Almost no houses have substantial eaves.
Also, I have too much experience with rotted wood decks, this one is concrete :-) and it ever so slightly slopes away from the house. All in an effort to keep the house naturally dry. A damp house is a terrible thing in the PNW.
Don't ever buy a house where the driveway slopes towards the garage. You'll get a flooded garage/basement at some point guaranteed. Make sure your garage floor has a slight slope towards the door. It's the little things like this that count. (You can't even tell there is a slope on mine, except it's much easier to push the car out of the garage than in.)
Houses around here on the north slope of a hill are cheaper than on the south slope. There's a good reason for that. Hello mildew!
The look on their faces, (and the rework on the just started forms) told me that these expeniced concrete workers never even thought of this. Luckily they got it right but this shouldn't have been something the homeowner should have to tell them but it was.
The exterior siding here is Dryvit. When installed properly, it'll be perfect for decades. But it is normally not installed properly. I hired an independent Dryvit inspector, and the contract with the Dryvit installer was it would pass inspection.
He had to tear it all off twice and do it again before it passed. Turns out the contractor's workers had never done Dryvit before, and had to be taught by the inspector. Paying the inspector turned out to be money very well spent.
My neighbor had to have his Stucco-Flex (Dryvit competitor) all pulled off at great expense and redone about 10 years after his house was finished.
I am interested in seeing your checklist. Though I am still far out from owning my home, I am nonetheless curious about these sorts of things, and the more I an can learn now, the less I have to crash course during trying to get a purchase or construction contract.
I explained that professional just means someone willing to do the least amount of work for the most amount of money. What you want is a craftsman (craftsperson?), but those are exceedingly rare.
For example, skimming a wall. Not hard to learn what you need to do, but when you actually do it... It's a lot harder than it looks. You can think it's perfectly flat and then step back or the light hits it a bit differently and it's just am obvious nasty blob.
I've only patched a few holes (from 'chasing' cables) - if I did the whole plasterboard join it'd be a mess, I'm sure.
It's such an aesthetic difference that if I built that house I might pay someone to finish the walls. It's not a graceful did-it-myself charm of an error, like one cupboard door that opens the other way or something.
Wallpapering I suspect is similarly hard, and just takes practice, but I've not tried.
There are books and videos on software engineering too - and we know that people do self-teach - but our employers pay us because we've already learnt and gained some experience.
Looking at fibre cement cladding for the exterior on an extension for just the reasons you say- plastering is an art and easy to screw up (cracks show up for one thing). similarly I'd use a mason for block walls, if we were doing blocks.
Your garage is going to flood if the driveway slopes towards it.
I've had a flood from a broken washing machine hose before. I had a lot of water damage to repair. This house has a floor drain under the washing machine, with (as usual) the floor sloping towards the drain. Ditto for under the water heater.
In the new house, I've had two gushers in the laundry room and one leaking water heater. No flood damage! Usually, a leaking water heater is an emergency. Not here, it could wait until normal business hours.
I have never, ever seen this feature in any other house, and it costs next to nothing.
As I understand it, the building regulations say a washing machine must be in a room with a floor drain. Therefore, most washing machines are in the bathroom.
Even with no worries about freezing pipes, I made sure there's a washing machine catch-pan with a water-detector. The sump-pump has a water-detector next to it. And yep, the furnace has a water detector, alongside the condensate pump. One for the tankless water heater - even though it's outside. Easy.
Driveway & landscaping slope away from the house? Yes. Properly sloped storm-water drains with clean outs? Yes. Leaf-shields & redundant gutter downspouts? Yes and yes.
It was nothing special for the area.
Homes out on the west coast are constructed much less robustly from what I've seen. I presume the mild climate has a lot to do with it.
My house, built in 1956, features these drains.
But I hate how they dry out every couple of weeks and if I forget to refill them or we are away the sewer smell will raise...
Oh, me too! So far my only significant insurance claim, around $70K for repairs in the mid-90s. The leak occurred while the house was unoccupied for a week.
Pro tip: you have to have receipts for all personal-property damage claims, which few people would or could have prior to everything being online. Exception: my insurer did accept a list of all damaged books with the associated cover price.
Here the basement floor is below the sewer drain and deeper eaves wouldn't do much of anything to keep the 1st floor siding clean.
The contractor wanted to put in a sump pump, but I wanted a gravity drain instead which required a trench to put it in, which was well worth it. (The power around here goes out whenever it rains hard, so much for the sump pump.)
"I have never, ever seen this feature in any other house, and it costs next to nothing."
I have some things to say about this ...
It seems like an obvious win to put a floor drain in places that could potentially flood - especially the laundry room, but also (why not) bathrooms ... wouldn't it be great if a toilet overflow or a bathtub backup, etc., could be confined to that space ?
It's a good idea, but there are some complications ...
First, if it's a real drain, plumbed to sewer, then you need to keep it regularly watered - as in, pour a cup of water into it every day or three - or you will get sewer gas intrusion into the house (potential life safety hazard). The water in the trap will evaporate since the drain is never used so you need to keep it full.
But if it's a real drain, the value has diminished since the backup might be below the drain and you flood anyway. So instead, you might consider draining to "daylight". This solves the trap/gas problem - you just drain to the outside. But, depending on your climate, this might be drafty - it is, after all, a 2" pipe.
