What you learned from living in your current home...

July 2, 2015

It's interesting how often I see people mention that something they've done with the design of the home they're building is in reaction to the home they're currently living in. That's how it is with us. A lot of the home design is an attempt to remedy problems we have with our current house.

What design/construction elements are there because you're attempting to improve upon something you dislike about somewhere you previously lived?

In our case the biggest issues we're addressing are problems with layout/flow of the current house, problems with the lack of energy efficient design principles used by the builder of our current house and the high maintenance cost of the current house. To that end we drew up a detailed list of requirements for the floorplan including a first floor mother-in-law suite (she's having trouble climbing stairs at our house after a knee replacement) and the kitchen next to the garage, laundry room, patio, and mud room. We also chose a builder who has a proven track record for designing energy efficient homes and I've been researching xeriscaping (Our lawncare bills are ridiculous. We can't mow our lawn because of our allergies so we have to hire mowers.) along with which building and decorative materials will work well for our decor style and will be easy/inexpensive to maintain.

Comments (37)

  • cpartist

    We are currently in a condo that we gutted five years ago. We did most of what we wanted in the condo. However there are some things we can't have in the condo and some things we would change. And some is based on living in homes for most of my adult life. Considering I'm at the age when most of my friends are retiring, that's a long time. LOL

    What we can't have in the condo is the ability to barbecue, garden, or just walking out the door to jump in the pool. (we're in FL.) or just go in the garage to get in the car and go.

    things we'd change from our condo?

    More lights in the bathrooms, my studio and in the kitchen and better placed.

    Curbless shower and one that isn't quite so large. Ours is 6' x 3'.

    Making sure to include room near the shower for towels. Oops! LOL.

    A smaller tub without jets. (we'll be having an outdoor jetted spa)

    Did I say more lights? LOL.

    Induction cooktop. I didn't go with one in the condo because induction heats with magnets and DH has a pacemaker. 5 years ago, they were not sure how it would affect a pacemaker. However now we've been told by the pacemaker company it's perfectly safe as long as DH keeps the area with the pacemaker at least 6" from the cooktop when it's working.

    An outlet in the toilet closet. (I read my Ipad in there and leave it there where the battery wears down. If I had a place to plug it in there, I would.)

    Heated bathroom floor. Even though we are in FL when it's cold outside, it is cold stepping onto a tile floor.

    Larger great room.

    New windows (the condo windows are original to 1982 and the board refuses to replace them)

    Like you, I will do natural plantings that are native to the area. Very little grass. Only enough for the dog to have a run area in back. By doing natural plantings I shouldn't have to worry about watering.

    Also making the home energy efficient. the condo isn't and when it's cold the wind and cold come in the windows. When hot, the area by the windows are steaming hot.

    We are looking into solar but that will depend on cost.

  • mushcreek

    It would take a long response to list all that was wrong with our old house!

    First of all- location. We went from 1/6th of an acre to 7. Changed the FL climate for a mild 4 season climate. No more HOA rules. Cut our cost of living significantly- lower taxes, insurance, and utilities. Of course, many can't (or don't want to) change location.

    For the hot FL climate, the house was oriented poorly. The porch, facing west, was unusable much of the year.

    The kitchen was tiny, far from windows, was in a major traffic flow area, had only 4 drawers, and the ceiling was lowered (WHY would you lower a kitchen ceiling?!?)

    Most of the rooms had only one window, putting closets on the outside walls instead.

    Very little storage, with no attic or basement. Closets were minimal.

    Useless dining room area, with traffic coming from 4 different rooms.

    Unforgiving concrete floors.

    Too many too-small rooms.

    The garage was too small to actually park two cars.

    8' ceilings. It makes such a difference to have 9'+ ceilings.

    Popcorn ceilings- Ugh!

    Our old house had no insulation in the walls, barely R-19 in the attic, and single pane windows. The HVAC ductwork was in the 135 degree attic. Summer power bills ran $300 with the A/C set at 78 degrees.

    Shoddy construction, wiring, plumbing.

