hold food warm. There's also a strong trend toward advanced lighting controls that can turn on lights at different times of day. Computerized security systems are becoming more common as well, even in gated, guarded communities.
- Outdoor living spaces to use for entertaining.
Outdoor living theme has expanded to include fireplaces, complete outdoor rooms, covered areas with full kitchens, home theaters, sleeping porches, and dining rooms.
Many builders are including outdoor living spaces in homes across varying price points. Along with fireplaces, the space often features an attached cabana just off the dining room that can be used year-round.
While decks and patios are still strong in some regions, the screened porch has gained renewed prominence in parts of the country where there are concerns about mosquito-borne illnesses. Outdoor living spaces aren't limited to the backyard, either. Functional front and side porches provide additional areas for entertaining.
- Mixed products on the same street.
Standard operating procedure for most neighborhoods is that single-family homes don't mix with townhouses, which don't cozy up to condos, and so on. They could all get along nicely in a master planned community as long as they stayed on their turfs. No more. Smart-growth initiatives are promoting design that mixes product types on the same streets.
The commingling is part of a backlash against suburban sameness. Several product types can be mixed, including six-home townhome clusters, rear-loaded patio homes, and move-up single-family, front-loaded homes on the same block. As you drive the street, it doesn't look like everything else.
- Rear-loaded homes.
Lots are getting smaller, houses are getting bigger, governmental planning bodies are getting pickier, and home buyers are buying more cars. With the tendency to have three-car garages (or more), a front-loaded garage is out of the question. If you have a 3,000-square-foot house and a three-car garage, the front yard looks like a parking lot.
Hence the emergence of the rear-loaded homes and alleys. There are a whole lot of subdivisions coming up with alleys. But first you have to get past the city planners. With this new trend, the advice to builders is to pay as much attention to the alleys as to the street in front of the houses. Pushing back the garage makes streetscapes attractive and it adds some architecture, helping to create outdoor living spaces that everyone wants.