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Sun, Jan 30
7:30 am

What would I do differently? - small house design: I am often asked what regrets I have in building the house and what I would do differently. Very surprisingly, I don't have much to say. This turned out to be one of the best things I have ever done. I wish I had known more about construction and I had more money to hire out some more of the work or borrow less. I wish I had pushed the house two feet wider, just to give myself a little more room in the bedroom, living and dining areas, but no big deal. I wish I had put a layer of waterproof and a thin layer of concrete under the earthen floor, but no biggie. I don't recommend the spiral staircase for young children or older people, however, and don't plan on getting large, heavy furniture into the loft. The decision on what sort of plasters to use were just endless and there were lots of opinions out there, but I love that I stayed with very simple formulas. I love the combo of earthen plasters covered with lime on the outside, but it was hours and hours of work. Same with the earthen floor - lots and lots of work and limited info on the web. I am really thankful for the storage space on the porch, since I didn't make a garage. The sunroom turned out to be a great design, because I can open it up and close it off more easily than can be done with south-facing windows. Here again, is my floorplan.

I have no regrets in using natural materials in construction, in fact I love the combination of earthen plasters and straw in my walls. They are not only sturdy, well-insulated, beautiful, and chemical-free, but I think they really do breathe fresh air. Every layer is vapor-permeable and when I have the house up tight to keep the heat out, it doesn't get that stale feeling. I keep lots of plants indoors for the oxygen and for their ability to clean the air, too. This house is large enough for all my needs and actually large by European standards and American standards 50 years ago. I heard the most common regret is building too large.

I wish we could somehow design houses at the end of the construction period, instead of at the beginning; we know so much more by then. I was very lucky to be given a floorplan that worked for me. When I sat down with the man who drew up my plans, I was asked so many questions I could not answer, that I will pass those along for thought. Where do you want the outlets? Do you want gas or electric for your water heater, stove, dryer? Do you want ceiling fans? Where do you want overhead lights and where do you want switches that turn outlets on and off for lamps? Do you want any dimmers? Which light switches do you want by the doors as you enter or leave a room? What kind of plumbing are you going to use? Where do you want to put the hot water heater? You get the idea.

Here's what I learned: Outlets: Our code is to have outlets every 7 feet in the kitchen - do it. Even if you don't think you'll use that many appliances. There will be the day you pull out the mixer or blender and wish you could put it anywhere in the kitchen and you'll wish you had an outlet. Put outlets outdoors at least one place on every wall. Weatherproof them well, but the day will also come when you want to string party or holiday lights, put in a drip system, or plug in a power tool and wish you had one. I don't have gas, but I do use a small, bbq-sized propane tank for my stove. I don't have a hot water heater and I highly recommend the combo of a homemade solar water heater plus a tankless for backup. Mine is electric, but study around the web and see the sizes and costs to decide what you want to use. Much will depend on the cost of electric vs. gas in your area, or whether you are using solar/ wind energy. For the rest of it, I'll just say: "think and analyze as much as you can before you draw up your house. You can't easily change these decisions once they are made, drawn up and put on your building permits."

Before I built, I got out the graph paper and measured all my furniture. I drew out the floor plan of the house on the graph paper and made cutouts of my furniture to scale. Then, I placed it all around to think where I wanted what. I got an estimate of cost-per-sqaure-foot to build and then tried to keep it all to the minimum square feet. Here's some of the great advice I got from the Steens: you don't need your fancy china and many large kitchen items taking up room in the kitchen - you can store those on the porch or in a garage. People shared one bathroom for years. To do that, have a dressing area in the bedrooms, so the bathroom is used only for times where water is needed. Separate the toilet from the shower.

Many people build large just to house their belongings that they can't part with, so part with them. Give them to someone in need and keep only what you really love and need. Then, build at a minimum. Do you need a living room plus den, or can you combine? Do you need a fancy dining room and a kitchen table or can you combine? Keep it simple! Then, think about storage and look at every window seat (they will be two feet wide), every place you could put a closet, and if you have a porch, look at storage there. Remember that you'll need a place for food, the vacuum, broom, ironing board, books, sports equipment, holiday decorations, tools and paints, etc, etc. If you aren't going to build a garage, think about where you will put them all. Try to be creative and make it fun. Then reward yourself for a small, efficient house design with beautiful touches of tile and natural stone or glass. Small can be beautiful.

Keep it Simple - and be kind!