Innovations in home building for life on the farm
LIFE ON THE FARM or ranch is one that is rich in history and tradition, but that doesn’t mean that new trends and innovations don’t have their place. In fact, the trends in home building for those living the ag life are numerous and exciting.
Just as with all areas of agriculture, homebuilders are seeing significant trends concerning technology and green initiatives, according to contractors Todd Warren, of Warren Construction Management LLC, and William Webb, of Webb Homebuilders Group. “Houses overall have really gotten a lot more efficient,” shares Warren, noting that everything from appliances to windows and doors are geared toward energy efficiency far beyond what they were just a couple of years ago. “The big thing is using insulated doors and windows; it really seems to help a lot, and house HVAC systems have come a long way and are a lot more energy efficient.”
Webb, a past president of the Polk County Builders Association, agrees that energy efficiency is a trend that is advancing in leaps and bounds as new materials like closed-cell attic insulation are making as much of a difference as efficient windows, doors, and appliances. “In all of our houses we are using a radiant barrier decking material that essentially has an aluminum-foil backing that is adhered to the plywood, and it radiates the heat back out of the attic before it ever penetrates through the roof line,” Webb shares. “And, it generally keeps our attics about 20 degrees cooler than a conventional roof without the radiant barrier.” In a direct nod to the agriculture that grew it, Webb maintains that with “the closed-cell insulation — which a lot of times is a soy-based product — normally your attic is only about 10 to 15 degrees warmer than the inside of your house. We have all of these different layers that help make a home more energy efficient.” It’s a huge advancement over the infernos that are found in most Florida attics in older homes, and the focus on getting the most for your utility dollars is not something that’s likely to change anytime soon, considering Florida’s notoriously hot and humid weather.
Warren’s company just finished building an 11,000-square-foot luxury home for a client in Auburndale, and another important trend that went into it and many of the other homes Warren has built recently goes hand-in-hand with energy efficiency: home automation. “In that house, there is quite a lot of that is automated. You can turn on and off the lights, set security systems, and control your whole-home theater from your cellphone,” Warren says. “One of the biggest things is being able to monitor your house from your cellphone and get alerts; anytime the alarm goes off at your house, you can dial in and look at any security camera. That has almost become a standard feature.”
Webb seconded the popularity of the trend that puts home automation as close as a homeowner’s cellphone, expounding on all the benefits to a homeowner. “We have sensors now that will automatically let you know if there is any sort of leak in your house, like water starts to overflow anywhere, it will send you an alert to your cellphone. Also, these systems allow you to control your heating and cooling via your cellphone as well.” On the farm or ranch, Webb points out that such automated systems can also be tied in to weather monitoring systems, keeping track of everything from rain to damaging frost.
After energy efficiency and automation, Webb relates that another major trend he is seeing is the blending of indoor spaces with elaborate outdoor spaces. “We are building lots of outdoor fireplaces,” he continues, “and combinations of outdoor kitchens, pools, and spa-only features.”
Ron Tisdal is another contractor who agrees that the blending of outdoor and indoor spaces is a definite trend in agricultural residential settings. As owner of U.S. Quality Steel Barns & Garages, he specializes in the construction of steel barns, garages and other outbuildings. “We’re seeing a trend go towards living and storage,” he says of the way clients are blurring the lines between living and outdoor ag spaces. He cites a building that is going up in north Lakeland where two-thirds of the structure is reserved for large RVs and the remaining third is slated for living quarters.
Tisdal agrees that energy efficiency in everything from windows to insulation was also a big trend in the outbuildings that accompany life on the ranch or the farm, and he adds that having a wide array of options was also another trend he has encountered. “We’re getting more options all the time.”
It’s a development that Warren also notes. “We have such a wide variety of materials that just a couple years ago were not available,” he says. As an example, “One of the big things right now is putting in a lot of the tile that looks like wood. It’s beautiful,” he says, adding that he has put it in his own home as well as in many of those that he has built, and that it has fooled many who think that it’s real hardwood flooring. “You don’t have to worry about some of the problems that you have with wood,” he points out. “It’s just a little more durable and it takes water, and that’s one of the biggest benefits.”
Much of that tile that mimics hardwood flooring comes in a distressed wood pattern, answering the demand for the rustic look on the farm or ranch that is so highly desirable. It’s a trend that Webb has noticed. Sometimes, homeowners want the real deal rather than a facsimile. “We are getting a lot of repurposing these days, especially of old farm things,” Webb shares. “I’ve had a rash of people using the old hay barn double doors that would be up in the loft of the barn; but instead, they’re being used as pantry doors. We’ve also been using the sliding barn doors for utility rooms, bedrooms, and bathrooms. Plus, we’ve been recycling actual old barn hardwood siding,” he states, explaining that he’s had clients ask for reclaimed barn wood to be used everywhere from siding on new homes to a hardwood flooring with a definite unique, rustic look.
It just goes to show that agriculture, whether in the home or in the field or barn, is at its best when it combines the old with the new.
story by ERIKA ALDRICH