Article No: 189

2006-07-27 09:49:22
The New American Home 2006
By: Carole McMichael


Photography by Erin O’Boyle Photographics, courtesy of the Portland Cement Association


One of the highlights of the yearly International Builders’ Show is the unveiling of The New American Home built by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). This year’s showcase home is located on the shores of Lake Burden in Florida’s Orange County.

The lot is 1/2 acre of premium lakefront property—very narrow, but very wide. The 10,023-square-foot house has 7,325 square feet of air-conditioned space. The unusual width of the design—149 feet—takes advantage of tropical breezes for cross-ventilation and lake views, in front and in back.

The main concept behind the New American Home 2006 was not purely structural, but the National Council of the Housing Industry (NCHI) chose several structural products to be showcased. It was up to this year’s selected builder, Hannigan Homes Inc., to determine how and where to incorporate these into the home.

Taking his cue from market trends for lakefront homes, Hannigan Homes president Alex Hannigan chose baby boomers as his target market. Many of the home’s features are suited to boomers who are close to retirement, or who are newly retired and are planning to enjoy an active lifestyle including part-time work and entertainment.

From there, the design concept evolved further to include environmentally sound features. It was up to Hannigan to select the home’s architects and designers. He chose WCI Architecture and Land Planning Inc., a company known for green building, to design the project’s green elements. This year’s home is the first green-built home in the New American Home series, now in its 23rd year. The green philosophy encompasses three often overlapping areas: energy conservation, environmentally friendly features, and comfort and usability.

Energy conservation  
In a hot, lakeside climate, energy conservation is a balancing act between humidity and temperature. If a home’s indoor climate is balanced, it fluctuates less, which means the HVAC uses less energy.

The New American Home uses four Lennox heat pumps and seven zones with humidistats, which allow the owner to adjust the humidity as well as the temperature. Condenser units have two speeds and can reduce approximately four times more humidity than other such units. The system runs 50 percent more efficiently than traditional systems, saving up to 50 percent of average electrical costs. When heating, the pump carries in heat from outside; when cooling, it carries heat out. 

“All ductwork runs through semi-conditioned space,” says Hannigan. “In addition, we have three tankless gas water heaters that provide on-demand hot water. They are not constantly heating up like conventional systems, so they save a tremendous amount of energy. Show homes usually serve as a kind of laboratory for new technology. This year, the NCHI really wanted to see how the tankless heater performs.”

Hannigan didn’t have the option of placing the house on the lot for solar advantage, but it does face north and south, so the owners can always take advantage of solar energy. A self-contained foam insulation called Icynene is sprayed between the trusses. This blocks out any outside air intrusion and prevents thermal transfer into the attic. Three-foot eaves ensure the home remains a comfortable, conditioned space even on the hottest days. To further ensure comfort, Hannigan installed an air-conditioning system with the highest Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) available. 

“In terms of energy use, this home will perform as if it were a conventional 3,000-square-foot home,” says Hannigan. “It has been designated an Energy Star home with a rating of 90.8 out of 100. All the appliances are Star rated. We came up with the highest rating a New American Home project has ever achieved. IBACOS (Integrated Building and Construction Solutions) is monitoring the home constantly to find out how the home is performing over time for energy use. They visit four times a year, pressurize all the ductwork and the home itself to monitor the negative and positive pressure. Future NAHB homes will continue this monitoring.”

Good marks for green building
Besides the Energy Star rating, awarded through the Building America program of the U.S. Department of Energy, The New American Home 2006 received a certificate from the Florida Green Building Coalition Inc. for using environmentally sound construction materials and principles.

Landscaping is equipped with a Lawn Logic system, which performs sophisticated measurements of soil moisture. Sensors regulate water flow in various sprinkler zones for gardens and grass. If an area has too much moisture, it will automatically shut off that zone. 

“There were green choices,” says Hannigan, “to put in hardy plants natural to Florida—the kind that can thrive on neglect. We also used recycled wood from construction materials for the garden mulch.” Hannigan also chose Brazilian Cherry flooring because the supplier plants more trees than it harvests—making the wood a sustainable resource. 

“We have HEPA energy efficient air filters to improve indoor air quality, and used Ecoquest, a whole-house water filtration system. To keep the house healthy, the interior is finished mostly in wood and stone, but very little carpet. We have a central vacuum system, as well, that pulls up all the dirt and dust and transfers it to the outside. The interior walls are finished with a new fiberglass drywall product that is very mildew resistant.”

