The New American Home 2016: Putting the Fun in Functional

New home products, particularly if they are showcased in an over-the-top show home, generate lots of attention.

The outside view of an entire house inspired by the upcoming new design, as per the American standards.

From comfort to aesthetics, The New American Home highlights features that work for today’s homebuyer and beyond. Lower photo: Central to the architecture’s rustic modern feeling is a stone panel that Environmental Stoneworks created for the home. Photos by Jeffrey A. Davis Photography.

The New American Home, built in conjunction with the National Association of Home Builders annual trade show, however, is more than just another way to show off tile, flooring or any one of the thousand components that go into new homes.

“The New American Home isn’t simply an annual exhibit of new building products. It is built to inspire and encourage innovation throughout the building industry,” observes Tom Woods, a homebuilder from Blue Springs, Mo., and The National Association of Home Builders’ 2015 chairman.

Why Build The New American Home?

The very first New American Home (TNAH) was introduced in 1984. Since then, it has become a platform for advancements in building science, as well as a stage for new products and technologies. At 5,200 square feet, TNAH 2016 is substantial but, compared to recent years, is more subdued and a tad smaller. The focus is as much building science and livability as it is splashy new products. For builders, and even consumers, the takeaways — from new construction strategies to the latest take on open-concept floor plans to coping with a challenging building site — are many. 

“The main focus of the home is to showcase innovative products to give builders a feel for products they can buy off the shelf. Everything is tried, true and tested so they can talk products and the methods they see and then take them back to whatever they are building in their markets,” explains Drew Smith, chief operating officer of green building consultants Two Trails Inc., to builders at the aforementioned recent trade show, the International Builders’ Show.

“We wanted to achieve the highest levels of efficency using off-the-shelf products,” says builder Josh Anderson, owner of Element Design Build in Henderson, Nev.

The home is located in the foothills outside of Las Vegas in the MacDonald Highland gated community. A steep hillside lot and height restrictions presented a challenge, which Anderson turned into an asset by terracing the home into the hillside. Not only did this reduce the overall profile of the structure, but it also allowed the addition of a second story to create a three-level contemporary residence.

Named Sky Terrace, the home is sited to take best advantage of the site’s magnificent western- and south-facing views and the Las Vegas strip in the distance. Expanses of glass and multiple decks and patios turn these panoramas into a backdrop in many rooms.

The synergy between indoor-outdoor spaces continues to evolve in new homes. In this home, they mesh seamlessly in multiple places, becoming not inside or outside, but simply an integral part of the experience. An interior courtyard on the lower level and strategic placement of walls and openings on the main level create sightlines that extend from the entry foyer, giving guests a tantalizing glimpse of what the house offers. From there, the house just seems to flow. The experience is testimony to Anderson’s vision and the way Element Design Build works. Having the architect, builder and designer on the same team allowed for great integration of architecture and design.

Rustic Contemporary

Central to the architecture’s rustic modern feeling is a stone panel that Environmental Stoneworks created for the home. Not only does the material echo colors of the surrounding terrain, but it also reflects subtle shifts in color and appearance as the lighting changes. The brown hues, seen in the brick-like columns on the exterior, are an ideal foil for the oranges, pinks and turquoises of the sunset, colors that inspired Element Design Build’s interior designer Elma Gardner, who was often on site as the sun was going down. Accents of these colors play with the taupes and neutrals throughout the house.

Also novel is the strategic use of the same stone inside the home, including the dramatic floating staircase and the dining room. Here a huge stone wall emphasizes the double height of the ceiling, adding to the dramatic impact of this space. Separate from the kitchen and open-concept living area, but nearby and close to the main entry, the placement of this room also reflects one way in which floor plans and dining rooms in particular are evolving.

Bringing Comfort Home

Orienting the home to maximize views was not without challenge in the arid southwest, where large expanses of glass facing south and west generate a lot of heat in the afternoon. To filter the intense Nevada sun, Anderson included large overhangs. Everyone affiliated with the project was surprised after the windows and disappearing walls were installed — created by Sierra Pacific using a new glass with an advanced low-emissive (Low-E) glass LoE coating that helps to reflect heat, they actually lowered the home’s interior temperature.

Comfort, which Anderson describes as “the comfort a person feels in each room,” was an important priority in the design and finishing of the home. Even metabolic rates for various activities, including sleeping and sitting, were taken into account. Simply the focus on comfort, not to mention such in-depth research, is something new in home design and construction.

System Engineering Efficiency

Element Design Build’s system engineering approach to the project was completed in 10 months, less than half the amount of time typically required for projects of similar size and complexity. By bringing together segments of the construction industry that traditionally work independently of each other, a systems engineering approach produces greater understanding of the interaction between each component in the home. And the relationship between building site, envelope, mechanical systems and other factors are carefully considered through the design and construction progress. By using this approach, Anderson was able to reduce construction costs, while making a huge improvement in energy efficiency and performance.

Working together gave the team a broader perspective. They could identify cost-saving strategies, which were then reinvested in additional improvements in efficiency in the home. This approach enabled Anderson to achieve a tighter building envelope without the use of more costly spray foam insulation. The end result is the most energy-efficient TNAH to date, which surpasses net zero. The inclusion of a 19.2 KW solar system boosted the home’s HERS rating to a -17, which means it will consume 122 percent less energy than a typical new home built to code.

Creating such a high level of energy efficiency in itself is remarkable, but accomplishing that with off-the-shelf products was a lesson every one can take home.

Camilla McLaughlin is an award-winning writer specializing in house and home. Her work has appeared in leading online and print publications, such as Yahoo! Real Estate, Unique Homes magazine and Realtor Magazine. She has also freelanced for the Associated Press.

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