It’s hard to remember a time when these 15 products weren’t mainstays of the average custom home project. We scoured our back issues and our design awards program to see which ones have become essentials in your work. These are our results.

new wood

With wood, architects have had to accept rot, moisture, and eventual decay. Manufacturers say a new generation of thermally treated and acetylated lumber will virtually eliminate many problems associated with wood in exterior applications. Some claims say life expectancy is 20-plus years.

cable rail

Versatile enough for interior and exterior applications, stainless steel cable has become the go-to option when architects want to create safety railings that maintain sight lines, views, and light.

quartz-based surfacing

Architects were slow to adopt quartz-based surfacing, but today it often is found on our design awards product sheets. Made with 93 percent quartz, it is heat and scratch resistant and comes in more than 100 colors.

high-performance hvac

Air conditioning is the most expensive part of maintaining a home, which is why architects spec high-performing HVAC systems to minimize energy consumption. Some heat pumps offer SEER ratings as high as 21.

fiber cement siding

Made from cement, wood pulp, and sand, the material has become one of the most oft-speced exterior claddings among residential architects. It promises rot and moisture resistance and protection from decay.

engineered structural products

Architects no longer have to deal with jobsite calculations, waste, and inconsistent dimensional lumber. Engineered wood products offer faster installation, precut roof and floor joints, and straight laminated strand lumber.

low-voc paints

The development of “cleaner” organic compounds, advances in resin technology, and water-based latex polymers have helped make high-performance no- and low-VOC paints possible. Some of these are just as good as—or better than—solvent-based finishes.

spray foam insulation

Depending on the budget and the location, foam insulation is the preferred spec for some residential pros. It may have to do with the product’s R-value of about 7 per inch, or it might be that the product is an air and vapor barrier in one.

polycarbonate/resin panels

Polycarbonate and resin panels are popular for several reasons: frosted glass can be heavy and impractical; they permit light but maintain privacy; and some products feature interlayers of fabric, foliage, and metal for architectural interest and color.

energy-efficient appliances

Gone are the days when energy-hogging refrigerators, dishwashers, and clothes washers were the norm. Energy Star appliances, in some cases, are up to 140 percent more efficient than government standards.

tankless water heaters

Instead of heating and reheating water in a tank, a tankless unit turns on only when needed. As a result, they cost about $170 per year to operate versus $285 for a traditional storage heater.

low-flow plumbing fixtures

Toilets once used up to 3.5 gallons of water per flush. But that was before the 1992 Energy Policy Act and before manufacturers developed dual-flush technology and units that use as little as 0.8 gallons.

energy-efficient lighting

Saving energy on lights used to consist of an incandescent bulb on a dimmer, but the improvement of the compact fluorescent and the development of the LED makes saving energy easy.

high-performance windows

We’ve come a long way from inefficient single-pane windows. Today, architects have at their disposal windows with low-E double and even triple panes, argon and krypton gasses, and units with R-values as high as 11.

radiant-heated floors

Radiant-heated floors are more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts. It saves up to 40 percent on heating costs and puts heat at floor level where it’s needed.