    The house had no charm- just a standard 1980 tract home, jammed in with 100's of similar/identical houses.

    In our new house, which is nearing completion, we have addressed all of those issues, possibly going a bit overboard, but we love it!

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  • omelet

    A small thing, based on experience - place the HVAC unit where the sound of it running has the least impact on how you live (e.g. outside spaces, living room, bedrooms).

  • collfoster

    no omelet - that is not a small thing at all. Noise/sound transmission would be top of my list. We cannot keep our master bedroom windows open as the a/c units are right there under the windows - it drives me crazy and I thought I figured all this stuff out before we built.

    My biggest thing and I say it in every post (seriously) is to think about using sound transmission products (drywall, green glue, under layment for flooring, etc). I like a quiet home and ours is not. :(

  • artemis_ma

    Functional upper kitchen cabinets are a MUST -- and one is not enough.

    Having doors open into each other is a No No (the half bath, back door and basement doors all open into each other here). In the kitchen, no less.

    Having kitchen counter space is a must.

    Having enough outlets for all my kitchen and other devices is a must. (My half bath is my device charging station; I dehydrate food using the electrical outlet outdoors, and generally crock-pot outdoors).

    Roll out lower cabinets, and room for oversized platters is a must (currently they're being stored in a dresser drawer in the guest bedroom).

    Buffer zone between master bedroom and other living areas is a must.

    Laundry facility on same floor as living space is a must.

    Fiberglass windows are far less apt to stick than wood ones.

    Popcorn ceilings are from the devil.

    Energy efficiency is essential.

    Looking forward to an induction range.

  • mushcreek

    I don't know about modern central HVAC, but our mini-splits are nearly silent. I challenge visitors to tell me if they can hear it running, including the outdoor units!

  • artemis_ma

    Oh, adding in: A flat driveway is a must in snow country! There have been winters where it snowed, then got real warm, then the temps plummeted to 10 F for a week - leaving me with an icy driveway I had to park at the bottom of, and figure out how to get into my house using sticks or poles for support. (Forget bringing in groceries...) My next home will have a flat driveway WITH a circular turn around for ease of plowing!

  • chisue

    Lots of things worked well in our 'starter' home (of 35 years). When we started looking for another single-level home we found a lot of houses *just like* our starter. But...we wanted nine-foot ceilings and fewer, but larger rooms. When we couldn't find a non-palatial one-floor home with lots of light in a quiet location in a nice town, we bought a teardown and built in 2001.

    The land value of our acre lot sparked the idea to build the one-floor home we wanted to live in for twenty years, but also let a buyer expand it easily. Neighboring homes are 5-6000 sq ft and usually two-story. We built 2900 sq ft with a formal staircase to a full height attic, under a 10/12 pitch roof.

    Just having new *everything* has been great. So far, we've had no major repairs or replacements -- a boon in itself! We have the few, bigger rooms and nine-foot ceilings with pretty mouldings. Casements are wide. Baseboards are tall. Windows and 15 French doors are tight, with between-the-glass shades and muntins that don't require a lot of fussy 'treatments'. Three big archtop windows front the house: One in the MBA; one in the 'library' (our TV room); one over my kitchen sink. We are 'open' and *light*.

    All flooring is hardwood except baths and 'back hall'. There are no thresholds. All doors are 36" wide with lever handles. Hallways are wide. The house is one step up from ground. We are far from "ADA compliant", but I've easily recovered from two hip replacements here.

    Garage-to-kitchen is via the middle of a 'back hall' with laundry to one side and half bath and wide closet to the other side. Window west and half-glass door to back yard east. Raised front loaders and laundry tub opposite upper and lower cabinets. (Drop zone.) Ten foot 'Costco Closet' with double doors also holds coats, mops, drip-dries.

    Entrance to kitchen has large breakfast room to the east and work area west. A raised bar counter runs east/west creating an aisle between it and a buffet, my desk, and an arched entrance to the DR. (DR is little used, but this is a traditional home.) We eat in the breakfast room -- seats 6 - 8. French doors east go to patio; south, to screened porch. LR and DR face south over Brussels block terrace. (No-maintenance.)

