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Old 08-07-2010, 04:49 PM   #21
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- Also, consider built-in furniture. It does reduce your flexibility somewhat, but is makes for efficient use of space. A built-in buffet/booth reduces the needed space for dining and can add storage under flip-up seats. A platform bed with drawers underneath maximizes storage for clothing and eliminates the dreaded dust-bunny warren under the bed.

Closets: We don't have walk in closets in our bedroom, and we've been a lot happier since we took the awful sliding doors off. We can see and reach everything. Bifold doors are hardly any better.

Maybe a central vac? They aren't cheap, but they can be convenient. And, the dust-filled effluent gets sent outside your home's conditioned air spaces--good riddance!

Maximizing usable space: Make any halls an additional 12"-18" in width and add large cabinets along the sides. It's more efficient and easier than storing stuff in a room, etc.

Room for an additional freezer? Another convenience feature, and (if you buy an efficient one--modern chest-freezers use very little juice) you'll be able to stock up and save some money.
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Old 08-07-2010, 05:18 PM   #22
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- Metal siding: Know that it will dent over time and that it is difficult to hang things from it. And, the paint on it does eventually fade. If you want zero-maintenance, then consider brick or stone veneer. If the enviro-criteria weren't present, I'd suggest you consider high-quality vinyl over aluminum. It won't dent.
One thing I didn't make clear in my original post is that I want to build the house myself with my own two hands, not have it built for me. That's another reason I'm planning such a small size. I don't think masonry veneer is feasible for this DIY builder. Also, the mortar needs to be repointed periodically, not something I can do myself (I don't think). My old house had metal siding and I never noticed that it faded in the 12 years I owned the house. It was a light color to start with, and the siding wasn't new when I bought the house. Maybe it had already faded as much as it was going to before I moved in.
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- House design-- go with very generous overhangs--at least 24" but even more would be better. It will provide shade to your walls in the summer and keep your AC costs down, it will reduce glare through your windows, and (by keeping rain and sun off your walls) it will decrease maintenance costs.
This will be in a Pacific NW maritime climate, so AC costs are minimal. But long overhangs will keep windblown rain off too to some extent, and that's a good thing in that climate. There may well be wide porches on one or more sides, which will keep stuff/vehicles away that might dent the siding. I had a house with metal siding before the one I live in now. I never noticed that the metal was as easy to dent as all that, but I've been warned repeatedly against the possibility of dents, and it never hurts to take precautions.

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- Rather than build so small, consider a more "normal" sized house with defined public and private spaces. If you've got a 600 sft house, then just about all of it will be on display if someone comes over or spends the night. OTOH, if you had a big crafts/hobby/TV/layabout room that could be closed off, you could let it stay messy when people came over. This can be very liberating.
Well, as mentioned above, I'm planning to build it myself, and I'm scared if I make it too big I'll never finish. One or more outbuildings (which I wouldn't necessarily self-build) are a distinct possibility for just such purposes.

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- A more "normal size" house also has a better resale value. I know that's not your primary concern, but none of us can know the future, and it might be worth considering.
You are right, resale value is at the bottom of the priority list. However, I'll probably be using an open floor plan with only one interior wall (the one between the kitchen and the bathroom that has all the plumbing hidden inside it). It'll make someone a nice double garage or shop building when I'm done with it. I can plan the site layout to be conducive to such a conversion.

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- Having a little more room can be a moneysaver and make life more convenient. It will let you shop less frequently (and buy when things are on sale) and you'll be more likely to have things at hand when you need them. That doesn't mean you should build a McMansion, but just really consider this. Do you like the idea of living in a tiny space like a resident of Tokyo, or will you like actually doing it? If you build your home in a compact shape, then each added square foot adds less to the heating/cooling bill than the previous ones.
I've lived in spaces only a little bigger than this and didn't feel cramped. I'm not talking one of those sub-100 sq ft micro houses that are all the rage. Also, this will be a little house in a biggish yard, so if I get cabin fever I'll just go outside. Maybe a good idea to get me out of the house more often anyway?

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- Real wood baseboards won't stand up to mopping/moisture as well as plastic ones will.
Yeah, I know. Decisions, decisions. I could use tile, but that has grout joints. Sigh. But I've had real wood ones before and they held up OK. Probably wouldn't hurt if I paint the backs too, before I put them in.

