Transitional style kitchen - a blend of contemporary and traditional.

Transitional style kitchen – a blend of contemporary and traditional. 

Home building is not an industry where big changes happen really fast. Change evolves over time.  Kiplinger’s Economic Outlook said that new home construction is expected to increase by about 16% or 580,000 homes in 2014.  So if you are going to be one of the 580,000 in 2014 building a  new home, you can rest assured that these are the trends that have been growing in acceptance over the last few years and will continue to be popular in 2014:

Flexible Floor Plans. In the United States, more households are becoming multi-generational. That change is leading to a developing trend – flex rooms. These rooms are built with change in mind. What is now an office can become a bedroom if grandparents or boomerang kids move in. Dedicated living and dining areas are being replaced by large multi-purpose family areas.  In addition, may homes include “bonus” rooms that can be adapted for a variety of specialized needs.

Smarter, less costly automated controls. With our busy lives, and automation costs coming down, it’s becoming more affordable to control a home’s systems – temperature, security, electronic, lighting and more – though a single device: iPhone, iPad or iPod. Doing so can eliminate multiple controls and make it easy to manage things around the house, even if you are not there. One example is the Nest Intelligent Thermostat, which can be controlled remotely, react intuitively to the home owners habits and adjust to conserve energy costs.

Outdoor Living Rooms and Screened Porches. The yard and garden become part of the floor plan when sliding glass doors lead to patios and decks. Blurring the lines between outdoor and indoor spaces is the rise of the screen porch. It’s  become an almost year ‘round livable space with the addition of a fireplace, mounted quartz heaters, and roll-down clear-view shades that keep you warm and cozy in cooler weather. The functionality of this casual gathering space increases with the addition of an outdoor kitchen / bar and TV / audio systems.

Healthy Home. A healthy home is one that incorporates healthy design elements, non-toxic building materials, and proper construction techniques. It is also resistant to mold. It also utilizes passive air flow, daylighting and fresh air exchange through the proper placement of windows and doors.

Accessible Home Design. Forget the spiral staircase, sunken living room and high cabinets. The homes of tomorrow will be easy to move around in, even if you or members of your family have physical limitations, and allow you to age in place. Open design, wide doors and hallways create spaciousness and don’t convey an institutional look.  For two story homes with a finished lower level, an elevator is an increasingly popular option. (And two closets can be stacked to allow for a elevator in the future.)

Energy and Water Efficiency. Efforts to conserve energy and water throughout the home continue to be popular, including low-water toilets and sinks, high efficiency furnaces and air conditioners (including using geo-thermal), closed cell insulation, and high efficiency windows.  A passive home design is built to work with the climate.

Abundant Storage. New homes feature spacious walk-in closets, and plenty of cabinets. Cathedral ceilings are losing favor as families prefer usable space below the roof. Garages are also getting bigger to accommodate more cars and other paraphernalia.

Transitional Style. A middle ground between traditional and contemporary design is becoming more popular.  Its appeal lies in having the best of both worlds: You aren’t straying too far from the familiar of traditional, and you have the flexibility of adding contemporary touches. And because you can update it indefinitely to reflect current trends, it ages well. For more about this style:

What will the homes of the future look like? Are McMansions on the way out? Are Bungalows coming back? You tell us!

The Builder 20 Group at Lambeau Field

The Builder 20 Group at Lambeau Field

Recently Randy and Jason Thelen traveled to Manitowoc , the site of the Fall Builder 20 Meeting, hosted by Jim Reif  owner of J.M. Reif Builders, in Francis Creek Wisconsin.

What is Builder 20, you might ask? Well, it’s a way to surround yourself with the best of the best; some of the smartest people in custom home building.

More than a decade ago the National Association of Home Builders started Builder 20 Groups as a way to connect custom home builders with other custom home builders from all across the country. By setting up these groups custom home builders have a network of non-competing peers. As a group they look as all aspects of the home building business and are able to share challenges and opportunities with each other.

Builder 20 members in our group traveled from all over the country: Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, South Carolina, and California, and enjoyed touring Lambeau Field in Green Bay, the Kohler manufacturing plant and Kohler Design Center.

Said Randy, “I could see similarities between custom home building and the way Kohler approaches their business. Kohler is at the leading edge in design. They set a standard for excellence, and drive for continuous improvement. Their skilled workforce produces some of the most innovative and beautiful products available. For us – after close to forty years in business, and for Kohler, after four generations being a family owned company striving for professional and personal growth is something that is never ending.”

Speaking of innovative and beautiful – Put this on your list of cool places to visit in Wisconsin:  The Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan. A must see at the center is their incredible bathrooms!  They almost always make the list of best public bathrooms of the world. (Yes, there are lists like that.) Understandably, the motto of the Kohler Art Center is “Expect the Unexpected”!


October is Fire Safety Month

2,500 people die and 12,600 are injured in home fires in the United States, with direct property loss due to home fires estimated at 7.3 billion annually. Home fires can be prevented! Here are some fast facts about fire and fire prevention from the National Fire Protection Association:

1. Almost two thirds of reported home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working alarms.  New homes are required to have an interconnected alarm system – meaning when one goes off, they all go off. Regardless if you have hard-wired or battery-powered smoke detectors,  have one on every level of your home.  Every 6 months, replace the batteries with fresh ones at the beginning and the end of  Daylight Savings Time. (November 3rd in 2013.) In fires large enough to activate the smoke alarm, hardwired alarms operated 92% of the time while battery powered alarms operated only 77% of the time.

