So BUILDER, Morrison Homes' Atlanta division, and Looney Ricks Kiss architects of Memphis, Tenn., set out to demonstrate that new homes are better than old ones in almost every way. With buyers' objections foremost in mind, we built a show home that embodies all the best practices of the home building industry, including the latest thinking on mold prevention and Internet technology. Homelink tugs at emotional heartstrings with traditional elements, but it also hits today's hot buttons with an extremely livable floor plan and sophisticated technology.

"We had two main objectives" with this project, says Greg Lorenzetti, Morrison's vice president of construction and architecture. "The home had to include forward technology and be geared toward a family lifestyle." Although it is a showcase for the latest in building technology and products, Homelink contains off-the-shelf products and systems. "This is not a show home for only 3 percent of the people," he adds. "Everything is affordable, appealing, and available now to the builder market."

Make the connection

Technology is a big part of the story because it has become essential in real families' everyday lives. The SummerGrove community in Newnan, Ga., is one of the best connected in the country and a perfect fit for Homelink. Developer Pathway Communities took advantage of the citywide, integrated technology offering of a bundled system where the phone, cable television, and modem access runs through the same lines. "A lot of cities have this capability, but Newnan really took it one step further and fully integrated the wiring into communities to create smart houses," says Brian Dill, business development manager for Newnan Utilities and a SummerGrove resident.

Four-sided architecture makes the fully detailed rear elevation as pleasing as the front facade. Two main-floor porches and two ground-floor covered patios allow for three-season enjoyment of Georgia's temperate climate.

The utility company wires the community, specifies in-home requirements and equipment, provides builders with coaxial cable, and even teaches them how to install a central hub. "It's a real hands-on process and a partnership with the developer and builders," says Dill. "We don't just drop off the wires and leave them stranded."

The neighborhood is wired for virtually any broadband application, now and in the future. "We've got some lines in the ground that will handle the next 10 or 20 years of speed-up," says Lorenzetti. Residents already enjoy a progressive community intranet site., an electronic newsletter, provides access to the library, hospitals, school system, and a classified section.

Homelink takes Internet technology even further. The home includes Microsoft Home Director's latest system, a touchpad-enabled network that gives the owners instant access to entertainment systems and the Internet. The system can communicate through the Internet with other systems within the home, such as lighting, appliances, and HVAC.

Many buyers, especially telecommuters, choose the SummerGrove golf course community for its smart-house amenities. The community, which is about 40 minutes from downtown, is the largest and fastest-selling master plan in the rapidly developing southern region of Atlanta. The make-up of this family-oriented neighborhood also includes executives of nearby corporations and pilots and others associated with the airport, which is just 25 minutes away.

Into the woods

Located in SummerGrove's custom section, Homelink sits on a very private 100-by-210-square-foot wooded lot that backs to a biking/jogging trail. "We intentionally steered clear of a golf course site," Lorenzetti notes. "It's such a cliché, and we didn't want to be just another over-the-top show home." The preservation of many trees adds to the impression of a mature setting, something buyers covet, and they are most likely to find at an older homesite.

The exterior looks as though it rises from the forest. A mix of materials blends with pines and hardwoods to create a sense of belonging. "We wanted the home to be rooted in the land," says architect Carson Looney, whose exterior palette included teal asphalt shingles, brown aluminum-clad wood windows, soft green Hardiplank, and multi-colored cultured stone. "It doesn't scream," says Looney, "rather it's quiet and comfortable."

At 3,200 square feet (plus a finished lower level), the house is stately in scale and proportion. Yet its human scale and massing--along with traditional elements such as siding, shutters, and stone--give it a cottage-like quality. Looney is reluctant to label the architecture. "It's not a particular style, but it's something that people can understand and relate to."

The detached two-car garage, designed to look like a stone carriage house, continues the cottage theme. "It's one of the largest areas of the house, so it should be designed with as much care as the facade," Looney says. He advises that garage doors be painted to match the tonal colors of the house and not the trim. "The dark color makes them more recessive," he adds.

The exterior materials, all man-made, meet the need for low-maintenance, another big advantage that new homes have over old ones. Looney used the Aspen Country Ledge pattern of Cultured Stone, made by Owens Corning, coupled with Hardiplank, 6 1/4-inches-wide and 1-inch-thick trim. He took care to balance the colors and textures. "The trick to dealing with man-made products is to find out where the [aesthetic] weaknesses are and know the limits," he adds.