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- Cabinets: In the kitchen consider going with almost all drawers instead of base cabinets. It's more expensive, but MUCH easier to use every inch of space. When you're 80 you won't like to be hunched over looking for the blender. Roll-outs inside cabinets are better than shelves, but they bump into/scrape up the cabinet doors and require one more motion to get at your stuff. Drawers are great. And, frameless ("Euro-style") cabinets make the most of every available inch in a tight space.
Kitchen cabinets will probably come from IKEA. Building my own from scratch is well above my skill level. I wanted to get the doors with integral handles, but that design is being discontinued. Maybe there will be a new design with integral handles by the time I need to buy mine.

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- Build in lots of plumbing cleanouts so any clog can be reached with a short snake.
Check!

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- A good way to decrease car maintenance and increase vehicle life is to keep it covered, so don't neglect a garage, or at least a carport. This is also a good place to store houshold stuff that produces VOCs and other stuff that shouldn't be inside your living space's conditioned air envelope.
Oh, definitely. This is the first house I've lived in that I had use of the garage, and I am so spoiled now! I don't use much in the way of toxic products, but certainly they don't belong in the house. I might have considered a manufactured or modular home, but I've noticed when I visit a display or tour a model home, after an hour or so the fumes give me a splitting headache. Same with RV's, which is a pity because they're a gold mine of space-saving ideas!

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- Attic--it's cheap storage space for seasonal items. Maybe there are no seasonal items in HI, but I gotta think a small house is going to need storage. Don't skimp on the ladder for access.
Check! Or this might be in an outbuilding too. I don't see me climbing up and down an attic ladder at age 90.
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Old 08-07-2010, 05:43 PM   #23
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Definitely use universal design principles - previous posters have mentioned several great ideas. Chair height toilet. Unless you are a real tub bath fan, I would go with a low or no threshold walk-in shower with a seat - if designed right, you don't even need a curtain (nothing to collect slime/grunge!). Build in reinforcements for grab bars near the shower and toilet even if you don't install them now. Eliminate / minimize elevation changes both inside and to the outside if possible. Sounds like a great project - good luck and keep us posted!
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Old 08-07-2010, 05:52 PM   #24
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Another vote for Hardiplank!!! We put it on a new house in a maritime climate, the next paint job was 14 years later after lots of wind & rain above saltwater overlooking Rich Passage on Bainbridge Island. It is fiber cement and comes in several profiles, they now offer a complete system: James Hardie: the HardieZone System | James Hardie Residential Siding

Before making your decision buy an hour of a local architect's time and discuss the advantages & disadvantages of your material choices in your specific enviornment.

Husband & I saw this at the Seattle Home Show. This, or something like it, would be worth exploring: http://www.fabcab.com/home.html Note that it is accessable. (If the link give you an OOPS just click on Home again)
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Old 08-07-2010, 06:32 PM   #25
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Personally I am a big fan of having a large combination laundry room, dressing room, and closet. The idea is that you can take the laundry out and hang it up (or put it in baskets on shelves or in dressers) without having to carry it anywhere.

I nearly have this situation now, with my laundry closet in the hall by the entry of my dressing room where my closets are. It sure makes my daily life easier than in some previous homes.

This idea would almost be an extension of Samclem's idea of "no closet doors" if you just put the rods upon which to hang your clothes, along one wall. You could still see all your clothing when you are dressing.
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Old 08-07-2010, 06:38 PM   #26
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What do you think about these ideas?
Sustainable Shipping Container Homes

Compact modular green homes built for energy efficiency, indoor air quality and sustainability - GreenPod Intelligent Environments

Dry stack block surface bonded concrete block walls for HTMs

Friday Small House–Concrete Storm Drain Pipe House | Coming Unmoored -- Life in a Tiny Floating Home
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Old 08-07-2010, 07:32 PM   #27
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Wow, what a great thread - I don't even know where to start.

Hardiplank - yes, yes, yes, yes. Mine ( addition and back/side of the house) is just 6 YO, but I actually went out to inspect it, and it looks like it was painted last week. The metal siding on our old house looked 'chalky' - some people were having theirs painted. We moved.

As far as your 'guilt' over a non-optimal eco choice for some things - put in in perspective. I like to be 'green' where I can, but if that shower is going to last 30+ years, the difference between one material and the other is really very, very small. Look more closely at the things you do/use every day, week, month, year - on a pound-per-pound basis, that might help.