    Foyer is 14 X 16, open to LR -- archtop door with window surround (more light!).

    MBR connects to bath via short hallway with flanking closets. MBA has toilet room w/window, airtub that is just my size, shower, linen closet, two pedestal sinks w/recessed medicine closets. Heated floor here and in all north rooms. Side window as well as archtop over tub.

    Unfinished basement is home to gas forced air HVAC w/flow-through humidifiers and air cleaners. I love the under-floor heat, but wouldn't part with humidity in winter and A/C in summer. Central vac canister.

    Kitchen w/stacked dish drawers. No disposal. Pull-out garbage/recycling other side of sink. Three deep drawers under cook top. Green granite. I'm no cook, but cooktop has both electric and gas available. I'd like a quieter hood. Low-voltage lights under cabinets and in glass-front cabinets over buffet. Seldom use ceiling cans anywhere in the house -- big waste of money and that 'swiss cheese' look.

    Driveway sweeps past front door to garage (120-degree angle to house). T provides turn around and space for plowed snow. (No 'front walk', just bluestone stoop under protective arch up to wood front door.)

    Four exterior spigots. Can't think of anything more. (Bet you're glad!)

  • omelet

    @mushcreek - not to derail the thread but we are very interested in mini-splits. I had initially ruled them out due to cost but they might be worth it!

  • Lavender Lass

    ....that I don't like stairs!

    We don't have any and I don't want any. LOL There's nothing like a beautiful staircase railing, when it comes to decorating for Christmas...but it's not worth the limitations the rest of the time. This is from experience with my grandmother having to use a walker, my husband's recovery from unexpected illness....and friends in wheelchairs.

    Actually, it amazes me that people still build homes on multiple levels, especially on acreage. When land is scarce and you need bonus space, I can see it....but have one entry and one bathroom that can be accessed without stairs. It should really be code, IMHO....especially for tract homes. Along with blocking on bathroom walls and showers, to easily add grab bars at some future date. Just my two cents :)

  • llucy

    I realized I get tired of looking at my kitchen all day and would prefer a home that doesn't combine living/dining/kitchen in one room. I don't think I'd mind living/dining areas combined, but I want some separation for the kitchen.

    Ditto Lavender Lass on stairs. Big temperature differential between 2 levels with an open stairway. Don't want to have to deal with stairs as I get older. Would like a walk-in shower with grab bars also - no glass door.

    Would prefer a location 10-15 minutes from a small city (shopping, medical facilities) rather than the 30 min. each way I have now.

  • tcufrog
    I don't if anyone else did this but I started the process by writing down what wasn't working at our current home. I wish I still had the list. I also made a list of what worked which was much shorter.
  • Lavender Lass

    Ilucy- Me? While it would be nice being closer to town (especially in the winter) we are far enough out to discourage development.

    With the snowfall, most people don't want to drive 30 minutes to get to the I guess it's worth the tradeoff. Although, it would be nice to have some kind of grocery store a little closer.

    Guess I want to have my cake and eat it, too....or sometimes not have to bake my own :)

  • cpartist

    Mushcreek I wanted to message you but you don't have messaging on. :)

  • cpartist

    LL, I'm glad I'm downtown. I make the best dinner reservations! ;)

  • mrspete

    A big kitchen with loads of counterspace is not the same thing as a well-designed kitchen that functions well.

    Big rooms = big expense when you need to change something later.

    Don't skimp on closet space.

    Electricians don't always place light switches in places that make sense; for example, the one by our front door is around the corner from the front door, and the one for the back door is across the room.

    Don't skimp on electrical outlets. Really, my house was built in the late 60s/early 70s, and I have ONE outlet in my kitchen.

    Good lighting matters.

    Covered porches are wonderful.

    Don't buy a corner lot. Two ditches to mow, kids cut across it (well, their bus stop is on our property, so we can't really blame them), and you have less privacy in the back yard.