Finally, to make this work, you need to slope your tile which is either impossible, since perhaps the room already exists and is already tiled or adds cost and complexity to the new construction that is unexpected because, as you say, typical bathrooms and laundry rooms don't have floor drains.
Here is how I solved this problem:
1. I tiled the bathrooms and laundry room with cove-base tile all the way around. These rooms are now 4" deep swimming pools. So I don't need any slope.
2. I installed a linear drain at the threshold of the room, right on the doorway line:
... usually you see these in showers, but it worked perfectly right at the door threshold, since you can cover the insert with the same tile that your floor is tiled with.
3. I didn't care about the draft or heat issues because I live in California. I simply capped the end of the pipe with screen for insects. However, if I lived in a different climate, or if I wanted to improve this design, I would consider placing a very sensitive (2-3 PSI) check valve at the end of the pipe. The drain would now be closed, but if the pipe fills with water (and you have 3-4 feet of elevation drop) then the check valve will open. More complexity, though ...
This has all panned out well. The only minor item is that there is a very small gap between the door trim and the start of the linear drain but with some very careful caulking you can sort of "dam" that tiny spot to ensure the water gets to it if its coming along the wall.
- not painting the tops of doors
- not grading slabs for drainage
- not following basic instructions about hanging a door
- carelessly filling the drainage channel with mortar when laying bricks
- not cladding a wall properly because you can't easily see it (which then starts leaking water)
I wouldn't undertake a large building project without being very well educated beforehand and allowing significant amounts of time to have your nose in things. Maybe you can get builders which will do a good job without lots of oversight, but there is no way to know this before you sign a contract.
Buying something already built saves a lot of time and effort, and dramatically reduces cognitive load.
I had to hold a kitchen contractor hostage over re-work and bullshit his guys did to skim a few hours.
Aluminum decking is an excellent option. It never gets hot enough to burn your bare feet, doesn't rust, or smell like 'plastic' decking.
EDIT: Also it doesn't burn. Aluminum structural members are expensive. It's possible to use pressure-treated lumber to support an aluminum deck, although, of course, it is a toxic material.
I don't think pressure treated lumber involves arsenic anymore. It used to, but due to lawsuits and the EPA threatening to crack down on it, the industry moved away from it.
I could be wrong but I'm under the impression that stainless steel is the only appropriate hardware for pressure treated lumbers.
Eaves are supposed to vary based on the latitude. You want to exclude the sun from the windows ans doors during the summer. But they also need to be short enough to allow the daytime winter sun to hit those same openings. That passive warmth, and light, is very valuable during the PNWs 8 months of winter gloom.
I think a lot of what has gone wrong here is the midcentuey California housing boom & bust pushed Cali builders here.
WA state finally adopted some sensible building codes in 1997 (I think it was 97) and 2017 but everything before then has massive issues with water. Bad or inadequate flashing jobs, unprotected windows, doors and decks, inappropriate grade along houses, inadequate sewer and irrigation drainage. I could go on.
I replaced 2" rotten cedar which was resting on 20+ year old pressure treated (and sunk in concrete footers) decking where the structure looked like it was good for another 20+ years with 2x6 pressure treated structural lumber+yearly pressure wash+oil seal/stain put down at a gallon or so every 100 sqft with a roller. The wood is checked, but none of the checking has gone more than a 1/4 the way through and 15 years in (on the oldest version of this ive done), it looks about the same as it did at year 2. I don't see any indications it won't last another 15 years, there isn't a drop of rot anywhere.
Its probably toxic as all get out, but I don't eat off it and outside of a week or two before the sun burns all the VOCs off I can't imagine its really out-gassing much.
The biggest problem was that oil based stain/sealers were getting really hard to acquire for a few years, but even the big box places have it again if you look.
Untreated pine (along with harder teak/mahogany/etc) was used in sailing ships for hundreds of years, in some of the worst enviroments. If you pay attention, a wood deck shouldn't really be any worse than wood siding on a house.
Personally I think a large part of the problem has been those water based deck sealers/stains which despite claims of wood penetration are just thin coats on the top of the wood which don't flex/swell with the wood and quickly are doing absolutely nothing but creating a layer between the wood and the sealer for moisture/rot to form. Put another way, i've yet to see a case where the stuff won't peel off after a couple years. Its basically really bad exterior paint. OTOH, the oil based sealers are linseed/etc and soak in and bind with previous layers, so you can switch from a stain to a clear after a couple years to maintain a particular color.
The redwood posts and beams it came with however looked new after a light sanding and staining and there was never an issue with them.
The coast gets more rain and stronger wind, so it's better if you think of it not as building a house but rather building a submarine. That's what I've heard, anyways.
I also don't understand what the deal is with uncovered wooden decks in places that get significant rain. It seems like taunting nature to wreck your stuff.
Decks tie into the house in a single place, and you can build as much of a foundation as you'd like.
They require no special tools, and the wind ties effectively work as jigs that guide you through joining wood.
You can demo and build a new one, without impinging on your living situation. All of the work is outside. If it falls apart, there is no pressing need to replace it.
The worst problem with wood decks, however, turned out to be carpenter ants. They eat the wood from the inside out, so it looks fine but has the strength of a loaf of bread. I was able to push a screwdriver right through it. When I finally realized the deck had to go, when I cut through the supports it collapsed into a pile of dust. I was astonished. Instead of picking the debris up into a truck, I shoveled it.
