My last blog was filled with the bad things about my house (i.e., all the things that I’d do differently in retrospect). Today will be the opposite: all the good things I did. And if you want to check out pictures to my house, see last Thursday’s post.
So let’s jump right in. Here’s what we did right:
- We went green. As you’d expect, the number one thing I’m most proud of is that my home is a green home, and LEED certified. I feel like I’m doing my part (in a significant way) to mitigate the effects of climate change, as well as saving money in heating and cooling the home, which helps with the mortgage. Even more, the fact that it’s a healthy home makes it far more comfortable for all the allergy sufferers in the family.
- We beat the plans to death. When building a new house, you generally start with the plans. They will, of course, include exterior and interior drawings. While the exterior plans are really in the architects’ or builders’ domain, the interiors are all about you and how you live. A good architect will know how to get you to your dream home, but not all the way. In fact, the ideal process is one where you are constantly upgrading the interiors and looking for tweaks, because they really do matter. This is what we did and it really paid off.
In real terms, this means constantly reviewing the plans and seeing different versions as they are developed. When it comes to architectural drawings, you cannot iterate on them too much (over and over again) to ensure that all of your ideas are in place. Push the architect to make things better and better. (You don’t need full construction drawings; sketches by hand are fine.) Most architects will kill me if I say this, but bring in an interior designer or decorator to take a look. (If it’s someone you’re going to be using, great. If not just use Craigslist; there’s a lot of talent out there.) Same thing with a kitchen designer; the place you buy your cabinets or appliances likely has one on staff. Use them.
- We use every inch with a purpose. As noted in a previous blog, the difference between a McMansion and a beautifully designed home is the amount of dead space it has. McMansions have a lot, the beautiful have less. So as you build your home, always ask, What am I doing with this space? Is it productive space or is it just square footage? Could this same purpose be accomplished with different space? If so, should we consider reducing the size of our home?
When I went to build my home, we literally went through every inch and asked things like, Where will we make a cake? Can this space share with anything else? Kitchen Bar = Breakfast Table = Place for Homework? Now, with 3-D technology, you should go into your architect’s office and a get a virtual tour of the house and start figuring out what goes where.
- We filtered the air and kept it moist. This is surprisingly easy to do and particularly important with a forced air system (which most new construction is). You want to have a system that uses MERV filters, which measure how effective the filter is at getting dust, pollen, and other irritants out of your home. (I’ll do a future blog on MERV filters.) Also, forced air systems are super-dry, so you have to keep the air moist (but not too moist). The answer to dryness is a whole house humidifier tied into your heating and cooling. Both a filtration system and a humidifier can be paired with a heat recover ventilator (which helps you save a little money). Again, none of these things are particularly expensive. While I did some of these things in my home, I wish I had done more.
- We went with built-ins. Built-in shelves, desks, bookcases, even bulletin boards make a house a home. Again, you have to plan them wisely (see suggestion two, above). They’re particularly great in smaller homes, and where the space is well defined. For example, if there’s an awkward blank wall behind a well-positioned chair or table in a bedroom or living room or the walls along the stairs, use that space for a built-in in the wall behind. (Interior walls have a thickness of roughly 5.5 inches. A built-in bookcase will have a depth of about 4 inches–perfect for pictures, trophies, and other tchotchkes.) I particularly like them in kids’ rooms where then you have don’t have to worry about a bookcase toppling over, collecting dust, or items falling behind.
In my own home, I would have done more, but one real success was, after finding we didn’t use a second closet in one of the bedrooms, we actually built in a desk that took up the entire space in a closet with a writing surface, shelves, and other secret hiding places. Plus, because it had big folding doors on it, we can close them to hide a workspace that’s constantly in a state of disarray.
So these are the things that I like in my home. Of course, all of my suggestions are likely to cost you some money, so in the next blog I’ll suggest ways to save some money when you’re building your dream house. Also, if you have some examples of what you love in your home, please share them; we’d love to feature them.