published Sunday, December 1st, 2013

Folks want smaller, more energy-efficient designs, but they still like their amenities, builders say

White cabinets set the tone for the kitchen in Janice and Herb Hooper's home.
White cabinets set the tone for the kitchen in Janice and Herb Hooper's home.
Photo by Maura Friedman.
  • photo
    Janice and Herb Hooper sit in their living room. The large main living space flows into the dining room, which opens into the kitchen.
    Photo by Maura Friedman /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

  • photo
    The main living area in the home of Janice and Herb Hooper in Chattanooga is a spacious, single-room layout in a house whose features reflect new trends in custom home building.
    Photo by Maura Friedman.
    enlarge photo

WHAT'S TRENDING

According to local home builders, here are some features owners want:

• Less square footage, better amenities

• HVAC units located inside the home

• Foam spray insulation

• Tankless water heaters

• White kitchen cabinetry

• Specialized appliances (wine chillers/built-in ovens/warming drawers)

• Synthetic porcelain tile backsplashes

• Granite countertops throughout home

• Large showers instead of tubs in the master bath

• Elaborate, "statuesque" faucets

• Wide-planked wood floors

• Recharge/storage "drop zones" for smartphones/tablets

• Wireless security systems

• Outdoor living spaces with grills/fireplaces/firepits/TVs

• Covered porches

• Vertical, board-and-batten siding

• Weeping mortar on exterior brick walls

• Dedicated space for recycling bins

Having it your way isn't just a proven way to sell $5 burgers. It works just as well for dream homes.

Builders say Chattanoogans are spending about the same to custom order their perfect house these days, but what they want inside that home has changed.

Homeowners want their new homes to be more energy-efficient and compact, making up for the lost square footage by splurging on how they fill it, says Teresa Groves, executive officer at the Home Builders Association of Greater Chattanooga.

"A lot of custom homes are [being built by] people who had ... 5,000 or 6,000 square feet and are reducing to 3,500 or 3,800," she says. "People might not be building the mega mansions -- they're sizing down some -- but they still want those nice, upscale amenities."

Along with energy efficiency, local homeowners also are going for such options as well-appointed outdoor living spaces, wine refrigerators, showcase kitchens and elaborate bathrooms. In today's tech-heavy world, it might seem a given that owners would want their home loaded with the latest in gadgetry but, while true for some, technology is not one of the highest trending options, home builders say.

While the front-end price of a custom home has remained steady -- $300,000 to $500,000 -- owners are seeking ways to trim the fat on their power bill to save money. One step toward that goal is spray foam insulation, builders say. Despite a cost that's double that of traditional fiberglass, about 90 percent of his clients are choosing more energy-efficient foam, says Dexter White, owner of Dexter W. White Construction on Broad Street

"It'll pay itself off in five to seven years," he says. "It has a lot of upfront benefits, like making the house very quiet. They see some instant gratification from it other than just in the power bill."

Other features that save on utility costs include tankless water heaters and relocating heating and cooling units indoors, where they don't have to strain against external temperature fluctuations and aren't subject to as much wear and tear.

Of course, these by-order features come with a higher cost, sometimes significantly higher than prefabricated and planned community homes. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average single-family home in America in 2012 was 2,505 square feet and cost $270,500. To owners who go the custom route, however, the price tag is worth it if they get what they want, Groves says.

"If people are building a custom home, it may be their last home," she says. "People are saying, 'I want a nice home, and I'm going to stay there until I have to go to a nursing home.'"

For years, custom home owners have invested in showcase kitchens, and the newest homes continue that trend, although they've incorporated a bit of a throwback. After going out of style over the last decade, white cabinets are now requested by owners who want to brighten their kitchens. White cabinetry often is fitted with glass panes and craftsman-style white trim, says Tina Frizzell, vice president of Pratt Home Builders on Hamm Road.

Some longtime loves remain popular. Hardwood floors are still in vogue, as are granite kitchen countertops, which many owners want to see in other parts of the home as well.

"Not just the kitchen -- in the laundry room and the bathroom," Frizzell says. "They're putting granite in every single room now."

That granite is being used to frame specialized appliances -- preferably stainless steel, thank you very much -- but the appliances go beyond the expected.

"People are investing a lot more money in appliances," Frizzell says. "I think it's because the economy is getting better. People are getting beyond having the basics."

Free-standing ovens are out. Now owners want dedicated heating drawers and built-in wall ovens that sit flush with their new white cabinets.

According to an August Gallup poll, Americans have come to love wine just as much as beer -- wine at 35 percent; beer at 36 percent -- and to properly preserve their vino, many new home orders include a wine cooler.

Although they're slimming down their homes, owners still seek to squeeze use out of every square foot, incorporating open layouts with kitchens that flow into family rooms and usable outdoor living areas with fireplaces, grills and even TVs.

"If you can put in another 1,000 square feet of patio and porches, all of a sudden, you have a large living space ... even though it's tied to the outdoors instead of the inside," White says. "It used to be that 25 percent of people would expense that, and now about 90 percent expand the outdoor living space."

Frizzell says her clients also are splurging on elaborate outdoor spaces.

"We put a covered porch on almost every home we do," she says. "We have such great seasons, so you can use your outdoor living area eight months out of the year, especially if you have a firepit out there."

And, while smart appliances and thermostats networked through computers, tablets and smartphones seem all the rage according to TV commercials, such remote-operated gadgets aren't yet mainstream in Chattanooga. Instead, owners are asking for more subtle ways for their home to accommodate the devices in their pockets, such as "drop zones" -- ledges near entryways with built-in recharging plugs and storage for smartphones and other devices.

A truly "smart" house would be wasted on many people, White says.

"Some people want to have their whole house sitting there on their iPad and be able to do what they want to with it," he says. "I get some that are really technical and like that stuff. For other people, as long as they have whole house [set up to play] music, that's all they want."

But technology is making inroads into homes although, in some cases, it's a case of more is less. Affordable wireless security cameras and wireless network routers have actually reduced some of the technological features that used to be commonplace for builders to install.

"We don't do as much hard wiring as we used to because we're getting more and more wireless ways to do things in your home," White says. "You get a wireless router, and that takes care of everyone's laptop in the house."

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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