Monthly Archives: December 2013

Twenty Ways to a Senior Friendly Home

senior friendly
HappyViewminder / / CC BY-NC-ND

If you are not a senior now, you soon will be. Certain disabilities are almost certain with advancing age. Most of us now live long enough to eventually face some challenges. Some age related difficulties may start appearing quite early. Of course, injury or disease can cause handicaps at any age. A senior friendly home should be a consideration for your future.

The following list is in no particular order. Many of the tips or hints can be cheaply incorporated in existing houses. Others are more costly or can only be easily installed in new construction.

1) Ramps– or more specifically, no steps. Ramps are a boon to anyone with mobility issues. Almost essential for wheelchairs, they make things easier for almost anyone. Should be under cover where Ice or snow could cause slippery conditions. Inside an attached garage is ideal.

2) An attached garage.– An attached garage means you will not be exposed to slippery conditions or dangerous weather. It will also save considerable fuel by eliminating idle time for warming or cooling your car, A good place for exercise equipment. Hint– Add a television outlet for exercise time or for playoff parties.

3) Lever door handles– Much easier for arthritic hands to operate.

Senior friendly handle

Kitchen faucet handle

Senior friendly


4) Lever or single handle faucets– Also easy for arthritic hands.



5) Under cabinet jar opener– Two hands on the jar makes thing simpler.

6) Solid surface floors– easier to navigate with walkers. Easier to keep clean than carpet. Make certain any rugs have non slip backs.

7) High rise toilets– A higher seat makes it much easier to mount or dismount your throne.

8) Two or more bathrooms– The call of nature can be quite urgent for seniors, at times. Of course this can be true for anyone when ill. An extra bathroom can save us from a lot of embarrassment and discomfort.

9) Grab handles– Needed above bathtubs, in showers and beside toilets.

10) Shoe horns– Keep long-handled shoe horns near beds, closets and exits.

11) Bases for washers and dryers– Reduce the bending when doing laundry.

12) Higher electrical outlets– Receptacles placed 24 inches or more above the floor are much more senior friendly.

13) Two and three-way light switches– Reduce the extra steps with strategically placed switches. Consider wall switches for receptacles that are likely to be used for lamps.

14) Security– Seniors can be perceived as easy victims. Install alarms or surveillance systems to discourage criminals, Have peepholes or security glass in entry doors. Install strong doors and locks. Make certain low windows ar not hidden from the street.

15) Television, telephone, and internet available in the bedroom in case you are bedridden for a time.

Spiekermann House Numbers
Stewf / / CC BY-NC-SA

16) Highly visible house numbers– Help emergency people find you. Keep a card near your phones with easy directions to your house and a list of emergency phone numbers. A great help for guests or a panicky spouse.

17) A walk in shower– Eliminate the step over a tub wall. The bottoms of showers and tubs should be non-slip or have non slip mats. A shower door is a little safer than a curtain.

18) A seat in the shower– In a 4 or 5 foot shower you may need an extra shower head or a flex hose to make this practical.

Senior friendly shower

Senior friendly shower

19) A ventilation system– Windows can be difficult to open for old hands. A heat recovery ventilator  (HRV)is best for a cold climate. In a hot climate choose an energy recovery ventilator (ERV).

20) Low maintenance everything– Make it easier and less costly to stay in your home.

Many new homes today are quite senior unfriendly. In fact they are often not that friendly for anyone. Multi levels and steep stairways are common. Style is often chosen over convenience or lower maintenance.The trend to larger houses means they are often too large to be easily cared for. To me, this is disturbing. Our population is aging rapidly and our housing should reflect that.

Your quality of life is much better, and the cost to society is much lower, if you are able to remain in your own home for as long as possible.

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Save the Environment, Save Your Money

It seems to me, that there is a direct relationship between the cost of products and their environmental impact.

Monster Turtle in Bangor!
How many miles per gallon, or would it be gallons per mileLawrence Whittemore / / CC BY-NC-ND

If the primary use of a vehicle is for personal transportation, it is pretty obvious that a 4 wheel drive, one ton, dually is much more costly than a compact car. It is also pretty obvious that the manufacture, and daily use, of the larger vehicle has a much more profound impact on the environment.

