At IBACOS, we spend a lot of time talking about change--meaningful change. We recognize that change is inevitable and constant in our industry. Anyone who doesn’t think so isn’t paying enough attention.
As change occurs in housing, it also occurs in homes and the people who buy them: A couple welcomes a child or empties the nest. An elderly parent moves in. Someone suffers a temporary ailment or perhaps a permanent disability. Working from home becomes an option, maybe even a necessity.
Time was that such milestones caused homeowners to buy a new house, but that’s not always the case anymore. Moving up is no longer the game. That’s especially true of the next wave of young home buyers and aging Boomers – the two sweet spots of home sales for the next 20 years, at least.
The solution is to design homes that respond well and remain useful in the face of various and dramatic life stage and lifestyle changes over time, not just until the next milestone. It’s essentially what Levittown and post-WWII communities like it were designed to do, and in fact delivered. It can and has been done – but not as well as it could be.
Applied today, though, the concept needs to evolve well beyond grade-level Ranchers and the “flex” spaces of the ’80s and ’90s. Homes built for change today must be designed to enable one or more rooms that easily and logically serve various consumer and lifestyle needs. Through the years, the same space is a nursery, a bedroom, a family room, a home office, an in-home art studio and a rental apartment – all within the same footprint and with only cosmetic and perhaps some slight mechanical changes. Think of it as a room adaption or addition without the dust and temporary toilets.
If you look at a home from an industrial design perspective, there are also a number of opportunities to take the idea of adaptability to the next level – allowing the homeowner to make more significant changes more easily down the road. Non-loadbearing walls could be designed to be adjusted or removed (think hinged walls or pocket doors that pivot), and channels in the floors and walls could allow for electrical and plumbing to be added or moved, making that second kitchen in a newly configured rental unit less of a hassle to install.
The concept I’m proposing requires a change in thinking and application, but architects like Sarah Susanka and her multi-use approach to floor plans have already started the momentum. Builders are getting in on it, too. Shea Homes’ Shea3D program allows buyers to tailor their primary living space to suit their lifestyle and its patent-pending YourPlans are based on an open-space concept that enables buyers to configure their main living area to focus on entertainment, the kitchen, or the outdoors. Shea’s animated floor plans show how the same basic footprint can offer very different lifestyle options for their buyers by simply reorienting a wall or moving a kitchen island.
In addition, homes are being built to allow for increased performance over time, when technology is more accessible and affordable for the homeowner. One of the biggest trends in this area is building and marketing homes for the eventual installation of solar shingles or panels and thermal collectors. In 2013, Meritage Homes got ahead of the curve by offering solar-ready standard in all of its divisions. Since January 2014, all new homes built in California must be wired for solar.
You may say “Of course that makes sense in the southwest.” But, this trend has spread to less obvious areas of the country as well with builders like Tim O’Brien Homes in Wisconsin and Point Zero Homes in Idaho. These types of “upgrades” may not be affordable or appreciated quite yet – but they definitely will be someday. That’s called anticipating and investing in change, and it’s not just admirable, it’s smart, sustainable business.
The Future of Housing