For the past couple decades, American home building has been based on the “bigger is better” theory. But not everyone can afford a McMansion, and not everyone wants to live in a McMansion even if they could.
Smaller homes have a lot going for them. They are easier to clean and take care of, they cost less to buy or to build, they cost less to maintain and pay taxes on, and they have a more intimate feel.
If you live in a small home, there are a number of ways to get the most use out of the limited space you have. Try some of these tips and tricks
Live in your outdoor space. No matter where you live, there are certain times of the year when it’s beautiful outside your windows. Go out and enjoy it while you can. Houses that have rooms that open up onto patios allow indoor/outdoor living. Meals can be taken outdoors and children get away from the TV, video games, and gadgets and breathe fresh air and get exercise. In the north there is no better place for summertime dinners than on the patio. Even if you are only allotted a small balcony where you live, add a nice wicker chair with a cushion and some flowers and you have a great spot to read a book or listen to the people on the street.
Eliminate unnecessary rooms. Dining rooms are overrated. They get use only one or two times a year but requiring cleaning, heating, and furniture year round. If you already have a dining room, make it into a room that gets use. Add some french doors to close it off and turn it into an office or a children’s play room. If you don’t have a dining room, use your eat-in kitchen or the patio.
Make your main living spaces open to one another. Living rooms, kitchens, and eating spaces that flow together get the most use. While entertaining, no one feels “left out” because they are subjugated to one zone or another. With families, the parents can keep an eye on their kids while they are busy whipping up dinner. Connecting the spaces you have will make the inside feel larger even if the square footage is still on the small side.
Create built-ins. Built-in furniture, such as desks, and storage, such as dressers and cabinets, tuck needed space into areas that are otherwise hard to furnish. Space under the roofline becomes dead space as it slopes downward toward the floor where no one can fit to sit or stand. But with added built-in dressers or cabinets, the space has function and helps free up other areas where a dresser might otherwise go. A properly organized closet can completely eliminate the need for a bureau in the bedroom.
Have furniture with multi-functions. Buy a kitchen or dining table that is round and expandable. They not only allow for more space, they are friendly for other uses such as men’s poker night, ladies’ bunco night, or family game night. A desk can double as a night stand in a child’s room or in the master bedroom. A china hutch can store and display your dishes away from your cramped kitchen cabinets and hide board games in the enclosed space below. A coffee table with drawers can stow away children’s legos, action figures, and crayons and craft paper.
Small spaces can be family friendly spaces and they can be great for entertaining. A pint-sized home is friendly on your wallet and the environment. You want to live in a house that allows you to live as you wish, and not monopolize your time with cleaning extra spaces and extraneous upkeep. Be proud of the small place you call home.
Massachusetts Builder Devises Own Creation With Personal Imprint
Saunas are a tradition for Gabriel Lortie in keeping with his family’s Finnish origins. While growing up, everyone—frequently joined by other relatives and friends—used the sauna his father built. Now he is approaching completion of his own custom sauna in the yard of his home in Middleboro, Massachusetts.
It is an undertaking in which he has drawn as well on his professional background. Lortie, 34, who holds a civil engineering degree, operates a commercial and residential building and design business with his father. Their work, which includes church steeple reconstruction, takes them around the greater Boston area and elsewhere in New England.
Lortie has had to balance the time spent on the sauna with his work and other commitments, he told during an interview inside the 500-square-foot structure. His ideas for what he wanted go back a few years but he’s had to do the building in stages and budget for the separate components.
Interval Between Original Sauna Foundation and Outside Construction
He put in the concrete after starting the design and layout, sometimes continuing to sketch what was in his mind wherever he was at the moment. The sauna foundation stood for four or five years with no blocks or anything else before he had the outside and walls built, Lortie said.
After erecting the exterior building, another several months were required to install the windows, shingles, and do the painting. He did the electrical circuit wiring himself from a manual. Lortie’s father, Bill, helped do some of the siding when he had time available. His youngest brother, Justin, who also has worked on their construction projects, helped to paint the trim and do other steps along the way.
During often weather-related company project lulls, Lortie has been able to hire regular work crew for parts of the sauna. “I had precut all the rafters and already arranged it all. They came and nailed it all together and we put the walls up.”
