Heated shower seats, an ice-melting system for walkways, an outdoor pizza oven and a beach utility room that includes a custom-made surfboard bench are just some of the highlights from the award-winning work last year of local builders.
These examples, culled from the 2012 Home Building Industry Awards, show that local construction firms still know how to complete on a statewide level, builders say. And, despite a relatively slow year for building in Connecticut, local construction firm owners said that by keeping up with the latest industry trends they have managed to carve out a niche for themselves that makes them even more relevant today than ever before.
That's because, according to Nort Wheeler of Mystic River Building Co. in Old Mystic, clients looking to build anew today are seeking ways to recover some of their investment through lower-cost heating and cooling options as well as better insulation.
"They're looking for green technologies to add long-term value," Wheeler said.
The awards included:
Best custom vacation home
Wheeler put his philosophy to work at a vacation home he built at the mouth of the Patchogue River in Westbrook that took home a HOBI award. The original home, on a spectacular site overlooking a peninsula, had burned in a fire, and it was Wheeler's job, along with architect Wayne Garrick, to bring the property back to life.
"The home is absolutely magnificent," Wheeler said. "It's located near a marina, and a parade of boats provides constant entertainment. ... It's almost like your house is in the middle of a marina. ... You can actually fish right off the deck."
The home, built for a surgeon who uses it as a summer and weekend retreat, features quartz and teak countertops in the kitchen, a Napolean Crystallo fireplace, a sauna, exercise room, heated shower seats for cold mornings, a heating system to clear snow and ice from walkways and the driveway and a fourth-floor observatory with Mataverde decking and copper roof.
It also includes remote-access technologies that allow lights and the heating system to be turned on and adjusted with the push of a button on a keypad or laptop.
Best residential remodel, $100,000-$250,000
Nick Sapia, owner of Old Lyme-based Sapia Builders Corp., took an old 1954 Cape on Route 156 in Old Lyme and converted it into his family's home, more than doubling the size of a structure that originally measured about 1,400 square feet.
The final product includes a formal living room, dining room, office, country kitchen, master bedroom roof deck and a two-car barn-style garage.
"It's really a place that has that warmth and charm," said Sapia, who runs his family's nearly 60-year-old, three-generation business. "It doesn't feel like new construction."
Sapia, a certified green professional, included such touches as Hardiplank siding, a cement product that provides significant sound barriers, as well as a so-called Huber Zip sheathing system that is essentially plywood with a factory-adhered waterproof membrane to increase energy efficiency in wall and ceiling construction.
Best New London County custom home under 3,000 SF
Joseph Mastronunzio, president of Norwich-based Brom Builders Inc., said his winning entry was for an empty-nester home in Crescent Beach in Niantic.
The one-story, 2,100-square-foot home, built from scratch after a previous house had burned down, was constrained in size by its beach-lot location. But Mastronunzio expanded upon the home's limited size by making maximum use of outdoor spaces, particularly a bluestone patio area that includes a cool outdoor pizza oven.
"The owners wanted to enjoy outdoor living but be protected from the elements," Mastronunzio said.
An unusual feature of the home is that its interior layout allows for gracious inside-outside gatherings, while the warmth of a smaller home is maintained.
Mastronunzio said downsizing can be tricky, so builders need to make sure that there is no wasted space.
"You have to be frugal with the way you lay out a floor plan," he said.
Best single-family home, $500,000-$600,000
Andrew Karl, project manager for Toll Brothers Inc.'s Old Mystic Estates development in Stonington, said his firm's HOBI Award for 172 Nautilus Way caps off a productive year. The developer, which also won a HOBI Award for 2012 Professional Builder of the Year, saw the sale of 15 homes at the 46-lot Old Mystic Estates last year, all in the difficult price range of $525,000 to $700,000.
The Columbia Country Manor model that won this year's award sells for $544,995 and includes four bedrooms and two and a half baths. Featuring a master bedroom and master suite, the contemporary Colonial contains 3,100 square feet of space and is on about 1 acre.
"It's absolutely taken off," Karl said of the project. "I think we really found some pent-up demand."
Best special-purpose room
Old Mystic Estates also won for its Beach Utility Room, which is a separate laundry facility within a walk-out basement, near an outdoor shower, that allows residents returning from a boating excursion to begin the cleanup process before entering the main part of the home. The 18- by 20-foot space, an option at the development, includes a vintage refrigerator and a custom surfboard bench where sandals and flip-flops can be left behind.
"People don't have to bring their dirty laundry to the second floor," Karl said.
Best vacation home remodel
Pawcatuck-based Coastal Construction Management remodeled a 1,700-square-foot home on Connecticut Road in the Point O'Woods section of Old Lyme, based on a plan by Point One Architects in Old Lyme. The home had to be raised two and a half feet to meet Federal Emergency Management Agency requirements, and a new foundation had to be poured.
Builder Mike Scarpa said one of the most interesting features was a renovated attic space that became a special nook for kids who wanted an area to view movies for those rainy days at the beach. The renovation completely opened up the living space while adding a new wood-burning fireplace and updating the bathroom and kitchen.
"What we really did was make it a very fine second home," Scarpa said.
The home also incorporated insulation as well as a heating and air conditioning system that converted the space to possible year-round use. Original fir floors were retained, while the electrical system received an upgrade.
Best existing home selling solutions program
Franklin Construction won for its innovative trading program that helped bring the New London Harbour Towers project on Bank Street in New London to a successful juncture late last year.
The condo project, which had been stymied because prospective buyers were having trouble selling their own homes, instituted a house-trading program that gave buyers credit for their unsold homes that could be applied to buying a unit at Harbour Towers. Franklin Construction would then renovate the homes and attempt to sell them as new condo owners settled into their New London condos.
Project manager Tony Silvestri says about 70 percent of the downtown New London condos are sold.
Best New London County 55-plus community/best detached 55-plus home under 2,000 SF
Alan Williams, the owner of ASW LLC, started working on his North Woods development in Colchester in 2007, a five-phase project that will eventually include 134 homes on 78 acres.
"We started in a very difficult economy, and we're selling," Williams said in a statement released on his website. "People have realized that this is a lifestyle that they want and they're not getting any younger."
North Woods is about halfway through the development stage, with 41 homes currently occupied by more than 70 occupants.
Williams said moving into a 55-plus community is the next step for people who have either retired or are close to retiring.
Outstanding single-family home $500,000-$600,000
Featuring geothermal heat and green construction, the Residences at Fox Hopyard offer gracious living in a wooded setting near one of Connecticut's top golf courses, in East Haddam.
Builder Uccello Development, a third-generation company out of Rocky Hill, promises one year of free golf membership along with high energy-efficient construction of homes ranging from 1,900 square feet to 3,600 square feet.
So far, 10 sites out of 50 have been spoken for. Prices start at $450,000 and include first-floor master bedrooms.
"We're not building that Fairfield County McMansion," said Vivian Senft, listing agent for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Old Lyme.
Instead, the development is set up to resemble a Nantucket village. The final three sections of the development, which are about to be opened up, feature gorgeous hilltop views, Senft said.