The same holds true for housing. The larger a house, the more the cost to yourself and the environment. The cost does not stop at the end of construction. Energy use and on-going maintenance is necessarily more for a larger home.

Of course, if cost is not a factor and you are not concerned with your personal impact on the environment, then there is no point in reading this. You are unlikely to be reading it anyway. Most people ,however, will use some type of justification for the money they spend, and for their effect on the environment. I wonder at the validity of many of these arguments.

There is no way that you can live or that industry can operate without an impact on the environment. A basic definition of humanity is that we modify our environment to suit us rather than adapting to conditions. The mold was set from the first use of fire, the first use of clothing and the first construction of shelter. We are not totally unique. Birds build nests and many animals construct burrows.

Campfire Pinecone / CC BY-SA

We are unique in our use of fire. Our use of fire seems to have had the single most detrimental effect on our environment. It has also been the single biggest boon to mankind, without which civilization would not exist. Nor could we support the six billion or so people who now populate this planet.

So are there practical alternatives today? Probably not.The cost factor suggests to me that converting totally to solar may not be a solution. Wind is really just another form of solar. It is difficult to calculate the fuel energy cost of solar because of the many variables The manufacture of components, transportation, and maintenance of solar all require fuel energy at this time. The cost suggests to me that the gain may be negative for many projects. In other words, solar conversion may use more fuel than it saves. This is not to say that we shouldn’t begin to convert. There should be a break even point where solar starts to provide an edge. This may come quickly as more solar is used for manufacture and transportation.

Well what do we do? I think the first, and most practical, step is to reduce our dependence on energy. Simply put, don’t use  as much energy. This can save money and may make alternative energy sources more practical.

The number one choice should be to reduce your direct use of energy. Drive less and drive smaller. Use less heating and heat smaller spaces. This can entail some major lifestyle changes. It also means some major changes in personal priorities.

If you drive a large vehicle, what is your justification? I am going to try to list some I have heard along with some I have assumed.

(1) Prestige – A large vehicle is a way to display wealth and power. Well, you can’t have it both ways. You are either concerned with the environment or how you look to your neighbor. More and more, that prestige item is making you look like a greedy consumer, using more than your share of diminishing resources.

Deadliest countries to drive in!
Probably the result of a bad decisionbrizzle born and bred / / CC BY-NC

(2) Safety – There is a perception that a large vehicle is somehow safer for the occupants. There is some evidence that survivability is better in a larger vehicle involved in a collision. Probably true, if that collision involves a smaller vehicle. If you are going to head on with a semi, I don’t think it matters. It has occurred to me that the smaller vehicle is also a much smaller target. You could probably improve your safety more by investing in driver training for your family

(3) Comfort – Some validity here. A small car can be a little less comfortable, especially for a large person. It comes down to priorities. Is it really necessary or wise to drive for long hours at a stretch. At shorter distances, I don’t really notice a difference, and I am a rather large man. Manufacturers are improving considerably in this area.

(4) Space –  You might need the space for transporting your kids hockey team and all their equipment. This seems pretty valid. Most families, however, have 2 or 3 vehicles. Choose an appropriate one for the job. Consider if a mini-van would work as well as a Hummer. There is a reason for the popularity of 5 door or hatch-back compacts. They can provide even more cargo space than even a large luxury car.

These justifications actually assume that they confer an advantage. Actually, there are many advantages to a smaller car. Not all are related to less cost, environmentally or financially.

Welcome to Polk county, FL.
Is there a purpose for jacking so high?Ant1_G / / CC BY-ND

(1) Parking – There is a tremendous difference between a large vehicle and a small car.

(2) Maintenance – Tires, batteries, wash jobs and storage can all be substantially easier and less costly.

(3) Turning radius – Can be very convenient and time-saving with a small vehicle.

(4) Space requirements – The garage or driveway space required can be substantially less.