The wood itself matters a lot too. Black locust wood has an enzyme in its grain that makes it extremely rot resistant. I've heard of black locust poles used as fence poles in the ground lasting for decades.
There's plenty of inexpensive self levelling top layer compounds available - it is an easy and quick thing to repair.
And a properly installed wooden deck doesn't need to rot either. All of these things can function properly when done right the real problem is the disappearing neccessary craftsmanship. In a race to the bottom everything becomes disposable and half assed.
Of course that’s a lot of work. But in most climates it’s worth it — a deck (or asphalt driveway) has to be sealed every few years — you save a lot of maintenance expense and hassle.
If the rest of the house was on the same slope, I'd probably accept the garage and invest in mitigating water getting in. The natural drainage for the house will be so beneficial at naturally keeping water out.
Our house is build on a slight slope and even though we have two sumps, they hardly need to do much work at all. One was actually out for several before I noticed and there were zero water issues. Our house garage is side-load so we don't have to deal with water there. I have a workshop garage that does sit on the same slope and we have a large channel drain in front that handles the drainage well.
The contractor complained that I was being ridiculous with all the myriad of things I wanted to keep the house dry. But I've lived in a damp house, and this house has been dry for 20 years. The extra money spent was cheap compared to dealing with a damp house. I love Seattle rain, but the house needs to be dry!
Just be wary when Seattlites brag about "green" construction :-)
2. gravel around the foundation walls
3. waterproof sealer paint on the exterior of the foundation
4. filter fabric against the waterproofing
5. basement slab sits on filter fabric then gravel
6. french drains under the slab
7. everything slopes away from the house
8. gutters and downspouts feeding into the storm drains
9. the windows sit in a one-piece sheet stainless steel insert that redirects all water that gets in around the edges back out (I love stainless steel!).
10. screens so leaves don't get into the underground drainpipes.
It hasn't been perfect. The contractor didn't install gaskets where he put bolts through the flashing - water got in and rotted the wood out. One of the downspouts went through the structure of the house, I complained it would likely clog up and it could not be cleaned. I was told that wouldn't happen. It clogged up solid after a year, and another downspout had to be added outside. The roofing guy used galvanically incompatible metals for the flashing and the nails. I made him pull all the nails out and replace them. He was mad about that, but we had agreed in advance that he'd use galvanically compatible metals. (Incompatible metals, when wet, will form a battery which will rot away both metals. In around a year, there'd be nothing holding the flashing on and holes in the flashing. Fortunately for me, I learned about galvanic corrosion at Boeing and what a big no-no it is!)
But all in all, I'm satisfied.
It wasn't something that I thought would be too important buying this house, but if we ever buy another house I will absolutely look to make sure the landscaping is good to prevent flooding. Not much is more expensive to fix!
I like the idea of a deep eaves, and I imagine if it was paired with a decent roofline it'd look really nice.
Say it again for the people in the back! This is probably my biggest complaint with modern suburban housing/McMansions. You can see it in the exterior design of the house; you see all kinds of horrendous roof lines, mismatched windows of all shapes and sizes, odd material choices, etc. The houses suffer because they're trying to build the most square footage on the smallest possible lot. I know density is the way to go in urban development, but... I feel like developers have lost the plot.
This was the slogan of a house builder I once analysed for a management consulting project on the future of the Australian building industry.
After a week touring display homes, and estimating cost (or costs avoided), I figured out exactly how the market leaders lowered the sticker price while increasing their margins. No matter that the houses quickly fell apart after purchase...
The tricks I remember included:
* No plaster on the wall behind the fridge
* Big mirrors in bathrooms, because mirrors cost about the same as tiles but are much quicker to install.
* Eliminate walls on the ground floor, to give the open-plan look. Except that there's no sound insulation, or heat retention. And the new owners need to buy a lot more furniture, otherwise it looks too empty.
* Make the eaves very narrow, to reduce the size of the roof. Even though the walls now have no shade from the sun, the interior heats up more in summer, and you spend much more on air conditioning.
* Build the house like a big box, up close to the boundary line... Looks good on the plan. Less good when your neighbours' bedroom windows look right into yours. And less good when there's no shade or privacy because the builder cut down the established trees...
I remember both feeling in awe at the cost-cutting ingenuity and disgusted at future problems it would bring the unlucky new owners.
* Cheap out on just about anything that you need a lot of (knobs, drawer pulls, light switches)
* Cut tile or flooring at unusual angles to avoid having to do more complex cuts
* Use the cheapest lighting and plumbing fixtures possible
I've actually had friends buying new construction homes tell me that they've told the builder NOT to install certain things because they didn't want to be saddled with whatever "builder grade" materials the contractor was going to use. Imagine that! Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for a new house, but you already don't trust the builder not to cut corners! Where's the craftsmanship?
The craftsmanship is there, but 95% of people can’t afford it.
It starts all the way from the fact that suppose you and your competitor are looking to purchase a parcel of land to develop a community. You make a nice plan that retains nice old growth trees, gives adequate space for eaves, design better than minimum standards drainage, insulation materials, etc.
Your competitor draws up plans and cuts all of those niceties out, and saves a few million dollars on costs. Now the competitor can offer to pay a few million more for the same parcel of land.
Guess who gets to develop it?
The disadvantage of living in a seller's market is that it's also a builder's market; when homes sell as fast as they're being built regardless of quality, there's little pressure on builders to improve quality.