    In most situations, paying for good quality is worth the extra cost ... but fancy bells and whistles are ignored after the "new" has worn off, and they tend to break anyway.

    If you buy a new house with NO landscaping, expect to drop more money than you expect AND to spend more time than you expect.

  • cpartist

    Actually we picked the corner lot specifically so we could build a courtyard type of backyard.

    My house growing up was a corner lot and we loved being able to run all around it. the side was blocked by trees and bushes so no one ever cut across

    My house I raised my kids in was a corner lot. On that one the house was set back a bit too far so we had more space in front. It made a good front yard for playing ball. Because the lot was raised up a bit on a slight hill, it was not conducive for cutting across.

    Our new home will not have a problem either because being on a city type lot, we really have no front yard.

    My point being, I think it depends.

  • Lavender Lass

    Lousy dinner reservations....but great views :)

  • cpartist

    Absolutely gorgeous LL.

    View from our current condo.

  • Mama Rachel (8A + windy)

    Power in floor where lamps will go in living spaces.
    Power in eves for Christmas lights.
    Door widths to accommodate moving furniture and appliances through the home.
    Enough width in the garage to park cars AND open the doors without dinging something.
    Need landing space on both sides of the sink - my current apartment has the sink against a wall... :/
    Sound buffers - we are double-drywall w/ green glue and rocsol-ing the master and theater rooms.
    Sound insulate the plumbing stack from upstairs because there is nothing grosser than hearing uncle Hank's turd (in my mind at least) swishing down the wall during Thanksgiving
    More pantry space than you ever thought you'd ever need ever, plus more.
    Bigger and more closets
    Built-ins that double as storage and furniture (closed cabinetry).

  • tete_a_tete

    In every house I have lived I have learned that every house in my area should have adequate insulation. And orientation is so important and not always considered. Double glazing is essential. And you can never have too much light. Big windows are lovely.

  • tcufrog

    Those are some great views cpartist and lavendar lass. I can see why you chose to live where you live.

    This isn't a very good photo of my lot. Since it's so wide there's no good way to get a full width photo without taking a panoramic shot. The rubble pile is where the house will go. My boys enjoy climbing it when we visit it. The covered patio, breakfast nook, great room and pool will overlook the usually dry creek and trees that bisect the lot and the master suite will be oriented to have a beautiful view of the trees on the right. Someone bought several wooded acres across the street, many of which aren't buildable. We're hoping that they'll keep at least a screen of trees for privacy.

  • mushcreek

    cpartist- I changed my settings for PM's. I don't see how to PM someone else, though.

  • chisue

    Glad to see orientation and location listed here.

    I doubt there is a house or location that is 'perfect' for every stage of life: Starter home; Growing family; Empty nesters w/family moving in and out; Aging in place, perhaps needing live-in help.

    Recent posts illustrate this. The childless couple plan a nest for themselves and their friends. The couple with small children don't plan for living with teens and young adults. The newly retired don't see the choices that will be impractical when they have diminished abilities.

    We also see people trying extensive remodeling when they really need to move.

    These forums are a boon. "The wisdom of crowds" at our fingertips!

  • cpartist

    that lot looks beautiful tcufrog. I'm sure the rest is too.

    Unfortunately when we move we will lose those views. I'm hoping after we build and landscape the view out the back will be nice enough to enjoy all the time.

    the tradeoff is instead of being in a condo and having to abide by the decision of everyone, we can make our own decisions. Plus we can't barbecue in the condo and every time we need to take the dog out, it means an elevator ride to the street. there's no place for the dog to run and if we want to use the pool, it means a ride down and then up again in the elevator with wet bathing suits on.

    While I LOVE our neighbors and have made lots of friends in our building, and will miss our after dinner chats by the front desk, I also miss a lot of our privacy. So like everything in life, tradeoffs. Plus it's less than a 5 minute walk to the water to see the views.

