Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sentimental Mommy

D's first lunch in the future dining room.
Yesterday we took our first family trip to our "stick house." However, D and I made our first visit on Tuesday. Our future neighbor made a post of my Facebook page asking me if I knew the lot had been surveyed. I didn't, and since D had just gone down for his nap, I knew we'd have to wait at least two more hours to go see it.

That meant I had two hours to be all sentimental about our houses. With my brain injury, I don't leave the house a lot by myself, so I have spent a LOT of house in this home.

I thought about...
  • when we (okay, Niels) bought it and the eery first night I spent alone in it on an air mattress because we had an early utility appointment, 
  • helpful friends coming over to paint the pink away
  • the party we hosted in the backyard the night before our small wedding so friends and family around the world could meet, 
  • Dutch Dad & Mom's gift of a sign that said "de Jong family, established July 29, 2007," which was posted on our front porch,
  • discovering that we had seven TVs together as we merged our households, 
  • how pretty our "fireplace room" looks with a Christmas tree and stockings on the mantle
  • grieving the loss of our first two babies,
  • a long hard pregnancy filled with nausea, complications and bedrest, 
  • bringing our sweet, baby home on cold December night, where my mom had decorated our house making it all cozy and Christmasy, and then Daddy and D falling asleep by the crackling fire
  • the foggy, sleep-deprived first months of D's life, watching him grow and marveling over the miracle of him.
  • turning our front living room into D's play area and watching him roll over, then crawl, then cruise, then walk
  • heard him coo, then babble, then speak, then chatter
  • Daniel's first birthday with just the three of us and how D didn't like the frosting or having dirty hands
  • the day our friends came over and helped us finally tackle the landscaping
  • the way our neighbors  helped break a stereotype
  • become more confident in the kitchen 
  • a flurry of home repairs as we prepared to sell
  • a sad long, too short goodbye to our sweet Bailey dog.
  • nights of dreaming of the dream house
Since Niels has been playing with Home Designer, I've finally really been able to visualize what the new house will look like and can now mentally walk around the house. Most of my mind-time has been in the kitchen since that's where I'll spend a lot of my time and that's where we have the most decisions to make.

After D woke up and we headed over to the new house, I got all choked up thinking about all the things we would experience in our new house. God willing, this is the house where we'll live for the next 20-30 years. This is the house where:
  • D will learn to ride a bike (currently, he is most excited about getting a new house because we promised him a bike/trike when we move in)
  • D will make his own friends based on who he likes, not simply because of who his mommy or daddy likes
  • D will leave for his first day of school
  • D will discover what he likes and loves
  • D will grow from a boy to a young man
  • D will someday graduate from high school
  • D will someday, in the far, far, unimaginable future, leave us to begin his own life.
  • D will return with a special young girl he'd like us to meet
  • D will bring his own babies for us to love and spoil.
Last night, Niels and I watched the finale of "The Voice" where Dia Frampton and Miranda Lambert sang the song "The House that Built Me."

Yeah, I was a mess.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Out in the sticks...

Or the opposite... the sticks are in!!! Yep, they surveyed the lot and the outline of the house has been staked out. Today we've made it out there as a family after Jen and D already did a quick drive-by earlier today. It is pretty darn exiting to see that the actual build process has now officially started. More to come soon...

Saturday, June 25, 2011


 After the layout and lot, the next set of home-building decisions center on the exterior and foundation. This post is about the exterior and elevation because it's not so technical!

When we first started talking about building our own house, I was in love with the idea of the grand foyer, the two-story great room, and the arched front entrance. I was thinking of something like this:
But then, as Niels swayed me over the green side and I started to see the beauty of a more understated foyer, great room and front entrance. We seemed drawn to contemporary craftsman houses with their cute fat stone pillars, like this: 

In fact, we kept coming back to this gray house. It's a gorgeous dark gray, and with the white trim, it really pops. When we drove by it recently, the owners were out front and we told them we had been admiring their house for almost two years, based on the first picture we had taken of it. They were gracious enough to let us take a few closer pictures:

See that pretty purple door? I'm getting a pretty purple door!!!
This is the actual gray we'll have (with white soffit, fascia, trim). It's called Granite Gray by Certainteed  Vinyl Siding.  On the sample it looks a bit lighter than our inspiration house, but we didn't want to pay more for a custom color.

