Every year, the International Builders’ Show unveils “The New American Home”—a showcase project built using the latest design techniques, crammed full of the newest technology.
This year’s project—a three-story, 4,707-square-foot “urban loft” in Orlando, Fla.’s Lake Eola historic district—runs $5.3 million.
But price and size are not the point. The National Association of Home Builders says the home is meant to be “a collection of ideas for the industry to take away—in large piece, or bit-by-bit—and put into homes across the country.” One of the builder’s mandates is to use off-the-shelf products readily available at any home store for any homeowner to emulate.
This year’s showcase featured three bedrooms, four baths (including a master spa), a great room occupying the entire third floor, a roof deck with spa and fireplace, a detached two-car garage with a second floor “in-law” suite, a family theater and electronics galore. But the major lesson comes in energy efficiency and “green” design.
“The New American Home sets a new standard for energy efficiency for the Department of Energy,” says Tucker Bernard, senior director of the National Council of the Housing Industry.
Practically every aspect of the building was designed with maximum energy savings and minimum environmental impact in mind. The high-performance heating/cooling system uses ductwork that is wholly within conditioned space, minimizing temperature loss. A solar thermal hot-water system preheats incoming water for tankless water heaters. Rooftop solar panels (this is the first New American Home to feature a photovoltaic system) lighten the electric load.
Exterior walls are made of 8-inch thick, pre-cast, insulated concrete sandwich panels that create a tight envelope. All windows and sliding doors have a low-emissive coating to limit solar-heat gain. Windows on the south and west faces are shaded by 4-foot overhangs that feature a layer of vegetation—part of a “green roof” concept.
Taken together, these and other features mean 73 percent less energy for heating and cooling and 54 percent less energy for heating water.
A cistern collects all the roof and side drainage runoff, even runoff from the air conditioning condensers. That water is reused for landscaping.
The wood floors are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which promotes sustainable forestry. The countertops, a composite of recycled materials with the same appearance and longevity of granite, are GreenGuard certified. The finishes are all low-VOC to keep pollutants out of the air.
“You can go down the list of materials and they are all green compliant,” says Ed Binkley, partner at Bloodgood Sharp Buster Architects and Planners Inc., the home's architect. But none of it shouts green. “No one would guess it to see the place. What you see is a nicely finished house with great detail.”
That’s one reason The New American Home planners believe green is here to stay. There are no sacrifices versus traditional construction—no odd, glaring features that shout “this is green.”
Buyers and builders can’t help but see the benefits. From the builder side, green materials and systems are becoming more clearly defined, more readily available and less costly—and are even leading to construction benefits such as tax incentives and rebates from utilities.
Buyers, not even counting the social responsibility aspect of purchasing a green home, experience lower energy costs and longer-wearing systems. Buyers are even finding it might be easier to qualify for a mortgage, as lenders take into account reduced energy bills of certified green properties.
“We all recognize energy costs are more likely to increase than decrease. For the common person, the goal is to use less energy,” says John Broniek, senior building performance specialist at IBACOS Consortium, which provided design and engineering support to the project. “Homes that exhibit those kinds of characteristics are in demand.”