Plans for Additional Getaway Space for Work and Relaxation
His intention all along was to build a room connected to the sauna. But that concept has expanded to include having some additional space outside of his home and something of a retreat from daily pressures. “I’ve made it more of a little sanctuary” to do work, relax, socialize, have a meal, or even sleep, he said. Lortie is trying to do the different elements together instead of just building a sauna alone first, even though that requires more time. “I want to make everything work all at once.”
The sauna building eventually will have a TV room, a living room, and possible art studio to accompany the existing loft with a railing around it and slide into wall ladder. High definition wires and cables are going to the television.
Lortie plans to have a surround sound speaker underneath where he placed all the speaker wires. He moved all the wires out of sight to go into a closet which will have a receiver, Blu-ray player, RF connection, and electronic eye.
A wireless Internet hub additionally will be inside the wall. The wires will be sealed with expanding foam insulation to keep out moisture when the sauna’s in use, even if moisture collects on the other side of the wood.
“If you’re doing something for yourself, you kind of have the freedom to take your time and not worry about how much money you’re making or every hour you work. You know also that your work is yours and you can satisfy yourself over its quality and permanence.”
Be Prepared for Emergencies with A Home Repair Tool Kit
Putting together a basic set of home tools is as easy as a trip to the hardware store. No item in this home tool box costs more than twenty dollars, but having these essential tools on hand could save hundreds in professional repair expenses.
Tools Needed for a Complete Home Tool Set
Hammer – Hammers come in all shapes and sizes but a hammer that weighs about 16 ounces will work for most home repair jobs. Avoid hammers with a checkerboard or ‘waffle’ head, as these are designed for framing buildings. The claw end of the hammer should be curved as hammers with curved claws are easier to use in small spaces.
Screwdriver – Like hammers, screwdrivers also run the gamut of shapes and sizes and come in two basic varieties: Phillips (for screws with a ‘cross’ mark on the head) and Straight. Most screws these days have a Phillips-style head, but to be on the safe side look for a screwdriver kit with replaceable tips. Buy the best screwdriver or set you can afford as the cheaper varieties are made of softer metal and will deform or break with use.
Tape Measure – The least expensive and most common tape measure for most home tool kits is 25 feet long. Avoid those labeled ‘commercial grade’ as they tend to be expensive, heavy and bulky and measure no better than tapes half the price.
Utility Knife -Utility knives have all kinds of handy uses at home, from trimming off loose caulk to scraping stickers off glass. As with tape measures, more expensive doesn’t mean better. Purchase one with a retractable blade, which is safer than a fixed-blade model. Most utility knives contain blade storage in the handle. Buy an extra 5 blades to store in the handle and it will be ready to go for years of use.
Pliers – Pliers are among the most useful tools in the home tool box for picking up small objects, bending things back into place, and pulling out things like staples. This is an item where spending more is worth it.
Adjustable Wrench – Commonly known as a ‘crescent’ wrench, this tool can be adjusted to hold just about any size bolt or nut. Although these come in a variety of sizes, an 8 or 10 inch model is best for the home repair tool kit.
Small set of open and ‘box’ end wrenches – Buy a set that includes 5/16″, 3/8″, 7/16″, 1/2″, 9?16″ and 5/8″ sizes. For light use at home, a cheap set works fine.
Safety Glasses – They’re inexpensive and the pros use them. Safety glasses are especially important when hammering things.
Storage Box – Toolboxes and generally expensive, however a five dollar plastic box is just fine for storing home tools in the closet. Make sure the box lid can accept a padlock if there are small children in the house.
Pre-assembled home owner tool sets found in big box retail stores often contain cheaply made tools that will break with even minor use and are often overpriced. The investment of just an hour at the local hardware store can result in a complete tool kit of quality tools that will last for many years.
Inexpensive and Simple Changes Can Boost Your Home’s Value
While North American real estate sales have continued to struggle over the past several years due to the economy, experts predict that homeowners will see an increase in sales in the spring of 2010. Low mortgage rates, tax benefits and lower prices will contribute to this increase in real estate sales. However, are homeowners prepared for the upcoming increase in home buyer traffic?
Most homeowners would like to purchase a home that’s move-in ready. However, most home seller’s aren’t interested in making, or can’t afford, major changes or improvements to a home that’s being sold. There are a few simple changes that homeowners can make to boost the value of their home before putting it on the market.
First impressions are important, right? Curb appeal, the first thing potential buyers see when driving up to a home, is as important as the home’s inside appeal. Most homeowners feel that the condition of a home’s exterior is an indication of a home’s interior condition.
