Tag Archives: security

Systems make a house work

Your home is a system in itself, but there are several other systems that are an integral part of the whole.

These include, but may not be limited to an electrical system, plumbing, heating, air conditioning, ventilation, communications and security. Each has to be considered, and planned for, when you build your new home. The overall building envelope is a system as well, although a passive one.

The electrical system is perhaps the most important to the functioning of your home.

electric system
K.G.Photos / Nature Photos / CC BY-NC-ND

Virtually none of the other active systems can operate without it. When planning your electrical system, you must consider all the other systems that will rely on it. One of the first steps is to determine the load you will be placing on it. This link will take you to a table showing the typical demand of common household equipment. Remember, that not every item will be in service at the same time. A cabin or outbuilding may get by on a 60 or 70 amp service rating. Allow for at least 30 circuits. With a small house a 100 amp service is probably adequate. Large houses will need at least a 200 amp service. Local codes may not allow the lowest ratings in a house.

Most of your circuits will be 15 amp at 120 volts. Some higher amperage and voltage circuits may be required for kitchens, heating appliances, ranges and dryers. Most codes now require arc fault beakers in circuits that include bedroom receptacles. These are expensive, so plan your bedroom wiring to minimize the number you will need.

transportation and electric systems
kevin dooley / Car Photos / CC BY

When planning, do not forget to allow for extra plugs for office or computer areas. Allow for service to air conditioners, furnaces, ventilators, and exhaust fans. Don’t forget your sump pump. If you are installing a hot water circulating pump it will require electricity. You might want to provide a plug for an electric welder in your garage.

Codes may only require one outlet in a garage, but I find this a little ridiculous. I usually plan for many more. Wire for garage door openers, even if you do not plan to install them immediately. Under eave plugs are handy for Christmas lights.

Codes often call for only one outdoor plug, but I think you will appreciate more, one at the back as well as one at the front. Larger houses should have more. Only the one needs to have a separate circuit, but all need to be GFIC. Don’t ignore the deck or patio area. Plan for sub services that may be needed, such as for a detached garage or other outbuilding. Allow for your security system.

Wiring for low voltage applications, such as door bells and thermostats, needs to be planned. If you are off grid, or planning to supplement your electricity usage with solar or wind, things become considerably more complicated and beyond the scope of this article.

Electrical wiring diagrams and explanations. link

communication system
Helga Weber / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Your communication systems need wiring as well. Plan possible satellite dish locations, land line connections, and possible radio antennae. Once again, don’t neglect office, entertainment or computer areas. Doubled runs of both category 5 telephone cable, and the best quality co-ax cable is a good practice. It is best if each run originates in a distribution box, similar to your electrical wiring. Perhaps you will want speaker wiring to different parts of your house or to the patio.

Security systems can be done by wireless, but permanent wiring is a little more dependable, and requires less maintenance. You may need low voltage wiring, a house wiring connection and video cable. Plan the location of surveillance cameras, motion detectors, monitors and telephone connections. Be certain that control panels will not be visible from windows.

Plumbing systems brings you fresh water and removes waste water. While not as complex as your electrical wiring, the possible designs are not quite as flexible. Getting the water to your various appliances and fixtures is fairly straight forward. For the most part you simply have to get it there in sufficient quantity to do the job. There are two sides, the hot water and the cold. Decide if you wish to use a circulation system on your hot water. Familiarize yourself with the codes pertaining to hot water safety.

plumbing system
Pixelicus / Travel Photos / CC BY-NC-ND

Your main plumbing runs will be ¾ inch pipe to start and reducing to ½ inch. A good method is to use a ¾ inch manifolds and run ½ to each application. Don’t run ¾ to far from your water heater, if it isn’t part of a circulation system, or it will take too much time to get hot water to the application. This wastes water and energy.

Plan for a cold connection to your refrigerator and toilets, and a hot one to the dishwasher. Pex or copper piping is commonly used today. Sizes are inside diameter. Metric conversions are 13mm and 19 mm for ½ and ¾ inch respectively.

Don’t skimp on valves to isolate applications or components of your system. They make repairs and replacements much easier and less disrupting.

Waste water installations must follow rules of physics as well as health and safety regulations. All connections require traps and venting to prevent sewer gases from entering the house. Plan for clean outs at the bottom of each vent stack and at 90 degree turns. Special methods are needed to vent a sink or dishwasher located in an island cabinet. Provide for drains on high efficiency furnaces and air conditioner coils.

