Solar panels, elevators, a dog shower? Here are 12 cutting-edge items for your next home

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Shopping for a new home? It’s not all about square footage, counter tops 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.

Here’s a quick tour of cutting-edge amenities now offered at some Central Valley, Calif., new-home communities:

— California Room

For years, builders would slap an awning on the back of the house and call it a patio. Now, homes frequently come with a modern and stylish upgrade called the 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 flat screen TV. It may have a ceiling fan, fireplace and tile or polished concrete floor.

Valley and foothills home builders say they are responding to young buyers arriving from the Bay Area who are looking for an outdoorsy lifestyle at home.

Depending on the level of extravagance, a California Room may add $7,000 to $20,000 to the home price.

— The disappearing wall

Some homes that don’t have California Rooms instead 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 homebuyer Ian Cornell said. “It looks great and when you are relaxing, I anticipate that feeling of open space and connecting to outdoors.”

— Elevators

Baby boomers, some now in their early 70s, want homes they can stay in as physical limitations set in. Home builders call it “aging in place.”

The three-story brownstones in Sacramento’s Crocker Village include elevators as an option. So do new developments in Davis and East Sacramento.

Builder Mike Paris of BlackPine Communities estimates the 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 also serve as closets, pantries and storage rooms.

“This gives the buyer the peace of mind that they can age-in-place without incurring the cost when they may not need the elevator at that time,” Paris said.

— Doggy showers

Fewer young homeowners have kids. More have dogs, though. And many of us consider our dogs full-fledged family members.

Introducing the indoor doggy shower, with tiled walls and hot and cold faucets, often located in the laundry room. Anthem United Homes is about to put some in its Lathrop subdivision. “It’s about three feet wide, two feet above the ground. A special faucet to wash at your waist. It’s like a half tub,” said Matt Gustus of Anthem United.

Other builders are adding 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. Slide it back in and it’s out of sight. No tripping or accidentally kicking the water bowl.

— Solar, now

Going solar is like getting braces. The row of panels on the roof isn’t pretty, but it could pay off with a smile in the long run.

The California Energy Commission will require most new homes to have solar starting in 2020. But some home builders are including solar now as standard equipment.

Should you get one? It may require some calculations, based in part on how long you plan to live in this house.

The Energy Commission estimates solar could add $10,000 to the cost of a new home, but the panels could cut average monthly utility bills by $80.

— A ‘Tesla’ in the garage

If you buy a home with a solar rooftop, should you order a solar-energy storage battery for your garage too?

Technology expert Bob Raymer of the state Building Industry Association says it may be a smart move as utility companies increase rates during new “time of day” electricity pricing. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District, for instance, soon will begin charging more for energy customers between 5 and 8 p.m. PG&E will follow.

“There are going to be a lot of homeowners with sticker shock,” Raymer said.

A solar battery in the garage will allow homeowners to minimize evening utility bills by storing their own daytime solar energy, then tapping into it in the evening.

The batteries aren’t cheap, though, costing anywhere from $4,000 to $15,000. Tesla is among the makers. Some in the industry say prices will come down if you wait a few years.

— Piggy bank attics

Energy efficiency is about more than rooftop solar. The real bang for your buck may involve a new approach to attic insulation. Raymer of the BIA suggests buyers ask their builder if the attic can include energy-saving insulation techniques now that will be required in 2020. It involves adding R19 insulation in the attic’s ceiling rafters, basically along the underside of the roof.

That will keep attic temperatures far closer to room temperatures in the house below, which will cool air conditioning ducts that run through the attic, making it easier for them to do their job of delivering cool air through the house.

— Cooking with gas? Nope

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

For cooks, though, going no-carbon means 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.

— NextGen homes

Lennar Homes officials say more buyers are multi-generational families who want to live under one roof, but want some distance from each other. So the company’s begun building in-law apartments that are embedded in the main home, with a front door of their own, but with another door to the main house.

They call them Next Gen homes. 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 special needs adult children who can benefit from some independence.

Or a homeowner can rent the space out to a tenant for extra income, 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.

— Foiling porch thieves

New homes are techier than ever. Doorbells now double as cameras and loudspeakers. You can see who’s at your front door via a smart phone app while sitting in your office miles away. If it’s someone selling a product, you can pretend you are home, politely saying no thanks. If it’s a delivery service, you can, if you choose, code them into the house, so they don’t have to leave the box on the porch.

— Other tech options

Smart thermostats: You can set the temperature via smartphone app before you get home. Or, some thermostats watch and learn your rhythms, and adjust the temperature on their own.

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.