Fun fact: There are two styles of siding: Dutchlap and clapboard. You can see a picture of the difference below. Despite the name, we are NOT going with the Dutchlap. We like the cleaner lines of the clapboard, and there's our beautiful gray again

After the siding, it was off to the stone yard to pick out our stone. We knew we wanted something with color. We had two companies to choose from: Paragon and Dutch Quality. In case down to color, and we went with Paragon Poplar Bluff.
Poplar Bluff with our Granite Gray and White siding samples.
Larger sample of the Poplar Bluff, shown in limestone. We're leaning toward the Manor Stone, though we haven't priced it out yet. If there's a difference, we'll go with the bargain. 
 So, that brings us to our current elevation, and maybe now you can picture what it will look like in living color! 

Home Designer (Chief Architect)

One key element in the process of designing a house is the ability to visualize the structure before it is built. For me, that isn't too big of an issue but for people who lack the ability to instantly 'convert' a flat, 2D floorplan into an active 3D walk-through--i.e., Jen--it becomes a lot more of a struggle. One option is to find an architect that does 3D modeling as part of the design but that isn't always available or it might be cost-prohibative.

Enter 3D tools like Chief Architect's Home Designer. It's the consumer version of their 'Premiere' line which is a tool aimed at the actual architects, but Home Designer has a lot of the features for 10% of the price. Plus, once you have the initial software, you can always upgrade until you have the features you want.

One of the cool things about Home Designer is the auto-generation of 3D motion based on your floor plan. It will take a couple of hours to (re-)create your plan(s) but once created, it looks very nice. Below is a little screenshot of the trial-version and 90 minutes of work based on our floorplan. I would have played with it longer but it's the wee hours of the morning and we have an 8:30 am showing tomorrow (fingers crossed and prayers said!).

Just 90 minutes of work yields some impressive results including a first crack at modeling the latest kitchen idea, but I haven't even played with styles or textures yet....

I think we'll be buying this little gem so I can show my wife whatthe latest changes will actually look like and what the impact will be on the rest of house. The before-mentioned ability to create a 3D walk-through will make that so much easier for Jen. With 1000s of library objects (furniture, windows, doors, etc.), ability to import pictures for texture and colors and a dazzling area of other designer options, I'm a fan and will gladly pay for this over a free tool like Google Sketch-up. Just take 15 mins and look at this video to see how intuitive and impressive this software is for home owners.

If you're paying multi-$100k for a house, this a must-buy and one of the best $200 spend in the overall budget.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


We didn't used to be all green and crunchy, but something about having a child makes one consider what kind of world he live in and will inherit.

In our current house, we have a SimpleHuman step trash can at the end of our island, like this:
We keep the recycling bin from the trash company just outside our garage door, which is right off the kitchen. This works for us, and even our two-year-old knows that trash goes in the trash can (though he needs help with the step), food goes in the sink (for the disposal), and paper, plastic and glass go in the recycling container. It works for us. But, recycling is something we think about and there are times that recyclable items don't make it to the recycling bin because we don't want to take the extra steps to go to the garage.

So, in the new house, we want to put all our recycling in a central place. Ideally, we want all the recycling "parts" in one spot. In other words, we don't have to open one door for trash and another for plastic. Hopefully, it we take that barrier away, more of our recyclable items will make it to the appropriate bin.

Here are a few ideas we've seen:
This was our first choice. We saw it at Ikea and I started drooling. Who knew I could be so excited about trash. I liked that with one cabinet, you could house trash, plastic/glass and paper recycling. However, unless you buy Ikea cabinets, you have to spend custom cabinets to get this. Not totally opposed to that, but we decided to keep looking.
Next, I thought of how big my pantry is going to be (9x9) and how maybe just putting the trash in there would be a good idea. This stacked toy bins (also from Ikea) could work. But you lose the convenience factor.

This was our original solution. We liked way it used an awkward space, but ultimately our lazy susan is not in a convenient place in our kitchen.
When we saw something like this in one of the cabinet books, we found our winner. It's very close in function to the Ikea one, but as a (close to) stock price. The trash and plastic/glass bins on the bottom pull-out, with the paper in the drawer on top.

We'll have this pull-out on the end of the island, pulling toward the command center. This will make for easier access when sorting mail, bringing in groceries, or when we have company. The recycling center can be accessed without going into the heart of the kitchen, and thus staying out of the cook's way! Since we tend to buy bulk items and use them out of bins, we don't have a lot of actual waste while I'm cooking, so the fact that it's not right in the kitchen is a non-issue.