Codes may require a device to prevent back flow where the sewer exits the house. It is a good idea in any case.

For wastewater, ABS or PVC pipe is commonly used in sizes from 1.25 to 4 inches (32 mm to100 mm).

Many jurisdictions will not allow a sump pump connection to the waste water system. A provision will have to be made to connect to a storm sewer or to daylight.

Plumbing basics link

ventilation system
reinvented / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

I have covered heating systems in a previous article that I have linked to here. Plan the locations of your warm air vent and the cold air returns for the best distribution pattern if using a forced air system.

Modern tightly sealed houses require ventilation for maintaining air quality, and for humidity control in many climates. Heat recovery ventilators can be a good investment in cold climates. Allow for the locations of vents, ducting, and for the ventilator itself. Exhaust fans will be required in the kitchen and bathrooms to vent excess moisture and odors.

How to get the ventilation you need in your house. link

There are minimum clearances required between exterior terminations and service connections as well as between outlets and inlets.

If you do not use forced air heating, then you may need ducting for air conditioning. A ductless mini-split system is an alternative, but allowances may have to be made for drains.

I have only briefly covered the active systems in a house in this article. It is primarily meant as an aid to planning, but I will try to get into more detailed discussions of each system in future posts.

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Building your retirement house

Many new home builders are building a house for retirement.

I am. In fact it is the second home I am building for our golden years. We don’t have a lot of gold to do it with though. We still love the first effort but have decided to move to a location closer to family and a major center.

There is not much doubt that you will develop different needs as you age so it is only wise to incorporate some special features into a retirement house. So far we have been lucky and have not many special needs but they could certainly develop quickly. Getting old is a pain but the alternative is not so good either.

For a humorous look at aging  check out this site

It is common as we age to develop arthritis in our hands. This can make it difficult and painful to grasp and turn things such as faucets and doorknobs. Single handle faucets in the kitchen and bathrooms can be operated with you wrists or elbows. Lever door handles throughout the house add the same ease as well as taking less strength to operate.

Putting higher toilets with grab bars beside them in the bathrooms can make getting on and off the throne much easier. There is very little extra cost if done during construction. A dual flush toilet can save water if you find you have to make more frequent trips to the john.

IMG_1108Walk in or roll in showers are a godsend if you have difficulty getting in and out of the bath. They should have a seat and a sturdy hand rail. Shower doors instead of a curtain offer some extra protection against falls. Make sure the shower will reach the seat. The one piece fiberglass units are excellent for new construction and the cost is comparable to a tub with surround. Another option are walk in tubs but somewhat more pricey. You will still need a tub for those times when young grandchildren come for a visit or if you have a pet that needs an occasional scrub. Put lots of grab handles in your bathrooms, they are a common area for falls. If someone in your family may be confined to a wheel chair consider a lower vanity and mirror in an accessible bath. If there is more than one senior in your household you will need more than one bathroom. Natures call can be much more insistent as you age and you may be desperate at times. Of course if there are children in a family then two or more bathrooms will be very stress relieving as well.

Plan for doors wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair and provide at least one ramp for access to the house. Make certain all steps, ramps and decks have hand and guard rails. This is a good practice even if it does not seem likely anyone in your family will require them. Your friends are getting older too. Make sure entries are well lit. Install seats at entries for removing or putting on footwear.

If you plan for an attached garage with easy access to the house you will not have to walk from the car on icy sidewalks or driveways. It might save you a broken hip or worse. This is a good place for a ramp. A lift could also be an option.

Me in retirementThe less stair steps in your home the better.

Mobility almost always suffers after retirement and the more senior friendly your home the longer you will be able to remain in it. Consider building a home without a basement or a second story. If steps are necessary try to keep them out of the weather so they do not become slippery from ice or rain. Choose flooring that gives a better footing. If it is shiny it can probably be slippery. Add non slip finishes to steps, ramps and concrete floors if needed. Bathtubs and showers may also need attention.

It is more difficult and costly to make a kitchen handicapped friendly and in some cases it may become inconvenient for others. Decisions here would depend on you families situation.

Good lighting becomes more important as eyesight dims and deserves consideration.

Make certain that house numbers are are well lit and can be easily seen from the street so that emergency services can find you quickly.

Take a careful look at security measures. Seniors are sometimes percieved as easy prey.

Finally, build your house for as low maintenance as possible including ease of cleaning. It may not be as easy to attend to routine chores as you grow older and if you are on a fixed income hiring may not be an option. And retirement is just that. You should not put yourself in the position of having to do anything.

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