It's all a very delicate balance that gets thrown way off especially due to the securitization of the asset for 30+ years at artificially low future taxpayer subsidized interest rates.
A lot of the calculations about value of fixtures and finishes in a house in a high demand area get de-valued by buyers because the land value (and the land value's increase) is worth so much more than the structure that sits on it, that as a buyer, you can't afford to value things like proper fit and finish and materials unless you're looking at very high value homes, otherwise another buyer will come in and take it.
I think similarly for OSB, and don't believe a word about how its a good building material, but thankfully i've only seen it crumble once so far. Mostly I suspect because its not been in to many buildings for 30+ years of heat and moisture cycling.
This is exactly true! A lot of the time, the increased size doesn't even result in increased density - most McMansions are single-family homes. Plus, because the extra space is weirdly proportioned and placed, it doesn't provide much benefit to the inhabitants - it only serves to inflate the listed price.
Everyone would be better off if we could have more tall, mixed-use apartment or condo buildings with stores and restaurants at the bottom. It would give more options to get affordable housing close to where people work. It also would reduce pressure for areas further away to be build up to the point where it's just wall to wall suburban nightmare.
All this happens due to a combination of builder incentives, but mostly bad zoning. Clearly the land is expensive enough that we need density, yet we cannot build more proper urban housing.
Increased supply is one necessary component, but in the same way that developer incentives can more easily push them to substandard suburban construction, urban construction is likely enough to chase something other than your goals.
The house itself feels like when it was originally built, more careful thought was put into where windows are, how rooms are lit, how rooms are ventilated, how spaces flow into each other, and so on and so forth. After our renovation work, we now also have all of the modern niceties like ethernet running through all of the walls and a shiny kitchen and shiny bathrooms and modern hardwood flooring and whatnot. Every part of the house now feels like it's the way it is specifically because we wanted it to be that way, and relatively speaking, it cost less than it would have to get a new cookie-cutter McMansion type monstrosity around here. As a bonus, the neighborhood feels cozier and friendlier and less empty compared to newer cookie-cutter type development tracts too.
The only downside is that the square footage is considerably smaller, but I have no idea what people are supposed to do with all of the empty space in a giant house anyway. Oh, I guess another minor downside was discovering that no two doors in the entire house are exactly the same size, so we wound up having to get custom doors made.
Of course, your mileage will vary depending on where you are, budget, contractors, etc; we lucked out and managed to find contractors that cared about their craft and put a lot of thought into things.
They fill it with shit they don't need. Kudos to you.
"a house is ... a pile of stuff with a cover on it".
Plus well located apartments aren't so great during COVID.
This has been a major pain point when trying to look for houses. Newer homes are typically significantly larger than I am looking for, and the nicer "older" homes are also larger than I want.
Perhaps a thing I could add is that Part 2  is available, which wasn't immediately obvious to me.
It seems to me that done right, a cupola would also make a great source of indirect natural light.
Average home ownership duration is ten years. So yeah, you kinda have to make some considerations for the next person. No AC and wood heating are going to be a hard sell.
(I am the author) Sorry I don't make it super clear in Part 1: I have a 500 gallon propane tank and a propane furnace as backup heat. I leave downstairs at 58F so it can't go below that at night. (I have no idea why I decided on that number). It rarely does unless I let the fire die around 7-8pm.
From October to Feb I averaged 1.8 gallons/day of propane use, which I suspect was 90% hot water and propane cooking (we bake bread 2x a week and cook for 1-2 hours almost every single day because we're somewhat obsessed with food. This is also why the downstairs is very kicthen oriented)
> No closets? If that's what you're into...but its going to be hard to sell.
Why? People can easily frame in closets on any of the bedrooms if they wanted to. They all have 2 walls they could do it against. Or if they want bigger bedrooms, they can keep them big.
The counterfactual in "hard to sell" is that there are 900000 houses out there unlike this one, and they all compete against each other. This competes with historic houses. The historic houses here (without AC, with terrible insulation, damp crawlspace basements, etc) command a huge premium. I don't think a traditional-looking house with none of the accumulated problems of real historic houses would be difficult to sell at all.
Wood burning is basically carbon neutral as it just releases the CO2 that the trees have captured back into the cycle.
Me, I agree to your decisions and love how it turned out. Also, congrats on becoming (being?) a father! :-)
That is exactly what they are trying to avoid. It is _their_ family home. They built the house for themselves–for their life. That is why the total square footage isn't as important–each of their rooms is built around their life style for better space efficiency. People focusing so strongly the selling a house they haven't even purchased yet.
It severely limits the scope of what people are willing to do to basically what is trendy on HGTV, etc. that year.
And resale value calculations don’t take into account the joy and utility the changes afford you. Again, I value those highly.
Real estate agents and HGTV shows have distorted people's view on the importance of small details on resale value. I promise you that the choices the author made in designing their house will find an equally enthusiastic buyer if they do decide to sell.
Of course there will be some potential buyers who have "no closets" as a deal breaker. But there will be others who fall in love with a unique house that exists literally nowhere else in the market.
If you're going to limit your design choices to appease a potential buyer decades in the future, you might as well buy an existing house in the first place rather than striking out on your own build. The whole point of a custom home is to customize it to your liking.
Yup. I have heard way too many times on those shows, "You spent $50K on renovations so that increased your value $100K", without any form of critical thought. Yes, improvements can have an intrinsic value, but these shows make it seem automatic and huge, without fail.