Paint is an inexpensive way to spruce up a home’s exterior. When painting a home for resale, homeowners should choose a neutral color that would be attractive to a wide variety of homeowners. Any damaged siding or porch floorboards should also be repaired before painting.
Lawn maintenance is also something that the homeowners should take into consideration when preparing to sell their home. Bushes and shrubs should be trimmed and grass should be cut. If landscaping is at a minimum, homeowners should invest in sturdy, colorful plants that complement the home’s exterior color.
Interior Paint and Floors
Experts agree that flooring is an essential key to boosting a home’s interior appeal . Homeowners don’t need to invest a lot of money to replace flooring. However, homeowners should be willing to invest time into rebuffing and waxing floors and steam cleaning carpet.
Paint is another way to freshen up a home’s interior. A fresh coat of paint will give a room, or an entire home, a new smell and feel that is enticing to prospective home buyers. Homeowners should be careful when choosing colors for repainting. Like the exterior of a home, interior paints should be a neutral color that will appeal to a wide variety of homeowners.
New Appliances and Fixtures
Replacing appliances and fixtures is an expensive change that some homeowners don’t want to commit to. However, simple fixture changes and an addition of one inexpensive appliance doesn’t have to be a budget buster for home sellers. Faucets in bath and kitchens can often be changed by almost any do-it-yourself novice and be picked up inexpensively at many home improvement stores.
New appliances can be costly. Homeowners should scour home improvement stores for discount, close-out or clearance appliances. Even adding one new appliance to a kitchen can modernize it enough to be appealing to a buyer. If homeowners are on a tight budget, used appliances can be purchased online or at local salvage stores. One thing that homeowners should consider when purchasing used appliances: there will be no warranty to offer home buyers, and used appliances will need to be checked for electrical issues.
Repairs and Improvements
Most prospective home buyers aren’t interested in purchasing a home that requires costly repairs and improvements and most are willing to pay more for homes that are already in tip-top shape. When considering putting their home on the market, homeowners should take inventory of all major areas of their home like the roof, electrical and foundation.
If possible, homeowners should make any repairs to these areas before listing their home for sale. Odds are, when the home is sold, an inspector will find any areas that need repair and the home buyer will request these be taken care of before the purchase is finalized.
Getting Rid of Clutter and Cleaning
It seems that cleaning and getting rid of the clutter is a given. However, a lot of home owners tend to bypass this very important step. By presenting a clean and clutter free home, homeowners are presenting to buyers that home has been taken care of.
Homes on the market should be free of any unnecessary clutter and personal items. Family photos and artwork should be put away so that buyers can imagine their family mementos filling the walls and mantel. Also, any unnecessary furniture should be put into storage to that rooms appear larger.
As important as getting rid of clutter, cleaning is also an important step in the home selling process. Homeowners need to take a hard look at bathrooms and kitchens and make sure they are thoroughly cleaned before any viewings of the home. Mold and mildew should be cleaned away and mirrors should be free of spots and streaks.
Even though a homeowner’s furniture is probably not being sold with the house, all furniture should be neat and tidy. Slipcovers and a dust cloth can be an asset to a homeowner when trying to sell a house.
Gutters are an important part of a home that keeps the rainwater from damaging both the interior and the exterior areas of your house. If left without maintenance and cleaning, the chances are that they will cause an extensive damage to your foundation and basement. Debris and leaves accumulate on the gutters and downspout leading to clogging. Clogs block rainwater from flowing through the gutters. This causes gutter overflow. It is therefore important to regularly clean the gutters and check for damaged areas that need repairs.
The best season to clean your gutters is during the fall, especially towards the end. This ensures that your gutters are clean as you wait for winter season, where you expect much freezing and melt water to fill your gutters.
Gutter cleaning is quite simple. First of all, you need to check for debris and damage. This requires a number of equipment which should be available before you get down to work.
A bucket that will be used to collect all the debris you remove from the gutter.
A ladder to help you reach and clean the gutter.
A hose that will provide water with enough pressure to clean out the gutter.
Gloves and eye wear to keep you from injuries.
Trimmers to trim off those overhanging branches causing the debris.
Drill and fasteners to help secure the loose area on the gutter.
Once you have all the equipment ready start by removing all the debris and place them on the bucket. This process will not eliminate all the dirt; this is where the hose pipe comes in as it will clear the smaller dirt off. Make sure to start from the downspout so as to make the work easier. As you are cleaning note if there places that may need repair or replacements such as cracks.
