More than ever, Americans’ relationship with their homes is evolving. As research strengthens the link between smart design and health, as more extended families come together under a single roof, and as the construction industry grapples with a labor shortage amid demand for resilient, durable homes, builders and architects are realizing it’s time to disrupt the traditional home building process. The project team for the BUILDER Meritage Homes reNEWable Living Home in Orlando, Fla., is leading the charge toward a new way of building with an interdisciplinary, tech-based approach.
“The intent of our project is nothing less than trying to change the world,” jokes CR Herro, vice president of environmental affairs at Scottsdale, Ariz.–based Meritage Homes, which conceptualized the home in collaboration with Des Moines, Iowa, architecture firm BSB Design and local interior design firm Intermark. But Herro is not far off the mark, as the pioneering venture in innovative design, engineering, and construction practices unites techniques and materials that have never before been built into a home. The resulting demonstration home is intended to catalyze change in the building industry for decades to come.
The unique home can grow and adapt to owners’ evolving needs. Its innovative envelope, fitted with a hurricane-tested, panelized, and insulated concrete wall system, is strong and protected from the elements; its systems bring in fresh, healthy air; its flexible floor plan adjusts for privacy, comfort, accessibility, and plug-and-play digital integration; and its intuitive design adapts to and predicts human behavior by learning from daily interactions.
To conceptualize the layout of the home, BSB Design president and lead designer Dan Swift started with an already successful floor plan from Meritage, and relied on scientific and market research to devise a layout that provides just the right amount of openness. Pivot points separate the home’s spaces to create a design that allows up to three generations to live comfortably together, but also enjoy private space when needed. “We asked ourselves: how can we create a home that can flex as family dynamics change, and how can we do it quickly—with the fewest moving parts and least amount of labor?” says Swift.
A proprietary April 2017 study conducted for the project by The Farnsworth Group polled 325 respondents living in or shopping for a multigenerational home. The results determined that the prevailing motive for combining households is to lower expenses. Of those respondents, 59% who seek multigenerational options are planning to share a home with parents, while 39% of primary residents want a plan that offers comfortable options for their adult children. The reNEWable Living Home proposes a solution for both.
At 5,188 square feet, the home is divided into several spacious and distinct living spaces across two floors. Its seven bedrooms include a contemporary, urban-inspired loft (dubbed the “Fonzie Flat” in a nod to the bachelor tenant who lived upstairs in the 1970s sitcom Happy Days), a spacious first-floor in-law suite for aging parents that’s finished in a slightly more traditional style, a tech-savvy retreat for a teenager, and a master suite overlooking the home’s resort-style pool. In its shared spaces, a bright, open kitchen and great room invite interaction, while a tucked-away morning kitchen just off the main area hides clutter, which Swift chose to implement after several neuroscience-backed studies showed that eliminating “visual noise” supports mental wellness.
Research by Michigan-based consulting firm Cooper Strategic also showed that a light color palette helps clear the mind, so designer Aundrea Brown, who leads the interior design team at Intermark, finished the home in soothing linen and taupe hues, with touches of gray. “We wanted to emphasize that renewable materials aren’t necessarily all rustic and wood,” says Brown.
“As you move through the home, the lighting, finishes, and details either mature or grow more modern, depending on the demographic of the family member who will spend the most time in those spaces.”
Through collaborations with suppliers, the Meritage team implemented 10 applications that work with smart home hubs, such as Amazon’s Alexa cloud-based voice service, to make the home’s living experience seamless through Wi-Fi and Bluetooth functionality. All of the home’s devices are cloud based—meaning they can talk to all current central control systems—and will also be adaptable to future control devices. This adaptability supports the intention that the home, which is built from materials that have a low carbon cost and less waste, can last hundreds of years.
From the inside out, the reNEWable’s Home’s structure challenges the use of conventional products like lumber, replacing them with materials and systems that are more durable, energy-efficient, locally sourced, and easily installed—requiring less time and labor on-site.
For example, the HercuTech composite wall system’s insulated panels were precisely pre-cut off-site for rapid on-site assembly. The first floor was completed in one day, a feat that would have taken two weeks using conventional methods. To further improve the building’s performance, the system is paired with underslab insulation, efficient irrigation practices, antimicrobial paint, and drywall that absorbs VOCs.
The reNEWable model joins several other new, Meritage-built homes that already feature high-efficiency construction and advanced home automation at the company’s Estates at Parkside development—a gated community of 3,000- to 5,000-square-foot homes that broke ground in 2017. This house will be the first of several similar floor plans to hit the Orlando market—and beyond. Meritage plans to make the reNEWable Living Home’s innovations in design, technology, materials, and construction standard nationwide.
“This project taught us to build homes with better materials that demonstrate less cost and a faster process than materials and methods commonly used today,” Herro says. “All we had to do was pick up our heads and do something new.”
Keep reading to explore the reNEWable Living Home. →
UNDER ONE ROOF
To ensure a living experience that’s attractive for residents of varying ages and backgrounds, the project team created spaces that feel right to a variety of buyers, including a multigenerational family. Here are some ways the home welcomes residents of all types.
Visual Cues Changes in color, pattern, and decorative style define and reflect each member of the household’s personal space and style. For example, dark black brick from Eldorado Stone runs up the main stairwell and breaks from the common living space’s linen-hued palette to delineate the entry from the more contemporary flat upstairs, whereas finishes, decor, and fixtures in the in-law suite are decidedly more traditional.
In Plain Sight “Sightlines are critical in many different ways, yet they’re often overlooked,” says BSB's Dan Swift. His design decisions, such as placing the in-law suite on one side of the home and the owner’s suite on the other, create a sense of natural harmony to those moving throughout the house, and help establish a privacy barrier between the two spaces. A double-height, vaulted ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows that bring in plenty of natural light and frame viewpoints also make the generously sized home feel even more spacious.
Flex Space The layout provides flexibility for different types of families, including international ones seeking a contemporary American residence that’s also slightly familiar. For these buyers, a bonus room can serve as a craft or hobby area with seasonal storage, or it can be converted into a specialized space, such as a prayer room. BSB Design considered the basic tenets of multicultural practices such as feng shui when orienting the various parts of the home.
Privacy, Please The reNEWable Living Home’s multigenerational floor plan includes a first-floor master suite, secondary suite, and second-story flat that allows for both inclusion and separation for an adult child or caregiver.
Universally Designed A recent AARP study found that more than 90% of seniors intend to continue living in their current home for the next five to 10 years. The same study also identified that 50% of those seniors over age 70 can’t live independently without some form of help. Multigenerational design features allow people to live in their homes longer, surrounded by their loved ones. Here’s how the reNEWable Living Home enables aging in place:
→ An in-law suite on the main level provides easy access to the living room, kitchen, dining area, and outdoor living space.
→ At minimum, each of the hallways measure 42 inches wide, with 48- to 60-inch-wide spaces in main circulation areas.
→ The designers implemented drawer pulls rather than knobs, sliding trays in base cabinets rather than doors, rocker light switches, lever door handles, and easily accessible appliances.
→ Leveled doorway transitions at the exterior sliders allow wheelchairs to easily pass through.
Keep reading to learn about the reNEWable Living Home's efficient systems. →