Plan ahead

When you enter the front door of Homelink, you might think you've come in the back way. There's no grand foyer and sweeping "Tara" staircase. The formal living room has given way to a great room, and the dining room, with built-in bookshelves and views to the communications center, doubles as a kid's homework space. The cozy, family-friendly plan is designed for everyday use. Looney Ricks Kiss maximized each square foot. Those rarely used "museum" rooms were discarded in favor of flexible spaces.

The lack of a formal front stairway is unusual for this market. It allows the great room to take center stage. "It's a bit of a risk," Lorenzetti admits, "but because this is now such a transient city, we see the traditional plans breaking down more and more." The home's core also includes a kitchen wired with Web-enabled appliances and two outdoor porches.

The first-floor master bedroom features a hidden second entrance through the dressing room. Two kids' bedrooms, each with a private bath, are upstairs. A flex space at the top of the landing could be used as a playroom or a fourth bedroom.

The lower level is a dream come true for the active family. It features a self-contained home theater, exercise studio, billiards room, kitchenette, and unfinished storage space for "extreme" play. French doors provide a walk out to a private, protected patio space.

A three-story stairway, flooded with natural light and tucked back on the right side of the plan, serves as a vertical spine. Kids can run from their rooms on the second level to the lower level without bothering anyone. "With cost in mind, we said 'let's dress up the rear stairway and build just one,'" Looney notes.

Looney says the plan is flexible enough to work in any market and for many types of buyers. It's a house that people of all ages and walks of life will want to live in. "It doesn't reek of the latest fall fashion," he says. "It could be home to a young family, a family with older kids, or empty-nesters."

Durability directive

But don't let the fine finishes and clever floor plan of Homelink 2002 fool you. The prime directive of this showcase project: Build a modern home as durable as some of the venerable wood-frame buildings erected in the late 19th century.

The problem is that modern building science is only now catching up with high-tech materials and methods. That's thanks in part to mavericks such as Joe Lstiburek of the Building Science Corp. (BSC) in Westford, Mass. Lstiburek has made it his life's mission to make modern homes more energy efficient, comfortable, and durable. To that end, Builder asked him to serve as systems engineer on the Homelink project.

"We had to reach back to the most primitive technology [wood framing], to make it work with the most complicated technology," Lstiburek explains. Web-enabled appliances, a carefully calibrated HVAC system, optimum value framing, and an energy management system were part of the mix. "My thought was 'let's use technology but not depend on it--so if it fails, it doesn't fail catastrophically.'"

By Lstiburek's reckoning that meant focusing on three things that cause decay in buildings: water, heat, and ultraviolet light. "Water is by far the most significant," he says. "So we wanted to keep rainwater outside and dilute moisture inside the envelope." His solution called for the use of Owens Corning's 1-inch ProPink EPS sheathing on the exterior of the home's 2x6 frame. The foam would serve as both a vapor barrier and a water-shedding panel.

The panels are joined in a shiplap joint vertically, and each horizontal joint has its own flashing--a 6-inch-wide strip of polyethylene sheeting placed like "Z" flashing, over the bottom panel, under the top. "It's a simple, economical system," Lstiburek notes. "We also put Enkadrain between the stone and the foam--so water has a clear path to the ground. It's like a polypropylene Brillo pad."

To control indoor moisture and mold, the engineer combined a suite of mechanical equipment (see Down Under), with walls that "breathe." "The drywall acts as an air barrier," Lstiburek adds. "If you use latex paint [no enamels or epoxies], it's vapor permeable, but not air permeable. That way, moisture can't get trapped in wall cavities."

Builder Rick Foster had to carry out BSC's high-minded plan. That meant accommodating unusual "stacked," framing techniques (less wood, more space for insulation). To give the stacked walls enough racking strength, Foster had to insert plywood sheer panels--modular units built with 2x4 frames--at intervals in the exterior walls. "They originally thought the system would save lumber," says Foster. "But it's close to par with 2x6 construction, 24 inches on center. But, you're able to produce a house using the same board feet that is more energy efficient."

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