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Old 08-07-2010, 07:44 PM   #28
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I love the theramfoil white kitchen cabinets . They are easy to care for and go with whatever appliances you like . They can also be dressed up with hardware . I had them in my last house and they were a dream to care for .
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Old 08-07-2010, 07:50 PM   #29
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I've heard that about stainless steel too. Even if it's true (and I have no reason to believe it isn't), the fingerprints can be removed in a few minutes with a sponge and a little elbow grease, unlike chips.
Not true, at least the few minutes part. It takes quite while to scrub the fingerprints out.If you just rub it with a sponge and get the fingerprints out you end up with splotches that look worse than the fingerprints. If you use the stainless polish stuff you have to be careful not to leave too much on or your fingerprints will be worse the next time. We have stainless on our fridge and dishwasher, and it's truly a pain to keep looking new. If you don't care, not a problem. But I would recommend white. Chips are really seldom a problem, and a little enamel paint fixes them right up.

Aso, just fyi, the composite deck material needs to be pressure washed pretty much every year, unless you live in a very dry climate. They get mildew spots fairly easily, but clean up nicely with a light pressure washing. Still lower maintenance that wood, but not no maintenance.

I would also recommend quality vinyl siding over metal. Cheaper, lower maintenance, and better looking.

Lastly, don't make yourself miserable with to small a home, just to decrease housework. You'll end up unhappy when it's easy enough to just clean up as you go to keep things neat.

PS - Hardiboard is good.
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Old 08-07-2010, 07:57 PM   #30
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I am enjoying this thread very much! A lot of good ideas whether one implements one or two things or goes all out with a new home. Last year I toured some concept homes (small, sustainable, innovative) on the Mall in D.C. designed and built by various university engineering departments, and they were fascinating. The homes were complemented by appropriate landscaping, too. I was totally in love with the beach cottage design. There are lots of things I would rather do than clean house. I am trying to enhance my living conditions right now by donating unused items. It's a start...I don't have wallpaper now as in my previous house I spent close to a year scraping foil butterflies off the walls in almost every room. I have seen some fabulous wallpaper recently and I can definitely see the appeal.
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Old 08-07-2010, 08:01 PM   #31
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I do not recommend vinyl siding, in general. The reason why I encouraged consulting with an architect is that they look at the building envlope as a system. There are locality specific conditions that impact that system. In the PNW the one system that has caused the most issues, IMHO, is EFIS fake stucco. Oh, could I show you the buildings under wrap in our area.
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Old 08-07-2010, 08:12 PM   #32
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One thing I didn't make clear in my original post is that I want to build the house myself with my own two hands, not have it built for me.
You might consider some of the more innovative construction ideas out there, especially insulated concrete forms (ICFs) or structural insulated panels. Sure, both use polystyrene for insulation, but this house is going to last 30-50 years plus, and the walls will be saving money, oil, and electricity that entire time due to the highly efficient insulation and tight construction. The manufacturers run classes, or you can team up with a builder who will accept your assistance. The SIPs use OSB faces which make good use of waste wood and have very low VOC (incl formaldehyde) outgassing compared to many other manufactured wood products (esp MDF/HDF). The dry-stack surface-bonded masonry construction mentioned by dex is a very good way for a low-skill builder to get a very solid house. But, for energy efficiency I'd recommend 2-4" of polystyrene insulation in your climate (giving a whole-wall value of about R13-R25). Put a nice Grailcoat finish on the outside and you'll have a very low maintenance exterior. With either ICFs or surface-bonded masonry the termites won't touch your house if you use borate treated polystyrene (pest control is another maintenance bother/expense/environmental concern, after all).
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Old 08-07-2010, 08:34 PM   #33
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Termites in the PNW... not unless they migrate from 'climate change'. Carpenter ants, yes, they can take up residency but can be discuraged by good design - don't stack wood near the home, keep decaying wood away from the foundation.
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Old 08-07-2010, 08:44 PM   #34
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Termites in the PNW... not unless they migrate from 'climate change'. Carpenter ants, yes, they can take up residency but can be discuraged by good design - don't stack wood near the home, keep decaying wood away from the foundation.
They sure aren't the problem that they can by in Dixie (or Hawaii), but there are termites in the PNW

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Old 08-07-2010, 08:59 PM   #35
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Interesting to note that southern termites are so respectful of state lines.
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Old 08-07-2010, 09:20 PM   #36
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You might consider some of the more innovative construction ideas out there, especially insulated concrete forms (ICFs) or structural insulated panels.
Another excellent suggestion. A home like that went up in our area recently. I would make a point of going slightly out of my way to take the route past it every couple of weeks to see the progress. It looked great, and then they put some rather bold blue siding that just didn't match the overall look, and it kinda ruined it for me. But I think it is a great construction technique (second maybe only to the spray concrete systems, but those are a bit 'out there' for integrating all the other old systems.).