The use of concrete, an eminently sustainable resource, satisfies the main green concepts for this project, but at the top of the list is the comfort and peace of mind that comes from a solid, safe home that will stand up to Florida’s frequent hurricanes. The loggias and elevated slab, and anything outside the shell, are formed and poured concrete. The staircase between loggias is formed and poured concrete as well. To add to the strength of the concrete masonry shell, the house has impact-resistant windowpanes and a backup generator that would instantaneously supply all necessary functions during a power outage. Hannigan installed a sprinkler system and used a fire-retardant product called No Burn to treat every piece of wood in the home.

“We thought in terms of the long-term for all materials,” says Hannigan. “Clad windows and clad doors and copper flashing. Other uses of concrete were cementitious shingles in a cedar shake style and concrete pavers for the pool decking, driveway and retaining walls. The exterior was stucco and cementitious siding. It has a class-A fire rating, and I don’t think any self-respecting termite would try to eat it. There is a lot of concrete in that home.”

Baby boomer’s delight
Hannigan envisioned a house where the owners could pursue their varied interests, but still offer grown children and friends a welcoming place to visit. To achieve this, the floor plan is compartmentalized to provide private areas, gathering areas, and formal and informal entertainment areas.

Inside the front door, an impressive circular staircase leads to the second floor. To the left lies the dining room and formal living room with a 28-foot ceiling. Also to the left is a self-contained master suite unit, including a laundry in the master bath closet. At the front of the home is an office with a spiral staircase leading to a substantial library. The library is accessible from the master suite, as well as from a separate outside entrance for business clients.

To the right of the entry, an informal area includes the kitchen and a family room with 10-by-18-foot pocket doors that open the room to the lower loggia and then to the pool. A half-bath and a towel laundry are adjacent to the pool area and a bedroom, which could be used for live-in help when the owners grow too old to live independently.

Upstairs, an entertainment area contains a large theater and a game room that opens to the upper loggia. The loggias are a formed-and-poured concrete with a double steel rebar elevated slab integrated into the design of the floor system. The spans extend to concrete masonry columns. The upper loggia has a metal roof system and a staircase leading to the lower loggia. An isolated bedroom with closet and bathroom access functions as the massage room. There is a laundry/hobby room, and two additional bedrooms as well.

 “If the owner wants to work on a car or motorcycle, it is all available in the ‘chauvinistic’ garage”—definitely a baby boomer amenity, says Hannigan. “It is tricked out with a TV and stereo, refrigerator, a very nice shop, a gladiator system, track flooring and a half-bath with a urinal. We also have a separate three-car garage with a potting shed.”

The rear of the home is “like a resort,” says Hannigan. “We have an infinite-edge pool and a waterfall, falling from the top of the trellis work into the pool. On top of columns, we have gaslights, which could be turned on by a switch inside.” The gaslights are also an energy-saver, says Hannigan.
The concrete story
The 2006 home is a two-story Bermuda Colonial design constructed of masonry. Rebar runs from the footing to the top lintel and is tied down from the top to the footings with steel. The 8-by-8-by-16-inch concrete blocks are placed in the typical staggered masonry style with more rebar added. Everything is tied together with concrete down-pours. The floor system is bolted into the poured tie beam all the way around.

“We decked the floor with 3/4-inch decking,” says Hannigan. “This gave us an area to stage on. We had a high-reach that would lift the block to put it on that floor system. Then we laid all the block up for the second story and repeated the tie-beam process. On the inside of the block wall, we installed 1 inch of rigid foam insulation. Firring strips were attached over that.

“The house went up pretty quickly. We had a 24-mason crew. It took a week and a half to do the first wall and the first pour, maybe two weeks to do the second. We let it cure about seven days and then did the second floor, but we were staging in between.”

Hannigan’s company has worked with the home’s subcontracted masonry crew for years. The masons ran the walls and set the steel in the down-pours, except the steel in the footings. The forming crew, which places the structural steel in the tie beams and layers steel in the elevated slabs, was new, but Hannigan expects to continue working with them because form-and-pour work is on the rise. 

One of the more interesting challenges of this project was the location of the site. Hannigan obtained a model permit to build because the subdivision was far from completion. “There were no roads, and no water or power,” he says. “We put up temporary signs for police and fire, but the roads were changing all the time. We built off of generators the entire time, and pumped water with filtration into 50-gallon water tanks for potable water and cleanup. The code inspectors were no problem. Everything was inspected—once they found the job site.”

In spite of the complexities and time constraints of building a New American Home, Hannigan met the deadline and produced a magnificent home with beautiful views of the water from every room.  He sums up the project simply: “It was opulent, but we gave it a conscience.”

To see additional photographs of TNAH 2006, visit