I found this fancy little gadget from Richelieu so we can can have a hands-free door. The #1 thing I will miss about our current trash can.
Other ideas we found:
Quick and dirty solution, from Ikea.
Do it yourself recycling center made from a base drawer.
Perhaps a better garage idea. Not that we would ever have that much in one week!
A solution if you don't have the cabinet/drawer space.
I'm not sure what the two green bins are for...composting?
This one is really cool for having everything in one drawer, but I don't think three equal sizes would work for us.
Updated: We are so thrilled with the recycling center our carpenter created for us. It's touch-activated by Blum Servodrive, which means I don't have to open the door when I hands are full of yucky things. 

The top left bin holds odd recycling like batteries and bulbs. The top right bin holds paper recycling. The bottom left bin holds glass, cans, and plastic, along with the occasional large paper recycling. In our city, our recyclables go in the same tub. The bottom right bin is for regular trash. We love that recycling is so easy, even guests can recycle without much thought. Since we've moved in--after the initial unpacking clutter--we are happy that we are down to one bag of trash a week!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why such a big kitchen?

Niels and I have spent a lot of time lately talking about our new kitchen. As we've started to price out different things, I've mentioned how, other than foundational things that we can't change later (like the ICF structure), the kitchen is by far, the most important part of the house to me, and the one area where I don't mind going over budget--I don't want to go over budget, but will sacrifice in other areas to have the kitchen of my dreams.

Here are a few thoughts that drive our kitchen decisions:
  • I cook (almost) every day. Mostly from scratch. As a person living with a brain injury, I often struggle with feeling that I don't contribute to our family as much as a fully-able spouse/parent can. In fact, the measure of a "good day" for me is if I am able to provide a healthy, tasty home-cooked meal for my family (and occasionally, friends and/or family). I really, really want a kitchen that takes away any barrier to me have that good day.
  • This means lots of prep and storage space, efficient appliances, a workable layout and quiet, cork floors.
  • We strive to be generous with what we have. This means having friends and family over (sometimes for weeks at a time). Having a set up that allows for multiple cooks (thus, the new islands and large size) allows us to entertain comfortably, but still give me my "Jen zone" where I can concentrate on what I'm cooking.
  • Knowing that it's easier for me to control my own environment rather than adjust to others on a so-so day, we want to have the kind of kitchen (and home) where Daniel's friends (and their moms) will want to hang out here.
  • Our desire is to use as much universal design elements as possible on the first floor, so anyone, of any ability, will feel welcome in our home. This means drawers instead of cabinets, pulls instead of knobs, rockers instead of traditional switches, extra wide aisles and hallway, and a baking center than doubles as a lower-height bar.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Dinette design

We've been talking about the design of our dining area. Looking at the permit plans we are now proposing the following alterations:
  • The 2 east-facing double-hungs would be replaced by a good size three-prong transom window to allow our hutch to fit underneath. Even helps with the R-value since a fixed window frame is better in energy efficiency than a double-hung.
  • The 3 south-facing double-hungs would be replaced by larger ones that come down to couch-seating level so - in combination with the deep window sills of an ICF wall - we can do the much-desired built-in bench seating along them.
 In combination with the switch of kitchen lay-out to a double-island lay-out I think we had a productive evening. Nite, nite!

Kitchen design - new twist

So we thought we had the kitchen design all ready and then we saw a house during a Parade of Homes with a kitchen featuring a double island versus our more traditional U-shape kitchen (albeit without all the upper cabinets in the 2nd part of U you saw in the 80's).

The advantages of the double island versus the U-shape is the additional access into and out of the kitchen around the second island. It creates extra room for people to gather and makes for shorter walks by the cook to the dining area. One other not too little advantage is by losing some of the cabinets and countertop space your cost is going to be a little lower too since you're using less material.

The disadvantage is that you lose some lower cabinets and coutertop space so your lay-out is going to look different.
U-shape design
So, there we have our little question of the day, should we a) go with the double island design and sacrifice the cabinet space knowing we still have a 10x10 pantry, have a well defined cleaning zone and save some money in the process or should we b) go with the more uniform look of the U-shape and have additional space outside of our paltry little pantry?
Double island design

Writing it out like this makes the analyst brain of mine pretty much conclude that the double island design makes more sense.

