The House: Layout & Windows

In addition to insulating the outside envelope of the house, we made some significant changes to the framing both to open up the interior and to accommodate different windows to implement some passive solar performance. First, let’s compare the overall house layouts:

Original house layout.

Original house layout.

The first of the obvious changes was opening up the interior architecture and reapportioning space to be more in line with our use. Even granting its potential double use as a laundry room, the original house layout assigned way too much space to the bathroom. The kitchen, on the other hand, was cramped and inefficient. The new layout is much more representative of our needs. The biggest challenge to accomplishing the large layout was reinforcing the center of the span after removing the center wall. This was accomplished by including a series of long, screwed-and-glued beams supported by pillars. All of the tables and equations required to calculate loads and code requirements were found online or through the local library — I believe I had their copies of the local building code and electrical code out on loan more often than not during the peak of construction. The new layout features the following areas/rooms:

New house layout

New house layout

Mud Room

We keep this room cooler through winter and use it to store some root vegetables as well as outdoor clothing and miscellany.

Bed Room

Pretty self-explanatory. Bed, night-stands, TV and clothing.

Vader Egg

This is my office. The name is derived from the film “The Empire Strikes Back” in which Darth Vader is shown to have a somewhat egg-shaped chamber which seals up and allows him to remove his mask. In addition to my need for a relatively distraction-free environment in order to be productive, I also require a space to which I can retreat and shut out the outside world. I enjoy tight spaces and so the small office suits me perfectly. Part of the wall is accordioned, however, and can be raised to open up the office to the rest of the house when isolation takes a back seat to wanting to be connected to the rest of the house.

Door to Narnia, Aquarium

The door to Narnia (utility room) and built-in aquarium.

Bathroom

Pretty self-explanatory. Shower, vanity with concrete countertops, toilet and a built-in aquarium.

Narnia

Our utility room. It contains the pump, pressure tank and water heater for the house’s water system. It is accessed through a door with a concealed latch that contains a built-in cabinet, some pockets for magazines, toilet paper hanger and a shelf on the back side to hold extra rolls of toilet paper.

Kitchen

Kitchen

Kitchen: Lots of space, lots of light, concrete countertops.

In many ways the focal point of the house. So much happens in this room and having the large surface areas on which to work has proven valuable time and again. On the very rare occasions that we entertain, the open nature allows me to prepare meals while still being connected to the conversations taking place. My wife even poured some beautiful custom concrete counter tops complete with a built-in section for drying dishes and embedded objects.

Living Room

Another area that doesn’t really have a suitable name/title. This area features a small built-in couch, my wife’s laptop and work area, a work table and whatever else we haven’t had a specific area for. We keep our tarantulas and some books on shelves along two of the walls. This area and the “Great Room” get re-arranged on a fairly constant basis based on our changing needs and the progress of our renovations.

Great Room

This area doesn’t really count as a “great room” but we roughly adopted the terminology during the design phase and it has never really been more appropriately named. Right now this area houses a few of our snakes, a chick brooder, a lot of plants and a place to start seedlings under artificial lighting.

Windows

South windows in the “great room.” … and it goes on like that.

The other major structural change was re-framing the South wall to accommodate several large windows. The large south-facing window in our bedroom was relocated from its original position on the East wall of what was formerly the living room. The small window now in the East wall of our bedroom was also salvaged from the original house. New windows were purchased for the rest of the South wall, the small West window and the two small North windows with the help of the home renovation tax credit mentioned in the previous section. The remaining windows removed from the house but not re-used were set aside. Many ended up being used for the chicken coop, though we still have one in reserve.

North window

Small window on the North wall of the kitchen. An interior shutter can be closed at night in the winter.

The two windows on the North and the one window on the East wall were all furnished with operable interior shutters which can be used to close them up. Two have rigid foam insulation, but the small window on the North wall of the kitchen is purely wood, as we store a few items on the window sill and so ended up valuing the extra inches of space above the extra thermal performance. The other windows in the house were outfitted with retractable open cell thermal blinds. We already had a set for the window we relocated from the East wall but had to purchase new blinds for the other windows. Although this represented a fairly large line item in our budget, we had to factor in the convenience and space efficiency of the purchased blinds over various DIY options. With my wife wanting to fill the South windows with plants, internal shutters or DIY roll systems would have proven too bulky or tough to operate.

At this stage, we have still not installed the slate floor throughout the house, though we have already acquired the slate. As such, we do not yet have the significant thermal mass that we are hoping the slate will add. Still, with the large South-facing windows and decent window insulation at night, we have substantially reduced our heating costs — about 40-50% based on calculations from the first few years. Even in winter, if we have sunny days then we can often go without heating at all, or just slightly in the very early morning once the heat from the previous day has dissipated. The cost of this setup is that on grey days the radiant heat loss from the windows can prove somewhat uncomfortable. We could close up the blinds, of course, but the plants do appreciate what little sun we are getting. The upswing is that on sunny days the interior of the house can be bright and incredibly warm, even on very cold days. It is hard to put into words the substantial boost in mood that comes from walking around the house in shorts and a t-shirt when it is -20C(-4F) outside and knowing that it isn’t costing you anything. We are currently considering installing a small wood stove in the house to provide heat on grey days as well as staving off the negative impacts those days can have on motivation and mood.

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