Special Function Rooms and Technologies Seeing Resurgence

Specialty rooms, new systems, and technologies are all returning as a high priority among homeowners as the housing market continues to improve throughout the country. There is a particular emphasis on products offering energy-efficiency and fewer maintenance obligations. These findings are from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Home Design Trends Survey for the second quarter of 2013 that focused on emerging home features: systems, technologies and function rooms in the home.

“High demand for systems and technologies in the home that helps to lower utility bills and promote sustainability continue to rule the day in residential design,” said AIA Chief Economist, Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA. “But as economic conditions have improved, there has also been a resurgence in the preference for dedicated ‘special function’ rooms within the home.”

Rooms that have seen particularly strong growth in popularity over the past year are outdoor living areas and rooms, and mud rooms/drop zones. Almost 63 percent of residential architects surveyed report that interest in outdoor living areas/rooms are increasing, while fewer than 2 percent report interest to be declining. For mud rooms/drop zones, more than 45 percent of respondents report increased interest, while only about 1 percent report a decline. Au pair/in-law suites have likewise seen an increase in interest from year-ago levels. Storm rooms/safe rooms/hidden rooms are now reported to be increasing in acceptance, reversing the trends seen one year ago. Home offices are seeing more stable levels of interest from a year ago as well.

For multiple-floor homes, a master bathroom and a full bath on the ground floor are generally desired. Additionally, ramps (rather than steps) to enter homes, a home elevator to move between floors, easy-to-use home features (such as door handles and faucets), and non-slip floor surfaces all made the list of popular home features. Energy efficiency remains a popular objective for most households, so extra insulation is a popular and cost-effective feature.

Systems and technologies that are growing in popularity may be designed to enhance entertainment systems, energy management, and security, or just for convenience. At the top of the list are wireless telecommunications/data systems. While over 63 percent of respondents reported that these systems were increasing in popularity, hardly any reported them to be declining. Residential architects have rated wireless systems as among the most popular systems/technology in homes for the past several years. Likewise, energy management systems have been reported as perennially popular by residential architects.

Business conditions at residential architecture firms generally hit bottom around the middle of 2011, and have been improving since. Slow growth in billings in 2012 has transitioned to more rapid growth through the first half of 2013. The residential billings score of 66 in the second quarter reflects the 43 percent of firms indicating that billings increased, as compared to 12 percent reporting a decline. The remaining 45 percent of firms indicated no significant change in billings. Inquiries for new projects have seen even stronger growth, suggesting that future workloads will continue to grow.

With improving business levels, residential firms have been able to slowly rebuild project backlogs. Firms were averaging 4.2 months of work in-house during the second quarter, about 1.5 months more than they averaged in mid-2010. Still, firms are more comfortable with backlogs in the 4.5 to 5.0 month range, giving them some buffer against future slowdowns