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Looking Back to Look Forward in Home Design

Written by Peter L. Mosca on Tuesday, 13 January 2009 6:00 pm

Many housing industry experts predict that the new home of tomorrow will be smaller and smaller. AVID Home Studios, a residential home design firm from Matthews (NC), decided to look back to US Census Data in order to see whether or not those predictions are backed up by events of past economic downturns. If the current recessionary period is anything like those from the past, AVID found, rapidly changing demographic and economic forces can play havoc on future markets catching many home builders off guard with homes "that don't sell." Those changing forces, the company claims, sometimes alter the design of homes -- for better or worse.

"Taking a line from our fractured financial system, we would like to declare that past performances do not guarantee future results," stated Craig Sherrett, Sales and Marketing Director of AVID. "But if history teaches us anything, the current recession will probably not impact new home design. Monetary and financial pressures of the past 35 years seem to have little lasting effect on the houses we want to live in."

Over the past 35 years, economists generally recognize five economic recessions or crises: the 1973 oil embargo, the recession of the early 1980's, the recession of the early 1990's, the recession of the early 2000's, and the current recession that started in 2007. Each of these events had short and long-term influences over the way homes are designed and built, and AVID looked at the following areas: Size, Sleeping Conditions, Facilities, Parking, Stories, Energy, and Appearance.

Size: Most people think that recessions lead to smaller homes. Think again. Historical statistics show that past recessions have merely slowed the trend for larger and larger homes. With the exception of a slight decline in the late 1970's, home sizes have steadily increased. The average home today is fifty percent larger than one-built 25 years ago.

Sleeping Conditions: The recession of the early 1980's seems to be the only influence negatively on the number of bedrooms in newly constructed homes. By the end of the 1980's, that effect was corrected and a general trend toward homes with four or more bedrooms continues to this day.

More Facilities: The events of the early 1980's had influence on the number of bathrooms in new homes, too. The end of the economic challenges quickly reversed a trend of building more homes with only 1 full bathroom. Prior to 1985, data for homes with three or more bathrooms is not available. But, like bedroom allocations, a continued trend toward more bathrooms has continued for almost twenty years.

More Parking: The early eighties also affected the type of garage designed into new homes. The number of homes built with no garages increased to the detriment of homes with two car garages. But that trend quickly revered after the negative economic affects subsided. For the past fifteen years, almost two thirds of all new homes built have two car garages.

Up, not out!: As the size of new homes steadily increased over the past 35 years, so too has the number of multiple storied construction. Again, the eighties recession seems to have the most effect, but for the last fifteen years the market is almost evenly split between single and multiple story homes with a slight deviation occurring since 2001. Even with a retiring baby-boom generation, the number of homes built on one floor seems to be counterintuitive.

Burn, baby burn!: The energy crisis of the early 1970's seems to have the most affect on the inclusion of a fireplace in newly constructed homes. Were we intending to burn our fireplaces instead of our furnaces? Maybe so, but the recession of the early 1980's reversed this trend and today the market is almost evenly split between homes with and without fireplaces. Even with the housing booms in warmer climates, we continue to want the warmth and glow of a fire.

The Way We Look: External siding had considerable changes over the past 35 years. Maintenance free vinyl siding took tremendous market share from an industry dominated by wood. It should be no surprise that low cost, easily installed, low maintenance building products are quickly accepted. Quickly in the building industry is a relative term as it took 20 years for vinyl siding to become the market leader (prior to 1992, vinyl siding sales were included in the "Other" category). Again the economic recession of the early 1980's seemed to affect the market most. Out of this recession new products and technologies were introduced to meet unfulfilled needs in the market. Primarily, vinyl siding products began to take market share from all of the other categories dominating the market in the early years of the new millennium. Recently, that domination is threatened by the introduction of fiber cement siding in the last part of the 1990's.

"These continued increases aren't just to satisfy personal egos, although that will continue to influence the market," states Bill Elliott, AVID's COO. "An aging population combined with improved health care means people live longer. Challenging economic conditions means that they may not have the money to do it."

In the future, AVID predicts that the three basic home characteristics - square footage, number of bedrooms and number of bathrooms - will not change drastically. In fact, AVID predicts the average home size will continue to increase, more four-bedroom homes will be built and those homes will have even more bathrooms. Plus, AVID continued, technology will play a large part of the new home design. New product developments spurred from stricter building codes, energy codes and manufacturer differentiation will allow larger homes to be built for less.

Despite our current economic conditions, at least home designer believes homes will continue to get bigger. Let's pray it's not because the economy forces Americans to live in larger homes with other family and friends who can no longer afford to live on their own.

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