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updated: 9/13/2012 3:38 PM

21st century homes arrive as construction industry evolves

21st century homes arrive as construction industry evolves

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  • A wall-mounted iPad controls heating, lighting and audio systems in the Sonoma model at Thousand Oaks in Spring Grove.

       A wall-mounted iPad controls heating, lighting and audio systems in the Sonoma model at Thousand Oaks in Spring Grove.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • The 400-acre Serosun Farms in Hampshire is building a "sustainable community" around its equestrian center. Homes will have geothermal heating and air conditioning systems and solar energy generation.

       The 400-acre Serosun Farms in Hampshire is building a "sustainable community" around its equestrian center. Homes will have geothermal heating and air conditioning systems and solar energy generation.
    BRIAN HILL | Staff Photographer

  • A wall-mounted iPad controls heating, lighting and audio systems in the Sonoma model at Thousand Oaks in Spring Grove.

       A wall-mounted iPad controls heating, lighting and audio systems in the Sonoma model at Thousand Oaks in Spring Grove.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • The cost of many green products and new technology has come down in recent years, said Kim Meier, president of KLM Builders, which offers this Sonoma model at Thousand Oaks in Spring Grove.

       The cost of many green products and new technology has come down in recent years, said Kim Meier, president of KLM Builders, which offers this Sonoma model at Thousand Oaks in Spring Grove.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Dining area in the Sonoma model at Thousand Oaks in Spring Grove.

       Dining area in the Sonoma model at Thousand Oaks in Spring Grove.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
By Sherry Giewald
Daily Herald Correspondent

Twenty-first century homes will not be like the childhood home you remember.

Changing lifestyles, advances in home technology and green building trends -- with a focus on cost savings and energy efficiency -- are beginning to reshape how homes are constructed today.

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How would you like to drive home from work and have the ability to touch your iPhone to turn up the heat or switch on the lights before you arrive.

Or what about living as part of a 400-acre farm that is a sustainable community, where you can work with the animals and learn about organic gardening.

Let's take a look at these evolving changes in home building.

Green building trends

Serosun Farms in Hampshire is an exclusive sustainable community like no other in the suburbs. Centered around a working farm, houses -- from smaller cottages to country estates -- will sit in clusters on 114 distinctive one-acre lots amid acres of open space, restored prairie and woodlands.

The developer adheres to design guidelines and other requirements for green building, and its green building team partners with contractors and vendors that provide sustainable materials and products.

Although Serosun Farms features a whole new level of sustainable living, mainstream builders also offer green options as buyers show more interest in aspects of green building, especially in regard to energy efficiency.

With all things considered, greener alternatives are less expensive than in the past. Therefore, interest is growing and green design and products are creeping into the mainstream.

Ray Blankenship, area vice president of K. Hovnanian Homes, says that while prices have gone down, green options are not as inexpensive as some of the other features people select for their homes

"We incorporate some green features as standard because they result in a better-built home," Blankenship said. "We use high efficiency furnaces, water heaters and windows, things like that -- things that save the buyer money.

"But otherwise, most people don't want to pay the premium for green features. We still offer green flooring such as cork or bamboo, but people aren't spending the money on it. They're upgrading to a prettier cherry, oak or maple floor.

"We're making headway with things that can save them money, but with things more visual, they're sticking with the standard items."

Bamboo flooring is considered a green building product because it is made from a fast-growing wood, rather than old-growth forests.

At Serosun Farms, green is anything but standard.

Every element of the community -- the active agricultural operations, residential housing, equestrian center and the preservation and restoration of natural areas -- is being developed to provide 70 to 80 percent of energy through clean, renewable, on-site sources, said John DeWald, developer of the community.

Sustainable high performance areas include energy and water savings, resource conservation and healthy clean indoor air quality.

"We use a geothermal system for heating and air conditioning, solar for energy generation, home automation for energy savings, and efficient building envelopes (the insulated shell of the home).

"We also use water-efficient plumbing and rain harvesting systems to better utilize water, and we use nontoxic materials inside the house.

"It takes a lot of different systems to put the house together to make them energy efficient, healthy, comfortable and cost-effective,"DeWald said. "In the end, building a sustainable home really makes sense."

Home automation

Although a home automation system makes life easier for homeowners, area builders say most buyers aren't interested in spending extra money for this newer technology unless they're purchasing a high-end home from a custom builder.

However, Kim Meier, president of KLM Builders, says that home technology has advanced tremendously, and what makes it so exciting is that prices have come way down.

"Ten years ago, certain functions were cost prohibitive. Now, once you have the main brain (computer), which costs about $1,000, you have the ability to grow the system to what you want it to be and when you want," Meier said.

The Sonoma model in KLM's Thousand Oaks community shows an Apple iPad built into the wall.

"From that iPad station, there's a multifunction screen that controls all the functions of the house. With the touch of a button, you can manage lighting, change temperature settings, or distribute audio into any room in the house. All these functions are available wirelessly."

More specifically, if you wake up in the middle of the night and want to grab a bottle of water from the refrigerator, you push one button for 25 percent illumination of the path to the kitchen (or whatever illumination you program into the key pad).

"Every customer wants something slightly different, and we can customize as long as they have the main guts," Meier said.

"We're doing iPod or iPhone docks on kitchen counters. You can stick an iPhone in a receiver and play music on an iPad throughout the house. We're also adding them to the nightstand in the master suite.

"With new home technology, some people are very in-tune and on board with it while others don't have their toe in technology waters, and they kind of crawl into it."

A sustainable lifestyle

While Serosun Farms offers the ultimate in sustainable living, it also offers beauty, tranquillity and a healthy lifestyle along with the experience for kids to grow up on a farm. "Most professional people don't have the time or money to run a farm; here we do it for you," DeWald said.

The development offers educational programs and several ways to take an active role in the community, such as in the demo gardens, prairie restoration or building birdhouses.

"With our demo gardens, we are in a five- to 10-year process of shifting to local market farming. Some gardens test heirloom varieties of vegetables and various techniques," DeWald said. "It's a learning place."

Amenities include eight miles of trails, sports fields, fishing ponds, playground, community center with swimming pool, game room and event facilities.

Also, a world-class equestrian facility is on-site developed by Jane Stickland, DeWald's sister who lives on the property and is his business partner. An international trainer also lives on the site.

How do builders keep up with changes in the industry and the challenge of educating clients?

"We go to seminars and learn about new products," Meier said. "We only use products that are tried and true. We have incorporated the same system used in the hotels in City Center in Las Vegas. It's proven technology. It works. It's reliable."

KLM follows a process with each client that consists of a series of meetings, including a pre-construction meeting. One meeting focuses on electrical and technology where the builder and homebuyer review a schematic for each floor.

The builder asks a series of question: Do you want sound in any of these rooms? Do you want the ability to stream audio and video, and where?

"We talk about the mechanical systems of the house. We like to put electrical technology systems in one corner of the basement so everything is gathered together," Meier said.

"A lot of builders separate them. They place the furnace in the middle, the sump pump somewhere else and the electrical in another spot.

"We group everything together in a technology panel that will sit in the basement at one end next to the furnace and electric service. It's a separate panel that almost looks like another electric panel."

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