So, we can now go back to our kitchen designers and tell 'm they can redo their quotes and designs...

Oh the joys of building a custom home and an analytical brain... ;-)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Kitchen, part 2 - supplier short-list

We narrowed down our short-list of potential kitchen suppliers to 4 local/regional esthablisments:
We could have added Hartville Hardware (a very well-known local hardware store) but found that 4 suppliers will give us a good comparison of options and prices. We can add HH back in in case one of the 4 fails to supply us with a proper estimate.

The frst two were recommended by our builder, the third supplier is our builders preferred countertop supplier but after a quick visit by my wife we decided to give them a shot at the whole package as well. The last entry in our short-list is a kitchen supplier we encountered at the Cleveland Home and Garden show back in February with a very modern, European style display kitchen.

We will supply all 4 with our kitchen sketch and blue print plus our need and wish list which includes:
  • All drawer design (maybe except under the sink)
  • Full overlay, Shaker style, Maple
  • Full extension, dove-tail, soft-close
  • Espresso/Java/Onynx color
  • Recycling center (pedal open)
  • 1 large sink (30"), 1 prep-sink (14")
  • Command Center with tambour to hide items when needed
We will give them about 4 weeks to come up with their plans and estimates which we will discuss with our builder (who is looking for suppliers to add to their preferred list...) and make a combined decision based on what we would like to see in our kitchen, the cost and our builders opinion on the craftmanship.

Since we will be spending a lot time in the 'heart of the home' we want to make sure this in one item that gets extra attention.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why ICF - part 2

One of the reasons we are building our dream house with ICF - besides quiet and comfortable - is the energy efficiency it provides. When it comes to rating energy efficiency, the most well-known measurement is the resistence to heat value of the product; the R-value.

So why do certain people (mostly builders) keep saying that an ICF wall R-value might be R25 but it performs as an R40-60 wall?

If you only look at that R-value you are missing a couple of other key factors that factor into the overall energy efficiency of ICFs and building envelop it creates;
  • inertia / thermal mass
  • amplitude suppression
  • phase displacement

Thermal mass and Amplitude supression
The first two kind of go together and I'll try to explain this without requiring a deep dive back into your math books.

Because ICF is dense, the concrete takes a long time to respond to temperature changes, so from morning to night on a hot Summer day the outside temperature may fluctuate by 30 degrees, while indoors there is hardly any change in an ICF home.

This density is an area where ICF walls perform better than SIPs and other walls. Not only do ICF walls offer the traditional insulative resistance of the EPS foam that covers it on each side, also the thermal inertia of concrete very nicely smoothes out those outside temperature fluctuations throughout the day, keeping the home comfortable and thus requiring less energy to keep the temperature level.

Lightweight insulation alone, which has a shorter (aka worse) thermal inertia but still a good resistance or R-value, means a highly insulated lightweight building built of such materials would conceivably still be subject to overheating on a hot summer day or cool down significantly on a cold winter night, whereas an ICF building would be far less affected (with the same R-value...).

For example, in a study done by the TNO University in my native Holland in Summer ’97, two identical houses in Delft, Holland were insulated to the same rated R-27 value, but with a different density of insulating materials.

One house used fiberglass insulation (1.25 lb/ft3 density) and the other house had cellulose insulation (4.37 lb/ft3 density). As the outdoor temperature fluctuated by 30 degrees during testing, TNO's measurements showed the house with fiberglass insulation had its indoor temperature fluctuate by an average of 13 degrees, the house insulated with cellulose insulation fluctuated by only 3 degrees during the testing period.

low supression - high(er) temperature fluctuation indoors

high supression - almost no temperature fluctuation indoors

This illustrates the benefit of using heat resistance insulation that also has 'thermal mass', i.e. the ability to moderate daily temperature fluctuations, also known as the 'Amplitude suppression'.

You can simply calculate the suppression factor by dividing the temperature swing outside by the resulting swing inside to get the AS factor. You want a product with a factor of 10 or higher.

The product that combines that high R-value with a high amplitude supression will perform far better in real-life than a similar high R-value product with a lower amplitude suppression.

Phase displacement
The other item that factors into the effectiveness of a building structure is to bridge the time span between the highest external temperature and the highest interior temperature. 12 hours is about ideal (between 2:00pm and 2:00am). And so 12 hours in this case is the Phase Displacement. This means that the 2pm heat will 'arrive' inside the house around 2am when the outside temperature is much lower so you simply ventilate it back out either using ventilation methods or the walls allowing the build-up heat to flow back out (thermal dynamics).

