By Brian Summerfield, Online Editor, REALTOR® Magazine
When the “House of the Future” was unveiled at Disneyland back in the 1950s, it could have been summed up — like The Graduate Benjamin Braddock’s career opportunity — in just one word: plastics.
Though the exhibit seems utterly dated today, it does reflect what people at that time believed the future held for home building: mass-produced structures made of cheap yet durable material that offered convenience and comfort for residents. And when you think about it in those terms, that doesn’t seem too far off the mark.
As the real estate industry, the economy, technology, and society have changed, however, one would expect visions about the “House of the Future” would evolve as well. Is there an example today that we could point to as a possible model for tomorrow’s homes?
Possibly, yes. A strong case can be made for the North Pointe development in Frederick, Md. Developed by Nexus EnergyHomes and officially opened last month, the houses are remarkable for two reasons:
- Fully integrated, networked electrical systems within the homes.
- “Net Zero” construction, which allows residents to save significantly on energy costs.
The first feature offers residents the ability to control every electrical mechanism and appliance in their house — from light switches to stoves — via an iPad (which is included in the home purchase). And they can manage these remotely, as well, from any device that has an Internet connection.
“If you’re driving home on a dark, rainy night, you can turn on your front porch light, turn up the heat in your house, and preheat your oven for dinner before you get home,” says Mike Muren, executive vice president of Nexus EnergyHomes and one of REALTOR Magazine’s 30 Under 30 honorees in 2008.
A diagram of the energy solutions in a North Pointe home.
The second element includes solar-energy roof panels, geothermal energy piped in from hundreds of feet below ground, and structurally insulated panels. All this adds up to significant financial benefits for North Pointe home owners, who can take advantage of green tax credits and pay almost nothing in energy bills over the course of a year.
Now, many of these concepts aren’t new. Home-networking technologies have been around for about a decade, and several of the green-energy solutions in this development have existed much longer than that. So what’s different?
“People have built individual homes that have these technologies,” Muren explains. “But no one has done it on a large scale until recently because the prices didn’t make sense.”
And that brings us to what’s perhaps the most important aspect of these houses: They’re neither a one-off for a wealthy individual building a cutting-edge home (think Bill Gates), nor an amusement-park demonstration of a far-off future. Instead, they’re attainable, affordable residences for regular consumers in the D.C./Baltimore area. They start at $295,000, which is equal to or below the standard prices for similar production homes in the area, Muren says. And in spite of economic doldrums, the appeal of these houses is especially high.
“Everything’s going really good,” Muren says. “We’ve gotten a crazy amount of interest since we started marketing the project.”