Avoid Design Errors When Building a Home

By James Dulley

June 20, 2019 4 min read

Dear James: We are doing the basic design of our new house. We want to make sure it is perfect without design errors or minor oversights. What are the most common design errors we should be aware of? — Jeanne M.

Dear Jeanne: It sounds as though you are doing things properly. Many people just rely on the builder for design advice. The builder will generally build to code, and while his is certainly satisfactory, it will not take into account your family's specific lifestyle and needs. What is a design error for one family may not be a problem at all for another.

Before listing common specific design aspects (not necessarily errors) to consider, just take a walk around the rooms in your current house. Take a pad of paper and write down every annoyance you can think of. Think back to the last time you hit your elbow or knee on some corner, where an entrance has been too narrow, what is difficult to reach or clean, etc.

Also, don't forget the outdoors. Is a walkway too long or too close to the house and landscaping? It may have been fine when the trees and shrubs were small, but is it a problem now? Is there a convenient traffic pattern to get garden tools to the backyard? Are windows easy to reach for cleaning over the deck railing? Can you easily access outdoor lightbulbs?

One common outdoor design error is not making the driveway wide enough. A typical driveway is wide enough for just the cars. When you step out of the car, though, your foot is on the lawn. This is messy if it is raining. Also keep in mind that while a compact car may fit well with plenty of margin, if guests with a big SUV visit, they will definitely be stepping out onto the lawn.

Building codes dictate the minimum number of electric wall outlets and spacing in a room. Think about what appliances and electronic equipment you plan to have in each room and their electrical current draw. You may want to install additional wall outlets and an extra circuit breaker and electric power to that room. Floor outlets can be convenient for computers.

Consider the traffic patterns for your family before you determine room layouts and the sizes of hallways and doors. For example, if you or your husband has a work or hobby room, it may be wise to locate it near the door to the garage or an outside door. To check your current traffic patterns, just look at the wear on the floors.

Design errors are also often made in bathrooms where space is constrained. Make sure cabinets can be opened without hitting the entrance door or yourself. If you are tall, locate the shower head higher than a plumber typically would. Extra soundproofing or locating the bathrooms — particularly the master bathroom — adjacent to closets can reduce noise at night.

Don't forget the attic. You may not need it for storage now, but extra space or even an additional small room might come in handy in the future. Standard roof trusses make this almost impossible. Special roof trusses are available that provide a large open area inside the attic. Install an oversized attic entrance opening and framing strong enough for stairs.

Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com. To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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