Try selling a custom bicycle and you'll see how lovingly-picked components add up into a resale value, at a much lower price.
And then you remember that most of their income comes from the show itself.
I remember drama around 16 And Pregnant, and glamorizing teenage pregnancy. Says MTV, "Oh no, we only cover costs, we don't pay them for this". Fell apart when one of the girls, living in her trailer, working minimum wage at McDonalds, started appearing on the show in a brand new Saleen Mustang.
My parents have lived in the same house for 35 years. On that scale, what is good for resale value doesn't really matter.
Things that were trendy in 1990 are severely dated at this point.
Conversation pits are back in vogue from the 70s, so I'd say they have another 20 years!
First you have to chop and stack cords of wood in the fall (a thankless, back-breaking task), then go out into the snow to bring in loads of wood every other day all winter to heat the house. You can't store enough wood indoors to last months, so it's always piled up outside. Dealing with the wood is a never ending shitty job that nobody likes or wants to do. It's not a "chore", it's full on work - with cuts, splinters, bruises or worse injuries. Slipping on the ice with an armload of cordwood is a great way to break a bone or get a concussion, let me assure you. I cannot tell you how much I hated it, and how many family arguments were caused as a result.
Since all wood stoves leak, no matter what, you end up smelling like a campfire all winter. And I still wonder if the secondhand smoke effects will rear it's ugly head in the future. I've never smoked, but won't be at all surprised if someday I have lung cancer from years of breathing all that crappy air filled with soot particles.
Oof. So many horrible memories. Thank heaven I live in California now.
But then again, it probably wouldn't win any "new old home" or other design awards.
Once they stopped homeschooling, the desire to heat the house with wood dried up pretty quickly. These days I think they have a fire maybe a couple times a month on Winter evenings.
One great thing her family introduced me to though: The in home sauna. They are Finnish by way of Northern Minnesota. I dream of one day having a sauna in my own home.
Firewood is certainly a PITA and I can't stand the smell of woodsmoke, but I still feel that fireplaces produce much more pleasant heat than any modern system.
Plus there's much to be said for the ambience of a flickering fire.
OTOH, a lot of the old coal boilers were converted to heating oil, and more recently I think people have been converting some of them to NG.
Basically you are going to install something that you can easily get an HVAC person in your area to do maintenance on if it breaks.
Blinds on the outside keep heat away from the glass and avoid turning your house into a greenhouse.
Anything south of upstate NY is already pretty unbearable in the summer. Another added benefit of AC is the dehumidification of your interior, which means less mold.
Take a look at windcatchers. Even better if you combine them with a quanat. Lots of stuff like this we don't use anymore.
Mind you, being in the backwoods of Canada means it's not going to be all that hard to sell when the time comes to settle my estate. Most of my neighbours are in similar situations. At least, the few that I can see from the road when I head into town.
Insulation/air-sealing can get you pretty comfortable in New Hampshire.
When it's in the high 50s/low 60s evey night, and you have some thoughtful design so the house can be ventilated well with just the windows, the cool night air sticks around well into the next day, a cold shower or a little portable a/c unit can get you through the handful of hot nights each summer.
I live in NYC now, where a/c is necessary most nights in July and August, and find it kind of funny to see New Yorkers buying summer houses in my hometown and immediately spending thousands retrofitting central air. For me one of the great pleasures of going home to visit my family is sleeping with the windows open to the chilly night air!
For some buyers, yeah, No Ac and wood heat are going to be a "Nope!". But I disagree that such is going to be the case for all buyers. There are going to be some people who actually want a house with no AC and wood heat.
My wife and I moved into an adobe home in rural NM last year, and we had to wait until our new air-source heat pumps were running in February before we could leave. Working with wood heat only for most of the winter was (1) a lot of work (2) very nice heat (3) a lot of work.
Yes, you could maybe get a housesitter but then we're into a whole new game.
I talked to a guy once that had a big corn hopper installed next to his outdoor boiler. And then another corn hopper under that one to feed the stove. Go go farm subsidies.
We wish. Linoleum is a natural, renewable product, made from linseed oil and plant fiber. Linoleum was replaced decades ago in commodity construction by vinyl tile, which is much cheaper to manufacture.
I thought I had notes on a second brand that was more commercially oriented (maybe started with an 'R'?) but I can't remember the name at the moment.
It's also a good material for print making
"Homes are not built by people intending to live in them." - this really gets to the issue, I think. Somewhere along the line we took away most people's ability to construct their own home (or they just lost it), and of course if houses are viewed primarily as holding value for equity, you need to consider resale instead of your own preferences when making decisions.
1. Natural lighting. I generally do not need artificial lights in the daytime in any room and it is amazing.
2. Ceiling height. Modern constructions have insanely high ceilings. Why? In my old apartment I had cabinetr
y I couldn't reach even with my step ladder.
3. Old neighborhoods are much more pleasant to live in and are more much walk-able than post-war cul-de-sac filled developments.
4. House sizes were smaller back then. Since family sizes have been getting smaller I think this would be a good thing to return to. I am quite happy that I don't have to spend a lot extra on furniture just to fill the space. Or pay more to climate control the extra volume.
5. A matter of personal preference but I think the older houses are just prettier.
I think it would be great if developers took a look at the older house designs and tweaked them for the modern world.
