Tuesday, August 28, 2007

New Houseplan alert - Durham

To complement our Maywood ADU, we have added the Durham ADU. The Durham is 576sf with one bedroom and bath upstairs and a killer spiral staircase to get there. With a footprint of 12x24' you could work this little beastie into almost any tight squeeze. Of course it is designed to look like most of our other plans with its craftsman features.

See the Durham and all of our other plans at www.istockhouseplans.com.

Street of Boredom

We hit the local Street of Dreams this year. Quite frankly, if it weren't for two houses in particular, the show would have been a waste of time. With a range of $2.2 to $3.2 million and 3600 to 6300 square feet, we expected more creativity.

Our top honors and kudos go to Accent Homes for their Salish Moon entry. This home broke all the rules. We were astonished that their entry wasn't framed by the customary den-to-the-left and displaced-dining-room-to-the-right. Most folks don't use the biggest spiral staircase available as their main stair. We've never seen a house in which the front door commands a view of at least five other sliding doors. And we've NEVER seen standing seam metal shed roofs on a Street of Dreams home. The attention to detail was refreshing. The banded exposed beams were just neat. Inside the house you felt like you were outside, and on the main deck you felt like you were inside. All the lines of normalcy were blurred. The only drawbacks: All the angles were reminiscent of a 60's acid trip, the decor was a bit alternative, and the office and cloak room felt cramped.

Also of note was KDC Construction's Providence House. The rooms were warm and cozy and the whole home felt more like a Swiss lodge than a luxury home. Nice work on scaling the rooms down and your use of rich wood colors. We couldn't figure out why you would paint the timber framed entry green though.

Taurus Homes, your Pinnacle house was charming. With the turret and round-top doors we felt like we were in a castle. The pool table with your huge logo was annoying though. Blazer, West One, and Lakeside Homes, your entries were so run of the mill that not even the pictures jogged our memories. Whoever came up with the 4' Mercedes hood ornament 'bling' decor should be shot. To the owners of Timber's Edge, thanks for opening up your home for the show. Having that lived in feel made it feel less pretentious.

Our houses may never make it to the Street of Dreams and that's fine with us. We would prefer to build on the Street of Everyday Living. Visit our website to see homes with unique features and fine detail that you can actually afford to live in.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Economics 101 - Home Automation

Good morning fair class, and welcome back to our fourth and final installment of the Dr. Istockhouseplans economical building and planning series. Today we are going to be talking about home automation.

You might ask, "What does home automation have to do with building a house economically?" It has everything to do with it. Home automation ranges from simple wall plug-in timers all the way to smart sensors that customize your lighting and music preferences every time you enter a room. These devices will turn equipment on and off for you, especially good for lazy folks who forget to turn off lights and appliances. We are focusing more on the low end of the scale, looking at devices and techniques that will help you keep lights off more, saving money for the homeowner.

The first category to consider is that of lighting. You can buy a device in which you set a timer, plug it into the wall outlet, and then plug a lamp into it. This simple cheap device turns your light (or any other device) on and off when you choose. You can also buy switches that are mounted in a door frame. These switches are mostly used for closets and small storage areas. For larger rooms, motion detector switches are handy. If you want to sit in the room and read a book, the switch can be overridden for a time. Finally there are photo-sensitive devices that will turn your porch lights on at dusk, off at dawn.

Just because the aforementioned switches are made for lighting, you are not limited to that. If you want low-tech security, you could connect a door-frame switch to an alarm. The photo-sensitive switch could activate your sprinklers to avoid condensation loss. Or the motion detector might turn on a radio so that your music could follow you through the house.

Thermostats for your heating and cooling are already utilized.

Automatic sprinklers for your lawn are good for keeping it green, but do they need to operate if it just rained? Many manufacturers make a rain gauge that will keep your sprinklers from operating if a certain amount of moisture is already detected. You save both money and water. Animal-activated waterers will always make sure Fido has a drink when he wants.

If you want to go high-tech you might consider a computer-operated 'brain' for your house. The possibilities are almost endless, but imagine every house system being monitored for maximum performance. Maximum performance is not maximum power, it is performing at a peak level for the situation. An airflow sensor could tell you if your furnace ducts or filters are clogged; a water sensor would detect a slow leak long before you could and alert you; you could know when a light bulb was burnt out without seeing it; the phone would know when your in-laws are calling and immediately transfer them to voicemail or your spouse's cell; the microchip in your car would open the garage door the moment you come around the corner, close it when your car turns off, turn on all the lights in the house, set the thermostat to 67 and start playing your favorite tunes from the Village People.

And since all your friends and family come in the back door, the doorbell would be rung by a door-to-door salesman and immediately draw the shades, turn out the lights, and turn on the sprinklers. Home automation can be fun!

Thanks for your participation in this series of topics on planning, building, and maintaining an economically sound home. Please be sure to visit the archives section if you missed any classes, and check out the istockhouseplans website for examples and more info.

Class dismissed!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

New plan alert

The good Professor has the week off. Instead we'd like to introduce you to a couple of our newest members.

The Concord is a 3 bedroom, 2-1/2 bath story and a half with large open spaces for entertaining. The concept of a great room has been utilized, combining the parlor, kitchen, and dining room into one open space. This entry has the potential for five bedrooms by converting the designated office downstairs and the bonus room upstairs. The bonus room is big enough for a pool table. As if this beast weren't big enough at 2279sf, the potential for a basement exists. We are working on a version that allows for a staircase under the existing one to access an extra 1400sf as an apartment or bomb shelter. Honestly, we really do feel that 3700sf is a bit large for a house. I suppose if your land sloped, you could access part of it as a garage from the side or back with a killer workshop.

The Brentwood is a 4 bedroom, 2 bath, 2094sf story and a half residence with formal spaces and built ins. The front bedroom is versatile as an office or media room. The foyer has a built in bench and the parlor has a built in inglenook. False dropped beam ceilings give age and warmth to the parlor. A butler's pantry leads to the dining room and a built in eating nook sits at one end of the kitchen. Upstairs are two more bedrooms including the master suite and the laundry facilities. The master bedroom has a unique feature; certainly the built in bookcases, but one of them is hinged to give you secret access to the attic space. The wall height is close to 7' tall allowing for adequate storage or even a panic room if you decide to build on the other side of the tracks. A basement option is possible on this one as well.

We have also updated the FAQ for your reading pleasure. Join us next week when Professor Istockhouseplans gives his lecture on home automation.

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.