A northeast Florida home builder is offering buyers a new concept in sustainability, one that will help keep their homes livable for years--and maybe even generations—into the future.

The GrowHome from Jacksonville-based Generation Homes is designed and engineered for easy expansion and alteration, enabling it to change as the owners’ needs change. For example, the company’s 1,765-square-foot, three-bedroom unit has the potential to expand to 2,165 square feet of living space through the addition of a bedroom and bathroom over the garage and a breakfast area near the kitchen. Generation Homes is offering the GrowHome model in two communities and on individual sites in northeast Florida.

“Renovations and additions have always been a part of owning a home,” explains vice president of operations Stuart McDonald. “What’s innovative about this concept is that the plan for growth and change is engineered into the home’s design, making it simple and cost effective to grow the home when the family needs it to grow.”

To provide room for expansion, McDonald and architect Tony Weremeichik of Canin Associates in Orlando paid special attention to engineering details such as the foundation, footings, trusses, and wall construction, which is 4x4 rather than 2x4. They pre-plumbed and ran electricity to the areas where growth might take place and left essential materials out of the “grow walls” to make them easier to tear down later.

“It’s still going to cost to remodel the house but not quite as much as starting from scratch,” McDonald says. Plus, the new space will be fully integrated with the original house, and the façade and roofline will remain cohesive. (See floor plans in related slide show).

The concept should be particularly appealing to families who don’t want to uproot their children from a neighborhood and school in order to move to a larger house, says president Cora Johnston, but it will also prove beneficial for owners who need to make room for an aging family member. The idea makes sense during tough economic times, when buyers are wary of overspending on a big house with lots of extras, McDonald points out.

“In today’s market, you can have the house you can afford today and have the confidence to know that the home can grow with you when you’re ready,” he says.

The Energy Star-certified homes are priced for entry-level buyers, starting at $145,990. Standard green features in each model include super-tight construction with less than 2% leakage, R-30 ceiling insulation and R-11 for walls, double-pane low-E windows, energy-efficient lighting, Energy Star appliances, and low-water-use landscaping.

The company completed its first two GrowHomes late last year at The Retreat community in Middleburg, Fla., and has two more under construction, including a 3,000-square-foot custom home with an expandable workout or media room and future accommodations for an aging parent.

Jennifer Goodman is Senior Editor Online for EcoHome.



The GrowHome concept is the brainchild of Generation Homes president Cora Johnston, a veteran Florida builder who began looking for a way to differentiate her company after the 2009 housing slump stagnated the local market.

“Everybody in Florida was building what they had been building and competing against themselves, the resale market, and foreclosures,” she recalls. “Nobody was doing anything different.”

Johnston focused on making the expandable houses affordable. She says she reins in construction cost by shopping for the best prices on everything from cabinets and finishes to construction materials and labor.

“Everybody we work with knows we don’t single-source, and our trade contractors and suppliers are open to it,” she says, adding that she also asks them for suggestions for ways to cut costs.

“We realize that it’s just Stuart and I and our CPA running the business, but we have a very large team of contractors working for us, and we treat them as part of the company,” she says. — Jennifer Goodman