Monthly Archives: June 2014

House Design Tips, Part One – Property Considerations

House design tips is meant to help you design your home or to modify existing plans. They can also be of use for major renovations. Siting, capital cost, usefulness, environmental issues, operating cost and maintenance are the main issues dealt with. I will also deal briefly with designing tools and methods.

We are going to make the assumption that you already have the land on which to build and are aware of development by-laws for the area. Choosing a location is a whole subject in itself.

choose your location

choose your location

It is important that your home design is well suited to the location. If you are stuck on a particular design, then you must search out a suitable property. Make a drawing of your property showing dimensions and orientation. Note the prevailing winds for the area which may be different in different seasons. Consider the angle of the sun for different seasons (More important at high latitudes). Note the location of all services. With a builders level, or a water level, determine the topography of your property. Map it out in 2 to 4 ft. (1/2 to 1 meter) increments. With this information you can decide to work with any slope or to spend extra for leveling. Remember that footings should rest on undisturbed soil, with the top-level of organic soil removed. It is difficult to compact fill enough for secure footings. Dig a little and determine soil composition. It is important to plan footings sufficient for support on your soil type. Determine the water table, allowing for possible variations. Ask around the neighborhood about basement water problems which may be the result of a high water table. You may want to design your house without a basement. In my experience, wet basements is a common problem, and usually expensive to remedy. Don’t assume that because you are on a slope you are immune from water problems. Water often travels freely through sand, gravel or coal. Look around and note the styles of neighboring homes. Try to choose a house design that will fit in seamlessly. A two-story house can look a little odd in a group of ranchers. A little variety is fine, but your house should look like it belongs there. The front of your house (the side facing the street) should align fairly closely to the neighbors on either side. The most attractive and interesting side of the house should also face the front. On a corner lot, you have the problem of two sides that will be often seen by the public. You can either design two attractive facades or plan for screening with fences or shrubbery.  Curb appeal is important for resale value.

driveway

driveway

You will need to determine driveway location. Do you have a back alley. Will you have an attached or detached garage. Do you need space for  an RV or other vehicles. Consider your neighbors in this case as well. Is it going to be possible to preserve existing trees or other landscape features? Do not forget the root area of large trees. Consider the danger from blowdowns. Finally, design for the climate in your area. It is advisable to plan for extreme weather events that may be possible. Insurance may cover damages, but it will not alleviate the pain from injuries or loss of life. Nor does it really compensate for inconvenience.

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A 200 Day Review

We have now lived in our new home for over 6 month, so it is time to do a 200 day review.

A view from our deck

A view from our deck

What would I do differently? Well actually this home suits us almost perfectly. An attached garage would have been nice, but I couldn’t warrant the cost with a garage already on the property. It is not a major fault. The constricted entry is a bit of an annoyance, when several guests arrive, but once again it is not a major issue. I could be solved with an added porch. Our patio door is a 60 inch. A 72 inch would be better for wheelchair access, if that ever becomes an issue. A pantry would have been nice, if I could have found space for one. It is only an issue because we live rather far from major supermarkets and need to stock up a bit.

All our systems worked nearly perfectly. The underfloor heating was very comfortable. It did shut down twice, but a tap on the flow sensor fixed it both times. probably caused by a bit of debris that had not cleared the system yet, I have filters on the water inlet, so no new debris should enter.

The heat recovery ventilator was very successful at keeping the humidity under 55 percent and at providing fresh air. I operated it both manually and on automatic humidistat control.

A nice feature is our hot water circulation system which keeps hot water at our taps almost instantly. It took me a little while to figure out how to adjust it.

The house is quite efficient. Our natural gas bill was under $100.00, except for one month, when the price spiked due to a cold snap in the U.S. and Canada. Natural gas provides the fuel for our heating, cooking, hot water, and BBQ. Delivery costs are about half, so our heating cost is pretty minimal. I will have a better idea after a few summer bills.

Our barby

Our barby

I managed to get the deck built a couple of weeks ago. We have enjoyed the BBQ a few times. The East facing deck is excellent. It is nice and sunny for morning coffee and nice and shady for that evening beer.

 

 

 

Gage

Gage is getting a little fat and sassy without much supervising left to do.

The laminate and vinyl floor are easy to clean. A good feature with pets, and without sidewalks or grass as of yet.

Our location is excellent with low traffic and nice views.

Everything considered, the house suits us almost perfectly. We have never been this satisfied with any of our previous homes

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Unfinished Business, Spring Projects

We had some unfinished projects from last year when snow came a little too early. These are spring projects that included decks, finishing the siding and landscaping.

Now the winter is finally over. Trees are getting leaves and flowering. Nature is beautiful.

Crabapple blooms

Crabapple blooms

As always we are operating on a very limited budget. Of course, one of our goals is to see how inexpensively we can build a home.

We hired a contractor for the first time. I wanted continuous gutters which require special equipment. The contractor was an old friend and installed gutters on the house and garage, including leaf screens on the garage. The total cost was 850.00. Our rain barrels have been filled with valuable rainwater that we are using liberally for new plantings.

We also installed our surveillance system. It was one I had purchased a few years ago and never installed. It works perfectly, giving us 360 degree views of our property

New gutters

New gutters

We built the 10′ x 24″ deck with outdoor wood. The joists are 2 x 8 and the decking is 5/4 inch outdoor wood. It is attached to the house with joist hangers and rests on 5 concrete deck blocks. This allows for some movement without damage and is easily adjusted in the future. This method is fine for a low deck, but a higher deck should have posts securely attached to concrete pilings.

 

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The railings are PVC that I was given for free. There was far more than I needed, so the rest (still a full truckload) was donated to the local legion.

Notice the blocking used to reduce deflection.

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A ramp was added to the driveway side and steps to the garden side.

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Railings assembled easily once I figured it all out.

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The deck, mostly finished, still needs skirting. I think i will use white PVC lattice.

I installed our natural gas BBQ and now we need to purchase a patio set. It will have to wait until after taxes are paid and I accumulate a little cash. Material for the deck cost me about $1400.00. Good thing the railing was free.

We spent about $200.00 on trees (mostly fruiting) and plants. Some trees and perennials were moved from our last house and others were gifts. We have seeded some patches of grass but most will wait till next year We fell that sod would be too expensive, although it would speed things up considerably.

Now all we need is some guests enjoy the deck with us.

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