Sunday, January 8, 2012

If money were no object...

Today I had an hour of babysitting in the car watching our son sleep while my wife was running a couple errands. I put together some thoughts on what decisions we did not make simply because of the cost associated with them, projected pay-back period or not a real priority for us. I'll wrap up the post with some of decisions we did make and we will never regret.

Items that didn't make it, here we go...
  • Geo-thermal: the extra cost after rebate was still almost $8000. With an Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) structure you get a very high air-tightness (not a lot of heat loss) dropping our projected gas usage to under $400/yr, meaning you end up with a 20+ year pay-back period.
  • Under-slab foam: Simply didn't know about that. Not sure about the extra price but it sure sounds nice...
  • Mineral foam insulation for the attic: Spray-foam application in the US Mid-West is still a niche market and so are the prices, then you add the mineral foam to it and the price goes up even more.
  • ICF flooring and roof structure: ICF-like concrete flooring and roof panels are VERY expensive and add almost $10k to $15k per floor and no one local had any experience with it.   Was on my wishlist as in my home country basically every floor is concrete and makes for a very silent house. 
  • (Hydronic) Radiant heat flooring: When the Geo was ruled out we also eliminated the hydronic radiant heat option. We can still do electric for specific pieces of the house later. 
  • Radiant Barrier on the roof: Mainly useful for cooling dominated climates. Ohio only qualifies 2 months out of the year.
  • Metal roof lined with solar panels: The price difference of the metal roof over a good 30yr shingle is already significant. Just imagine adding the solar panels... 
  • Sound-barrier/dampening in between floors: When ICF flooring went out we looked at other sound-deadening products but with carpet upstairs and sound-absorbing cork flooring and carpet on a majority of the main floor we decided it wasn't a wise investment.
  • 10" Concrete for the ICF walls: We have 6" already but its nice to kind of feel you live in a VERY solid house. Debated using it for the basement, but our GC (who built 75+ ICF houses already) convinced us it was overkill.
  • > 2 1/4" EPS foam for the ICF walls: The thicker the EPS foam encapsulating the ICF, the higher the R-value of the wall. The law deminished return applies here. Yes, it's better but more expensive than the extra value.
  • Room-by-Room zoning: We settled for a 4 zone setup. More than adequate.
  • HEPA filter: Very good system, but with mechanical ventilation the cost of the filters will be significant. Since we refresh the air in the house a lot more than normal (due to the forced, mechanical ventilation) the HEPA filtered air is less of a requirement. We also don't have a medical need for it (yet)...
  • Grey-water system: Simply won't pass code around here. 
  • Excavate under the porches and garage: Was cost-prohibitive...
  • 10' ceilings (after finishing) on all levels: Would have added a lot of cost for trim, doors and kitchen (venthood extensions required). We settled for 9' on all levels. 
  • Triple-pane / dual-gas filled windows for the north-side: Best possible insulation windows are VERY expensive. We settled for dual-pane with an EnergyStar rating and Low-E 366 glass instead.
  • High Solar Gain windows for the south-side: To let in the sun (in the winter) to assist with heating the house. Didn't have the time to fully investigate. We used the same windows throughout the house (see previous point).
  • Trellises over the south windows to block the summer sun but allow the winter sun: Goes together with the high solar gain windows. We might get this in a few years after seeing how the current setup behaves.
  • Sun Tubes for all rooms without windows: Natural light is always a positive, but the extra thermal breaks in our structure and the cost (incl. installation) versus a good 6500K artificial lighting solution nixes that idea.
  • Remote (roof-top) blower and make-up-air system for kitchen vent hood: We want a vent hood that is as silent as possible. The best way to achieve that is by relocating the blower motor away from the hood. We were too far into the building process for that to be a good solution for us. 
  • Cork flooring throughout the house (for dry areas), ceramic tile (for the wet areas): This will remain the goal for us. The wet areas are pretty much there already and we are only 3 areas away on the main level from achieving that goal for the dry areas. A little further away from that goal on the upper level... ;-)
The above list is a bit fluid on which items would land on it but I guess it's a good sampling. The total extra cost for the dream house would be easily somewhere over $100,000. 

However, we also made a couple of important design decisions - some of which are hard and/or expensive to make afterwards or were simply on our must-have list - that we will never regret. They include:
  • Full ICF with 6 1/4" concrete plus 2 1/4" EPS foam
  • Heat-pump with dual-stage 96% furnace
  • Low or No-VOC paint
  • Dual Master suite design to assist with Age-in-Place and Universal Design
  • Design the main floor full bath with a 5' turning-radius for a wheelchair
  • Easy access into and out of the house
  • Open-to-Great-room staircase with half wall instead of balusters
  • Amish-built kitchen with quartz countertop vs store-bought with granite
  • Large, walk-in pantry
  • Cork for the dining area, kitchen and pantry
  • All WaterSense fixtures
  • All EnergyStar appliances
  • All rockers instead of switches
  • Building it in a neighborhood we truly like with sidewalks, friendly neighbors and a quiet street
Overall, we probably spent a larger percentage on some of the invisible things such as the ICF than the expensive tile / hardwood floor and commercial-grade appliances. Function-over-form where required, but definitely both where possible... ;-)

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