Article No: 214

2007-07-30 16:32:13
The New American Home 2007
By: Jennifer Krichels



Photography by James F. Wilson
Built by Homes by Carmen Dominguez
Architecture by BSB Design, Architecture & Community Planning


Each year at the International Builders’ Show, The New American Home gives visitors a glimpse of the best current homebuilding innovations. As the official show home of the National Association of Home Builders, the project represents emerging technologies and trends important to the housing industry. With a goal of promoting sustainable design and innovative residential solutions, this year’s home reflected the challenges of revitalizing and updating urban neighborhoods.
BSB Design, Architecture & Community Planning, custom homebuilder Homes by Carmen Dominguez, and Robb & Stuckey Interiors collaborated on the single-family residence, which is situated on an in-fill site near downtown Orlando, Florida, in the Lake Eola Heights Historic District. Developed in the early 20th century, the area contains a variety of architectural styles, including Craftsman, Mediterranean Revival, and Colonial Revival. Ed Binkley, partner and national design director at BSB Architects, says that for this reason the firm decided to design a modern interpretation of a Craftsman bungalow while remaining sensitive to the architectural character of the historical neighborhood. The local Historical Preservation Board had “open arms from the beginning,” says Binkley. “We weren’t trying to come in and do a bold statement. There are different styles of housing that can work in a historical setting.” With this in mind, the building team was, “reverent of the historical nature of the community that the house was going in, but also wanted to relate to the new urban design that’s going on around the lake.” Behind the home, a detached two-car garage with 576 square feet of second-floor living space “fit into the fabric of the neighborhood very easily,” says Binkley. “We did want to follow through and see a visual connection between those very different structures.”

Rising three stories above a quiet, tree-lined street, the 4,707-square-foot urban loft home is built to withstand the test of time, just as its neighbors have. For the fourth year in a row, The New American Home features a structural concrete wall system. As part of the Building America program—sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy to promote research on zero-energy homes—the home’s design and construction was handled with a systems-engineering approach. Its components work together to achieve optimum performance, and the home will require smaller, less expensive mechanical systems. For builders and homeowners, this approach can increase the quality of construction—and decrease builder callbacks—without increasing costs. Systems-engineered homes also result in reduced utility bills and grant greater financing options for the homeowner.

Binkley says he looks forward to being a part of more residential concrete architecture in the future. “In particular in Florida, with the hurricanes, it’s an absolute hurricane bunker,” he says of this house. “The security of a solid concrete house is very meaningful.” Though this was his first residential concrete project, the building and design teams didn’t experience any setbacks during the home’s construction. Design detailing must be exact before the panels are made, making the process different from most projects, he says, but extra planning at the beginning paid off during the panel erection at the site. The home’s pre-cast shell was assembled in approximately seven days, and the offsite fabrication process eliminated the problem of the site’s small staging area as well.

Because of this New American Home’s properly-sized mechanical equipment, correct insulation materials and specifications, and ductwork that fits within the conditioned space, the house uses 73 percent less energy for heating and cooling and 54 percent less energy for water heating than a traditional house of comparable size in its climate region.
Four-foot exterior overhangs over low solar gain windows on the south and west elevations shield the home from sun. Layers of vegetation atop the flat roof and overhangs may seem like a whimsical touch, but they also provide R-20 insulation and lower the exterior ambient temperature.

The house owes much of its thermal efficiency to the pre-cast exterior concrete walls with Styrofoam T-Mass residential insulation system. The poured concrete foundation and shallow basement walls, covered with a waterproof membrane to protect mechanical equipment housed there, have R-5 exterior insulation. Other concrete products include structural hollow-core flooring planks, fiber-cement siding, retaining walls, and concrete pavers. Much of the home’s exterior is coated in stucco with Essroc Cement’s pollution-mitigating TX-Aria cement. This cement contains a hydraulic binder with photocatalytic properties that effectively destroy the airborne pollutants responsible for urban organic pollution.

Inside the home, the design assumes that urban dwellers used to apartment or condo living will also be accustomed to climbing stairs. “It’s an upside-down house,” says Binkley, with third-floor living, dining and entertaining areas that take advantage of lake views. Set up for a live–work lifestyle led by young professionals or baby boomers, the home’s office and theater are to the left and right of the entryway, respectively. Two guest rooms sit at the rear of the first floor. The second floor is devoted entirely to the master suite.

Wide stair treads make for an easy ascent through the light-filled rooms. “You don’t have to have lights on during the day at all,” says Binkley. Energy Star estimated the home would save approximately $1,800 per year in energy costs. A 2.4-kilowatt solar photovoltaic panel system lightens the electrical load by providing an average of 9 kilowatt hours per day. Energy Star appliances and 29 percent fluorescent lighting, in addition to low-wattage incandescent lamps, further reduce electrical usage and keep indoor temperatures cooler. Two heat pumps with 17.8 SEER performance serve the shallow basement, first, and second floors, and a 15 SEER gas/electric unit serves the third floor.

The home is a model for water conservation as well. A 7,000-gallon cistern under the concrete courtyard holds runoff water, and, according to Binkley, only 2 percent of water that hits the site runs into the sewer system. A solar thermal system preheats natural gas-fueled, instantaneous water heaters, minimizing piping and reducing losses due to storing hot water.
Though they may not think about all of the energy-saving qualities of a home every day, The New American Home’s owners will live the new high-tech yet environmentally sound lifestyle that many homeowners from coast to coast now desire. For many projects, the systems-engineering approach can reduce new-home energy consumption by as much as 50 percent with little or no impact on construction costs. Certain elements of this home may not be accessible at all price points—whole-house lighting control, multi-zone audio, or flat-panel displays, for instance—but the security and efficiency it offers are available to a very broad range of budgets.

For more information on The New American Home 2007, visit