‘New Economy Home’ debuts

In two new urban developments under construction by LeylandAlliance — Warwick Grove in Warwick, New York, and Hammond’s Ferry in North Augusta, South Carolina — designer Marianne Cusato is introducing a house tailored to today’s insecure economic conditions.

Dubbed the New Economy Home, Cusato’s design also will be featured in a virtual house tour at the 2010 International Builders’ Show, which opens Jan. 19 in Las Vegas. The crux of Cusato’s idea is that many homebuyers don’t have the money or patience these days for excess square footage and overly expensive features. They want modern things such as charging stations for laptops and iPhones, but they can do without two-story foyers and other extravagances.

Flexibility is crucial, says the Miami-based Cusato, who earlier was instrumental in designing the 308 sq. ft. Katrina Cottage. The first New Economy Home is a 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath dwelling under construction at Warwick Grove — one of three such houses being built there.

On the website NewEconomyHome.com, Cusato explains that a key feature is an adaptable first-floor suite with its own exterior door, leading to a rear deck or an optional back porch. The suite can serve in good times as an integral part of the house — a master or guest bedroom, family room, or home office. In tighter economic periods it might rented out or be used as quarters for “an adult child returning home, an elderly parent, or even one member of a divorcing couple that can’t support two households.”

Other elements
• Optional kitchenette. One closet in a second master bedroom can be rough-plumbed to allow a kitchenette to be added later at minimal cost, creating an income-producing apartment.

• Simple forms. The basic plan is a square, maximizing the ratio of interior space to exterior wall (though there may be a one-story extension at the rear).

• Plumbing fixtures grouped in centralized locations to simplify plumbing installation and reduce consumption.

• A small footprint based on standard dimensional lumber.

• Attic storage: a walk-in closet in the space above the adaptable suite.

• “Clutter center,” a small area near the entrance to serve as a charging center, mail depository, key collector, and home for miscellaneous clutter.

Sizes vary slightly, from 1,676 to 1,771 sq. ft. At Hammond Ferry, the first such dwelling will sell in the mid-200s.

Building scientist Mark LaLiberté and Fernando Pagés Ruiz, an expert in affordable housing and efficient building, collaborated with Cusato on the New Economy Homes design.

Says Ruiz: “The old-economy homebuilding model was easy: overbuild to impress, pile on the amenities, and the rising market price will cover your inefficiencies. The New Economy Home is much more challenging to design and build than the old model because it requires a delicate balance between practical, aesthetic, and economic needs.”

Numerous construction choices have been made with the aim of producing a house that will be economical to purchase and maintain, Ruiz says. Among them:

• Windows are tall and narrow to maximize light penetration while minimizing the structural cost of transferring loads over a wide opening. (The ganged windows in front have intermittent posts to carry weight, and are located at the gable end to reduce total load.)

• The 2x6 framing at 24-inch intervals minimizes the number of studs required, reducing cost, while maximizing insulation value.

• The house is narrow enough to reduce the need for beefed-up framing, while being designed artfully enough to create sizable interior views and space.

• Roof trusses are designed to hold more insulation at the eaves.

A website about the show house, BuilderConceptHome2010.com, will go live Jan. 19. Cusato is preparing to sell plans for $750 a set.