Once, while in a barroom conversation, I was bragging about my commitment to the environment by driving a small car. A friend pointed out that surely there was a financial consideration. He meant, I think, to infer that I drove a small car because I could not afford a larger one. There is some truth to that. I prefer to spend my resources on other things.  I could, however, buy a three-year old luxury car, instead of a new compact. I would have to drive it less. I just can’t see any advantage to this route.

john hejduk, berlin tower, social housing 1988
Efficient, but something like an anthillseier+seier / / CC BY

This blog is primarily about housing, but with the exception of turning radius, the above advantages apply and much of the justifications are similar. A smaller house uses less space, less non-renewable resources, and can be much less costly. Of course one could live in an efficient apartment and use nothing but public transportation, but we are talking about reducing the impact of the suburban or rural lifestyle. This lifestyle may become unaffordable for many, if we do not.

Going small seems to be a win win situation, reducing environmental impact and saving money. Now how do we spend that money without having too much of a negative impact. You could hire a maid, buy land and return it to nature, or help a third world family. I am sure you can think of many options.

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Moving in

Moving in was the climax of a summers work. We have been in the new house for a while now. Long enough to get a feel for its advantages and shortcomings.

The house gave us a good felling, and was very comfortable from day one. Of course I had been working on it everyday, and was quite familiar. I am still, slowly, finishing some of the interior.

moving in

Our bedroom suite fits very well

The living space seems very roomy. The bathrooms, although small, do not seem cramped. The master bedroom seems perfect for us. Our bedroom suite was a near perfect fit. The en suite bath with the two entries works very well. It is very convenient.

Moving in

This is as built with only a couple minor changes

The back entry is a little cramped. I think I will add a porch or an attached garage to alleviate this problem. The original design allows for this as well as for an expansion to the other side.

The rather unconventional heating system has been working perfectly. The system has had a thorough testing with outside temperatures going as low as minus 40. The floors are comfortably warm, and the interior temperature varies hardly at all.  I wonder now, why we ever tolerated forced air heating.

Our first months bill for natural gas was $60.23. We use NG for cooking and hot water as well as heating.

I had considered installing an off grid system for heating and hot water. I was unable to conceive a system that was convenient enough, or that offered a reasonable payback. I focused instead on building an energy-efficient house. I was pretty successful, but could have done even better if I was willing to accept a longer payback.

I haven’t gotten around to connecting my heat recovery ventilator yet. We have been leaving a window slightly open instead. Not the most energy-efficient solution.

Our electrical bill was under $100.00 last month. An off grid solution would be hard pressed to show a reasonable payback at this cost. Solar to reduce grid consumption is worth consideration, though. We use quite a bit of electricity and could reduce that considerably with various conservation practices.

A smaller, well-built, house does not use a lot of energy.

One unusual problem developed. The joints between the ceiling and the interior walls cracked and opened up. As much as 1/4 inch in places. This only happened near the center of the house. I was forced to replace the wooden supports with jack-posts to bring everything back together.

The problem did not seem to be caused by settling of the center supports. Unlikely, as they were considerably better than code and  normal construction practice.

I believe the culprit was shrinkage of the 2 x 10 floor joists, from drying caused  by the under-floor heating. I had encountered this problem with another house with under-floor heat and conventional floor joists. In that case the joints would open slightly during the heating season and close again in the summer. I suspected wood shrinkage in that case and this case is some confirmation.

I think it would be wise to use engineered floor joists for future jobs involving under-floor heating. Engineered joists or trusses should be more dimensionally stable.

I am not certain how to address the problem if seasonal movement continues. Ideas include flexible caulking instead of taped joints, or crown moldings to hide the problem.

Our long driveway and building positioning is not ideal for winter. Snow accumulates from drifting and there is not a lot of places to put it. Strategically planted trees and bushes should help alleviate that problem for the future.

All in all, we are extremely happy with our new home. It suits us almost perfectly.

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Weird and Wonderful Homes


Weird and wonderful homes was an interesting article to write. It was a lot of fun to research.  There seems to be no end of pictures and ideas to browse through.  I am just touching on the subject here, and have included numerous links for you to follow. Touch on some and prepare to be amazed.   Weird and wonderful homes abound.

Log houses can fit the environment nicely.

Log houses can fit the environment nicely. 

Log homes are not that weird but are rare enough to be interesting. They are reminiscent of pioneer days in North America.

