Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Economics 101 - More Bang for your Buck

Welcome back to our third session on how to save money and be a smart designer. I'm your professor, Dr. Istockhouseplans. If you missed our previous sessions on design increments and advanced techniques, please review.

Today we'll be talking about how to gain more use from less floor space in a house. What is the purpose of a 4000sf house? To bring glory to the designer or owner? Maybe the owner has accumulated a lifetime of worthless possessions that he needs to 'showcase' somewhere. In my opinion, these houses are a waste of space and materials. The newer 'dreamhomes' still only have 3 bedrooms, they're just larger. You show me a 4000sf house, and I'll show you it's 2000sf solution.

"But don't you need space for the media room, game room, and bonus room?"

Good question. In a word, no. In four words, no more stupid questions. See, this is an example of what I'm talking about. Is there a problem with duplexing or triplexing rooms? Let's design an example house. On the main floor, we obviously want a foyer, or some sort of entry. Then we need a dining room and a kitchen and a common area (sometimes called the great room). The living room is a pointless little waste of space. Most people will put their nice furniture in there and never use it. It could account for 200sf or more of space. Instead, why don't we consider a larger room that can be closed off, such as a den. The television could go in your 'den' or your great room. If you like, the den could be about 12x16' or 16x20' with a large TV at one end, a desk and/or bookcases to one side, and a foldout couch at the other end. This way, the room can be used for your media, office and/or library, and guest room. Rarely will these conflict, but if they do regularly you will need to move one or other use.

Powder rooms are also one of those anomolies. It seems as if some people get excited by having more places to crap than other people do. Do they also get excited about having more toilets to clean or more wax rings that could leak? Such a quandry. I recommend the following rule: One bathroom each level. Period. If you have a bedroom downstairs, there's no reason that a full bath to serve that bedroom can't also be the guest bath. Upstairs, some folks might complain that the master needs its own bath, separate from the kids bedrooms. I wonder if some people aren't fond of their children. So create your master bath, but then either make the kids go downstairs, or put a second door to the hallway with a lock so that you can choose to let them use it or not. And why every child would need their own bathroom is beyond me. There is probably no quicker way to create a socially dysfunctional child than by giving them every convenience. It's true that a few houses on istockhouseplans.com have 2-1/2 baths. We'll just call this variety for the masses.

If you do indeed care to include bonus space in your house, it needn't be excessive. A 6x6' loft can adequately be used for a computer nook. If it starts reaching 10x10', you should consider designing it so that it could be walled off as a bedroom if the owner desired. Sometimes this will help with permit costs as well.

Kitchen and dining space design can take two basic routes. The first is to create one huge room that accommodates all those needs, as well as an informal gathering space. The second is to give each function its own room. I'm not talking about walling them off and shutting them with doors. Rather, separate them with short half walls and an archway. They could be linear or grouped. This way you don't need to have both a formal dining (which will rarely be used and waste space) and an informal eating nook. Your dining should be designed to suit both functions, or just make it formal and use it all the time anyway.

If you are worried that a 12x12' kids room isn't big enough for their bed, desk, dresser, toys, etc., then you need to rethink furniture. A Captain's bed is a half-height bunk that sits over a desk. Or the bed could sit over a low chest of drawers. Or if you've got vaulted ceilings you could bunk the bed over a slightly lowered closet. Or build a dresser in to the closet. Any web search for convertible furniture should yield excellent results.

If you need somewhere to display your artwork, hang it in a hallway, or devote a guest room as a gallery, or spread it throughout the house. If your art is three dimensional you can intersperse it on bookshelves and such. Another great idea is to create niches in your walls. An any interior wall where there is no conflict with plumbing, electrical, or mechanical, frame a window (only a flat 2x header is needs, mind you). Sheetrock it over on one side, and on the other side finish out the studs. If you've framed your studs at 24" o.c., you will end up with a 21" wide display niche. Either use them sparingly or regularly.

Windows are a highly important feature of homes, and the more the better. If you want light and privacy, use several 22x22" windows between studs. Skylights are fine, but they have a tendency to leak if not installed correctly. Install as many windows as your budget and bracing can afford. You can even place them in a walk-in closet for natural light.

Finally consider the laundry room. Having it immediately accessible to the bedrooms is very handy. If your bedrooms are up and the laundry down, look for a closet or even wall space to install a laundry chute. The laundry chute will keep you from having to lug all the dirty clothes downstairs. If you have a little more space, a dumbwaiter would be handy for hoisting the clean clothes back upstairs.

Thanks for being willing to learn this week, next week we'll talk a little bit about streamlining your electrical systems and some home automation features. For your homework, take your previous house design and try to alter it to combine functions. Check istockhouseplans.com if you need inspiration. Come next week prepared to defend your reasoning.

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