The Picket Fence Idea Home: Turning New Consumer Desires Into Reality

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Understanding consumer behavior is crucial for the future of residential construction, particularly in the face of a deepening housing affordability crisis and a widening supply gap unable to keep pace with population and generational trends. 

Meanwhile, escalating consumer demand for resource-efficient, low-carbon, and resilient homes is driving home builders to align their projects with those expectations. 

A comprehensive, data-driven understanding of buyer preferences is essential to developing real-world, buildable, and livable solutions that meet today’s market demands and address the pressing need for improving housing availability, attainability, and performance. 

The Picket Fence Idea Home in Pittsburgh, Pa., checks all of those boxes. Built almost entirely in a nearby factory, this modular concept home was designed to deliver a more comfortable and healthier indoor environment with lower environmental impact while presenting a practical opportunity to provide attainable housing at scale.

The 2,667-square-foot, three-level detached townhome on an infill lot is the physical manifestation of results from the America at Home Study, a three-part, three-year research effort that highlights the shifts in consumer living behaviors and needs during early, peak, and post-pandemic times. 

Wave 3 of the study, conducted in October 2022, confirmed that homebuyers, especially Millennials, are looking for more than just a place to live: there’s also an urgency for increased wellness and eco-conscious living and more options to make new housing affordable. 

The Idea Home’s goal is to physically demonstrate a level of livability, constructability, and sustainability than what’s seen in typical new homes, ideally inspiring others to follow its lead in other forms, price points, and buyer segments nationwide.



The America at Home Study found people are increasingly focused across multiple domains of wellness—emotional, physical, environmental, and financial, among others—and expect their homes to support a healthier life. 

Meeting that desire manifests in how they use spaces in their homes. In the study, consumers rated the family room (not the kitchen) as the most important place in the home, for both together time and relaxation. 

The kitchen, meanwhile, still serves a whole lot more than cooking chores, causing a re-think of the traditional “work triangle” toward a big focus on sightlines into and from adjacent spaces. 

Meanwhile, hybrid and remote working at a large scale is now a business reality, and home offices are not only expected to be part of the floor plan, but also be able to scale and flex to suit several lifestyle needs.

All of those relatively recent consumer demands are showcased in The Picket Fence. “Our approach was to architecturally embody the changing preferences of modern homebuyers by crafting spaces that are not only sustainable and affordable, but also improve quality of life,” said Ryan White, director of design at Dahlin Architecture | Planning | Interiors based in Pleasanton, Calif. “We ensured no wasted spaces or dead corners, and used square footage where it counts—in spaces, not just rooms—where life happens.” 



The Picket Fence Idea Home was built by Structural Modular Innovations (SMI) in its factory in Strattanville, Pa., about 80 miles north of the home’s building site. 

It’s three modules—one for each of the home’s levels—were 90% completed under roof in about four weeks, demonstrating the production efficiencies of off-site construction.

In addition, the team at SMI deployed innovative new products and systems to attain the project’s high-performance and healthy home goals without losing sight of attainability—an directive that began with a collaborative concept and design development process that translated seamlessly into the factory.

As a result, The Picket Fence offers a template of controllable production and high performance that can be replicated in any market, helping builders, developers, architects, designers and providers like SMI remain competitive in a changing consumer market. 

“We believe The Picket Fence will create a ripple effect that extends far beyond Pittsburgh,” said Dennis Steigerwalt, president of the Pittsburgh-based Housing Innovation Alliance and development partner for The Picket Fence. “Design, manufacturing, and construction professionals worked together to balance the requirements of volumetric off-site construction with livability solutions that bring rapid transformation toward a healthier future,” symbolizing how sincere collaboration and ingenuity can transform the home building industry.



Insights from the America at Home Study emphasize that consumers care about homes built for sustainability that are holistically supportive of their emotional, mental, and physical needs. In response, The Picket Fence includes new systems and technologies developed in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) while meeting that agency’s Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH) standard. 

“The Picket Fence is a people- and planet-first solution for homebuilding,” said Eric Newhouse, VP of innovation at SMI, which assembled the house on its building site. “We’ve successfully shown that it’s possible to streamline construction practices, reduce construction waste, limit embodied carbon and operational emissions, and mitigate the use of non-renewable sources.” 


Looking Ahead

Americans spend 62% of their time at home, yet the housing industry ranks near the bottom in embracing innovation, according to the American Time Use Survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Picket Fence confronts that stagnation head-on, illustrating how innovative thinking and collaborative effort can solve issues of livability, constructability ,and sustainability in a sector that impacts everyone. 

“Experimental housing solutions are essential if we want to make a dent in America’s housing crisis,” said Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki, co-founder of the America at Home Study and principal of tst ink, a multifaceted marketing and brand strategy firm in Encinitas, Calif.

To that end, The Picket Fence, once completed, will be monitored to track a variety of data points that will be shared with home builders, designers, product manufacturers, and policymakers across the country.



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