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Making a House Low-Maintenance/Easy to Care For
Old 08-07-2010, 02:58 PM   #1
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Making a House Low-Maintenance/Easy to Care For

I am planning to build a small house when I retire. After living with myself for many years, I know I am really lackadaisical about housekeeping. I'd much rather be surfing the web, reading a book, or knitting a sweater than cleaning house, and since there's nobody to nag me about it, that's what I usually end up doing! So this is going to be a really small house that, starting from a pretty messy condition, can be made presentable for guests in a two day blitz-cleaning. I figure 600 square feet max, and maybe even smaller than that. It will be on one story, and designed so it can easily be made wheelchair accessible if necessary—I want to be able to live in it for the rest of my life. I think sometimes I'm going to run into conflicts with my other goal for the house, which is to make it from recycled/recyclable/renewable materials as much as possible. Do I get the one-piece molded tub/shower surround because it's seamless and easy to clean—or pass it up because it's made of acrylic? Decisions, decisions...

I had some ideas already, and yesterday I picked my mom's brains for more tips to make the house easy to care for and low maintenance. She has a degree in Home Ec and many years of experience, so she knows whereof she speaks. Here's the list so far. What are your ideas on the topic?

General Principles
  • "A place for everything, and everything in its place."
  • Keep furnishings simple; when you have enough, remove one item for every item brought in.
Exterior
  • Metal roof and siding (i.e. doesn't need painting)
  • Gutter guards to keep leaves out
  • No rockeries! (my parents have extensive rockeries in their yard. Weeds get established in the cracks and it's nearly impossible to get them out again.
  • Probably no lawn, either.
  • I plan to use the ideas in The Self-Sustaining Garden for my landscaping.
  • Composite lumber for exterior steps, decks, railings etc (no rot or splinters, no painting required)
  • No enclosed soffits, etc (just had to pay to have someone come and deal with a yellow-jackets' nest inside my 2nd floor deck)
Interior
  • Windows that flip into the room so both sides can be cleaned from indoors
  • Hard floors—no wall-to-wall carpet, area rugs if any
  • Wallpaper rather than paint
  • Window treatments that can be taken down and machine laundered
  • All furniture comes right down to the floor. No "underneath" that requires moving the furniture to clean there!
  • Twin bed (I tend to pile stuff on the other half of my double).
  • Stainless steel or "clean steel" appliances (no chipping)
  • Under-mounted sink or all-in one sink/countertop in kitchen; under-mounted, wall mounted or pedestal sink in bath.
  • Kitchen counters with integral backsplash
  • Baseboards, if any, real wood (I have MDF or whatever it is in my bathroom at current house and they are disintegrating due to the moisture—the ones in the kitchen have affected spots too).
  • Wall-mounted toilet
  • No open storage—doors on all cabinets
  • Trackless shower door (if any--I may just use a curtain)
  • Backdraft kitchen range (?—I don't know if this will be better than an ordinary overhead vent hood. I do know I'll keep the hood and microwave separate in the future. The glass tray in my above-the-range micro is broken, and a replacement from the original manufacturer costs $80. I could buy a whole new countertop microwave for less.)
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Old 08-07-2010, 03:07 PM   #2
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  • Composite lumber for exterior steps, decks, railings etc (no rot or splinters, no painting required)
Not sure what you plan to use for exterior siding (brick, stucco, etc.) but I recommend you use something like Hardiplank for all exterior trim, fascia, etc.
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Old 08-07-2010, 03:09 PM   #3
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I would just pay someone $100 to do a major cleaning job once a month or so.
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Old 08-07-2010, 03:12 PM   #4
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Not sure what you plan to use for exterior siding (brick, stucco, etc.) but I recommend you use something like Hardiplank for all exterior trim, fascia, etc.
I am planning metal for roof and siding. I hadn't gotten to the point of considering what to use for trim yet. Can Hardiplank trim be used with metal siding? It requires painting eventually, doesn't it?
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Old 08-07-2010, 03:18 PM   #5
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Can Hardiplank trim be used with metal siding?
I don't know why not. It looks and functions like wood.