ICFs is one of the products that posesses an excellent mix of thermal resistance (foam), thermal inertia leading to amplitude supression (concrete) and phase displacement. Thus combining the high R-value with a high AS factor and phase displacement you can argue that an ICF wall performs as a much higher R-value if you only (want to / able to) compare on resistance.

Combine that with a near absence of air leakage leads to your much-coveted lower overall energy consumption and ICFs providing a safe (4hr fire rated), quiet (sound rating of 48), and comfortable environment year-round make it our building material of choice..

(Thanks to and TNO Delft)

Monday, June 13, 2011

The kitchen

Tonight we've been looking at our kitchen design and made an 'artist impression' of what we want our kitchen to like like while keeping in mind the magic number '6'. Kitchen cabinets basically come in increments of 6 if you want to avoid custom cabinetry, in18/24/30/36" (and 33 for 27" ovens).

We already know which appliances we want, the countertop, the faucets, the type of sink, the wood type, the hardware and the color but we weren't sure about the lay-out. So, with the 'permit plans' in hand we went to work and came up with the design below. It's not to scale, but does show a good impression of what we are looking for.

Our little impression of the kitchen...
In order to make it work we probably want to extend the backwall about 1 foot to house the wall ovens. We looked at putting them next to each other in the island, but like the placement in the impression above better. On Friday we'll see if this will all be possible (remember that peskly little thing called 'budget'...). Oh, the bar-counter will be a little wider so we can use it as an extra eating area, not just a place to put your glass.

Note: the Command Center is not shown here. Maybe we'll be add that later, maybe not... ;-)

Plans are ready to be filed!

Today we got the final plans back from our designer. You can find the link in the top-right of the column directly to right of this post or by clicking here. We are very excited for this next major step in our dream house project! A big 'thank you' to our designer in the probably 20-so revisions since his first draft back in August 2010.

And for good measure, here are the original inspiration, the first draft and the final product:

The plans as submitted for the permits
First draft by the designer

Original inspiration - Cool House design 35773
 On to the next phase!!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Status Update - June 12, 2011

Not much change from last week.
  • Still waiting for our final plans so we can file for the permits. We expect that the plans will be finished tomorrow.
  • We did have 3 showings on our current house this week, so we're praying fervently for an offer.
  • Daniel continues to ask to see the new house every day. We are really just blown away by our new neighbors. Every evening that we stop by, we see garage doors open and the kids playing together. It's such a cool thing to know that when we move in, we'll already know everyone and Daniel will already have friends.
  • We have an appointment with a counter and cabinet company on Friday. It's really hard for me (Jen) to visualize this most important room, so I'll be grateful to have something to see.
A few pictures of D at the lot on a gorgeous day:

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Dreamhouse goes Mobile...

We've made the blog mobile friendly with a little help from blogger. The main benefit (besides the obviously quicker loading on a mobile device) is that we can show items or look-up posts on our blog when we are talking with vendors.
For the mobile site, simply add '/?m=1' behind the URL or click on the title of this post...

The Energy Recovery Ventilator

With an ICF home you have such a tight building envelope you might have to add mechanical ventilation. This is actually a very good thing since indoor air quality is one of the main concerns with modern houses. Two such systems are the Heat Recovery Ventilation (HRV) and Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV) systems.

The Recovery Ventilators are ventilation systems which provides fresh air and improved climate control, while also saving energy by reducing the heating (or cooling) requirements. It does this by employing a counter-flow heat exchanger between the inbound and outbound air flow.

A Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV), as the name implies, recovers the heat energy in the exhaust air, and transfers it to fresh air as it enters the building.  An Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) is closely related, however an ERV also allows you to control the humidity level of the intake air, which is helpful in keeping out humidity on rainy days, and keep it in during Winter. Indoor humidity can be controlled with an ERV, and this comes at additional cost, but we suggest it is well worth it.

An ERV in the home would normally be set to come on for five minutes every hour, and best practice appears to be for it to come on whenever the kitchen light is on (humidity, cooking odors), whenever a bathroom light is on, and whenever carbon dioxide rises above a set level (having a party). This will ensure outdoor fresh air indoors all the time, without the loss of the energy it took to warm or cool the house, complimenting the main system. 

