“US real estate markets are increasingly becoming international, and changing demographics brought forth by immigration and growing interest from foreigners are positioned to bolster home sales activity and prices.” – National Association of Realtors
The Home of the Future?
Remember The Jetsons? How exciting to live in a house in the sky! It can be fun to daydream about what our homes might be like in the future. Maybe we will print homes with giant 3-D printers. Or maybe they will be built using exotic and strange materials.
The future of home-building is not only just around the corner, it is pulling into the station! Imaginative and fanciful-sounding tools, methods and building materials exist today. Several intriguing materials are already on the market and are being tested in homes and commercial buildings. You may find some of them in new homes soon.
What is inspiring a new generation of materials for home construction? In a word, sustainability. These products seek to be environmentally friendly, both in the way they are manufactured and the energy savings they provide. They minimize the use of fossil fuels and other non-renewable energy sources in the making of new bricks, two-by-fours, windows and wall panels. And when the time comes to demolish a home or building, the material can be recycled, rather than adding more waste to landfills.
“Spurred by shifting attitudes among consumers, government mandates, and the higher prices green buildings fetch on the market, the building industry is embracing more environmentally friendly materials,” according to Inside Climate News.com, an environmental website. Simply put, homes with more green features are paying off for builders.
Let’s explore what the search for sustainability in home building has uncovered thus far.
The Printed House
You read that right — the Printed House! The invention of a 3-D printer capable of printing houses may top the list of most intriguing new home building technologies. Using a machine resembling a giant spinning lawn sprinkler, a California-based firm recently printed a home for a client in Russia.
The house, which has a circular footprint, took less than 24 hours to produce and cost only about $10,000! The cement mix used to print the house can last for 175 years, according to the manufacturers. Afterwards, construction workers installed conventional doors and windows in the printed home which ended up costing far more than the basic house.
That Was Made From What?!
Some decidedly strange new building materials are appearing on the market. One is Bio-Steel, which is a synthetic form of the silk threads that spiders spin for their webs. This “high-performance silk-like fiber is made by cultivating recombinant proteins in the milk of transgenic goats,” according to Architect magazine.
Canadian inventor Jeffrey Turner describes the process: “We take a single gene from the golden orb-weaving spider and put it into a goat egg. The idea is to make the goat secrete spider silk into its milk”
clothes washers, boilers, furnaces, geothermal heat pumps, ceiling fans and computer monitors – can be found online at www.energystar.gov/products/most_efficient.
Strong consumer demand for energy efficiency has encouraged some adventurous manufacturers to offer some intriguing, non-standard items. Here’s a small sampling.
HOME BUILDERS ARE CONFIDENT
New-home sales have increased since 2010, indicating that the new-home market remains in a long-term recovery. The low inventory-to-sales ratio is the result of strong demand for new homes, which is pushing up sales faster than builders can deliver new homes. And as more folks become interested in purchasing a home, builders should have the confidence to add more inventory, especially of single-family properties…. Low inventory of existing homes for sale means that properties that do get listed spend very little time on the market before they’re snapped up by buyers. – Kiplinger’s.
Some Imaginative New Appliances
Water Pebble is a kind of teaching device that reminds people to be mindful of their water usage in the shower. “Set it up by the shower drain and it memorizes your baseline amount of water used, telling you if you’re using too much or just enough,” according to eLuxe, a home-decor site.
“With each successive shower, Water Pebble fractionally reduces the amount of water used until you’re using a planet saving amount.”
The Droplet lawn sprinkler “remembers” where your flowers and trees are located, spraying just the right amount of water in exactly the right places. “Thanks to a [cloud-based] data network, the Droplet sprinkler will know when, where and how much water to distribute and will do so evenly and efficiently, within a roughly 30-foot range,” according to eLuxe. Owners can save up to $250 yearly on their water bill.
The WeMo Insight Switch allows home owners to manage all their electronics and appliance from their Wi-Fi network. “Control wall A/C units, space heaters, TVs, fans, lights and so on—in short, monitor as many or as few of your home’s gadgets as you want from your Apple or Android devices.”
RavenWindow is a window system with double-paned glass with an air gap in between. The system claims to be among the most energy-saving designs available. The product uses a thermochromics filter located in the air gap that controls both light and heat levels, including ultraviolet rays, while reducing glare. And RavenWindow accomplishes all these things without affecting your view out the window, says the manufacturer.
LAND PRICES IMPACT AFFORDABILITY
Millennials are finally starting to buy houses. The trouble is, there aren’t enough houses for sale…at least not enough they can afford. Homebuilders may want to play to this great big audience, but doing that will hurt their bottom lines…”Since the recovery has really been at the middle end of the market, home prices have gone up and land prices have followed,” said one home builder. “So it is very, very hard to make a good profit at a lower price point these days… As a result, there are very few existing starter homes for sale today.” — Diana Olick, CNB
“Here Comes the Sun”
Solar Water Heaters consist of panels that soak up the sun’s rays and then reuse that heat to supply 50-100% of your home’s winter-heating needs. The device also warms up water for hot drinks, the bath and shower and can even heat swimming pools.
Infrared Heated Panels. “These panels turn electromagnetic radiation… into heat, which warms anything or [anybody] it hits, no matter how cold the air temperature,” according to eLuxe. The warming principle works similar to that of sun rays on a winter day, which warm your skin, even though the air remains cool.