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It requires painting eventually, doesn't it?
Yes, but it may be a while. Mine has the 13 year-old original paint and still looks good - even though it takes a real beating in the south TX sun.
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Old 08-07-2010, 03:21 PM   #6
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I would just pay someone $100 to do a major cleaning job once a month or so.
But then the housecleaner would see how messy my house is! And that's not to mention the expense, which would, in fact, be a not insignificant increase to my estimated monthly budget.
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Old 08-07-2010, 03:21 PM   #7
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Wallpaper? What if you don't like it eventually? I'd rather paint a room and repaint if needed.
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Old 08-07-2010, 03:25 PM   #8
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But then the housecleaner would see how messy my house is! And that's not to mention the expense, which would, in fact, be a not insignificant increase to my estimated monthly budget.
I doesn't have to be monthly. It could just be when you're expecting company that you want to clean for.
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Old 08-07-2010, 03:26 PM   #9
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I agree with Carnage on paint vs. wallpaper. DW got sick of the wallpaper in our three bathrooms and paid a pro to remove it so I could paint (I refused to screw up the drywall by attempting to remove and texture the wall myself). Paint is much, much easier to deal with than wallpaper - at least for me.
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Old 08-07-2010, 03:29 PM   #10
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Wallpaper? What if you don't like it eventually? I'd rather paint a room and repaint if needed.
Certainly one could get tired of wallpaper with a bold pattern, or flocking, but there are other types. My parents have a sort of grass-cloth looking wallpaper in their front hall, which has been there more than thirty years, including several years when the house was rented out. It's very unobtrusive and still in excellent shape. What I might well end up doing is using paint at first, and then when/if painting gets to be too much work, switch to wallpaper.
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Old 08-07-2010, 03:42 PM   #11
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I agree with Carnage on paint vs. wallpaper. DW got sick of the wallpaper in our three bathrooms and paid a pro to remove it so I could paint (I refused to screw up the drywall by attempting to remove and texture the wall myself). Paint is much, much easier to deal with than wallpaper - at least for me.
I had to remove wallpaper in a few rooms in my house (some had several layers of wallpaper). I used steam to remove the wallpaper and it was a mess. Then it took me weeks to spackle/sand/spackle/sand to obtain a drywall smooth enough to be painted. It was a real pain. These walls will never see wallpaper again.
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Old 08-07-2010, 03:45 PM   #12
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I had to remove wallpaper in a few rooms in my house (some had several layers of wallpaper). I used steam to remove the wallpaper and it was a mess. Then it took me weeks to spackle/sand/spackle/sand to obtain a drywall smooth enough to be painted. It was a real pain.
Exactly why I refused to attempt the job myself. I'm an antiwallpaperian - and proud of it.
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Old 08-07-2010, 03:54 PM   #13
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In addition to the ground-level plantings, give some thought to the types of trees you want on your lot.

A sycamore, for example, it a beautiful shade tree but sheds something every season.

Another outdoor thought: you will want someplace to sit outside with a small house. You want something you can hose off as needed. Use concrete or another solid surface material for patio, driveway and sidewalks. Bricks and concrete pavers get weeds in the cracks unless they are set with mortar in between.
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Old 08-07-2010, 04:00 PM   #14
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I had to remove wallpaper in a few rooms in my house (some had several layers of wallpaper)
Fortunately I only have one layer of paper on my sunroom walls. I've decided to remove the wallpaper while DH is out of town for three weeks.

The ceiling is 10 feet tall...I think I'm going to need a trampoline.
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Stainless Steel appliances
Old 08-07-2010, 04:15 PM   #15
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Stainless Steel appliances

I know stainless steel appliances are all the rage, but I've heard from some that they really show the fingerprints. Perhaps the type of finish (brushed or polished) makes a difference.
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Old 08-07-2010, 04:23 PM   #16
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I put up a lot of wallpaper when I moved in 20 years ago and most of it needs to be replaced, as the seams have started to lift. I'm stripping and going with paint.
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Old 08-07-2010, 04:35 PM   #17
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- Yes, I'd also vote against the wallpaper. It's not a durable as good paint and an awful lot harder to "recoat."

- 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.

- 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.

- 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.

- 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.

- 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.

- Real wood baseboards won't stand up to mopping/moisture as well as plastic ones will.

- 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.

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

- 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.

- 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.
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Old 08-07-2010, 04:38 PM   #18
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No baseboards.
Smooth doors.
Because all additional horizontal surfaces collect dust.

Have kitchen cabinets go all the way to the ceiling so the tops don't accumulate dust and grease.

Have at least one very wide doorway so large things can come and go easily.

Look up: universal design for easy to use door handles and faucets for arthritic hands.
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Old 08-07-2010, 04:43 PM   #19
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I know stainless steel appliances are all the rage, but I've heard from some that they really show the fingerprints. Perhaps the type of finish (brushed or polished) makes a difference.
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.
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Old 08-07-2010, 04:47 PM   #20
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No baseboards.
Smooth doors.
Because all additional horizontal surfaces collect dust.

Have kitchen cabinets go all the way to the ceiling so the tops don't accumulate dust and grease.

Have at least one very wide doorway so large things can come and go easily.

Look up: universal design for easy to use door handles and faucets for arthritic hands.
I like the way you think!
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