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4 Key Takeaways from CRAN 2019

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We’re back from CRAN 2019 in Scottsdale. Presented by the Custom Residential Architects Network and The American Institute of Architects, CRAN 2019 was an amazing opportunity to connect with so many different educators and practitioners in the residential architectural market.

As part of the event, Nichiha’s Tim Seims, NichihaModern Home Segment Leader, gave a presentation, and we were able to attend several other great information sessions and speak with exhibitors about what they’re seeing in the industry. Four of the biggest takeaways for our team from this and other recent findings were:

Cultivating Authenticity

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The era of cookie-cutter subdivisions is over. Homeowners are no longer interested in houses all made of the same materials and with the same finishes. When custom building their forever home, today’s homeowners want to leave their mark on their community in their own distinctive way, to stand out and stand up for something different. 

This desire for a home that reflects the owner's authentic self means that architects need to have access to a wider variety of materials than ever before. The sky is quite literally the limit when it comes to materials selection since whatever a homeowner chooses needs to be able to withstand the everyday elements, as well as Mother Nature’s worst. 

Homeowners also have better access to building materials than in the past. Previously, an architect or builder could spec out a few preferred options for the homeowner to choose from. Today, with the availability of building materials information online, homeowners can take those materials samples, find comparable or competing products and make decisions on their own.

The result is an introduction of more new materials into the homebuilding market than ever before. And while this availability helps meet even the most discerning homeowner’s wants, architects and builders need easy access to resources to educate themselves on what’s out there and what will work with the design and climatic conditions of the project.

Homeownership Is Changing

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Much of Generation Y, or the Millennial generation, are in their late 20s or 30s now. They make up about a third of homeowners, but as a larger cohort than either Generation X or the Baby Boomers, up to 8% fewer Millennials own their own home when compared to the total number of Generation X or Baby Boomers who do.

This demographic shift has some very interesting impacts on trends in homeownership. First, among millennial homeowners, those who do buy a home don’t necessarily see their home as the showpiece their forebears did. They’re not wowed by sheer square footage. What they are looking for is uniqueness and a quality investment.

Most millennial homebuyers aren’t interested in fixer-uppers. While any home needs ongoing maintenance, a Gen Y homeowner wants a property that will last, using high-quality, eco-friendly materials, even if it means paying a little extra to get it. 

In one of the CRAN panel sessions, Architect Dennis Wedlick shared from the audience Q&A  how he bought back one of the homes he designed when the clients moved. It was in disrepair and needed a lot of attention because the client didn’t maintain it well, mostly from lack of knowledge and experience. When highlighting that he is now managing it well with regular maintenance, three panelists mentioned they actually sell maintenance programs for their homes—just like someone would have for their cherished car. 

This type of program is a big help for everyone from younger generations to boomer professionals who don’t have the time, skills or desire to perform the maintenance needed even on the most “low maintenance” home.

Back to demographics, delayed entry into the homeownership market means that rental markets are growing and competition is fierce. With a higher proportion of millennial renters locked out of homeownership, they’re looking for rental homes that aren’t just a stopping point before they buy their first home.

Landlords and investors with rental properties can take advantage of this desire by making sure their units and homes stand out, while at the same time protecting their property. Using quality finishes and building materials will provide a competitive advantage in a potentially crowded marketplace, and attract high-quality and long-term tenants.  

Wellness Matters More Than Ever

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Homes are no longer just a place to sleep. Consumers are realizing how much the design of their home recharges and revitalizes them. They’re incorporating wellness into every aspect: from zen bathrooms to bedrooms facing the right direction for optimal inspirational light. 

Homeowners are taking their well-being and downtime seriously.  

A home that is built to last is one that takes both homeowner health and building health into account. Key factors include managing:

Fortunately, many of these elements are interconnected. New systems like ventilated double facades serve many purposes. They provide a second layer of defense against moisture intrusion, and can even carry that moisture away through mechanical ventilation systems. Less moisture intrusion leads to lower potential for mold growth, which in turn helps improve indoor air quality.

Ventilated cladding also provides energy benefits, especially when cross-ventilated. Hot air and solar energy can be absorbed and trapped by the exterior facade layer and evacuated before it enters the home and increases the load on cooling systems. 

This ventilated cavity and standoff distance from the wall also manages the dewpoint that forms when a cooled space, hot exterior and surface converge. Homeowners looking to manage their energy footprint will be keen to take advantage of new design and facade options to customize their living experience.

The Building Envelope

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Many homeowners will agonize over the cost and details of the perfect soaker tub or custom cabinets but will leave the details of moisture management, HVAC design and insulation up to their builder or sub-contractors, assuming that what they’ve paid for will last. Some attentive and knowledgeable designers and builders do deliver high-performing homes and systems but it is still far from standard, as was discussed in the Friday panel session “The Delicate Balance Between the Designer, Contractor and Client, which included detailed experience and knowledge shared by custom home builders Matt Risinger and Brandon Leroy.

The trouble is that all the elements of the wall assembly are often supplied and installed by a number of different parties with varying skill and care, from the general contractor team to the insulators to facade/siding specialists and masons to the HVAC technicians and window & door suppliers. The result is a fragmented design and building process, which leads to quality issues down the road. 

Modern factory-built construction methods are integrating the project design and delivery, aggregating products, systems and processes to achieve better performance and schedule. But the envelope remains a conundrum. To this point, Lake Flato architect and Associate Partner said in his presentation Saturday: “It’s still a ways away to do some of the rainscreen and finish elements in a factory.” When solutions to this become a reality, the wall assembly will be designed in tandem with the home’s major systems to produce a healthier, more efficient homes. 

For now, moisture remains the top issue in building envelopes. Water, whether from precipitation, condensation, humidity or human-made sources like lawn sprinklers, can seep into improperly installed or poorly sealed walls and openings and cause damage without being detected for some time. The results include failure of the building envelope, mold growth, increased energy consumption and decreased indoor air quality.

Speaking of indoor air quality, one of the biggest industry flaws we’re hearing is the HVAC system and building envelope aren’t designed to work together. The result is condensation trapped in the wall cavity or on surfaces with no means of escape, leading to IAQ issues. 

Siding installed with rainscreen battens isn’t enough. Cross-ventilated cladding systems designed to work with the insulation and HVAC can help address this best, and we’re seeing increased popularity in these integrated systems in Europe, Canada and now the U.S. 

Not all events are that great, let alone connective nor inspirational. But get smart, creative and motivated designers, architects, builders and friends together in one of the most prolific mid-century modern hubs of North America, and you’re going to get plenty to ponder. We really appreciated being there with you all!

What Did You Learn?

If you attended CRAN 2019, we’d love to hear about your takeaways. Or if you have questions about what we heard, reach out to us to discuss. Visit our website to find out more. 

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