Home of the Future Serves as Classroom of Today

Model homes are typically targeted at the home buying public—builders don’t often build models for other builders.

By Rob Fanjoy | July 10, 2000
Architect Jim Fahy says the Empire Home is the vision of where housing and family living is headed.


Model homes are typically targeted at the home buying public -- builders donÆt often build models for other builders. But one showcase home in upstate New York was designed to not only show buyers the latest features, but to educate builders on the latest building techniques and technologies.

The Empire Home, located just outside Rochester, N.Y., was the idea of the New York Home Builders Association and was built by the Rochester HBA. With more than 120 local, regional and national industry partners who donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in time and materials, the home has turned out to be a spectacular showcase.


"We wanted to demonstrate technology that is cutting-edge, yet readily available," says Jim Burton of Empire Building Technologies and project manager for the Empire Home.

Certainly the most impressive aspect of the home is the energy management system. The home has more than 170 light fixtures, but most of it is low-voltage and controlled by a panel that regulates light intensity. It also powers grouped fixtures that provide pathways of light, such as for homeowners returning home through their garage entry, then the mudroom and into the kitchen.

Special distribution panels allow homeowners to track energy consumption in kilowatt-hours, and they can access this information by telephone. The entire system has earned the home an Energy Star rating from the EPA, which means that the home is at least 30 percent more efficient than a similar size home based on the national Model Energy Code.


"The HVAC system is another spectacular feature of this home," says Rick Herman, executive vice president of the Rochester HBA. "The team of professionals that designed it did a spectacular job."

The two upper floors are heated with forced air, while the first floor features radiant heat tubes beneath the slab. Two high efficiency condensers cool the house and an Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) removes excess moisture without removing the conditioned air. Electronic zone dampers create four heating and cooling zones in the home, maximizing efficiency. Airtight ducts and sprayed foam insulation (in addition to traditional insulating material) ensure a tight envelope and healthier indoor air.

Of course any home of the future has to showcase home automation, and this one is no different. The system integrates voice, data communications, digital and video signals to any video monitor or television screen in the house. A T-1 connection (something previously used almost exclusively for businesses with multiple computers) provides super-high speed Internet access. The entire system can be controlled by numerous computer keypads and accessed remotely by the Internet.


Jim Fahy, president of James Fahy Design in Rochester, did his homework before designing this 3800 square foot home. He studied similar homes across the country and incorporated the latest design trends.

"I tried to ensure that this home not only showcased the latest in construction materials and efficiency, but also the evolution in design trends and floor plans," says Fahy. This meant including plenty of computer workstations and a huge flex space above the garage.

Cutouts in strategic places allow visitors to see behind the walls, so that features such as engineered lumber, structured wiring and the extra foam insulation are just as obvious as the design features. Solid surface countertops and custom-made cherry shaker- style cabinetry demonstrate the visible quality of the home.

While this home is designed for a target market of young professional couples with children and it includes virtually every bell and whistle, there are many practical uses for many markets.

"Many of these features can be included in remodeling projects or starter homes," says Herman.

As for researching and deciding which products to use, Burton says all that information is at everyoneÆs fingertips.

"I was responsible for specifying nearly every feature of this home, and I did all my research on the Internet," says Burton.

The home cost about $900,000 to build, and has drawn tremendous crowds. Often, more than 200 people show up on the weekends to take the 30-minute guided tours. Many of the Empire Homes sponsors have held sales meetings and gatherings at the house to educate their own people on field applications.

There has been talk of building a series of these homes throughout New York, with the Empire Home serving as the prototype. The house will remain open to the public and industry groups through the year 2000, serving as an educational tool to bring technology and innovation to the forefront in area buildersÆ and buyersÆ minds.