2. Purchasing a fire extinguisher is one of the best investments a homeowner can make.  Did you know that two out of every five home fires start in the kitchen?  Unattended cooking was a factor in 34% of reported home cooking fires. Should you ever need to use it, just remember the acronym PASS: Pull the pin to release the handle, Aim the extinguisher at the base of the fire, Squeeze the trigger, and Sweep the discharge stream at the base of the fire.

3. Have the creosote build-up professionally cleaned from your chimney and fireplace. Failure to clean the fireplace and chimney is a leading factor in chimney fires.

4. Portable or fixed space heaters, including wood stoves were involved in 32% of home heating fires and 80% of home heating deaths. Half of those fires were caused by things that burn being placed too close – upholstered furniture, clothing and bedding.

5. Escape planning. One-third of American households who made an escape plan, estimated they would have at least 6 minutes before a fire in their home would become life threatening. The time available is often much less. And only 8% said their first thought on hearing a smoke alarm would be to get out!

I found an excellent resource about fire and fire safety on the U.S Government FEMA website page on Home Fires.  Learn about fires, what to do before, during and after a fire and how to prevent home fires.

Installing a home generator keeps the power on in the event of severe storms.

Installing a home generator keeps the power on in the event of severe storms. 

I was checking out the weather for the weekend and noticed there is a big threat of tornadoes for the Midwest, especially Iowa, due to the movement of Tropical Storm Karen in the Gulf, and a cold front (with snowy weather in Wyoming) coming together. Dramatic weather such as tornadoes and hurricanes have heightened awareness about emergency preparedness and the importance of having reliable back-up power. During Hurricane Sandy, more than 8 million homes lost power along the East Coast, as as far west as Michigan. Heat waves, severe storms and an aging power grid have combined to make power outages a very real concern throughout the United States. Studies have shown that over 3.5 million Americans experience power outages each week, and more than 70 million people have experienced an outage of 24 hours or longer in just the past two years. And it doesn’t appear those statistics will improve anytime soon.

As a custom home builder we’ve responded to client’s concerns about  power outages by installing a standby generator in their homes. Commented Art Aiello, of Generac Power Systems,”The number of severe storms we can expect in the years ahead is on the rise. More people now realize the need for backup power, and many are interested in a permanently installed system that allows them to live their lives just as they would with utility power. Generators range in power from 8 kW to 150 kW and can power the entire home during an outage.”

A generator is permanently connected to the home like a central air-conditioning unit, so the homeowner does not need to be home to turn on the generator. It runs on propane or natural gas, offering greater reliability and convenience than generators running on gasoline.  They can power essential items like air-conditioning, heat,sump pumps, well pumps , refrigerators and freezers, security systems, electronic devices and more. When severe weather strikes, it may take a utility days or weeks to restore power. This can be a big concern for families with small children, elderly persons, or those with medical needs, professionals who run their businesses out of their homes, or homes with finished lower levels that rely on electric sump pumps for water mitigation.

Choosing the right standby generator depends on which systems and appliances the homeowner wants to back up, and of course, budget. Smaller, more affordable units may only operated essential circuits – sump pumps, living room lights, a refrigerator and a microwave, for example. A large generator that can back up an entire house, keeping everything running at all times with no need to prioritize electrical loads. Interested about learning more about what a standby generator can do for your peace-of mind during severe weather? Visit the websites of  two Wisconsin based companies that are leaders in generator technology: Generac Power Systems and Kohler Generators.

Relaxing by the fireplace

As a custom home builder, we help create what’s important to you in your home. Want to live in your home forever or caring for an aging parent now? We’ll explore all aspects of accessible design. Needing a dedicated area for a home theater or weekly jam band sessions? We’ll create a sound-proof room in your home. But have you given much thought about designing for your dog or cat? We’re just reflective of a fact of American life: According to the U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 218 million pets in the United States, not including several million fish. In 2011 Americans spent approximately 61.4 billion total on pets.

Recognizing the importance of animals in family life, we’ve designed features in homes that go way beyond the doggie door, incorporating canine and feline friendly design such as:

Designing the laundry or mud room to include a mini-shower dog bathing and pet grooming area.

Mudroom cabinetry to store pet food and toys, and even a built-in bed.

Hiding the litter box from view and odor by storing it in a cabinet. Adapt the cabinet with a pet door and an easy-to-keep-clean stainless steel floor.

Create a “purr-fect” kitty hide-away in a cabinet by cutting a small, discreet opening in the side. Add a comfy blanket inside for snuggling.

Install vac-pans in the kitchen and mud room, making sweeping up the “tumble-fur” of long hair cats and golden retrievers fast and easy.

For the cat who can’t get enough of fresh running water to drink, install a motion sensor faucet in the kitchen or laundry room. (Just remember to always leave the sink stopper open!)

Pet-proof screening: Not only a great durable choice for screen doors and screen porches – it’s virtually kid-proof as well!

Dog Shwer

Keeping Rex clean is EASY in the dog shower in the mud room. 

With nearly three-quarters of U.S. households owning pets (37% of American households own dogs, and there are currently more pet pooches in the world than babies!) there is a WIDE audience for pet-friendly home design.

Now that you have the perfect home for both you and your furry friend, are you looking for the ultimate in a comfortable and stylish dog bed? Katie Wozniak, owner and designer at Katherine Elizabeth Designs (whose firm does exterior and interior design “magic” for many of our homes) has created beautiful and ergonomically correct “Dream Ease” pet furniture – sure to add the right touch of style to your beautifully designed home.