Another advantage? By heating living spaces without the use of forced air, Infrared panels leave dust undisturbed, so you won’t sneeze from airborne dust allergens. People who suffer from rheumatic pain may find some relief from the stable humidity provided by the heating panels. And this type of heat will not cause your skin to dry out.
Air Source Heat Pump. On chilly days, this device transfers heat from the air outside your home to the interior. On warm days, the process is reversed and the warm air is pumped outdoors. According to eLuxe, these devices use a method called vapor compression to either chill or heat the air in your home.
Passing Fad or Here to Stay?
Though we’ve touched briefly on only a few of the many new technologies and materials being used by some home builders, you may be feeling overwhelmed. And it’s impossible for us to predict which materials and devices will become “industry standard” and which will be proverbial flashes in the pan.
One prediction does seem safe, however: At a time of rising energy costs and concerns about a limited supply of fossil fuels, sustainability and energy savings will remain goals for present day homebuilders and homeowners for a very long time.
Oh…and we likely won’t have homes floating in the sky, like the Jetsons.
A team of scientists at the University of Cardiff in Wales are testing three different formulas for self-healing concrete. One type uses polymers with “shape memory” able to remold a piece of concrete back to its original contours. Another uses a combination of bacteria and healing agents to repair cracks and other damage in the concrete.
The goal in developing the material is to create “autonomous infrastructure – roads, tunnels, bridges and buildings – that can repair themselves without human intervention,” according to. Architect magazine.
A Method to Their Madness
Along with construction materials, construction methods are also being reinvented with sustainability in mind. For example:
Structural insulated panels. This wall system was invented by the manufactured housing industry. Walls “can be erected quickly, usually within hours, compared with two weeks for traditional stick [wood] framing,” according to Better Homes & Gardens magazine.
In addition, the structural panels are made-to-order for each building project. This ensures that the panels will fit together tightly, making the home more airtight – so more energy efficient – than conventional dwellings. At this point in time, cost is a bit of an issue: This method of construction costs about 10% more than conventional.
Steel framing. While the practice of using steel instead of wood to frame houses is not new, the tempered metal is gaining new momentum for both strength and environmental friendliness. Homes framed in steel tend not to bend easily, as opposed to flexible wood frames, which can cause dry wall to crack.
Steel remains an ideal sustainable material, according to the Steel Recycling Institute(SRI), a trade group A2,000-square- foot stick-built wood-framed home requires 40 to 60 trees to build, while a frame from recycled steel uses no more than two or three junked cars. It can be recycled endlessly, too. This durability comes with a price, however: Steel framing is generally more expensive than the stick-built alternative.
Concrete and drywall (also known as gypsum board) may not be glamorous, but they remain central to home building and remodeling. The movement to convert the construction industry to sustainable eco-friendly materials has led to the invention of several new types of both cement and “gyp” board.
Eco Rock is a New Age sheet rock, 80% of which is made from recycled materials, including waste from steel and cement plants. The material combines conventional concrete with a water-proofing chemical and requires just one-fifth the energy to produce as old-fashioned gyp board, according to the manufacturer.
Another new type of concrete, “iCrete” claims to reduce the carbon footprint of manufacturing concrete by 40%. iCrete was used in the construction of the 1,776 foot-tall Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan at the site of 9/11 terror attacks.
Hycrete is a waterproof concrete for under-water and underground uses. Conventional concrete needs a waterproofing membrane that is petroleum- based, i.e. non-renewable. Hycrete, however, makes the non-renewable membrane a thing of the past, according to the manufacturer.
HOME SALES AT 10-YEAR HIGH
The strongest quarterly sales pace in exactly a decade put significant downward pressure on inventory levels and caused price growth to further accelerate during the first three months of 2017, according to the latest quarterly report by the National Association of Realtors….The national median existing single-family home price in the first quarter was $232,100, which is up 6.9% from the first quarter of 2016 ($217,200)… Single-family home prices last quarter increased in 85% of measured markets, with 152 out of 178 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) showing sales price gains in the first quarter compared with the first quarter of 2016. Twenty-five areas (14%) recorded lower median prices from a year earlier. – National Association of Realtors
And What About Insulation?
Creative new insulating materials are also being developed resulting in greater energy efficiency for our homes.
Aerogels “may take the prize when it comes to the nexus of sophisticated technology and the building industry,” according to Inside Climate News, a sustainability website. This “nano-tech” startup uses engineering at a microscopic scale to produce aerogels, one of the most effective insulating materials in the world. The maker of Aerogels claims that the microscopic aerogels are three times as effective in insulating walls, floors and roofs than conventional glass fiber batts the current standard.
Plant-based Polyurethane Rigid Foam. This high-performance foam is made from bamboo, hemp and kelp to form a tough material. “The foam is used in insulation, wind turbine blades, furniture and even surfboards,” says House & Garden magazine. Made from renewable natural sources, the rigid foam “offers high moisture and heat resistance, excellent acoustics and protects against mold, while providing an insulation value greater than conventional Fiberglass or polystyrene.”
Lower Electricity Bills
Since most of us live in homes constructed of traditional materials, we can still benefit from improved energy saving devices. EnergyStar, a branch of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has setup an energy-efficiency rating system for a wide range of household appliances. Products that make the grade display the EnergyStar rating on their label.
The most energy-efficient products currently available – including dishwaters, dryers, ventilating fans, refrigerators,