"ReNEWable Living Home" opens Orlando Builders Show, and it's not totally horrible

renewable home exterior
© ReNewable Living Home

There are lessons to be learned from this model home built by Meritage, even if it is big and beige.

It is too easy to look at this house and retch a little bit when you hear CR Herro, the Vice President of Environmental Affairs for Meritage Homes, say, "The intent of our project is nothing less than trying to change the world" – but the writer of the post, Leah Jemirjian, says he was joking. The house is called the reNEWable Living Home, built by Meritage and hyped by Builder Magazine and open for viewing at the big International Builders Show in Orlando.

Superficially, at 5,188 square feet, it looks almost as big and beige and horrible as The New American Home we looked at earlier, but under the boring beige finishes there is a lot going on. The most interesting aspect is that it is designed to be multigenerational, with a first floor in-law suite for the aging parents, and, hold on, "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)."

This makes a great deal of sense for the new Sandwich Generation of homeowners with aging boomer parents and marginally employed kids. (Read more about this in their download about multigenerational trends) There is also...

...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 [lead designer] Swift chose to implement after several neuroscience-backed studies showed that eliminating “visual noise” supports mental wellness.

What is a "morning kitchen"?

Morning Kitchen is perhaps a better name than the "messy kitchen" that I complained about in another house, required now because everyone designs these big open kitchens and doesn't want to have the Eggo toaster and Kuerig and Juiceroo and Instant Pot out on display. Really, the proliferation of small appliances should be the death knell of the open kitchen, but it just keeps hanging around.

And why is it so beige?

Another living room© Kip Dawkins/ ReNEWable Living Home

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.

wall section© HercuWall

The house is built out of a panelized system of styrofoam and concrete called HercuWall, a new kind of insulated concrete form. It delivers R-30 and is rated for 200 MPH winds, and is mold, rot, pest, and water resistant, and if you are going to live in Florida that probably makes some sense.

The house is also relatively energy efficient, designed to use 30 percent less energy thanks to 100 percent LED lighting, a heat pump hot water heater and underfloor insulation. The house has a HERS index of 16 compared to the average American home's 62.

“Slab can contribute to 40% of the energy loss in a normal home,” says Meritage’s CR Herro. “In our home, we will go from 40% to 8% gain/loss through the slab.” To up the efficiency even more, the team speced SucraSeal open-cell spray foam insulation by SES and chose a range of high-performance windows and doors including Western Window Systems’ zero corner sliding glass doors with dual-pane glass that provides a 0.30 U-value.

The drywall is very interesting -- yes, really! It's CertainTeed AirRenew, that actually sucks formaldehyde out of the air through the porous paper and chemically reacts with it to turn it into an inert compound. In fact, the healthy home movement is having its impact felt, some of it weird and Goopy (pivot points?) and some sensible, like good air filters. Of course, it is full of all the latest smart technology, from appliances that "support healthy eating habits" to my favorite: "Digital surveillance keeps the family updated on each member’s whereabouts."

This house certainly isn't going to change the world, but I have to give them credit for trying. The multigenerational design is an important concept that should be thought about in every house design, the formaldehyde eating drywall is brilliant, and they even found a somewhat lame excuse for boring beige interiors. This is definitely progress.

See the whole thing on Builder Magazine.

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