10 Latest Trends in Custom Home Construction

The COVID-19 pandemic thoroughly altered how we view and utilize our homes. Our experiences during the pandemic shifted our priorities. These new priorities placed more emphasis on indoor air quality, access to nature and private spaces for remote work. Before the pandemic, less than 10% of the American labor force worked from home full-time. During the pandemic, a shocking 40% of the American labor force transitioned to working primarily from home. As of January this year, 56% of the US labor forces were either always or sometimes working from

Home, according to a Gallup poll. While the pandemic accelerated this remote work trend, interest was growing long before COVID-19 hit and lockdowns demanded a change. Many other trends accelerated by the pandemic began years before. For example, the number of multigenerational households has exploded over the last decade. According to Generations United, “the number of Americans living in a multigenerational household with three or more generations has nearly quadrupled over the past decade, with a dramatic increase of 271 percent from 2011 to 2021.” Similarly, interest in sustainability has also grown. According to a recent survey conducted by Boston Consulting Group, the pandemic actually “heightened environmental awareness.” In their 2020 study,  BCG  researchers  Nicolas Kachaner, Jesper Nielsen, Adrien Portafaix, and Florent Rodzko found that “the COVID-19 crisis is causing people to pay more attention—not less—to urgent environmental issues such as climate change.” Today, prospective home buyers want low-impact, eco-friendly homes that support their well-being while diminishing their carbon-footprint. From conscious consumerism to remote work, each of these trends has impacted residential architecture. Follow below to learn more about ten of the latest trends in custom home construction.

Latest Residential Architecture Trends

The latest trends in custom home construction focus on sustainability, resilience, multigenerational living, wellness and technology. Today’s homeowners are prioritizing flexible layouts that can accommodate both large-scale dinner parties and day-to-day remote work. Prospective home buyers in 2021 also want properties with multiple structures like ADUs and granny flats in order to care for elderly relatives or house adult children burdened by the housing crisis. After over eighteen months of struggling through a global pandemic, healthy building materials that minimize exposure to pollutants are also a must. Lastly, buyers want eco-friendly homes with passive features and resilient materials that protect their families. Follow below to learn more about how residential construction is changing to fulfill these needs.

#1 Using Sustainable Building Materials

In recent years, many residential architects and builders have turned to sustainable building materials. Construction industry professionals choose sustainable building materials because they can be less expensive. They are also preferred by buyers and they often qualify for tax credits and/or deductions. The primary driver, however, is likely the pressure placed on builders by buyers. Today, buyers are more adamant than ever that their homes are sustainable.

According to the NAHB, two-thirds of recent and prospective home buyers surveyed in summer 2020 wanted sustainable, “durable materials [incorporated] into their homes.” The NAHB reported that of those surveyed, the vast majority of buyers “prefer to go green when provided the option.” Thankfully, there are a number of sustainable building materials available. Some occur in nature like bamboo and straw while others are manufactured like steel and precast concrete. Still others are recycled, refurbished or repurposed from prior builds.

Popular Eco-Friendly Building Materials

In her article “11 green building materials that are way better than concrete” for Inhabitat, Emily Peckenham identifies several natural construction materials. These include grasscrete, straw bales, bamboo, rammed earth and hempcrete. According to Peckenham, straw bales “naturally provide very high levels of

insulation for a hot or cold climate and are not only a ordable but sustainable as straw is a rapidly renewable resource.” Straw bales also make structures more resilient, as outlined in our recent post “Climate Change Resilient Building Materials for California Homes.” Grasscrete and hempcrete reduce the amount of concrete needed in residential construction projects. HempCrete is especially sustainable. Each block of HempCrete is “super-lightweight,” reducing the amount of fuel needed to transport. Hemp also grows quickly and is incredibly strong when bound with lime.

Hardy, fast-growing grasses like bamboo can also be used in construction. Peckenham writes that bamboo is often “used for framing buildings and shelters…[providing] an alternative to concrete and rebar.” Man-made building materials can also be eco-friendly. Megan Wild explains in her article “The Most Eco-Friendly Home Construction Materials” for Mother Earth News. Recycled steel, precast concrete and polyurethane rigid foam are all fairly sustainable. Wild writes that repurposing steel recovers “75 percent of the energy costs” from making steel initially. Other recycled building materials commonly used in residential construction projects include rubber, cork, wood and tile.