In apartment buildings, it is common to squash non-ground floors vertically to obtain more houses within the available building height envelope in order to maximize returns. Local regulations in decent jurisdictions typically specify a limit to this type of viciously commercial construction outlook.
I don't need 20ft ceilings, but aesthetically, I think 9-10ft feels a lot less claustrophobic.
I'll say this for my post-war-but-still-old development, it's nice having trees and birds. Looking at new construction, you realize that there's very little shade or natural life because it all gets clear cut for construction. Any trees that get added back in have a long way to go before they actually provide shade (and a barrier to hide the ugly front facades that modern construction requires).
>House sizes were smaller back then. Since family sizes have been getting smaller I think this would be a good thing to return to.
I agree, and I like the size of my smaller house. That said, there are some ways that I think the space could be better utilized... for example, we have 4 bedrooms and 1.5 baths, all of which are smaller than you'd see in a modern home. It was definitely designed with a large, baby booming family in mind.
4 bed 1.5 bath does not sound great. I don't think I have ever seen that one but I know it is a staple for comedy where everyone is trying to use the same bathroom at the same time. That might be less bad now than in the baby boom days. I would not want to share a bathroom with a bunch of kids. But, for a DINK family, a master bedroom, his office, her office, and a guest bedroom with 1.5 baths sounds reasonable.
Upside in having an old home: you get to go to a restoration/recycling center, wander through the vast sections of hanging doors until you find the section that fits what you need, and find an interesting one you like.
Our home was a hobby for a while. Now I have different priorities for time. But that was an awesome learning experience, and I feel lucky I went through it.
My dad drafted a house at night at work (he was a mechanical engineer prior to retirement). Then he built it, subcontracting out parts like some of the framing, drywall, etc. My parents ended up with exactly the house they wanted. It was really cool to see happen, made anything seem possible.
Then I learned about french drains.
My dad grew up in an old farm house that had been a dorm for the school house next door at one point. After they had been living there a while, they jacked it up, dug the blocks out, poured a new foundation, and lowered the house back onto it.
We looked at an old house, maybe from the mid-1600's or 1700's. Ship "stairs" that were almost a ladder. The corners of the rooms were probably six inches higher than the middle. It was amazing, super cool house. We passed, but eventually somebody fixed it up over the course of a year or two and flipped it.
And within months, every door had squeaks and sticks, because the frame would be off by as much as 1/4 inch.
Interesting topics such as the design of a front door viewed from a street have stuck with me and is something I reflect on when walking through an old neighborhood. Infallibly the most appealing houses match up well to the principals outlined in the book.
I was amazed to come from no background in architecture to getting a land survey converted in to Blender 3D model and having accurate sun simulations running on architectural concepts within a week or two. Seems like Sketchup dying has gifted a lot of momentum to the open source space. Use it! It's pretty capable stuff.
Also, plant trees. Trees last a long time (longer than many houses), cost nearly nothing and provide excellent psychological and physical features which built environment cannot match.
I own and have read a copy, excellent. Note however that it's entirely oriented toward traditional design: Deco, Streamline Moderne, and Mid-Mod are terra incognita. Eichler fans, you have been warned.
Is there a good takedown of eichler architecture anywhere? Just to satisfy my curiosity?
Only book I've found for Streamline Moderne:
>But then something happened: the average knob with a lock has a fair amount of internal complexity, but the beauty has been completely stripped out. We no longer think of knobs, hinges, latches, or locks as things worth making beautiful, and we think this at a time when it should be easier and cheaper than ever to make such things beautiful. When they were difficult to make, iron latches and handles resembled hands, lions, flowers, gargoyles, etc. Now that a latch is easy to make, they look like nothing. It is worth carefully pondering this, I think, beyond the words of this article and well beyond door knobs.
This is from part 2 https://email@example.com/designing-a-new-old-home-pa..., linked here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23901248
- They finished the floors instead of having a subcontractor do it. Everyone's comfort for various home improvements tasks differs, but this is one that I typically see farmed out. The people who do it everyday are very fast and competent - as a first timer it's hard to avoid making mistakes. I also advise people to avoid floor stains. One advantage to a real wood floor is it's easy to repair and refinish in the future, but this gets a lot harder when you start needing to stain match. Floor stain also kind of violates the tenants of 'honest materials' that the author discusses.
- To build on their point about veneer plaster walls, cost really comes down to subcontractor comfort with that detail. It's only 'slightly more expensive' if you have a contractor that does it all the time. If you live in an area with a lot of plaster homes, you'll have more luck finding someone who can do this work affordably. For example, I once had an architect specify a particular plaster finish ('venetian plaster') where we could not find someone comfortable doing the work within a two hour drive.
- They discuss the slow drying of the floor finish they used as a negative (true). A good place to use slow-drying finishing techniques is the exterior, as you can leave it alone for a lot longer as compared to a floor you want to walk on immediately. For example, pine tar exterior finishing materials take weeks to dry, but you don't NEED to touch the siding during that period.
- In the second part they show a north and south elevation of the finished home. The north elevation really doesn't reflect the historic character they succeeded so hard to emulate and/or build from in other aspects of their home. Comparing these two elevations is very instructive.
I hope their next published section addresses energy efficiency and adjacent topics (like window selection). It's a huge part of building a modern home that doesn't always get the attention it should. I did appreciate the time spent discussing air flow in part 2.
