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There are seven common mistakes that people make when designing their home. Here are some ways to help you avoid them.
Note that this article is written by an Australian from the perspective of someone who is designing or building a home in the southern hemisphere. If you live in North America, Europe, or elsewhere in the northern hemisphere, reverse the north/south polarity mentioned in the following sections.
The 1st deadly sin: Not orientating living spaces to the North.
This is the biggest mistake most people make when designing their home. There is nothing worst than living in a home that is cold in the winter and hot in the summer.
Ideally if you can have all rooms facing north you will be able to have perfect sun for every room in the house but if you are restricted by a suburban block the following rules generally apply.
- Locate all living areas to the north of the floor plan.
- It is preferable to locate the kitchen to the north or north/east.... so you can enjoy that beautiful morning sun while sipping your cup of tea...
- The main bedroom is preferable on the north/east.
- All bedrooms should be protected from western afternoon sun as much as possible - buffer these areas with the laundry, store rooms, the garage or a heavily insulated wall.
- Window overhangs/shading - 900mm is the optimal shading depth over windows to the north on home sites with excellent sun penetration - if your site is shaded by trees or neighbouring house you will need to vary this accordingly.
- Minimise window and door opening sizes on any west facing walls.
- Insulate all external walls
Floor plan with good northern exposure (but noisy, as mentioned in the 3rd deadly sin)
The 2nd deadly sin: Not enough research
Many people don't research enough before they purchase their property. Site constraints will greatly affect the design program of a home and it is important to purchase well to avoid headaches with the plan program and budget blowouts.
Remember these few points before buying your property
- Site slope - the flatter the site the more economical it will be to build.
- Call your local council and ask as many questions as you can. Always ask, "Is there anything else I should know or is there anyone else I should speak with?" If you don't ask quite often you won't get all the information you need for a well informed decision.
- Uncommon land zoning (other than standard residential) may require that Flora and Fauna studies maybe carried out. This report is an extra cost and may restrict the building envelopes and the proposed dwellings' siting.
- Avoid geotechnical nightmares by thinking twice about purchasing sites that; are steep or rocky, have clay substrates, noticeable fill or are surrounded by lots of vegetation.
- Bushfire prone land - if your site is considered prone to bushfire attack (by the Rural Fire Service) your budget could also suffer another blow during the council approval stage. Bushfire reports and sprinkler systems maybe required before your development can become a reality
For more information about site analysis read:
The 3rd deadly sin: Too open plan
Quite, but still open plan
Open plan is not the 'be all and end all' and can often cause privacy and acoustical problems difficult to reverse.
The modern trend for living spaces is to actually design houses so that there is a good compromise between the large open space and the intimate cosy spaces. Large open internal spaces, combined with flat walls and hard floors increase the internal reverberation of all noises created inside and outside the home.
The reverberation of noise can be reduced by:
- Design the open plan area with a few more walls than you had planned on - see the "quiet open plan" example above (as versus the nosier open plan shown in the "first deadly sin" section).
- Install more absorbent flooring such as modern rubber, new age linoleum, cork or carpet Apply soft furnishings to windows - curtains over blinds as they absorb more noise and the more folded the curtain the better absorption quality it will have.
- Use soft fabrics on lounges, extra cushions and large rugs - they all absorb small amounts of noise.
- Plan to have standard height ceilings - 2400 or 2700 - to reduce noise.
- Install noise reducing products - Both Boral and James Hardie manufacture insulation batts as well as panel applications to reduce noise entering spaces. Speak with your local paint supplier about acoustic applications.
The 4th deadly sin: Not designing your house for your family
Warm lounge area
It is very important to analyse the way you and your family live and ensure this is reflected in the design of the home. Getting this right at the start will mean you will avoid having to do renovations later to cater for your family needs.
For example if you have a partner and three small children the following would need to be expressed in the design program:
- Family/play room - to be located next to kitchen which has doors out onto a sunny and safe outdoor play area - the kitchen can view this outside space easily.
- Lounge area - close to kitchen but can be acoustically cut-off from noisy areas such as the kitchen and family room.
- En-suite in main bedroom - very private from main area of bedroom - not to open onto main area of bedroom.
The fifth deadly sin: Inappropriate external finishes
Once the final moments of construction are coming to completion it is easy to rush the final finishes and paint colours. Take your time - a rushed or forced decision can make or break the visual appeal of your home and possibly future resale.
Undertake some essential research to ensure you are able to make a well-informed choice about how your house will fit into the landscape.
- Pick external building claddings that age well - note clay bricks will only date well if they are of good quality and used appropriately.
- Look through old magazines/books from second hand retailers to see what would still look good today .
- Drive through your neighbourhood - what products fit into the local area?
- Talk to people who are building - tell them about your project - its amazing what kind of leads you can get by just talking to anyone!
- Get well informed about any choices you need to make and beware of people that try to convince you by saying, "trust me I've been doing this for years", what this usually means " Let's do it my way and when you're not happy with the final product I'll charge you to fix it!" You need to feel confident about your decision and keep asking questions until you do.
- Visit your local real estate agent and ask them what they think about external and internal finishes and resale - BTW take note of these ideas but don't adopt any if they can not work in with all the other things you are trying to juggle into the design.
The 6th deadly sin: Making spaces too big in the wrong areas
People usually over compensate in space in the wrong areas
When professionals are costing new homes they generally describe spaces in per square metre costs so if you are on a budget only make it big where you really need to.
Reduce the size of your home by including multifunctional areas with out reducing the spacious quality you're looking for:
- Reduce halls areas but don't reduce the width to less than 1000mm (1 metre)
- Ask yourself "Can I deal with a Plantation Louvered fold-away laundry in the bathroom instead of a separate laundry room?"
- Think about designing the lounge area to be easily converted into a guest bedroom instead of two separate rooms (see floor plan below).
- Plan your furniture to fit into a space well - windows that go to the floor do not work well with furniture planning.
Lower level floor plan that has a lounge area also suitable for use as a guest bedroom
The seventh deadly sin: Not using standard construction techniques and material
Keep it standard silly - using standard type construction will keep the costs of your building down.
- Use 2400mm high flat ceilings - any higher and costs go up - raked ceilings are even more.
- Square set or shadow line corners are lovely but they are more expensive than cornices.
- Detailed lighting bulk heads look great but they will also cost a bundle.
- Use trusses in roof construction over rafters - rafters cost more and are more expensive to finish.
- Only design large spans where you need to, to reduce the requirement for engineers details - an extra cost.
- Single skin timber framing is the most cost effective to install and alter in the future if required.
- Sub-floor construction - the most economical is concrete pad footings with brick piers supporting a timber floor frame. Concrete slabs are more expensive.
- Avoid wall mounted lights that illuminate down the wall - this will require the plaster finish to be of a top level of finish - very costly
The trick of designing a well functioning home can be difficult for the lay architect and there will be many people during the construction process that will influence the final built product. You need to keep these influences in check and remain focused and vigilant about keeping your original design ideas in your plan.
Yes, designing and building a house can be an unrelenting juggling act but if you at least plan to avoid the seven most common design mistakes hopefully it will result in a well functioning and cost effect house that will sit well in the local landscape for many years to come.
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|Aspect Designs are a multi-disciplined, award winning, Sydney based business who specialise in architecture, interior design, drafting and landscape design.|
|Based on the Central Coast of NSW and servicing Sydney's northern suburbs as well as the Newcastle/Hunter region Angela Elliss Design specialises in the design of new homes, major renovations and extensions.|
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