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What's Next for Housing? Homes That Become Man's (and Woman's) Best Friend

It was only a decade ago, John McManus says, that builders based their value on how good they were at combining lots, labor, and materials to produce homes with the highest possible profit per square foot. Today, that's not enough.

"Where we are beginning to go now is having to do with [homeowners'] safety, belonging, feeling at home; now there are factors that far more impact value," the editorial director at BUILDER says."We need to look at housing and homes with regard to what human beings need, in relationships to nature, community, and housing's purpose in society. ... This creates a purpose and mission that are different from traditional building."

McManus could list such ambitious goals because he was standing next to a house that sought to fulfill them. Built by Sekisui House, Japan's largest homebuilding company, the BUILDER Chōwa Concept Home embodies much of what the home's creators say are trends and technologies that builders, manufacturers, and dealers should embrace if they hope to succeed in the decades to come.

Technologically, the differences at Chōwa (the Japanese word for balance and harmony) begin with a foundation poured so accurately it was less than a quarter-inch off square across the 128-by-66-foot structure.

The house is built using Sekisui's proprietary SHAWOOD post-and-beam system (shown above) that's so sturdy not a single one of nearly 178,000 Sekisui House-built homes suffered severe damage from Japan's 9.0-magnitude earthquake in 2011. The only nails used were to attach the sheathing and flooring. The entire house was built with laminated wood cut to within millimeter accuracy and shipped from Japan to America.

Even the exterior cladding (right) is special. It can withstand heat up to nearly 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit, making it particularly valuable in regions that get forest fires.

But it's the spiritual and health considerations inside that make Chōwa more than just a monument to building science. The home was designed to capitalize on what Betsy Froelich, a brand and marketing leader at Koehler, says are movements in American culture toward what she dubbed "emotional technology" and "new enlightenment."

Technology is becoming more human at the same time as people are integrating tech more into their lives, said Froelich, who joined McManus in speaking at a Jan. 20 open house at Chōwa. One big way this is happening is with health, from systems that monitor air quality and improve sleep quality to voice-activated faucets and shower heads.

Froelich pointed out how Chōwa employs both "tactile technology" and warm, neutral colors with lots of wood finishes to produce a calm, considerate sense of peace. People want to feel a connection with nature outside while experiencing a "sensorial awakening" within. That said, Chōwa also is designed to meet different needs depending on the room. Thus, Froelich said, the bathroom is meant to be "the epicenter of self-care and connection to self."

Meanwhile, the kitchen was set up to be the "hearth of home and happiness" and the place where one connects with others, Froelich added. One could say the same about the laundry room; it includes a dedicated place to wash the dog.

Oh yes--it's also a net zero energy home, too.

"Almost everyone is looking for spaces that can help them balance their lives," said Joel Abney, national vice president of operations at Woodside Homes, a unit of Sekisui House. His parent company, he said, "has a goal of improving society through houses." Chōwa

is just one example.

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