Tree branches overhanging the roof are the man cause for debris so make sure to trim off the branches after the cleaning process or as you clean. It the gutter has damaged parts make sure to follow up on the repair and if necessary replacement especially if your gutter has been around for some time.
Besides, you will need to ensure that the gutter system is well-installed. Loose gutters can be a major cause of leaky and overflowing rainwater. All these issues should be fixed during the fall.
Heating Your Home With Firewood is a Viable Option
Budget-conscious home-owners are getting in touch with their wood-burning roots. But while the majority of wood stove users burn wood to supplement their primary heating systems, there are a number of dedicated home-owners who burn wood as their only heat source.
Indeed, there are thousands of people across Canada and the United States who use wood as their only source of heat. And not only are these wood stove enthusiasts saving money, but they are also one passionate bunch!
This two-part series discusses:
• The financial benefits of heating with wood
• The personal benefits of heating with wood.
In order to understand the financial benefits of heating with wood, home-owners must think in the long-term. This is because purchasing a modern wood stove can be a substantial cost. However, the purchase of an efficient wood stove is a one-time cost, which is followed by lower annual costs. Over the long-term, wood heat is generally a more economical way to heat one’s home.
The Gordon Family
Take the Gordon family, in Phoenixville, PA, as an example. Darren Gordon, his wife Malia, and their young son live in a 2500 square-foot open-concept home, which they heat entirely with wood. A few years ago, the Gordons purchased an EPA-certified wood stove, a chainsaw, and everything else needed to successfully heat their home with wood. Their purchases totaled just over $3,000.
But now it’s a few years later, and the Gordons have already paid for everything needed to heat their home. With a year’s supply of free firewood stacked and ready to burn, the Gordons anticipate that the family’s heating expenses over the next year should be, in the words of Darren Gordon, “almost zero.”
So the Gordons won’t have a heating bill this year. Nor next year. Nor the year after that! And, if they continue living in their home as they are today, in fifteen years their story will sound a lot like the Ballenthins’ story below.
The Ballenthin Family
Jim and Jean Ballenthin live outside of Backus, MN, and have been heating their home with wood since 1990. Being without a monthly heating bill for the past eighteen years, the couple conservatively estimates that they have saved between $20,000 to $30,000 in heating costs.
Is it actually possible to see such substantial savings by switching to wood? Consider the following example, using today’s numbers:
• Average annual home heating costs in the United States range from $3 000 to $4 500 per year.
• Multiplying $3 000 per year over an eighteen year period adds up to $54 000 in heating costs!
A key factor in both families’ savings is that both households have access to free firewood. Both families obtain their firewood supply for free off their own property or through connections (and hard work).
Darren Gordon jokingly calls his firewood-collection methods “scrounging.” Gordon confides, “Once you get good with a chainsaw, you also have an instant side business; people will pay you to remove fallen trees from their property, and you get free wood at the same time.”
Jim Ballenthin, on the other hand, cuts all of his family’s firewood from their own property. “I rarely cut down live, healthy trees,” says Ballenthin. “I take down diseased, dying, or storm damaged trees.”
But, unlike the families mentioned here, not all wood burners have access to free firewood.
Nonetheless, purchasing wood is still a financially viable option. Estimates suggest that it’s common to cut one’s energy bill in half by purchasing firewood instead of oil or natural-gas.
Darren Gordon is pleased with his family’s financial savings. But, with a smile, he warns, “I must admit, I wouldn’t do this for the money savings alone. It’s simply too much work. I heat with wood for a long list of reasons.”
Krypton or Argon-Filled, Low-E, Double-Hung Energy Star Units
Windows aren’t what they used to be. Plenty of contractor-grade windows are installed by residential building contractors, but an upgrade to a krypton or argon-filled, low-e, double-hung model will quickly pay for itself.
A residential energy audit will quickly point out which windows will benefit most from replacement.
Why Krypton or Argon-Filled Windows?
Argon is in fact a very useful gas. It’s used inside incandescent light bulbs to keep oxygen from degrading the tungsten filament. It’s used in processing the silicon to make the semiconductors that make reading this article possible.
With the advent of double-paned windows, manufacturers originally flushed the cavity with nitrogen or simply filled it with air. But they quickly discovered that a slower-moving gas reduces conduction, thus minimizing the transfer of heat and cold from the inside to the outside of the dwelling.