Building on their reading list, if you like older/vernacular homes start with:
"House" by Tracy Kidder
"A Field Guide to American Houses" by Virginia Savage McAlester
"American Shelter" by Lester Walker
"The American House" by Mary Mix Foley
And maybe move on to:
"A Concise History of American Architecture" by Leland Roth
"American Vernacular: Buildings and Interiors, 1870-1960" by Herbert Gottfried
"Norwegian Wood: The Thoughtful Architecture of Wenche Selmer" by Elisabeth Tostrup
"Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn" by Thomas Hubka
And then maybe:
"The Well-Built House" by Jim Locke
"The colonial House Then and Now" by Francis Underwood
"Little House on a Small Planet" by Shay Salomon
An architect who focuses on more traditional sizes in new form:
Another book he was involved with is "This Old House" (technically by Bob Vila I think) which is also good, but suffers again from the march of time. There are just certain things they show that wouldn't be done the same way today.
I've hired out a few jobs on my house, and in all cases felt like "helping out" was the right move. For example we had a fireplace installed; if I hadn't been there during the process it would've been much harder to clean our chimney. Have also gotten jobs done more quickly, made connections with recommended trades people, learned about local suppliers, etc.
Still if I had the money I suspect I'd want to be very involved in the design. Your living quarters are not a trivial part of your life!
Like, if I asked you what restaurants you like to go to and what some of your favorite meals are you would probably have an answer. If I gave you the choice between two drinks, you could probably pick one over the other (or neither, or both) with some confidence.
In the same way, try to develop opinions about where and how you live.
Of course, all this comes very naturally & easily to some people. (Mainly, I've noticed, when their parents are in construction, remodeling, or real estate)
To be fair, the article does mention that: if you commission an architect to do this, you should show them your Pinterest boards. Or at least get an idea of what you like.
> Learning all the nuance and getting it all right the first time would be such a colossal job.
I imagine it's akin to getting to the level of a working architect yourself. Which is a huge time investment. The article mentions it taking years for them.
> I can spend a month or two per medium sized house project, learning all the details- forget about the whole house.
That's much less than I'd expect it to take me. I'm curious: are you an architect, or designer, yourself?
This doesn’t guarantee good construction practices without supervision, but it does insure you have less crap going into the house.
It can also be a huge savings. A relatives professionally designed house easily made up for the expense of that design - her neighbors pay $500/month in utilities, she paid $75. Neighbors have all sorts of defects, heating/cooling issues.
It is another question entirely why we continue to fall for the same poor designs.
And, online only, Green Building Advisor:
What was the cost?
Plots of land with services and outline planning permission are super expensive if not just unavailable in most places.
You can't get a mortgage on a self build so you best have a couple of hundred thousand lying around or risk taking a bridge loan from a bank which puts enormous pressure on you to finish as soon as possible as that interest is eating up your capital.
You have to have somewhere else to live in the mean time, which combined with possible interest or just delays due to weather etc constantly puts cost pressures on you.
It's an unbelievably impractical dream for mostly everyone.
True, though there _are_ options. A family friend added 2000 sq ft to his family home (which had been 800 - and not excessive, they had three kids in a 2br home). He is a general contractor and works for a home construction company.
Granted that was a "renovation" - well, almost all new construction. He planned on doing almost all of it himself, except for plumbing/electrical, so anticipated very little labor costs. The bank made them take a loan for the market value of the work including labor, on the guise of "if you get injured, you need to be able to pay to complete it", but allowed the setting of milestones where they could repay labor costs out of the loan.
Starting with, never mistake style for long lasting quality. For example, wood floors are very poor flooring material unless you don't mind living in a house where the floors look like a barn after a decade or two. Tile, concrete, will unless abused, out last just about every other flooring choice while generally remaining quite nice if installed well. There is a reason the mosaics in high end roman houses are still in place two thousand years after they were built.
Also, to add to the general take of the article. Nothing you buy from the big box home improvement stores will last more than 10 years. I would qualify this with their lumber/etc is fine, but I've seen cases where the lumber was incorrectly pressure treated(!) and they replaced it after it rotted in 5 years. Which is great, except for the fact that the lumber was like 1/100th of the job cost. Frankly, its not even the big box suppliers, its just about everything they sell seems to have declined in quality. Until a couple years ago, I had never seen a light switch fail, my current house (built in the early 2000's) has had about 1/2 of the light switches literally fall apart in the walls.
So, while somethings are probably acceptable quality (indoor door handles/locks) for the most part, the exterior ones with their faux aged finishes and the like will despite their 30 year guarantees break, or the finishes will crack in the sun, or rust. And on and on...
My general take is some of it might be ok, but keep the receipt for that $300 facet somewhere you will be able to find it in 8 years, because its quite likely something will go wrong. Pay the extra for the one from the plumbing/etc supply house, because the worthwhile plumbers/etc will offer matching labor guarantees and they don't like coming back to fix something under warantee.
I could write a book about this... but one last thing. Ive spoken to a lot of people in the know, and the general take on appliances is that a good high end one from the mid 1990's will likely outlast anything built in the last 20 years. If you have an old fridge/dishwasher/etc take care of it, polish it up, treasure it. Most importantly, buy a part off ebay when it fails and fix it. Enjoy it for what it is, a quality piece of machinery that probably uses a bit more electricity, or water, but actually cleans your cloths/dishes/etc or the ice maker doesn't jam or clog, or need DRM'ed water filters. And if you really want filtered Ice buy a inline water filter and plug it into the ice line and enjoy the $5 filters and think about the fact that your saving $30+ dollars each time you change it.