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Termites in the PNW... not unless they migrate from 'climate change'
In this (moderate) summer heat, I keep forgetting that one benefit of a typical Midwest stretch of 0F to 10F days is that it makes a great 'pest' deterent. But then, there are those heating bills... But the PNW does sound attractive to me.

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Old 08-07-2010, 09:26 PM   #37
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Interesting to note that southern termites are so respectful of state lines.
I was surprised to see N IL as 'moderate to heavy'. I honestly can't recall any first or second hand knowledge of significant termite damage in our area. I know they exist, but I never heard of any extensive damage.

From my small and unscientific sample, there must be a huge difference between 'moderate to heavy', and 'very heavy'. Of the people I know in CA and FL, most have had termite damage and/or 'tenting' of their house to prevent damage.


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Old 08-07-2010, 09:32 PM   #38
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Interesting to note that southern termites are so respectful of state lines.
Nor do they apparently dare stick a single antennae across I-35 in Texas...
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Old 08-07-2010, 09:43 PM   #39
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Floors and flooring:
Concrete slabs are pretty darn maintenance free IF they don't crack and if you don't have a water pipe break underneath them. You can avoid the first problem by hiring a really good contractor to do your slab, and ensuring he preps the lot correctly, uses high quality concrete, and uses appropriate steel reinforcement.

Basements: I like my basement, but if I were building from scratch I don't know if I'd have one. The conventional argument is that (in much of the country) you have to dig down at least 3 feet to get below the frost line, so you might as well dig farther down and get another level for "free." In truth, it's far from free (moving dirt costs a lot of money, and you still have to build walls, just like you would above grade). And what do you get at the end of the process? Some living area that is dark and possibly prone to flooding/condensation of the walls, etc. There are "new" methods to build directly on a slab with a thickened edge and have no problems with frost heave even in very cold areas. It's done by insulating the ground outward from the home using buried "wings" of rigid insulation. The natural heat from the ground warms the ground under the house and keeps it from freezing. The technique has been used in Scandinavia for many, many decades and it works great. It also saves money during construction. If you want the added square feet offered by a basement, it is cheaper to build it above grade. For more info, see the oikos site for a start. Based on what you've said, I think you'll like a lot of the ideas at that site.

Flooring: The acid-dyed concrete floors look great to my eye, but they do require re-sealing every few years. You might like cork. It's natural and renewable (though most of the flooring does contain artificial binders/glue), it feels really good underfoot, and it is fairly durable. I know vinyl has a bad reputation, but I like very much the high-quality sheet vinyl floor in my kitchen and bathrooms. No grout to clean, wipes up easily, doesn't break my dishes when I drop them, and it wears well. I think you are smart to avoid wall-to-wall carpet. I like our real hardwood floors. A few throw-rugs (pick them small enough to wash at home and you'll do it more often) for the spots where your bare feet demand it.
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Old 08-07-2010, 09:57 PM   #40
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I was surprised to see N IL as 'moderate to heavy'. I honestly can't recall any first or second hand knowledge of significant termite damage in our area. I know they exist, but I never heard of any extensive damage.

From my small and unscientific sample, there must be a huge difference between 'moderate to heavy', and 'very heavy'. Of the people I know in CA and FL, most have had termite damage and/or 'tenting' of their house to prevent damage.


-ERD50
I live in an area marked "moderate to heavy" and the buggers feasted very well on the joists and subfloor in some areas of the house before we moved in. I haven't seen any maps that declare any significant parts of the continental US as "termite free."
I'm a big believer in the penetrating borate treatments for wood framing. I'd definitely specify them if building a new house, and I'm spraying all my rim joists, mud sills, and the outer 2 feet of my floor joists and subfloors as I can get to it. The little devils might still get by this barrier, but at least I'll have done what I could. Plus, it's a lot less expensive and toxic than the conventional soil treatments.
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