Every year since 1984, the National Association of Homebuilders highlight the New American Home, built to demonstrate:
“Builders’ Best Practices,” concepts, materials, designs and construction techniques that can be replicated—in whole or in part—in housing built any place and in any price range. Incorporating such elements as the ICC-700 2012 National Green Building Standard, energy efficiency, indoor-air quality, safety, universal design, market value and other components of the building block is a principal goal of THE NEW AMERICAN HOME program. The TNAH mission is to show that “housing performance” can be incorporated into the most simple or most complex homes, and that it is equally important as aesthetics.
And every year since 2007 I have looked at these homes in shock and amazement, given how it alway seems to me to be a model of exactly what we should not be doing. How we should not be building. Where we should not be putting houses.
Usually I start off with a walkscore of the location of the site, because you can't call a house green if it is in the middle of nowhere and you have to drive everywhere.
I cannot do that this year because it's a secret; the house is in a gated community in Henderson, a suburb of Las Vegas, and the only way you can get there is by shuttle bus from the convention. They do not say if you are blindfolded in the bus.
UPDATE: I found the location at the back of a brochure and it has a walkscore of 3 and a transit score of 0.
The great Toronto restaurant critic Joanne Kates once did a memorable review where she wrote "the walls are beige. The tablecloths are beige. The plates are beige. Even the food is beige." The same could be said about the New American Home. Last year, I reported that The 2015 New American Home is big, beige and foamy; This year takes beige and grey to a whole new level. Designed by Josh Moser of Element Design Build, the house is so neutral that it could be the site for the next international peace talks. The photographer was no help, shooting it mostly in the evening so that it is, frankly, often depressing in its beigeness.
But there are actually some interesting things going on from a green building point of view. For one thing, the language of sustainability is changing faster than I thought; I recently discussed Why we should be talking about comfort, not energy efficiency and listen to this:
The home was designed on the basic principles of heat, moisture, and relative humidity control. In designing for maximum comfort, human metabolic rates for sitting, sleeping, and being active— while wearing long sleeves and short sleeves—were closely examined. “For us, designing on the basis of comfort was a big philosophical change,” says Achilles Karagiozis, global director of building science at Owens Corning. “But gigajoules don’t make people happy.” Comfort, sustainability, and lasting construction do, however, not to mention the lower utility bills that come with an envelope as tight as this one.
To get to the energy efficiency numbers they wanted for this house, the designers got rid of quite a few windows and used special glass. “In the original design, we had a lot more operable windows and doors,” [Element design build owner] Anderson says. “But once the sun hits your windows, you’ve created a major heat component. To get our numbers to work, we had to get rid of some of them.”
Unlike last year's foam palace, this house is insulated with blown-in fiberglass with R58 in the roof and R31 in the walls. It is sealed tight, and blower-door tested at 2.69 air changes per hour. That's really tight for a house like this.
The home uses solar energy to power a portion of its electrical systems, space conditioning and hot water systems. The 19.215KW Photovoltaic (PV) system will provide approximately 110% of the annual energy needs for the home. A synchronized system of (5) Bosch natural gas-fueled tankless water heaters satis es all of the hot water needs. The home also features both natural gas and electric car charging stations in the garage.
Of course it has smart everything, "The Savant App provides homeowners with an incredible experience that’s unlike anything else in the home automation market. It offers a simple, intuitive interface, and puts more control in the hands of the homeowner than ever before. The app enables homeowners to control their lighting, climate, shades, entertainment, and security from a single interface."
The house also has every label under the Las Vegas sun:
TNAH 2016 is designed to exceed the requirements for certification to the Emerald level of the National Green Building StandardTM. Its energy efficient features can be used in homes in a hot-dry climate at any price point with similar energy savings. The home is also targeted to be certified Platinum under the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED for Homes program, the EPA Energy Star program as well as the Indoor airPLUS program and DOE Zero Energy Ready Home.
I am having trouble getting as worked up about this years THAH as I have in the past. Perhaps it is because they all look so much alike, they are all so big and beige, and at 5,200 square feet this fits right in. I can only complain so often about how location matters, how a house in the middle of nowhere can't be called green and a house this big cannot be called a model of sustainability. That a five car garage is ridiculous. But there are in fact some good things happening here; the thinking about comfort, the "systems engineering" approach, the actual thinking about siting and window placement, the words are right:
The residence is designed to integrate multi-generational living combining an inviting layout with elegant style, eccentric interiors that blend indoor-outdoor living lifestyles. The space planning provides common gathering spaces centered among private living areas. This concept allows young families and older generations to live together yet still maintain independent lives. Aging-in-place features throughout allow for unlimited movement within the space by all members of the household. The house also incorporates the latest green and sustainable building materials, products and construction methods in order to reduce its impact on the environment and provide the highest quality of life for the occupants.
I just wish it wasn't so big and so beige and so banal. And dark! I understand that there are fewer windows and they have a lot of solar control, but then you have to brighten up the colors and the photography, really.
See more at The New American Home