How homes are changing
Recent or impending updates to building codes in provinces across Canada - including B.C.’s - mean new homes will be roughly 25 per cent more energy efficient than those built under the old code.
But homes, like those who own them, will continue to change in many other ways as well. We’ve consulted our crystal ball for what to expect over the next decade.
A survey last year by the United States National Association of Home Builders found single-family homes continue to shrink, in part because of that country’s economic doldrums, from around 2,521 square feet in 2006 to roughly 2,400 now. Predicted size as early as 2015: 2,150 square feet. Shrinkage is not yet the case here, according to Don Johnston, senior director for technology and policy with the Canadian Home Builders’ Association. He says homes have grown steadily over the past couple of decades. The association’s 2011 Pulse survey of builders shows new Canadian single-detached homes averaging 2,000 square feet, the same as the previous year.
But Matthew Sachs, general manager of Urbandale Construction in Ottawa, says homes here are slowly shrinking. “Like green did a few years ago, it’s becoming an architectural trend,” he says. That’s in part because lot sizes - which can dictate house size under zoning requirements - have been dwindling as land and other costs mushroom.
He adds that many designers say McMansions are less livable than smaller homes because, like monolithic skyscrapers, they are not built to a human scale.
John Herbert, executive director of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association, forecasts the construction of more bungalows, smaller and easier to navigate than two-storey homes, as the population ages. He foresees smarter use of basements, especially in bungalows; the lower level will become the sleeping quarters, freeing up the main floor for more daytime living space.
And he says a prolonged spike in energy prices could quickly drive down house sizes. You’ll see fewer homes being built with lofty, double-height great rooms if somebody has to pay a lot of money to a heat all those cubic feet of space.
The formal living room is already a thing of the past in many new homes, thanks to the pretentiously named “great room” and the advent of open-concept family room/kitchen/ eating area combinations.
“We haven’t built a living room in the past two years,” says Greg Graham, regional president of Cardel Homes in Ottawa.
Dining rooms, however - or a blended dining/ breakfast nook in smaller dwellings - remain an important feature, he says. Even for busy families, the communal aspect of eating seems to carry weight.
As homes shrink, mud rooms, media rooms and other luxury spaces might vanish.
Condos: The new family starter home
As prices of detached homes continue to soar and the condo market explodes, expect to see more young families buying suburban condos in the 800-to 1,200-square-foot range. So says Avi Friedman, a McGill University architecture professor with an acclaimed background in housing design.
“They’ll have two or three bedrooms and a couple of bathrooms. Homeowners will stay there till the kids are in their teens and the parents have been able to save enough money to buy a (detached) home.”
Those condo buyers, he adds, will still expect quality dwellings.
Friedman, it should be noted, lives in Montreal where, as well as apartment buildings, duplexes, four-plexes and townhouses have been commonplace for decades.
According to Friedman, aging boomers will have the greatest impact on housing as they either downsize to condos or adult-lifestyle bungalows or adapt their existing homes. The renovation business will boom and some building material retailers are already spotlighting grab bars and other assistive devices for an aging population.
The flexible home
With urban building space becoming harder to find at the same time that municipalities push for intensification, land use will become more creative, according to Ottawa architect Jason Flynn, whose practice includes infill housing.
As an example, he mentions clients who demanding flexible housing to accommodate the aging process. That can include an in-law suite that could be rented out until the in-laws are ready to move in or even taken over by the homeowners when they themselves are older and need less space.
Such adaptable housing is also part of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s FlexHousing concept. There, it includes such universal design features as knee space under a kitchen sink or stovetop to allow wheelchair access if that becomes necessary.
An aging population and a predilection for multigenerational living among some immigrants could also inspire builders to design a homes with in-law suites. Friedman points to the Westhills development in Langford, where some homes are already being built this way.
Kermit, meet the Jetsons
The building code can be revisited every three years, says Sachs, who believes that by 2022, those reviews could result in deep green homes that are twice as energy efficient as today’s new homes.
Elsewhere on the horizon? Electricity-generating photovoltaic roof shingles launched several years ago to replace clunky solar panels and feed power to the grid.
“They’re not available in Canada yet, but they could be one of the biggest game-changers,” says Sachs. It depends on how cheaply they can be made.
Software that would allow home buyers to customize their own homes, even tract houses, is being investigated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It could be ready to use within a decade.
In-house or remote digital control of everything from lights to heating/cooling and security systems, already a fact in some custom homes, will become commonplace.