#2 Focusing on Climate-Change Resilient Architecture

The need for disaster-resilient homes is growing across the US as the number and intensity of natural disasters increases globally. Unfortunately, homes and businesses in the United States are particularly at risk of damage from natural disasters. According to Rebecca Hersher for All Things Considered, “more than half of the buildings in the contiguous U.S. are in disaster hotspots.” Across the States, “tens of millions of homes...are concentrated in areas with the most risk from hurricanes, floods, wildfires, tornadoes and earthquakes.”

With homes built along eroding coastlines, in vast forests and atop fault lines, California is particularly at risk. Referencing data from FEMA, a January 2021 article from The LA Times noted that Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties are three of the top ten “riskiest places for natural disaster in the US.” Out of more than three thousand counties surveyed, “Los Angeles County earned the highest ranking in the National Risk Index.” To combat these risks, homeowners are prioritizing climate-change resilient strategies and building materials.

Climate-Change Resilient Building Materials

In our post “Climate Change Resilient Building Materials for California Homes,” we identified five innovative building materials that can protect homes from natural disaster. These include ICF or insulated concrete forms, superadobe, straw bales, stucco and bamboo. ICF is often used in homes under threat from hurricanes or wildfires because it can create an “airtight envelope.” As we noted in our post, “this airtight envelope makes it incredibly difficult for flood waters, wind and/or embers to access the interior.” Made from lime, sand and cement, stucco protects against wildfire in a similar way to ICF. When applied properly, stucco creates a fire-resistant envelope around the home. Developed by Iranian-American architect Nader Khalili, superadobe is another disaster-resilient building material.

Superadobe is also air-tight, “offering good insulation, protecting from extreme heat and improving energy efficiency within the home.” Because it is shock-resistant, superadobe is especially effective in areas prone to earthquakes. Straw bales are surprisingly disaster-resilient. Writing for Architectural Digest, Dakota Kim notes that “straw bales have proven themselves not only worthy fire adversaries." They have also proven to be "relatively stable during tornadoes and seismic shaking.” Lightweight yet twice as strong as steel, bamboo is the last climate-change resilient building material on our list. According to Tim Hanrahan in an article for Dwell, bamboo is “strong enough to withstand typhoons, earthquakes and floods.”

#3 Incorporating Passive House Features

Low-impact and eco-friendly, passive house design has also gained steam in the United States -- particularly in California. For those unfamiliar with the Passive House -- or “Passivhaus” -- Standard, Fred A Bernstein explains in his article “Experts Give Their Wisdom On Today’s Best Sustainable Building Practices” for Architectural Digest. Bernstein writes that passive house design “reduces houses’ operational-energy needs to a bare minimum.” According to Bernstein, Passive Houses “rely on natural phenomena—sunlight, shading, cross ventilation—rather than on active heating, cooling, and lighting.” Relying on natural phenomena allows each Passive House to operate at a lower cost without sacrificing style or square footage.

Passive House California notes that passive house design “delivers approximately a 90% reduction in heating and cooling demand and up to a 75% reduction in overall operational energy use when compared to conventional construction.” PHC identifies the five principles of passive house design as “air tightness,” “climate specific insulation,” “thermal bridge free design,” “high  performance  windows and doors” and “continuous ventilation with heat recovery.” Because passive house design makes custom homes more sustainable and more self-sufficient, they are particularly popular in California. Passive House design is expected to become even more popular as the climate continues to change in the Golden State, leading to heat waves that necessitate powergrid shut-offs.

#4 Designing for Multigenerational Households

One of ten homebuilding design trends for 2021 is designing for multigenerational households. This home design trend is rooted in a growing number of multigenerational households across the United States. In their July 2021 article for The Washington Post, Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin explained. They noted that “multigenerational households have been a fast-growing segment during the coronavirus pandemic.” However, this trend began long before the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of multigenerational households in the US began a dramatic increase around 2007. According to Tamkin and Glink, “numbers of multigenerational households grew rather sharply during the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009.” This jump occurred as residents sought more affordable housing options.

Though this sharp increase dipped slightly between 2009 and today, the number of multigenerational households in the US continues to rise. Referencing data from the Pew Research Center, Tamkin and Glink noted that 20% of American residents lived in multigenerational households in 2016. In 1980, this number was only 12%. As of 2021, 26% or more than one quarter of Americans live in multigenerational households.

