Saturday, May 1, 2010

Home builders adding green and custom features

by Peter Corbett The Arizona Republic April 30, 2010 01:02 PM

Deidre Hamill | Arizona Republic Homebuyers are opting for more space, and in return, builders are eliminating tubs in master bathrooms - creating a large walk-in shower - and adding walk-in closets.
Valley homebuilders, hoping to cash in on pent-up demand for new houses, are offering new design and green features to entice buyers. Fence-sitting consumers will find stone-veneer exterior finishes, wood floors, large walk-in showers, push-button kitchen faucets, energy-efficient windows and appliances, and more emphasis on outdoor living space in smaller houses.

"One of the big changes lately is all about size," said Jim Howe, a Pulte Homes sales agent. "It seems that smaller, better-appointed homes are more in demand."

At its new Lone Mountain community in northeast Phoenix, Pulte is selling six models of 2,000 to 2,700 square feet for $360,000 to $400,000. The gated 600-acre neighborhood at 60th Street and Lone Mountain Road will include a 10-acre park, 400 Pulte homes and 400 from the Lennar Corp.

A key new feature at Lone Mountain for both builders is open space and view fences. Every lot backs up to a wash or open desert instead of sharing a back wall with a neighbor.

Lennar is offering larger houses of 2,900 to 3,800 square feet with prices starting at about $450,000.

Whether the open-space lots and other features are enough to boost sales is unclear.

New-home permits in the Valley slumped to about 8,700 last year, down from 60,000 in 2005. Construction of new homes is forecast to grow to 13,000 this year, then more than double next year to 28,000, according to the University of Arizona Economic and Business Research Center.

More custom options

Lone Mountain is one of the larger communities to open in the northeast Valley in years.

Howe said the company is building smaller houses but offering more finish options, allowing buyers to customize. That includes upgraded kitchen appliances, tile choices and 40 cabinet choices.

"It's still kitchens and bathrooms that people fall in love with," he said.

Pulte offers spacious master bathrooms with a bigger walk-in shower as an option to a standard bathtub-shower stall. The company also includes 5-inch baseboards and offers stepped, decorative ceilings, crown molding, wood windowsills, French doors and wine chillers.

Buyers also can choose a fitness room or larger walk-in closets and laundry rooms by eliminating one of three bays in the garage.

Although some builders are eliminating dining rooms, Pulte still includes them

The builder's exterior colors at Lone Mountain are darker and richer, and some models have decorative stone.

Pulte also is giving buyers a two-year guarantee on heating and cooling costs through its Environments for Living program. Homes feature better framing and insulation, energy-efficient windows and pressure balancing of the heating-cooling system to ensure even temperatures throughout.

Pulte's 2,163-square-foot Crest model is posted with a monthly heating and cooling cost of $128 or $1,536 annually. Costs at its 2,693-square-foot Zenith model are $160 monthly and $1,920 annually.

Green and clean

Buyers increasingly are focusing on energy efficiency and water savings in Arizona homes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that a quarter of the nation's new homes last year met the agency's Energy Star requirements, meaning that those houses are at least 15 percent more energy efficient than a standard home.

Shea Homes' Encanterra and Trilogy communities feature 3-kilowatt photovoltaic systems; Energy Star appliances, including washers and dryers; energy-efficient windows; and radiant barriers that keep heat out of the attic and living space.

A Weather Trak system analyzes satellite weather data to control irrigation for the landscaping depending on temperature and precipitation. A solar-powered fan vents heat from the attic.

"Our research is showing that people still want nice things in their homes, like granite countertops, but they're concerned about their budgets like all of us are," said Hal Looney, area president for Shea Homes Active Lifestyle Division.

The green features will save homeowners money over the lifetime of the house.

"There are green loans out there that take into account savings on energy bills," Looney said.

Shea estimates $2,000 in annual energy savings for its homes in Encanterra, in the southwest Valley, and Trilogy, in the northwest Valley. Shea also hopes to lure buyers to Encanterra with a 60,000-square-foot clubhouse that includes restaurants, a fitness center and swimming pools.

'A better Thermos'

T.W. Lewis is focused on passive energy-saving features with radiant heat barriers, upgraded insulation in walls and ceilings, and windows that block radiant heat but allow enough light into the home, said Pat Adler, a vice president.

"We're building a better Thermos," he said. "The idea is to keep the exterior environment separate from the interior environment."

T.W. Lewis' website,, includes an interactive graphic that explains all of the energy-saving products and features in its homes. Among those features is a radiant-heat roof barrier that will keep a home 6 degrees cooler than a standard roof, Adler said.

T.W. Lewis also offers an upgraded Price Pfister kitchen faucet that has a water-saving pause button. A recirculating pump that provides instant hot water
and saves water is a $500 option.

"We're doing our part to plant seeds" that will save energy and water for the life of the home, Adler said.

More on this topic

New-home features

Some Valley builders are offering:

• A push-button pause feature on a kitchen faucet.
• Larger walk-in showers as an option to a tub-shower combination.
• An irrigation-control system that tracks satellite weather data to adjust watering cycles.
• A 3-kilowatt photovoltaic system.
• Yards, featuring view fences, that back up to washes and open space rather than sharing a back wall with a neighbor.
• A recirculating pump that provides instant hot water throughout the house.
• Built-in wine chillers.

Home builders adding green and custom features

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