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House Design

Why is it that with all the years people have been making houses the quality and design has not really improved? The same is true with most buildings, but I am choosing to stick with just single family houses since it is a self-contained building. Considering the current price of new houses, it seems to me that they could provide a quality product. One example is the wood that is typically used today has never had a chance to dry and so it will tend to warp after it is placed in the house.

Heavy tile roofs

I have had a thing against heavy tiles roofs for a long time, but recently that has grown after a discussion with a Captain in the Fire Department.

Ignoring the fact that most of the tile roof you can not walk on, which makes repairs or termite tenting difficult and/or expensive, the fact that there is a lot of weight on the roof, I have heard 15-20k lbs, turns the house into a physics experiment. One in which the owner does not win. In the case of an earthquake, there is the concept of mass and momentum. Due to the mass, the roof resists moving when the earth moves, but will move and continue moving until it is stopped. This means that the roof and the ground will not move together, so the rest of the house has to deal with it, often causing damage.

As if that is not bad enough, it turns out that in a fire the heavy clay tiles reflect the heat and turns the house into an oven. This makes fighting the fire more difficult and helps the fire burn hotter, causing more complete damage. While a tile roof is safer in fire areas, especially compared to wood roofs, it is certainly not the best solution.

One of the best (and most expensive) roofs I have seen is a metal tile roof. The tiles are coated somewhat like the asphalt roofs and have insulation underneath. You can walk on the roof without damaging it. It even comes with a 50 year warranty, but it something like 3 times as expensive as other roofs. It also has the downside of blocking radio waves, so using a cell phone, pager, radio or TV is more difficult since the signal is blocked by the roof. This is not as much of a fact in a two story house, unless it is in the bottom of a valley. I am not sure of what would happen with lightning either.


Why is it that it seems that builders/designers of houses assume that you will never need to repair anything in the house? Perhaps it is because they don't care about the cost or the hassle in making the repairs. They also don't seem to care what the damage is when the plumbing leaks and that is going to be more important due to the low quality of the items used. As in days gone by, there was what was called a wet wall which contained all the plumbing and had a space in order to make repairs. So it seems that the design has gotten worse.

Something as simple and cheap as the shutoff valve becomes a factor. I have gotten to the point where if I have to do any plumbing work I will replace the shutoff valve to a quarter turn valve. The cheap plastic valves use pressure to turn the water off, which is not all that much of an issue except that the plastic is cheap and can break. That means you get to experience a lot of water and a big mess to clean up. The quarter turn valves don't use pressure but instead have a piece which turns/shears the water flow and that means you don't have to use force to shut the water off. I have also seen the multiple turn valves break in such a manner which you can not turn off the water at all, or not completely. In either case it is worthless.

Use of quality valves and using accessible conduits would make a house much easier to fix and reduce the damage when, not if, there is a water leak.

Also, why not have a shutoff valve for each room with water? This would make it much easier to do repairs without having to turn off water to the whole house.


Today there are more and more electrical devices, although typically the power consumption is less than in the past, yet there are not normally more electrical outlets to deal with this.

Some houses are designed to have a separate circuit breaker for the lights and the outlets, which means that you will still be able to see if something trips the breaker. This is not always done though.

It also said that you should unplug appliances when you are not using them and this is important with regards to safety. I have a toaster in which the internal switch got dirty and due to a poor design it allowed some of the elements to be powered even when it was supposed to be off. It has a switch to limit which slots are in use and it was only when the second slot was turned off would the elements come on. Had I not noticed this, it could have burned down the house. A simple solution to having to unplug all the appliances in the kitchen is to have a separate switch to control most of the outlets, with some extra outlets for use for night lights or other things which need constant power. This simple change could make kitchens much safer and the cost is little.

It would also be nice if they ran electrical wires for ceiling fans and wall mounted lights. It used to be that wall mounted lights were standard, but no longer.

Floor Plan

It often seems to me that the people who design houses have no concept of what works in a floorplan. Perhaps it is because they know what looks good and helps to sell the house, but living with it is a completely different thing. One house I owned had so much wasted space it was not funny. My current house is smaller, but has an additional bedroom and a living room. The floorplan is so much better, but I did not notice the difference until I lived in each house.


This country could save so much energy if only all houses came with multiple means of cooling the house, as well as a means to cool the attic.

A whole house fan does not use all that much power, especially when you consider the other choices, such as the air conditioner. It also serves two purposes, it cools the house and it also cools the attic. In doing so it will reduce the cooling costs for the next day. Unfortunately most whole house fans are also poorly designed since they don't offer much insulation in the ceiling where the fan is located, but if it was designed into the house, then that would not be an issue.

Having an whole house fan can mean that you won't need to run the air conditioner at night since you will have air flow and cool outside air. Depending on the location you live, an evaporative cooler can also help to save power since it can be used instead of an air conditioner.

Another simple item to reduce cooling costs is an attic fan. It is amazing how much heat occurs in the attic. This heat raises the temperature in the house and also affects the ducts, if the ducts are placed in the attic, as is often the case. I installed a gable fan in my house and it was amazing how much it reduce the heat in the house. One thing I instantly noticed was that the vent temperature was reduced by around 10 degrees when the air conditioner was running. I also noticed that the house temperature would not get as high during the day without the air conditioner running.


Instead of making all the houses by using the same cookie cuter, if the builder would make changes based on how the house is placed on the lot with respect to the Sun the energy savings could be huge. An example of this is the visitor center in Zion National Park. The windows are designed to allow sun light in during the winter, but not in the summer, although there is still light to reduce the need of lighting in the building.


One aspect to houses which seems to receive little though is lighting, at least functional lighting. Some effort is made to make the place show well, but that does not mean that you can see when you work on the stove or the sink. Often people don't try to see into a pot when they are looking to buy a house, but when they buy it then they realize that improvement is needed. Also, it would be easy to add emergency lighting when the house is built, which can also be used to traverse the house at night without having to turn on bright lights. This would be similar to lights used in theaters when the movie is being presented.


There are many other aspects which could be used to improve a house, both in function and energy consumption. All it takes a demand and a little bit of effort on the part of the builder.



Index for Insanity, Inc.

Written: 22-Oct-2005

Updated: 23-Oct-2005

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