How Design-Build Firms Create Custom Homes for Multigenerational Households

With housing costs rising and our population rapidly aging, multigenerational living just makes sense for American residents. As such, home buyers are increasingly interested in multifamily amenities. Jae Curtis of My Move and Elissaveta M.Brandon of Architectural Digest acknowledge the new home design trend in recent articles. According to Elissaveta M. Brandon in her article “Designing for Multigenerational Households: Here’s What You Need to Know,” the design-build process is “all about creating a sense of community within the home.”

The primary challenge of building homes for multigenerational households is striking a balance between “private and shared spaces.” In her article “8 Ways to Design Multigenerational Homes,” Jae Curtis suggests “designing for dual purposes,” “providing separate entrances” and creating multiple master suites. Adapting the floor plans of custom homes inthese ways should create harmony for each member of the family.

#5 Sourcing Healthy Building Materials

Given that Americans spend more than 90% of their lives indoors and about 70% at home, indoor air quality is incredibly important. In the article “Designers Are Rethinking Senior Living—With a Focus on Wellness” for Architectural Digest, Jesse Bratter writes that “the pandemic has reemphasized the fact that poor indoor air quality can cause negative health acts.” Unfortunately, our homes might be major sources of harmful pollution. Contemporary building materials like composite wood products and some foams can greatly impact indoor air quality by releasing VOCs into the air.

According to the EPA, exposure to VOCs released into the air by building materials can cause “eye,nose and throat irritation” as well as “damage to the liver, the kidney and the central nervous system.” Prolonged exposure to VOCs is even suspected to cause some cancers. The EPA notes that pollution from VOCs can be “2 to 5 times higher indoors than outdoors.”

Non-Toxic Building Materials for Healthy Homes

Because of the pressure on builders to create healthier environments for homeowners, low-VOC building materials have become more common in recent years. Sealants, adhesives, insulation,drywall and other building materials containing formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and other pollutants have been replaced with non-toxic alternatives. Amanda Sims identifies a few of these alternatives in her article “12 Chemical-Free Building Materials to Use When You Reno” for Clever. These include the framing material Extreme Green Board, “which is made from magnesium oxide” and does not contain formaldehyde. Sims also identifies American RockWool as analternative insulation material and Foreverboard as an alternative to drywall. For a caulk that will not emit VOCs into the air of your home, Sims suggests Titebond WeatherMaster sealant, which is completely non-toxic.

#6 Prioritizing Connection to the Outdoors

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our homes took on dozens of new functions as lockdowns prevented us from wandering. Our homes morphed into offices, restaurants, spas and travel destinations. During this time, we decided to invest in our homes like never before. 2020 saw a record number of home improvements.

According to CBS, “Americans spent nearly $420 Billion on home improvement projects in 2020,” but are expected to spend even more in 2021. So far, updates to outdoor living spaces have been some of the most common home improvements between 2020 and 2021. This is likely because gathering indoors during the pandemic was discouraged and spending time in nature is beneficial to physical, emotional and mental health.

Though social distancing orders and lockdowns have lessened across the country, homeowners remain committed to creating habitable outdoor living spaces. A May 2021 Fixr survey found that “48% of outdoor spaces will be adapted to year round use” as a result of the pandemic. Homeowners want outdoor living spaces in which they can “gather with friends and family” (80% of respondents) or relax on their own surrounded bynature (61% of respondents). Regardless of why homeowners want to blur the line between indoor and outdoor living spaces at home, “85% of experts believe that homeowners are more willing to invest in outdoor living spaces in 2021.”

#7 Adding Secondary Structures Like ADUs

As mentioned above, buyers are prioritizing homes that can meet the needs of multigenerational households. These amenities include everything from separate entrances to multiple master suites. In this vein, buyers are also looking for homes with additional structures like ADUs or granny flats. Accessory dwelling units respond to several needs of the contemporary home buyer. Not only do they provide a separate living space for elderly parents or adult children, but they can function as offices or rental units.

In California, building an ADU with the intention of renting it out could actually result in tax credits, deductions and/or rebates. Because ADUs offer a partial solution to California’s housing crisis while providing the homeowner with passive income, the state encourages homeowners to build them. Last year, Governor Gavin Newsom signed five new bills to incentivize homeowners to build ADUs on their properties. To learn more about these incentives, read Benjamin Donel’s article “California's New Accessory Dwelling Units Laws: What You Should Know” for Forbes.