I'm pretty good at matching/refinishing, and i'm going to tell you, our floor has a bit of built in stylistic distressing, but the filler+ careful matching/etc I did in that area is never going to match the rest of the floor sufficiently that if you look at it you won't see the scratch. Replacing 5-6 boards in the middle of the floor is really the only choice to make it look like new, but that would use up a good number of the spare pieces I have.
I guess at this point its "character", but in another decade or two the 2->3 major scratch issues a year + likely the high traffic areas will start to add up, and the floors will look like many of the houses I've seen with older wood floors. Worn out.
Of course the out gassing from something like that is probably a health hazard.
Instead, I treat it more like carpet, aka I figure every decade or two it needs to be replaced. In my rentals I've been using an engineered laminate which is extremely robust. I picked it because I got a whole bunch of samples, took them home and then took a screw driver and started scratching the heck out of them until I found one that I couldn't scratch. I think its far superior and looks nearly as good as the real wood in the house I live in. I install it floating, but pull up the baseboards and replace them at the same time so it looks original. It has a bit of a hollow noise if you knock on it (despite being 3/4"), but I don't think there is a way to avoid that without glueing it down, which just adds cost when it needs to be replaced.
We just put in a wood floor and went with Tung oil  as the finish. I don't know how well it'll hold up, but what sold me on the idea is that you can just re-apply the oil as needed.
We have three young kids, so who knows how well it'll hold up. I guess we'll find out.
I guess it would be pretty inexpensive to rent a sander and do it myself (or hire unskilled labor) but i'm not sure I trust the latter, and the former sounds like the kind of frustration I don't need more of. I've tangentially helped people sand their decks and its was a PITA.
In Austin, there are a lot of people who can install wood flooring, and they are crazy fast, and it turns out that makes them pretty inexpensive. That is part of the reason I do floating floors in the rentals. The removal costs for a glued down floor, or "well installed" linoleum, is many multiples what it costs to put the new flooring in.
I think it's more a question of what you buy. The crappy ones from the '90's that weren't going to last have all died. The ones that left were the quality ones. You can still buy good quality, straightforward appliances. You just are going to pay accordingly.
Then they go on to list things that I associate much more with modern homes - not wasting floor space, and paying attention to the elements and light. A modern, open-concept design is optimizing much better for this than an old farmhouse where, for instance, the kitchen and formal dining room and living room are all closed off from each other. Modern homes often have floor to ceiling windows and sliding glass doors, old homes have tiny closed off windows. And old homes like the author uses as an example here are often just simple rectangles, so all the design decisions are constrained to be small square rooms. At least the "mcmansion" example in this post of a terrible new home has more interesting, non-perpendicular details and layout.
Maybe I just have an anti-nostalgia for this type of home, and maybe that makes me just as biased as the author in the opposite direction. I've never lived in a home like this but have been inside of a few of them, and they're often dark and closed in and kind of creepy. But I don't think I'm completely alone in feeling this way, there must be a reason so many horror movies are set in old farmhouses. To each their own, I guess.
(And on top of all this, I would argue that this kind of permeating attitude about new homes just not being special like old homes are plays a huge part in the current housing shortage crisis that much of the US faces, but I won't even go into that).
I'm the author. I designed my house to have the enormous amounts of light that I found in older homes, that are often totally absent from new ones because of a reliance on electricity. You should see more of the "Colonials" that get built today. Many of them have zero windows on two sides (one side has the garage, the other merely has zero windows). There are numerous examples near me, this is right down the road: https://firstname.lastname@example.org,-71.6385114,3a,49y,3...
Those are dark and closed in. Many of the new homes I've been in, I had to turn on the light in the kitchen in the morning because they're so dark.
I have posted other examples before to Twitter, eg:
If I were to build somtething new it would have be much better planned space than older homes, and if I buy something built in the last 10 years it would be designed to be open, bright, clever, environmentally friendly, and with expensive lasting materials. Very old homes (100+ years) have a selection bias where the worst are torn down. Homes from 1940-1980 usually have terrible planning, cheap materials and so on, simply because people were poorer and prirorities were different (closed off kitchen, narrow hallways,...).
My city is full of many 100+ year old houses, and I looked at a lot of them last year when I was buying a house. Around here, you get big lovely windows (that you will spend a fortune to replace with double-paned ones), no insulation, and a layout that ranges from totally bizarre to serviceable, but inefficient. In the early 1900s, heating systems were very inefficient, so people wanted lots of small rooms with doors, so that you could heat only the room you're in. This is no longer necessary, and most homes have newer, efficient furnaces, but you're stuck with the old layout. In old homes, the kitchen was a tiny, functional space, rather than the gathering space like it is now. I thought it was rather funny they showed a big beautiful kitchen with an open floor plan. These are not common in 1900s homes.
I've lived in a mix of modern dwellings and older ones, and the simple truth is each have their advantages. Overall though, I'd say modern dwellings have better layouts and insulation, but cheaper finishes that you will despise looking at after a few months. Older houses have lovely details, but they're likely all worn out in various ways (my glass doorknobs are beautiful, but also very wobbly and loose), and layout was probably great 100 years ago, but doesn't conform to modern living styles.