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10 home feature trends for 2014

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In the 1950s, designers imagined that the homes of the 21st century would look pretty different than they do today. Automated kitchens would double as chefs, rooms would be furnished all in plastic, and they'd be circular and stuck under a dome.

Homes being built today bear little resemblance to those imaginative dreams, but they do look different from the homes of the 1950s. Rooms are combined where they were once separate; small homes have morphed into McMansions; the kitchens have islands; the bathrooms no longer look like closets and the closets now look like whole rooms.

Buyers are at the forefront of this process, demanding changes to how homes look and how they function. Buyers are increasingly demanding energy-efficient homes that are practical and encourage families to gather together. One of the most in-demand home features is actually a designated, first-floor laundry room, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Home Builders.

The open kitchen trend continues to gain steam, while the trends toward smaller homes and bigger outdoor spaces are reversing. A first-floor master bedroom and the living room continue to be controversial among buyers. Here's a look at 10 trends in home building that may change the way we see the future of our homes.

Energy efficiency is not a fad

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While going green may no longer be the buzz phrase it once was in popular culture, energy efficiency consistently ranks among the most sought-after qualities in a home. The most valuable on that list are Energy Star-rated appliances, programmable thermostats and Energy-Star rated windows.

The reason for such consistent desirability is pretty simple: Comfort and energy savings. The average homeowner spends 75 cents per square foot per year on electricity, while owners of new, more energy efficient homes spend 65 cents, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

"Here's the important thing: How to market it," said Rose Quint, assistant vice president of survey research for the NAHB. "When you ask buyers if they're interested in helping the environment in a broad and generic way, you don't get a lot of positive feedback. When you turn it into something more tangible for them like utility bills, then their interest goes through the roof."

That trend about homes getting smaller? That's over, for now

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Around the time of the Great Recession, homes started to get smaller. In 2007, they averaged 2,500 square feet. By 2009, they averaged 2,362. But then they grew again as the economy began to recover and in 2013, the average home size was 2,679 square feet.

Why are new homes getting so big? According to the NAHB, people who qualify for a mortgage these days have higher incomes, more money to put down and higher credit scores.

"It's not because people are now mad about McMansions again," the NAHB's Rose Quint said. "It's the mix of buyers that are still in the market that's driving the characteristics of homes being built now. Buyers that don't have the means don't have access to mortgages right now. Wealthier buyers are more likely to have the income and credit scores for a home and the result is that the homes being built are bigger."

However, she thinks that if home buying becomes more accessible to more middle income buyers, the square footage will recede again. After all, 57 percent of buyers would like a single-story home, according to the survey.

The first-floor master bedroom isn't gaining momentum

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Although the ideas behind universal design advocate for creating more accessible spaces for an aging population, they haven't quite caught on for buyers. For those that want a two-story home, 47 percent would still prefer a second-floor bedroom. Only 18 percent were interested in one on the first floor.

A walk-in closet in the master bedroom is a must

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Builders report that the most common feature being built in homes is the walk-in closet for the master bedroom. Only found in homes for the super-rich a few decades ago, this feature is now practically standard in new homes.

Laundry demands its own space

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Washers and dryers of the future will no longer be relegated to basements or tiny closets off the kitchen. The dedicated, first-floor laundry room is becoming a standard feature of many new homes, because buyers overwhelmingly prefer it. In fact, buyers ranked the laundry room as the most essential feature for a home.

"This has been a trend that has risen in the past few years," Quint said. "People don't want to walk over their dirty laundry on their way to the kitchen."

They also don't want to lug their laundry up and down the stairs as much, so the basement laundry room won't even cut it.

Low-e windows are big

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Low-e windows, short for low-emissivity windows, are glass windows that have a special, transparent coating that minimizes the amount of ultraviolet and infrared light passing through the windows, without compromising visible light. Ultraviolet light is the light that causes furniture to fade, while infrared light is heat energy. The coating reflects the sun's heat in the summer, keeping the house cool, and traps warm air inside the house in the winter.

Maybe it's not the kind of flashy technological advances the futurists of the 50s imagined, but it's pretty practical. And the price is comparable to standard windows, Quint said.

The kitchen is multi-functional

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The kitchen continues to grow in modern homes, with more space for cooking and cleaning those dishes. Buyers most desired table space for eating, a double sink for dishes and a walk-in pantry for storing food.

"The kitchen has become the focal place in the home, not just for cooking, but for entertaining, doing homework, social activities and having a desk or computer area for the bills and paperwork," Quint said.

Laminate countertops are heading toward extinction in new kitchens, with builders saying they are the least likely feature to wind up in a new home.

Simplicity is key in outdoor spaces

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A front porch, outdoor lighting and patio are popular, while the outdoor kitchen and fireplace are fading from new homes.

"For a long time in the mid-2000s, we thought the outdoor room was really going to take off and it became really popular even in colder climates," Quint said.

But then reality set in when the economy tumbled and builders scaled back.

"When you have to put 20 percent down, it's hard to have all those things," she added.

Nobody knows what to do with the living room

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"The theory has been around for a long time that the living room is going to die out entirely," Quint said. "What we found is that buyers are pretty evenly split. I would say there's no consensus among buyers as to what to do with the living room."

About 40 percent of buyers want one, another 40 percent absolutely do not and about 20 percent don't care either way. The living room has been replaced with the open, TV-centered family room or great room, which have both become more popular in recent years. But having one, or not having one, may not make much of a difference to buyers.

The most unpopular home feature: The elevator

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According to NAHB's survey, elevators are the least desirable home feature, followed shortly by living in a golf course community. Luckily, those options are fairly rare in single-family homes today.

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