Many of these features fall under the aging-in-place category, which allow residents to remain in their home as they grow older. As members of the Baby Boom generation reach retirement age, they are more concerned with these home features. But it’s not just about homeowner demographics. Given the lack of residential mobility caused by plummeting property values during the recent housing crash, many aging households plan to continue living in their current homes for the foreseeable future (figure 3).
Popular home systems at present are heavily focused on sustainability. Energy management systems top the list of features growing the most in popularity, with 52 percent of respondents reporting increases in popularity, and only 4 percent reporting declines. Solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling systems, and water reclamation systems are all increasing in popularity, although they are not mainstream in most markets.
Wireless telecommunications and data systems are just as popular as energy management systems, perhaps due to the growing popularity of home offices. The two systems that have seen the greatest gains in popularity are backup power generation systems and electrical docking stations. Growing interest in backup power generation has no doubt resulted from recent unpredictable weather patterns throughout the country that have left millions without power for days at a time. Growing interest in electrical docking stations reflects the increased popularity of electrical vehicles: still limited, but building momentum (figure 4).
Home products with low maintenance requirements top the list of most popular items. Synthetic and engineered materials also remain quite popular, in part due to their low maintenance requirements. Other popular home products fall into the sustainability category: Energy efficient products such as triple-glazed windows, tankless or point-of-use water heaters, water-saving or conserving devices such as low-flush toilets, and recycled or salvaged materials all are high on the product popularity list. Enhanced lighting/task lighting and thermal moisture control systems aimed at mold reduction are also increasingly popular for households. (figure 5).
Business conditions trending up
Residential architecture firms have been reporting generally negative business conditions in the AIA’s HomeDesign Trends Survey since the middle of 2007. However, the past two quarters have seen relatively healthy gains, with the strongest billings scores since the second quarter of 2007. Because these figures are not adjusted for seasonal variation, there may be a backslide in the third or fourth quarters, even though general market conditions continue to improve.
Inquiries for new work have strengthened significantly over the past two years. The inquiries index saw slower growth in the second quarter, most likely because of seasonal trends. The general upward movement in inquiries suggests that billings should also continue to rise in the coming quarters (figure 6).
One sign of improving business conditions is the current trend in firm backlogs. Prior to the housing downturn, residential architecture firms were averaging about five months of project backlogs, meaning that they could keep their current staff employed for about five months with no additional project activity. During the heart of the downturn, backlogs declined to an average of under three months. Backlogs have slowly climbed back up, reaching 3.8 months on average during the second quarter of this year. As conditions continue to improve, backlogs should continue to trend up, but are unlikely to hit the same levels they did during the housing boom, at least on an ongoing basis (figure 7).
Residential architecture firms in most regions have followed the national trend of a general upward movement in business conditions. The one major exception have been firms in the Northeast, which reported fairly steep declines in billings during the second half of 2011 and again in the second quarter of 2012. Firms in the other three major regions reported healthy growth in billings through the first half of this year (figure 8).
Improvements to existing homes remain the strongest sector of the housing market. For both kitchen and bath remodels, as well as additions and alterations to existing homes, over half of respondents report market conditions to be improving, while fewer than 10 percent report them to be weakening.