Entries in Houses (17)


Building for the Future

Innovative construction materials are both eco-friendly and resilient.


It’s easier to adopt new techniques when you’re building from scratch, so the new-home market tends to have more than its fair share of inventive products to offer.

Before these new products come to market, they often come to Michelle Desiderio. As the vice president of innovation services for Home Innovation Research Labs—a wholly owned, independent subsidiary of the National Association of Home Builders—she works with manufacturers to test building products and appliances. At the manufacturer’s request, the lab’s technicians will do everything from open and shut a door 10,000 times to drop cast-iron pans onto sinks to build a model house to test the impact of high winds on a new framing technique. “Our goal is to remove barriers to innovation in the housing industry,” she says.

So what kinds of advances are buyers looking for? “Builders often are under the assumption that consumers are focused on green products exclusively, but study after study shows that’s not the case,” says Desiderio. “Durability usually ranks very high.”

Brent Ehrlich, products editor at publishing company BuildingGreen, which examines environmentally friendly construction, says that manufacturers are taking notice of the desire for resilience. He’s also seeing more use of natural materials such as stone and cork, which he says represents the “what’s-old-is-new phenomenon” taking hold. One example of this trend is the use of mineral wool for insulation. Ehrlich says this material is replacing spray foam insulation systems that “contain some fairly nasty chemicals.” Also, the natural alternative is both flame-retardant and difficult for insects to penetrate.

Another product Ehrlich is excited about is fungal mycelium. A company called Ecovative combines what are basically mushroom roots with agricultural byproducts in controlled lab conditions. The product that emerges is currently being used as an eco-friendly packing material, but the company is working to market it as a strong, lightweight, flame-resistant insulation for homes and commercial buildings.  

But Ehrlich warns that in the effort to make homes more energy-efficient, home owners need to be careful not to seal the structure’s envelope too tightly. He’s says he’s seen cases where home owners try to retrofit their insulation for energy efficiency and end up having to tear it all out and start over because they hadn’t considered healthy air exchanges and letting a building breathe.

Innovators in new construction are also looking for ways to protect home owners from catastrophic events. “Many places in the country have experienced one natural disaster after another,” Desiderio says. “So we have this relatively new goal of how to make homes more resilient in a disaster.”

Ehrlich says that, despite the great work of Home Innovation Research Labs, no amount of testing can fully replicate the pressures of real-world use for some of these brand-new products: “We really don’t know how they’ll last. Longevity is still going to be a question.”

Because defects in new homes can directly affect the entire system of a house, builders tend to be wary about new products. “As a society, we change phones frequently, but product manufacturers have a much more difficult time getting their clients to switch in the world of home construction,” Desiderio says.


Ideas to Spruce up Your Outdoor Living Areas

Buyers are drawn to backyards in the summer months. These simple tips will help ensure a listing’s outdoor space looks inviting. Plus, learn how to properly fly Old Glory.

Just as summer marks a segue from basement birthday bashes and dining room celebrations, it also means sellers should adjust their staging strategy to include outdoor spaces — especially during the months that backyard BBQs and poolside cocktails reign. 

“It makes perfect sense to me from the point of view of preparing for a sale,” says Constantine Vasilos, interim head of the interior design department at Harrington College of Design in Chicago. “Just like indoors, you don’t want any clutter or a worn-out look in an outdoor space. You want people to feel comfortable.”

The staging strategy shift is genuine: Saber Grills recently surveyed 1,500 U.S. home owners, and 83 percent said that outdoor living space is their favorite part of their home, and 81 percent called their outdoor space “the heart of the home.”

These findings don’t surprise Vasilios, who owns a 1910 white stucco house with a small outdoor yard in Chicago“In a typical house, the double door connects to the outdoor space, which becomes a wonderful escape from tensions and dilemmas of work,” Vasilos says.

Since the outdoor space is an extension of any home’s interior — whether it’s the porch of an old Victorian with a quaint swing, a postage-stamp backyard of an urban 1920s bungalow, or a brand-new rooftop retreat with an outdoor fireplace at a refurbished downtown city loft — it’s smart to apply the same decorating principles for the indoors to the outdoors.

5 Tips to Spruce Up Yards and Decks

1. Reupholster cushions and seats in need of updates or repair. Consider using water-repellent, UV-protected fabrics for slipcovers or fitted, zippered cushion covers. These changes will instantly update the outdoor space. “It makes it feel fresh and tidy, ready to use,” Vasilios says.

2. Repaint garage walls. “It’s a good investment,” says Vasilios. “You can feel the difference; it feels warm.” It’s also an update that takes little effort and money. A fresh coat will also spruce up your outdoor space. It’s important to keep the garage wall white; otherwise, it will look cheap and tacky, he says. Besides, the sunshine will reflect the white wall inside the home.

3. Play with neutral color in small doses outside. Paint a small section of a wood fence white, green, or blue in a large backyard. “Keep the color connected to nature; think of the calming feel of outdoor water fountains that are popular now,” he advises. “Just like a mirror or a painting is a focal point inside, the same applies outside,” he says. Avoid accent colors in a small garden or BBQ space; it’s too overwhelming. “With color, remember that the background is green —trees or plantings,” he says. One unobtrusive way to use blue is on the ceiling of a porch. “Think about the viewpoint of where you’re sitting when you’re painting.”

4. Lighting is important. “For the seller, indirect lighting is key,” says Vasilios. For starters, try inexpensive tea lights around tree branches or a trellis. Define a boundary around a table with lights. Sconces with reflectors are a top-tier way to light the outdoors. “They reflect onto the bushes,” he says. Eschew certain LEDs unless the outdoor living space has a contemporary vibe. Be especially wary of fluorescent lighting, which can kill a space with blue or green light.

5. Buy inexpensive plants. Vasilios likes white flowers such as white orchids to arrange strategically outdoors during showings. He especially likes to place them at entryways, where they draw the eye, or at the top of the stairway.

Flying the Stars and Stripes

Since Independence Day is around the corner, your sellers are likely to hang flags to celebrate the day the United States of America was initially formed. You also might be displaying the Stars and Stripes outside your own office or residence. Here are some patriotic flag etiquette tips to keep in mind, according to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The U.S. flag should always be displayed above ground. It should never touch the floor, dirt, or water. What’s more, the union side (the stars) should be in the upper corner. A flag displayed with the union side down signals distress.

If flown on a staff with other flags, the American flag should fly at the top

A flag that hangs over a street should have the union toward the north or east, depending on the street direction.

The U.S. flag should be displayed to its own right, the observer’s left, if it’s grouped with other flags. Other nations’ flags are flown at the same level. State and nongovernmental flags should fly lower.

The American flag should be displayed only during daylight hours (sunrise to sunset). It can be displayed at night if it’s illuminated.

The flag should be properly folded and stored when it’s not in use. Here’s an easy primer on the proper way to fold and store the U.S. flag.

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