Intakes need only be in the kitchen and bathrooms, and outlets should be in most other rooms. Often an ERV comes with the option of a water coil, for supplemental heat or cool of the living space; it appears to be recommend that you either get this, or get an addon water coil with drip pan (for chilled water).

Mineral Foam, ICF-like insulation

One of the main advantages of the ICF consturction method is the superior insulation value of an ICF wall. But what do you do with the parts of the house that are not ICF, like the attic rafters? You can use blown-in or batt insulation, but a closed-foam insulation would yield far better results.

The well-known yellow expanding foam is a very good choice but lacks some 'green' elements and fire retardation values. Looking around on the vast interwebs, I came across a new option mentioned on called 'Mineral Foam'. It is essentially a concrete mousse, filled with millions of microscopic air bubbles that puff it up to a shaving-cream like consistency. Mineral foam offers all the benefits of spray-foam insulation plus it is fireproof, it is inert with no off-gassing and has an R-value of 3.9/inch.

The R-value of Mineral Foam is 3.9 per inch, although its true benefit is much higher as it offers not just insulative resistance and airtight sealing as with expanding foam, but also it has thermal mass unparalleled by any insulation on the market today. Very ICF-like... ;-) suggests that mineral foam insulation be applied into roof rafters, where it fills all gaps and glues all structural members together for added strength which is needed during seismic events. It adheres on contact, forming an airtight seal eliminating infiltration currents --the number one source of heat loss-- helping maintain a comfortable, constant temperature.

When applied in the rafters down to the ICF walls, it encloses and seals the building airtight and renders the attic a 'conditioned space', conserving the energy normally lost by attic ducting and leaks through ceilings, and allowing you to put ducting, ERV, air handlers, etc up there. 

Your ICF home with Mineral Foam can be so air-tight that it will qualify in this respect for the highest independently-verified certification standards, such as HERS, LEED Platinum, EnergyStar, and BuiltGreen five star.

Source of most of the info in this post:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


I'm discovering that the process of building a house is a lot like the process of going from a single individual to part of a married couple. When you are single, the possibility of what your future spouse will be like is endless. You date, you watch romantic comedies, shows like The Bachelor, and develop a picture of your perfect person that is limited by only your imagination. This person's characteristics have no perspective so they are simply a laundry list of good things: fun and adventurous and stable and secure. This person doesn't exist, so the contradictions don't matter.

However, as you get further into a particular relationship, you have to decide what is really important to you, what is a deal breaker, what is a compromise and honestly, what you hope you can improve later.

Niels and I have been talking about and planning our dream house for about three years now, and our builder likes to tease us about the three page wish list we brought to our initial conversation.

Now it's time to put those dreams into reality and as exciting as that it, there's a bit of pain as well.

Our builder knew the final number we were gunning for, and built his quote around it, with certain structural things as firm numbers, and giving us allowances for the areas where we could adjust as needed. We have said all along that as we have to make these decisions, the preference would always go to the things that can't be changed down the road. In other words, function over form. For example, we really, REALLY wanted a two-story full-ICF home. It's definitely pricier than a standard wood frame house, but will be so much better for us in the long-term as a more solid (even tornado proof) home, quieter, better for air quality and keeping allergens out, and saving a ton of money on utilities. So that was a no-brainer for us.

On the other hand, we have grand plans for our basement: exercise room for us, play area for Daniel, big media room for all of us. But, we can live without that for now, so it got scrapped. Somewhere in the middle are choices for fixtures and things. For example, I definitely prefer the look of brushed nickel over chrome, but can't justify the price difference. That's easy money to save for things we want more, and if, over time, we want to upgrade later, it's not that difficult to change.

