The housing industry and the broader economy still have far to go before they're recovered from their current troubles, but it's not too early to look ahead and consider whether any of consumers' recession-era home design preferences are viable beyond the recovery.

ra recently polled online readers about the staying power of one key trend that was gaining momentum before and has accelerated throughout the recession: smaller, more energy-efficient homes. Home buyers interested in smarter, more efficient living began to drive the trend for smaller, thoughtfully planned houses before the recession began. Many others are now looking to save on energy costs and reduce their household environmental impact and are showing a decided preference for energy-efficient systems and appliances and less square footage. 

Square footage has continued to shrink as the sluggish economy has dragged on, report economists at both the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the NAHB. The NAHB predicts this trend will continue beyond the recession, but some residential architects think it won't outlive the recovery.

ra asked: Is the trend toward smaller, smarter, greener, and more energy-efficient houses just a temporary response to the recession, or will it outlast the recovery?

Nearly 7 percent of respondents have a pessimistic outlook, telling us they think that returning confidence in the economy will be accompanied by a return to "bigger is better" housing preferences. But 60.75 percent predicted that while some market segments will revert to pre-recession design preferences, a desire for smaller, more efficient homes will prevail among certain parts of the housing market. About 33 percent have a rosier prediction that the trend for smaller, smarter, greener, and more energy-efficient houses will become the norm across all price points.

It may be too early to say with any confidence which of these predictions will play out when the economy recovers and housing gets back on its feet, but the majority's vote is an encouraging sign that perhaps some lessons have been learned and will be retained.