Houston Home Trends
Family and friends can gather around this extended granite island. New decorating trends include the pendant lights and the glass front cabinets, which are standard features in this series of homes.
How local builders are accommodating owners’ wishes
By Jennifer Miko
House hunters are busy searching the Houston area, but what are they really looking for? Builders know the competition is fierce, so they need to stay current and accommodate discerning home buyers. If they don’t embrace the future, they could lose the sale.
So builders are introducing new interior designs in response to homeowners’ requests. Open floor plans are still popular and great for families and entertaining, and kitchens remain the heart of the home. But with new standard features, and special upgrades, kitchens are now even more inviting. Deeper center islands provide additional seating for bar height chairs. And durable granite counters extend the food preparation surface or welcome the family to enjoy a meal.
In most new kitchen plans, the microwave has graduated from a counter fixture to a built-in appliance. Cabinets are designed to accommodate various refrigerator dimensions, and single or double ovens. New kitchen trends make cooking more convenient and entertaining more enjoyable.
Some custom homes even join the kitchen and dining room with a butler’s pantry. Here, a countertop serves as a staging area for serving meals. Typically it has cabinets to store tableware, serving pieces, and table linens. In some homes, the butler’s pantry has a sink, dishwasher and small refrigerator to chill beverages.
Keeping Families “Connected”
Today’s families also look for a central location to leave keys, mail and charge their electronic devices. For their convenience, some kitchen plans now feature desk areas to accommodate laptops instead of larger computer monitors. Many new home models also have power sources and phone jacks appropriately appointed to these “stations” to serve as the communications hub of the house.
Builders are certainly considering the needs of today’s customers and the newest amenities. With the improved design of washers and dryers, laundry room dimensions have been reconfigured to fit front loading machines. Additional shelving and cabinetry create more storage space, while countertops are the perfect surface for a sewing machine, crafts or ironing. Many of these “utility” rooms can also fit a spare refrigerator, or host racks for shoes or coats.
Some local builders are turning luxuries into standard amenities. Master bathrooms, for example, feature upgrades like longer tubs, and larger showers with oversized shower heads. But the builders are considering the environment and many are installing low flow faucets, shower heads and toilets. Owners can save more on decorating expenses when the builder offers pre-framed mirrors and two inch faux blinds throughout the house.
Usable square footage is important to a homeowner, and today’s builders create floor plans to eliminate wasted space. Even closets are more functional with additional shelving and built-in organizers. And by expanding the garage, SUVs, mini vans and trucks can fit more comfortably. The extra space can also create storage opportunities, an area for work out equipment, and even the “man cave.”
Many local home builders have also made “green” investments to improve their designs and minimize the impact on the environment. With energy efficient plans, they now offer upgrades or basic improvements that eventually save homeowners money. Many builders participate in the Energy Star or the Environments for Living program or have designed their own internal programs to include most of the requirements. Essentially, these requirements have an upfront cost, but the immediate and long-term energy savings overcome them.
By going green, some builders use recycled and recyclable materials, energy efficient systems and technology during construction. Some local builders adopt “optimum value engineering” to incorporate special framing techniques to reduce lumber use while maintaining structural integrity. They also build more permanent, longer lasting structures to save resources.
One area realtor explained that builders are already experimenting with solar electricity systems, Styrofoam insulation, and wind turbines that generate electricity. The benefits of going green eventually bring significant savings to builders and homeowners.
To conserve energy, builders can add more durable roof coverings and insulation to the walls. They can also install double paned windows with glazing and a higher “R-value.” The building industry uses this term to measure thermal resistance. A higher R-value window has a greater resistance to heat flow and a higher insulating value than one with a low R-value. Perfect for the hot Houston summers.
Building standards have also evolved to include high-efficiency cooling, heating and water equipment. Today, tankless hot water heaters are being offered by some builders. And this financial investment rewards homeowners because ultimately they are easier to maintain and last longer.
An efficient HVAC system introduces fresh air into the home reducing dust, odors, and indoor contaminants. And an internal moisture management system works to lower humidity in the home. But it’s important to properly monitor or program the home’s thermostats for daytime and nighttime temperatures, and changing seasons.
To save customers money, some builders are even installing energy efficient lighting. Sixty percent of all bulbs must be compact fluorescent or LED to meet the energy efficiency standards.
Today’s homes are built to meet the improved energy efficiency specifications, and are 20 percent more efficient than those built in 2009. One Houston- based builder offers a complete appliance package including an Energy Star- rated refrigerator, dishwasher and front loading washer and dryer. With improved amenities, and green initiatives, homeowners are guaranteed to save money on their utilities bills.
Homes Keep Getting Smarter
While considering how green their home could be, homeowners can also plan how “smart” it could be. In this wired and wireless world, home automation has become an essential design component for new and existing homes. Based on affordability, this system can give homeowners control of the home’s many systems and features.
Home automation initially included security systems and audio visual components. Now, systems can be customized to control interior and exterior lighting, heating and cooling systems, irrigation and even the coffee maker.
The smart homes trend has certainly grown in popularity. One major advantage is the ability to adjust the home’s electronic features from remote locations. This system adds another layer of security for a family while home or away. With an internet connection, homeowners can even see the images from the security cameras.
It’s easiest to design a system during construction because wires can be installed into the walls of the home. Each room could be staged to run electronics, and be tied to a central system for the home automation. Plus a “server” or equipment room can be designated during early construction. However, a reputable home automation consultant can install a system in an existing home.
Builders are keeping current with the latest developments in home technology and design, while considering their impact on the environment. And with the many improved standard features, home buyers don’t necessarily have to pay for upgrades. Their needs are being met as builders set the trends with the newest styles and more efficient amenities.