Both krypton and Argon fit the bill. Both are non-toxic which places them in the green building arena. Krypton is the more efficient of the two gases, but more expensive, so it is used in cases where the cavity space between the double panes needs to be reduced.
Low-Emittance (Low-E) Coatings as a Radiant Barrier
Low-e coatings are metal or metallic oxide layers that are microscopically thin and almost invisible to the naked eye. The manufacturer applies them to window and skylight glazings. The end result is a reduction of the U-factor by quelling radiant heat flow.
In this respect, low-e coatings, combined with a gas-filled void, function in a manner similar to radiant barrier foil or paint used in conjunction with attic insulation.
There are two categories of coatings which should be taken into account when selecting energy-efficient windows. High solar gain glazing is more effective in winter, but low solar gain (also called sputtered) wins the prize during the summer.
The home’s dominant weather pattern should determine which type will result in lower utility bills.
The Role of Window Frame Material
Many homeowners focus exclusively on the window and its thermal properties. But consider that the frame itself comprises anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of the unit’s surface area. It’s no surprise that the material has an impact on efficiency.
• Aluminum: This material is extruded so it’s a good choice for complex arcs and other shapes. A disadvantage is high thermal conductance. It’s also notorious for condensation and even frost inside the home in very cold weather.
• Aluminum with a Thermal Break: In an attempt to reduce thermal conductance, the inside of the frame is separated from the outside and a less conductive material is place between the two sides.
• Vinyl: Actually this is polyvinyl chloride, or the familiar PVC used in residential plumbing applications. It provides a good insulating factor and the color is permanent since it goes all the way through; there’s no need to paint.
• Insulated Vinyl: This is the same as regular vinyl with an insulated core designed to improve thermal performance.
• Fiberglass: This material is also known in the industry as glass fiber reinforced polyester. It’s extruded like aluminum, but offers superior thermal qualities.
• Wood Window Frames: Wood is the most traditional of all frames. Since it needs to be painted, changing the home’s color scheme is a snap. It can also be fashioned into complex shapes. Routine maintenance is important since wood is susceptible to rotting.
Outdoor rooms add area and allow a connection with the outdoors
Yards can be used as additional rooms (living, kitchen, dining, etc.), adding square feet, a connection to the outdoors and as an alternative to cranking up the air conditioner. No longer are yards solely the domain of grills and plastic chairs. Today, many are outfitted with ovens, refrigerators, lamps, heaters and sofas.
Think about the type of room you would like to add. What are your needs? Think beyond the grill. Outdoor rooms should reflect your lifestyle. How will it be used? Do you entertain a lot? Are you a red meat aficionado? Is pizza your thing? Will this outdoor space be used solely for lounging?
• The range of appliances available is enormous. Explore all of your options. An outdoor kitchen does not have to be limited to a grill and a fridge. Think about a warming drawer, beer dispenser, wood-fired pizza oven, sideburner, smoker, rotisserie, refreshment center or ice machine.
• While you can grill almost any day in some climates, outdoor kitchen appliances are typically only rated to 32 degrees F, so warranties become void in many states due to extreme temperatures, wind and moisture.
• The room/space should be protected by architectural elements such as overhangs and partially enclosed areas. Not that you will necessarily be entertaining outdoors in February, but it does not hurt to block wind and the occasional sprinkle of rain.
• Anything connected to plumbing will need to be winterized (disconnected, blown out and stored). This is a major consideration if you decide to add water lines for sinks, ice makers and more.
• Limit material choices to those that can survive being hosed down (think after-party clean up, mid-summer rainstorms and winter snow as well). Stainless steel, stone, pretreated and exotic woods and brick are perfect for storage and the structure itself. Think about materials that survive well in the climate in which you live.
• Use waterproof and fade-resistant materials for furnishings, cushions and rugs as well. It is better to invest in sturdy pieces rather than replacing them every other season.
• Lighting is crucial. Entertaining and cooking often occur in the transition time between day and night. Add direct lighting to shine on the grill and over the countertops. Consider ambient or mood lighting for seating areas. Many manufacturers make lamps specifically for outdoor spaces.
• Heaters and fireplaces extend the season and allow you to stay outside longer. To create a cozy gathering spot, consider a firepit. For heating and lighting, think about a heater/lamp, which can be used separately or together.