Thinking about your “big picture” priorities in the home planning process isn’t first in most people’s minds. Getting caught up with floor plans, kitchen designs, and decorating features often weighs more heavily for most people. That’s a shame.
Taking a step back to think about your long term plans and goals in home ownership will do you a LOT of good before you even talk to a contractor. After a bit a reflection here are the 5 big priorities I’d like to keep in mind when designing my next house (which is about 6 years away at this point). Some of these may or may not work for you, but they can give you a starting point for your own list.
1. Low Maintenance
You probably didn’t even think of this when pulling that issue of Fine Homebuilding off the shelf. Considering how that roofing or siding material is going to hold up over the decades is definitely something to consider. How about the type of foundation or choice of heating system?
Finding decades-old homes that have used your materials of choice is your best bet for assessing the longevity – and maintenance – of those materials. 100+ year old Victorians are often a good place to start.
Low maintenance also has to be weighed against cost. Roofing materials come to mind. If you’re going for super-long durability then slate or tile might be on your list, but their initial cost is prohibitive for most people. Standard asphalt shingles are a lot cheaper, but will need replacing in 10-20 years, depending on your climate.
Metal roofing looks like it comes in somewhere in the middle. If not damaged by hail it can last for 75-100 years. In my book this one’s the clear winner.
Considering wide doors, ramps, and no stairs might not come to mind for most people in their 20’s and 30’s. As you get into your 40’s and 50’s the possibility of having to use a walker/cain/wheelchair becomes much more real.
Building doorways and hallways that are wheelchair accessible is important if you plan to “age in place”. Making sure the main floor plan has no stairs – not even one – is something else to keep in mind. A single stair can pose a big hazard for those with mobility issues… which could be you in a few years.
Designing a home to be accessible will lessen your chances of being forced into assisted living when the time comes.
Putting in a reliable, and low-maintenance, heating system is also high on my priorities. A standard forced air furnace might fit the bill here, but looking into a masonry heater is also a possibility.
With a masonry heater the house could be efficiently heated with wood with little consideration for chimney cleaning. Yes, masonry heaters aren’t totally free of maintenance, but the ash cleaning would be a small price to pay for clean, wood heat.
In-floor heating, whether electric or hydronic, could be an option here. Heated floors can give a home a much cozier feel while keeping the internal air temperature down.
Designing windows and doors to be protected from driving rains is a good idea. A generous roof overhang can generally do the job here. Placing doors and windows on walls with direct exposure to rain will cause them to fail sooner than later.
Properly draining the foundation is also a big one to add to your list of priorities. Sloping the surface soil away from the house is your first line of defense. In torrential rains this will keep the majority of water away from the foundation. Adequate drainage of the footings underground with drain tile and course gravel is always important. Freezing water next to the foundation is a sure killer for the longevity of a house.
Yes, clean. Cleanliness is a big priority in my everyday life. This is a particular challenge with a child and dog in the house! A mudroom in my future home is an absolute necessity, as I see it. The mudroom will be a place to deposit dirty clothes, temporarily set a basket of veggies from the muddy garden, or let the dog hang out until his snowballs melt.
It’s a mystery to me why more homes aren’t designed with a mudroom in mind. With a family it just makes a whole lot of sense.
Just placing your home in a good neighborhood will go a long way toward safety. Knowing and talking with your neighbors will help a lot in the long run, too.
As for home design think about the ease of break in from different angles. Where is the closest streetlight? Which side of the house is the darkest? What is the route from garage to house (if you have a detached garage)? Are motion sensing lights an option for you?
Talking about security systems is way out of my expertise, so I won’t even tread on that one. Let’s just say my parents had a security system installed a few years ago (the kind that phones into a central “command” center) and ended up with enough false alarms they decided to cancel it. Once was from a wasp walking across the movement sensor in the kitchen!
Thinking about these big picture ideas for home design and building will hopefully save you some time, money, and heartache down the line. Sit back and try to visualize how you’re going to handle basic home maintenance at 60, 70 or 80 years old.