Homeowners Looking to Add More Features

A greater array of technologies and products gain popularity as homeowners show renewed interest in upgrades.

Households are responding to the ongoing recovery in the housing market by adding more space and features to their homes. Special function rooms, which often disappeared from homes during the downturn in an effort to manage housing costs and add flexibility to how households used their homes, are now reappearing. Likewise, special home features that were often eliminated during the housing downturn are now increasingly returning to home designs. Home automation features, as well as products that promote sustainability, are also showing up with increasing frequency in both new and remodeled homes.

These are some of the key findings from the American Institute of Architects Home Design Trends Survey covering activity during the second quarter of 2014. This resurgence of interest in home design has helped revive business conditions at residential architecture firms nationally. Billings at these firms continue to trend up, firms are seeing growing levels of inquiries for new projects, and new design contracts for future projects have pushed firm backlogs up to levels not seen since before the housing downturn. Most encouragingly, with the emerging recovery of the second/vacation home market, residential architects are reporting improvement in every major housing and home improvement sector—the first time they have reported across-the-board gains in the housing market since 2005.

Interest Returns to Special Function Rooms

Increased investment in homes has coincided with a revival in popularity of special function rooms. Outdoor living rooms have been a popular way to add space to homes, but recent AIA surveys on home features have pointed to growing interest in these areas. With the second quarter survey, almost two-thirds of respondents indicated that outdoor living areas and rooms were growing in popularity, while fewer than 2 percent indicated that interest was declining. Home offices also continue to be popular special function rooms, as many workers find telecommuting to be an accepted option, while the number of self-employed workers working out of their home remains strong. Mud rooms also remain an attractive option for storing outerwear as well as backpacks and bags.

In recent years, there has been a strong increase in the interest in au pair/in-law suites. As recently as 2011, the share of respondents reporting that interest in these areas was increasing was almost exactly balanced by the number indicating that it was declining, thus generating a net increase score of just 1.7. However, in intervening years the share of “increasing in popularity” has grown rapidly, and the share of “decreasing in popularity” has been declining, thus generating scores of 9.5 in 2012, 26.0 in 2013, and 38.5 with this survey.

Popularity of Special Function Rooms

The recent interest in these areas is likely due to the growing employment numbers in our economy, which is increasing the need for in-home childcare. Additionally, as many households become caretakers for aging relatives, separate living suites have become popular alternatives. (Above figure)

Most Popular Special Function Rooms

According to survey respondents, the three most popular special function rooms account for over 70 percent of selections of the most popular rooms at present. Outdoor living areas and rooms top the list with 29 percent of respondents selecting as the most popular special function option, followed closely by mud rooms and home offices. Au pair/in-law suites were selected as the most popular by 9 percent of respondents, up slightly from a year ago. Media rooms/home theaters were next. Though many respondents felt that media rooms/home theaters are generally declining in popularity, there seem to be a core of households that highly value this type of room. (Above figure)

Accessibility an Important Goal of Many Special Home Features

With the growing interest by many households in special function rooms in particular, and more space in general, interest is also growing in special home features. While some features focus on energy efficiency and sustainable design (e.g., extra insulation) and evolving household composition (e.g., homes that accommodate multiple generations), most of the popular special features of homes focus on improving accessibility around the home.

Much of this has to do with our aging population and the desire of this population to make sure their homes accommodate their emerging needs. Additionally, many households want to ensure that their homes can support the needs of aging parents who may be staying for an extended period of time and other visitors with accessibility needs. Ramps and elevators, first-floor master bedrooms, on-grade home entry, and easy-to-use features are all near the top of the list of features growing in popularity and that also may improve the accessibility characteristics of a home.

Home Automation Leading Motivation of New Home Technologies

Home automation is currently driving many of the changes in home systems and technology. According to residential architects, wireless telecommunications and data systems, long-range electrical controls/smart-home systems, automated lighting controls, and central (distributed) audio/video are among the leaders in popularity growth. With consumers generally more comfortable with emerging technologies, and the prices of many falling as production volumes increase, home automation applications should continue to grow in popularity in the next few years.

Most Popular Energy Efficient Options

Additionally, systems that promote increased energy efficiency and sustainable home design continue to be popular. Energy management systems, solar panels, electric docking stations for cars, and geothermal heating/cooling heat pumps are all on the list of popular home systems, according to residential architects. Electric docking stations in particular are seeing strong growth in popularity as electric cars become more common. Scores for these systems have risen dramatically over the past several years. Security and comfort are other major motivations, with backup power generation and security systems examples of popular systems in this category. (Above figure)

Home automation and sustainability are also key motivations behind popular home products at present. Sustainable products that top the list of those growing in popularity include LED lighting (with near unanimity in terms of perceived increase in popularity), energy efficient products (e.g., triple-glazed windows), tankless water heaters, Energy Star–rated appliances, water-saving devices, and reclaimed/salvaged materials. Low maintenance is also a theme, with low-maintenance materials and synthetic and engineered materials on the list of popular products. Synthetic materials (e.g., for decking, siding, and trim) often have low-maintenance characteristics. Finally, smart thermostats were near the top of the list, which often fit within the home automation as well as the energy efficiency categories.