What's in store for homes?

The Record (Hackensack N.J.)

HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Fifty years ago, new-home buyers were moving into Cape Cods, ranches and split-levels. Now they're living large, in McMansions with two-story entry foyers and lots of bathrooms. Or they're starting out (or ending up, as empty nesters) in more affordable condos and town houses.

What's next for the new home market? How will advances in technology and shifting consumer demands change the houses that builders will create over the next decade?

We asked builders and architects that question. Here are some of the trends they foresee:

* BIG ENOUGH: The average size of a new single-family house was about 1,600 square feet in 1973; now it's 2,400 square feet -- even though in the same period, family size dropped from about 3.1 people to about 2.6 people, according to Gopal Ahluwalia, an economist with the National Association of Home Builders. And not only is there more floor space, the ceilings are higher too, growing from an average of 8 feet to an average of 9 feet (and higher in luxury houses).

"It's the lifestyle," Ahluwalia said. "We can afford it."

But while houses, on average, are not going to shrink, they've gotten about as big as they're going to get in the foreseeable future, experts predict. One reason is that buyers can't afford much more space. And according to Kara Opanowicz, vice president of design for K. Hovnanian Homes of Red Bank, N.J., buyers are increasingly asking themselves: Do I really need all this space?

* GREEN AND GREENER: Environmentally sensitive construction has already reached the mass market. Most major builders are onboard with the federal Energy Star program, which calls for improvements (such as tighter windows) that make homes 20 percent to 30 percent more efficient than standard construction.

What's next? "We're starting to see a trend toward the zero-energy house," said Erv Bales, an architecture professor who specializes in energy-efficient building at New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark.

The American Institute of Architects and the Green Building Council, among other groups, have set a goal to make all new construction "carbon-neutral" -- that is, using no fossil fuels -- by 2030.

"The only way you're going to get there is with solar power," Bales said.

The use of solar power is not yet in the mainstream, he said, but new technologies will make it easier and less expensive to tap into the sun's rays over the next decade.

For example, photovoltaic cells are now being incorporated into roof shingles. Although they are more expensive than regular shingles -- and are likely to remain so -- homeowners will be able to recover a lot of the extra cost with lower utility bills.

Bales thinks the next frontier will be water conservation, with more homeowners and builders putting in rainwater collection systems and using the water in their gardens and landscaping. Homeowners in the West, where water is scarce, already use these systems.

Many people are motivated by rising fuel costs.

"Home heating oil is $2 a gallon," said Montague, N.J., architect Hector V. Munoz-Baras, who designs energy-efficient homes. "What happens when it's $4?"

But green building is not just about saving money, Bales said.

"If you look at the United Nations definition of sustainability -- it's so your grandchildren's children will have a place to live," he said. "I think people are really tuned in to that."

* NEW URBANISM: Look for an increase in so-called New Urbanism or Smart Growth, which generally directs construction toward already developed parts of the state, and also calls for more dense communities.

Many people are willing to trade in the old dream of a suburban, single-family house on an acre of land for a shorter commute and a pedestrian-friendly community, said Mary Boorman of Pinnacle Builders in Chatham, N.J.

Ralph Zucker, head of Somerset Development in Lakewood, N.J., agreed: "People are tired of sitting in traffic. People are willing to say, I want to be in a suburb, but I don't mind a little bit more urban lifestyle."

He said the movement is a return to communities that are built for people, not for cars.

"All of the places we know and love are all about people," he said. "... They just feel right. And a lot of European cities feel right because they were built before the auto became dominant."

But to encourage this kind of development, many towns will have to revise their zoning, he said. Some towns still favor single-family houses on big lots, which contributes to sprawl.

* THE DISAPPEARING LIVING ROOM: You don't use it anyway, so why should builders build it?

Last year, 40 percent of new homes were built without living rooms, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

At two new active adult communities it is building in New Jersey, Sterling Properties has omitted the living room in favor of a great room, which "used to be called the family room," according to Rosanne Brooks, director of marketing and sales.

"There's a nicer flow to the floor plan," Brooks said, adding that buyers don't seem to miss the old "showpiece" living room, which was used only for guests, if at all.

In some luxury housing, the living room will be reborn as a parlor, retreat, music room or library.

* OPEN SPACES: Home designs will continue to open up. "Nobody wants to walk into the front door and see a wall in front of you," said Ahluwalia. One example of the new openness: Instead of a separate dining room, expect to see more dining areas that are part of great rooms or living rooms.

If one master bedroom suite is good, two are better. Luxury homes increasingly offer two master suites, and builders expect that trend to grow.

Said Ahluwalia: "People think their visiting parents, children or friends should have as good a sleeping space as they have."

In addition, said Hovnanian's Opanowicz, extended families that live together -- such as parents living with adult children -- like having two master suites.

Often, at least one of the master suites will be on the main floor, so that aging homeowners don't have to climb the stairs.

* MORE BATHROOMS: The days when family members had to time their showers around everyone else's morning routines are coming to an end. Buyers demand lots of bathrooms, and builders expect that won't change. In 2015, the National Association of Home Builders predicts, new average-priced houses will have at least 2 1/2 bathrooms, while upscale homes will generally have 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 -- similar to new houses today.

c. North Jersey Media Group Inc.


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