AIA: Homes Focusing on Energy, Accessibility

WASHINGTON, DC — With the housing market in a major slump and home energy costs remaining above normal levels, sustainable design features – with a particular focus on energy management and conservation – are the home features growing the most in popularity.

That’s the key finding of the latest in a quarterly series of “Home Design Trends” surveys conducted among some 500 residential architects by the American Institute of Architects (see Industry Barometers).

The recently released survey, which addresses the second quarter of 2008, focuses on home features, including special-function rooms, systems and technologies, as well as the types of products homeowners are seeking.

According to Kermit Baker, chief economist for the Washington, DC-based AIA, households are currently looking for new-home insulation technologies, while interest in alternative energy generation techniques and energy management systems is growing.

With the recent reported easing of size of homes, residential architects are seeing less interest in special-function rooms in homes, Baker observes (see Figure 1).

Home offices continue to be the most popular special-function room, but they have become decidedly less popular than in recent years, according to the AIA, which said its second-quarter survey revealed that 41% of surveyed architects noted that home offices were increasing in popularity, with only 2% reporting declining popularity. By comparison, in the association’s 2007 survey, 61% of respondents indicated growing interest in home offices, with none reporting declining interest.

Similarly, the AIA said, interest in other special-function rooms seems to be waning. For example, while consumer interest in mud rooms is relatively strong (this room was not included in the 2007 survey), other rooms are seeing only moderate levels of interest. For au pair/in-law suites and hobby/game rooms, consumer interest is below levels of a year ago, the AIA noted.

Move Toward Sustainability

Energy conservation is often the motivation behind popular special features in homes, according to the AIA survey.
“Alternative home insulation techniques – such as structural insulation panels or sprayed foam insulation – and extra insulation in the attic overwhelmingly are viewed as increasing in popularity, according to Baker, noting that both features have become more popular over the past year in the eyes of residential architects.

Features promoting greater levels of accessibility around the home also are popular, Baker noted. Ramps and elevators for easier mobility, and easy-to-use features such as handles and faucets also have maintained their popularity. Ongoing threats from hurricanes in coastal regions continue to generate interest in “hurricane-resistant” design.

“Just as energy conservation is the dominant motivation behind the most popular special features in homes, energy management and other ‘green’ objectives are the dominant motivation behind popular systems and technology in homes,” Baker said.

Solar panels/photovoltaics (or other alternative energy generation systems) are the most popular system or technology selected from those listed, followed by energy management systems, according to the AIA.

Although wireless telecommunications and data systems continue to gain ground, other systems and technologies noted as popular tend to have “green” features, such as geothermal heating or cooling, water reclamation (such as cisterns), or air purification systems.

Finally, many of the products growing in popularity for residential use also have energy conservation or other “green” characteristics, according to the AIA (see Figure 2).

A significant majority (88%) of respondents reported that tankless water heaters are growing in popularity, while 79% reported that energy-efficient products or materials – such as double- or triple-glazed windows – also were becoming increasingly popular.

In addition, low-maintenance materials and sustainable flooring products, such as bamboo and cork, were mentioned as gaining traction by more than two-thirds of respondents. Synthetic or engineered materials (for such areas as countertops, flooring, siding, trim or decking), water-saving or -conserving devices, and the use of reclaimed or salvaged materials also were seen as increasing in popularity by at least 60% of respondents, the AIA said.