I am not an advocate, as I feel that several conventional houses could be framed, if lumber was cut from the logs. They are romantic, and quite beautiful, in the right setting. Exterior maintenance is quite high.

A weird and wonderful dome dwelling
A dome building of fabriccignoh / / CC BY-NC-ND

Dome houses can be constructed of  several material choices.  Reinforced concrete is commonly used.  It’s strength allows for berming or burial of the dome. Even fabric, with little framework, and supported by air pressure, is a possibility. Geodesic domes, popularized by Buckminster Fuller, allow for the use of triangular flat panels, which can be almost any material.  An Eskimo igloo is an ancient example of a dome house. The inherent strength of a dome, or of the triangles they may be composed of, is great.

You can’t be cornered in a round room.

A weird and wonderful underground home
Beautiful contours of an underground / CC BY-SA

Underground homes are easier to maintain at an even temperature because of the thermal mass surrounding them. They are nearly impervious to extreme wind and can be very quiet.  I would think they would be an excellent choice for Tornado Alley.

Flooding or moisture could be a problem unless built on a high, dry, hillside. Location choice could be critical, especially in wet, or high snowfall areas.  Providing natural light could be a problem. Views may be restricted.

 Berm houses are a variation of underground homes  They are built on the level, and then banked with earth.

Straw bale house under constructionThe Year of Mud / / CC BY-NC

Straw bale homes are well insulated and sound proofed by the thick walls. Straw bales are available locally in most areas. 

weird and wonderful firewood house
House or winters fuel supply?Denis Collette…!!! / / CC BY-NC-ND

Stack wood or cord wood homes are built by stacking and mortaring wood blocks.  I am not sure if the above picture is a stack wood home, or merely an attempt to keep the winters fuel supply close at hand.  Might be a fun method for a wilderness cabin, using readily available material.

Lake Bigeaux houseboat
A marine / CC BY-SA

Houseboats are often just a floating recreational vehicle.  They are, however. used as permanent residences.  Not very practical on water bodies that freeze over unless they can be pulled ashore.

A good way to avoid property taxes in many cases.

Your swimming pool is large and convenient if there are not too many crocodiles.

A weird and wonderful treehouse
Huge treehouseChristine Westerback / / CC BY-SA

A tree house is reminiscent of childhood.  The house in the above picture does not quite qualify.  It is so large it requires extra support.  Hang a few vines, practice a primal scream, and, you are ready to cosplay as Tarzan.  A loin cloth is a pretty cheap costume.

Night Light
Should be able to find your way home at nightChristolakis / / CC BY-NC-ND

Some are really weird.

weird and wonderful
I’m getting a head-acheszeke / / CC BY-NC-SA

 And more weird homes

Natures Roof
Rocks and weeds?Paul Stevenson / / CC BY

What the heck is this?

Weird and wonderful flying saucer house.
A spaced out ideagreenkayak73 / / CC BY-NC-ND

Theme houses and houses converted from unusual constructions are some of the more unusual homes.

Converted barns, and warehouses, are quite common. Not so common are water tower conversions or shipping container houses.  A glass house, such as one that is built in Japan, would be suitable for an exhibitionist.  Try mirrors if you are a narcissist.

Some dwellings, like the several examples of Flintstone homes, are house cosplay.

Rammed earth home
A practical alternative for many areas.Lsbentz / / CC BY-NC-ND

Rammed earth houses are not that weird. It is an ancient construction technique. Quite common in Australia, and becoming more so in the southern  U.S..  A good choice, where wood is scarce or expensive, and local soil is suitable.

Weird and wonderful bottle House, Calico Ghost Town
I should have saved my empties. I could have built a subdivision.StevenM_61 / / CC BY-NC-ND

bottle house is the ultimate in reuse and recycling. Could be practical in some areas that do not have collection and recycling programs.

Jay Shafer and his Tiny Home
You can get a real feeling of intimacy.Telstar Logistics / / CC BY-NC

Tiny houses are a sort of counter-culture at odds with the trend for larger and larger homes. They are often permanent  structures but are sometimes designed for occasional moves.  They use little material and resources to build and maintain.

I have a lot of admiration for people who choose this minimalist lifestyle. They leave a light footprint.

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