#8 Making Interiors Multifunctional

Another of the ten home design trends featured in this list is making interiors multifunctional for families with needs that change day-to-day. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, life has become more unpredictable. Novel virus variants, slowing vaccination rates and rising positivity rates have resulted in renewed mask mandates and shutdowns. Those who had returned to the once might have returned to remote work in recent weeks and those who planned to study on campus might have shifted back to distance learning. As scientists and experts learn more about COVID-19, the ways in which we are asked to respond might continue to change. Given this, our homes must adapt to be as flexible as we are. Jessica Bennett explains in her article “Building a Home? Here Are 7 Major Industry Changes You Should Know for 2021” for Better Homes & Gardens.

Quoting VP and CCO of Taylor Morrison Erik Heuser, Bennett writes that "’room usage changed and became more flexible this past year.’" During the pandemic, “‘we shifted to a mindset of flex rooms taking on various purposes, such as a gym, school room, or media room.’” Even if remote work falls off in the future, Bennett writes that “having an additional living space that can be used for various activities will continue to be attractive.” As such, if a prospective homebuyer “‘was previously looking for a three-bedroom house, they might now be interested in a four-bedroom because of those lifestyle changes that made having an extra room really important.’”

#9 Building Single-Story Homes

According to the National Association of Home Builders, 65% of homebuyers prefer single-story houses over multi-story models. Older buyers tend to prioritize single-story homes more consistently than Gen Z and Millennial home buyers, though all prefer master bedrooms and laundry units to be located on the first floor. Writing for Redfin’s blog in her article “13 Most Popular House Styles Across the U.S,” Julia Weaver elaborates. Referencing data recently released by online real estate brokerage Redfin, Weaver writes that ranch-style homes or “ramblers” were the most popular style of home amongst buyers in the US.

Characterized by their “simple, single-story floor plans” and “low-to-the-ground looks,” ramblers are perfect for the indoor-outdoor lifestyle adored by Californians. Weaver notes that “ranch-style houses currently have the highest sale-to-list ratio in a handful of cities” like San Diego, San Francisco and Oakland. Mid-century modern and contemporary styles are the other two most popular styles in California, both of which tend to be single-story.

#10 Integrating Automated Home Systems

In a recent article for GearBrain, Lauren Barack noted the growing popularity of smart homes. Referencing Z-Wave Alliance’s 2020 State of the Ecosystem report, Barack writes “the majority of U.S. home buyers will pay extra" for smart home tech. More specifically, “65 percent of people buying homes in the U.S. are willing topony up more if there are connected technology systems.” According to Z-Wave Alliance, realtors strongly believe that smart home tech “can help sell” listed homes. Barack writes that 91% of realtors believe this to be true and “92% of real estate investors are putting money into smart products that help make a living space more connected.”

Industry experts and market watchers credit this rise in the popularity of smart home technology to Millennial home buyers. Writing for Business Insider, Katie Warren notes that “millennials now make up the largest share of home buyers in the US.” This means that their preferences will affect new builds. Jamie Gold seconds this in the Forbes article “What Millennials’ Wellness Focus Means For The Housing Market.” Gold writes that Millennial homeowners especially want “smart home technology that can enhance wellness.” This includes everything from “leak detectors, air quality monitors, water quality monitors and home security” to “human circadian lighting, voice-controlled faucets and shading.” Builders expect the trend to continue in coming years, gaining even more steam as health-conscious Gen Z buyers enter the market.

Building an Innovative Custom Home with Element

Whether you want a climate-change resilient home or one with the latest smart home technology, Element can create a custom home for you. Because our teamis local to California, we understand the need for passive house features that make your home self-suffcient and reliable. Our experience in California also means that the Element Homes team is uniquely qualified to aid California homeowners concerned about climate change.

With years of experience designing homes in high-risk wildfire zones, coastal flood zones and other areas threatened by climate change, Element can help any homeowner with their disaster-resilient home. Element’s cutting-edge project tracking software means that we value smart home technology and are happy to craft a custom smart home. Schedule a consultation with our team by calling or reaching out via our website. We are happy to answer any questions you may have about our custom home building process.

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