A couple of other guidelines that are leading us:
  • If a "green" choice is possible, we'll choose that option.
  • If an accessible choice is possible, we choose that option.
  • If it will be used daily, it has priority over something that will not be used as frequently.
Some examples here are:
  1. The green option wins. We really like quartz for a lot of reasons (easy to care for, anti-microbial, etc.), but there are many, many quartz brands. Through a little research, we learned that Hanstone, while Korea based, is actually manufactured in Toronto, which is within 500 miles of us (less than that, actually). This is magic number for LEED certification, so we'll choose a Hanstone quartz. (This bring up a good point. Cambria, Silestone and Ceasarstone are better known brands of quartz, but that's just marketing. All quartz are essentially the same, the only difference is color choice, location of manufacturing, and of course, amount of money spent of marketing the idea that there is a difference. We are not brand loyalists).
  2. The accessible choice wins. This one is a little trickier. There are a billion ways to make a house fully accessible. Some are relatively inexpensive, some are quite pricey. Three things we considered are: ease of conversion (if needed later on), immediate need, and of course, price. To the first point, a wheelchair accessible home requires wider hallways and doors than a standard home. It's much easier to plan for that initially. It doesn't cost anything more to build wider hallways--and really, if we are in the place to need them, it would be a real pain to have to deal with that construction and well as the reason for the wheelchair. It would be much more difficult to tear up walls later, so we put in the wider hallways now. To the second point, I have a brain injury, and a quiet home is much better than a loud one, so we are using cork floor in the kitchen and dinette, where I spend a lot of my time. Cork is a great sound-proofing option and looks beautiful. It costs more, but the increased quality of life I will get out of it makes it worth it to us. As far as price, one thing we considered is putting in an elevator. It sounds fancy, but it's a really common solution for a person in a wheelchair to use both floors of a house. (The other option are the chairs that go up along the stairway, which are also spendy). We did not put in an elevator, but we did design our home that if we need one, we can adjust our pantry and upstairs laundry to accommodate one.
  3. Frequency of use wins. My mom has arthritis, so knobs are a challenge to her. It doesn't cost much more to install all levers for door handles, pulls instead of knob hardware, and rockers instead of standard light switches. On a larger scale, choices for the kitchen beat choices for the guest rooms.
One thing we've learned in this process, is that we'd rather hear, "Let us price it out for you," than "You can't do that." At least for us, it's easier to accept getting something different than we envisioned if we feel we made that choice. And we're reasonable people. We're building the house for our needs, and part of our need is to have a mortgage that is comfortable for us. If you aren't in the construction business, you may not understand why one choice is more costly than another. Seeing the numbers on paper and broken down helps with this educational process.

Along those lines, sometimes a vendor can help you find you want when you don't know the lingo to describe it. We came up against this already when meeting with a cabinet vendor. I found a really cool recycling center at Ikea and got my heart set on it.

Open, from the front: with space for trash, plastic/aluminum, and bins for paper.

Open, from the side:

Closed, it's 24" wide.
Of course, this is an Ikea cabinet, and not part of her cabinet company's options. She could have said, "We can't do that." She could have said, "That's not one of our standard options, but you could have it custom made." Or, she could have asked, "What about that recycling center appeals to you? Let's see if we can figure out something that meets your needs."

We haven't actually made a final decision on this particular issue. I still love the Ikea one, but also found a few other options:

Now that we have a 90 degree corner, we could do something like this, which would be handy for garbage and concealed, but not very convenient for paper due to its location in our particular kitchen.
Another Ikea option. This is a free standing recycling center, that we could put in the large pantry. In this case, we'd only have a regular trash in the kitchen. My fear here is that it makes recycling an extra step.
Of course, the greatest reality at the moment is we will have greater flexibility in our choices if our current house sells and we don't have the shadow of two mortgages hanging over us!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Cork flooring

One thing we really want in our dream house is a cork floor in the kitchen and dining area. It no longer looks like those old cork tiles or solid cork floor you remember from the 70s but why would we want it?

Couple of reasons:
  • Most importantly, it is very sound-deadening which is extremely important to Jen with her brain injury.
  • It is one of the 'greenest' flooring products around since you simply harvest the bark but not the tree so the bark simply grows back.
  • It is a cushy floor so it feels great to walk on, and great for your back and knees, too.
  • They are now available in a variaty of plank-designs where it appears in patterns just like hardwood planks.
  • Qualifies for LEED points.
The maintenance of cork is very similar to hardwood. If a liquid is spilled on it, you simply mop it up and all is fine in the world (or at least in your kitchen...). Obviously, again similar to hardwood, you shouldn't let it have standing water on it for days on end since in that case it will warp. Next time you are at your local flooring shop just ask a rep to show you, you'll be surprised...

This is the closest kitchen we've found to ours, material-wise,with espresso shaker cabinets, white quartz counters, and light cork floors.
This gorgeous kitchen shows cork planks.
Here's a media room with cork walls.
Cork floor in the exercise room.
Another modern kitchen with cork.
If money was no object, I would do more cork, like in the living room...or in-law suite.
If you want to learn more about cork, click here:

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