Still More Considerations
We absolutely wanted the best energy performance in our new home, but we also wanted much more than just that. So here’s what we came up with:
Universal Access: My parents had the good fortune to build their own house some 50 years ago. I remember Mom insisting on a house with one floor living, so that’s what they built. She’s passed on now, but at age 91, Dad is still living independently in the house, in part because everything is on one floor. It’s only two steps up from the driveway to the entry door, and though there is a full basement, he does not have to venture there. If not for Mom’s insistence on one floor living, I don’t believe Dad would still be able to enjoy living in the home he and Mom built.
Over the years, we’ve volunteered with Canine Companions For Independence (CCI), a national organization that provides free service dogs for people with disabilities. Working with CCI has been richly rewarding, bringing us close to many committed “puppy raisers” as well as CCI clients with service dogs. It is truly amazing what these highly trained dogs can do for people of all ages who have some physical or developmental challenge. And it is also heart wrenching to witness a person in wheelchair trying to pass through a narrow 30″ wide bathroom door, or cross a street with a sidewalk curb.
Physically, we are fortunate to still be healthy and spry today, but who knows what tomorrow holds. We are all just one calamity away from a broken leg that has us hobbling on crutches, or a broken wrist that renders us unable to twist open a door knob, or worse. So we decided that the design for our new home would include “universal access/age in place.” We would include features such as zero step entry into the home (a particular design concern for a home in Maine’s snowy winters); barrier free shower stalls; levers instead of door knobs; 42″ wide hallways, 5′ turning radius for a wheelchair in the master bedroom and master bathroom, and 36″ wide entry and interior doors. These dimensions are all aimed at making it much easier to maneuver a wheelchair into, around, and of out of a home. They add minimal cost to a new home, but can be a very costly retrofit if needed. More than just a mobility insurance investment for an unknown future, we’ve found that these features also make rooms much more convenient and comfortable for everyday use, even if you’re not mobility challenged! While we wanted these kind of features, we will rely on our architect, Chris Briley, to understate these design elements so that we don’t convey an institutionalize feeling to the house.
Minimal long term maintenance. Zero maintenance may be a stretch, but I did not see myself on a ladder scrapping and repainting wooden clapboards on the exterior of the house every few years like my father had done on his home, or that I had done on the T-111 wood siding on our current house; that is, until my father and I both installed vinyl siding some 15 years ago. We know that vinyl siding is a petroleum based product, but the only maintenance we’ve had to do is to pressure wash the siding every few years, and it still looks very good. While vinyl siding is not environmentally sustainable, it is certainly long lasting. We will consider using it or perhaps some cement based siding like Hardy planks that are rot resistant and can come factory painted with a 30 year warranty.
We would select quality materials and components — no “builder’s grade” here.
“Not so Big House” elements. We admire architect and author Sarah Sushanka’s Not So Big House approach to home design: reduce square footage and invest the money saved in personalizing the home’s architectural features. We have a very nicely furnished dining room in our current home, but it is rarely used. We are simply not ones for formal entertaining. Instead, we entertain family and friends in our more informal and comfortable family room and kitchen counter area. We will not include a formal dining room in our new home.
We also very much like Craftsmen style exterior and interior architectural details. With it’s clean lines, simple forms, the trim details showcase the use and joinery of natural materials.
Other Considerations. There are seven other homes on Edgewater Lane. They are one- or two-story ranch or colonials with simple gable roofs. We want our new home design to nestle comfortably into this neighborhood. That said, we don’t want to have a plain-jane box either. We expect Chris to find a happy balance in the heft and appearance of the house.