Home innovations that will make your space more high-tech, flexible and energy efficient.

Share story

Shopping for a new home? It’s not all about square footage, countertops and closet size.

Homes are changing. You’ve got homework to do. Decisions to make. Some will affect your pocketbook for years. Others will improve your quality of life the day you move in.

And one … well, it’ll just make your pooch less smelly.

California room

Builders used to slap an awning on the back of the house and call it a patio. Now, homes often come with a “California room.”

It’s an indoor-outdoor space with a ceiling and just one or two walls. It can be used as a second dining room, outdoor kitchen or even a living room with couches and TV.

A California room may add $7,000 to $20,000 to the home price.

Disappearing walls

Some homes come with a disappearing back wall made of accordion-style bi-fold doors that fold aside, opening your great room to the backyard.

“It has huge style points,” recent Folsom, California, homebuyer Ian Cornell said. “It looks great and [has a] feeling of open space and connecting to the outdoors.”


Baby boomers, some now in their early 70s, want homes where they can age in place.

So some new-home communities are including elevators as an option.

Builder Mike Paris of BlackPine Communities in California estimates that an elevator adds $25,000 to $35,000 to the price of the house, depending on how many “stops” it has. But you don’t have to buy the elevator yet. The spaces on each floor can serve as closets, pantries and storage rooms in the meantime.

Doggy showers

Introducing the indoor doggy shower, with tiled walls, a half-tub and hot and cold faucets, often located in the laundry room.

Builders are also putting  doggy drawers in the kitchen of new homes: Slide open the bottom cabinet drawer, and it holds your pet’s eating dish and water bowl.

Insulated attics

Energy efficiency is about more than adding solar panels to your roof. The real bang for your buck may involve a new approach to attic insulation. Technology expert Bob Raymer of the California Building Industry Association suggests adding R19 insulation in the attic’s ceiling rafters to keep attic temperatures closer to temperatures in the house below, which will cool air conditioning ducts and warm heat ducts, making it easier for them to do their job.

Next-gen stoves

New home energy efficiency is a fast-changing realm. A pioneering company, De Young Builders in Fresno, California, is constructing some of the first “zero net energy” homes in California.

For cooks, though, going no-carbon means next-generation stove-top cooking without gas. That’s going to be a tough sell for some traditionalists. De Young and other builders hope to make it easier by offering electricity-based induction stove tops as an alternative.


Lennar Homes officials say more buyers are multigenerational families who want to live under one roof, but who also want some distance from each other. So the company has begun building in-law apartments with a front door of their own and another door to the main house.

The apartments have kitchenettes, a living room, bathroom, bedroom, washer and dryer and sometimes their own patio. Grandparents can live there. Or boomerang 20-somethings back from college.

Or a homeowner can rent the space out to a tenant, but that may be a little close for comfort. The main house and embedded unit share the same utilities. Plus, you can sometimes hear noise on the other side of the wall.

Theft prevention

New homes have more tech than ever, such as doorbells that double as cameras, complete with speakers. With them, you can see who’s at your front door via a smart phone app while sitting in your office miles away.

Smart thermostats

You can set the temperature of your home via a smartphone app before you get home with these handy devices. Some thermostats even watch and learn your rhythms and adjust the temperature on their own.

Boosted Wi-Fi

Lennar Homes has introduced “Wi-Fi certified” homes that put an end to an annoying modern issue — reception dead zones. Their system even extends to the backyard. An Amazon rep comes to your house when you move in to help you program your system, which includes Amazon’s Alexa technology.