  • tcufrog

    Thanks cpartist. It must be tough leaving such a beautiful place and such a friendly community. There's something to be said though for convenience and privacy. You should have a cookout though to celebrate as soon as you move in. I'm actually taking a break from getting ready for our annual Fourth of July cookout and pool party.

    I'm going to miss our location right between two major cities. We've got three wonderful parks within a mile of our house and the library system is wonderful. We're much too far from my boys' school and husband's business though. and the traffic keeps getting worse. The new home will be 10 easy minutes from the school and an easier commute to my husband's work. I'll miss the large backyard for my kids to run around in along with the log balance beam from when we had to cut down a tree and the play set with the swings the kids spend hours swinging on. I'm tired of the lack of privacy in the backyard and the street that's unsafe for my kids' to bike on solo. The new neighborhood will be a great place for them to bike and I'm hoping the woods around our house will appeal to my kids as they get older more than the playset would have.

  • cpartist

    the great thing about kids tcufrog is that they are adaptable. And I'm sure being closer to their school will be a great help to you plus it might inspire more play dates. And think of less land as less to maintain. ;) Our lot is only 6100 sq feet. Just enough for the pool, some green for a narrow strip for the dog to run (she's only 10 lbs), and enough room to have lots of friends over!

    Have a great 4th party.

  • tcufrog


    You are very wise. We will actually have a lot more land ( .75 acres now and 1.7 when we move) but most of it will be wooded or left as a prairie. Most of what little landscaping we will do will be xeriscaping. In the spring there was a major reprieve in our multiyear drought but it's unknown whether it's over. I think it would be wasteful to have a huge lawn given the circumstance. I think your yard sounds perfect.

  • cpartist

    I am a firm believer in xeriscaping no matter where you live. When I lived in my house on .33 of an acre, I made sure that anything I planted did not need to be watered with an regularity and we believed that as long as the grass looked green we didn't care what was actually growing in it. LOL.

  • toriat

    Don't want a two story house, need a first floor Laundry not in basement, don't need a tub in master bath but a shower with a seat, need a screen porch due to mosquito allergy.

  • mushcreek

    I've already forgotten about how much I hated keeping a perfect lawn in our old house. We were in a crowded neighborhood, and everyone kept their lawn in flawless condition. We had to hire a lawn company to spray whatever on the lawn to maintain perfection. We were on a hill, so you had to water constantly to keep it alive.

    Out here in the country, we have a 'farm lawn'. It's green, and I mow it once in a while. I didn't even plant grass- we have whatever came up, and periodic mowing has eliminated trees/brush/vines. We don't rake leaves; they go away eventually. Almost every plant we have is native, and the only thing we water are new plantings, and our small herb and veggie garden. Everyone out here has the same philosophy about lawn care, so it all blends together.

  • chookchook2

    If there is a next house, I won't believe the building inspector. Look in the neighbours' bins, to see if they're alcoholic.

  • musicgale

    Chookchook2-lol. Neighbors make a big difference in quality of life.

  • lilacinjust

    Next house will have a big master BR with Big en suite bath with windows and lots of natural light.

  • mushcreek

    It's pretty hard to assess the neighbors until it's too late. Our neighbors at our new house are the best we've ever had. When I first started building, I was living in the woods (alone) in a little pop-up camper. Every so often, the neighbor would show up with a hot plate of food, right off of their dinner table. We watch out for each other, and treat each other well.

  • lilacinjust

    It's imperative to scope out the new neighborhood at different times and different days to gauge the activity and noise level, see if there are people who let her home and yard go.

    We have a house a couple doors down that I'm sure will bring down the comps because it's not going to show well, at all.

  • chookchook2

    Things can change quickly. The neighbour can decease, followed by quiet, followed by nightmare owners. The neighbour can start taking Ice, their lifestyle can change within a week. The neighbours kids can be taken by child services, and the happy play sounds can cease. Drug dealers can start up in the street. Alot of migrants from the same country can move in the area, with music from a different country blaring from their cars. We have seen all of that increasing in our neighbourhoods, over the years.

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