THE FUTURE IS AS EXHILARATING AS IT IS frightening. In a few short years, builders will offer bathrooms with Internet connections built into the mirrors, letting homeowners check the weather and plan their day before they leave for work in the morning. Wireless technology like Ultra-Wideband will free builders from worrying about installing all the technology before the drywall goes up, thus freeing designers to focus more on how people live as opposed to where the gear is situated. Sensors will track every aspect of the home.

The stories featured in this section offer builders a glimpse of the future. There are many exciting innovations that lie ahead, from new building materials that sift wheat and straw for use in wall panels to washing machines that have plant containers that recycle water.

And robotics will enter the industry, promising dramatic cost savings and new design possibilities, but potentially causing a short-term convulsion as the industry adjusts to a world where many of the traditional trades are slowly automated out of existence.

Not to worry, though. It will take 20 to 30 years for robotics to really take hold, so for the short run, the home building industry can largely—and happily—plan on conducting business as usual.

Some trends builders can count on in the next few years: More pooling of land among small builders to compete against the conglomerates. More urban infill projects that feature energy efficiency and designs that blend in with the local communities. And increased demand for affordable housing as median house prices hit in excess of $500,000 in regions like the Bay area in California.