Sunday, March 23, 2014

Floor Plans 2

In a previous post, we talked about how the design of the first floor layout helps make the home feel bigger than it really is. The upstairs is a different story — we need to fit three bedrooms, a bathroom, and a washer/dryer into a small space. There’s no way to open everything up: it’s going to feel tight no matter what. The question is whether we can arrange everything to use space efficiently while keeping the floor plan as open as possible.

Much like the first floor layout, GO Logic provided fantastic off-the-shelf floor plans, and I couldn’t help but to shift a couple of things around.

Double doors at the top of the stairs and a window

I love the feeling of walking into a well-designed home for the first time. Your viewpoint is obstructed by something — maybe stairs or walls — then, bam!, you see straight ahead onto an interesting space, wide open and well-lit. It’s a great feeling: emerging from a tight space to observe a striking view.

I wanted to go for a similar feeling with the stairway, in a much more modest way. The image above gives the perspective as you walk up the staircase and look straight ahead toward the study. We added double doors to the study entrance so that the top of the staircase would feel expansive, and so that you get an unobstructed view out the window in the background. The small landing at the top of the stairs gets to function as an extension of the study rather than a closed off space.

A lovely view north, but no north-facing windows?

The view north overlooks an apple orchard, marshland, great blue herons, egrets, hawks, beavers and more — it’s awesome. The property is a rare treasure for its proximity to wetland, conservation land and hiking trails. But north-facing windows are heat losers, with no solar gain, and should be minimized in passive houses. Should I sacrifice the passive house design principles in order take full advantage of the surrounding views of wildlife and conservation land?

Looking out over the property, the architect, Matt O’Malia, turned to me and said: “You know, we don’t have to build a passive house. We can face north. It will be a house that performs well, but doesn’t meet passive house standards.” I thought about it for a bit. In the end, I couldn’t give up two things: the bragging rights of a passive house and the wonderful feeling of having abundant sunlight streaming into a room.

Some north-facing windows are OK

As a compromise, we increased the size of the north facing window over the stairs and added a west-facing window at the landing, but kept our adherence to the passive house standard. Our Kneer-S├╝dfenster windows are so good that these changes didn’t incurring much of a heat demand penalty anyway.

The image above shows the stairway landing, as seen from the study. The west-facing window (on the left) will be a great spot for wildlife viewing and watching the sunset while also serving to illuminate the hallway. The north-facing window over the stairs is sufficiently large to provide a nice view from the landing.

More storage or more views?

The built-in shelving is one aspect that I’m still on the fence about. On the one hand, storage space is limited and I’d like to use the space at the top of the stairs effectively. On the other hand, the shelving is blocking the view to the north window from the landing and the study, and might be closing off the top of the stairs awkwardly. The compromise that the builder and I came up with is to wait until the second floor and the walls are up, then have a look around and see if we can come to a decision.

Here’s a look at the same perspective as above, but with the shelving removed, leaving a direct line of sight to the rear window. What do you think? Why sacrifice the heat loss through a large northern window and yet not take full advantage of the view out that window?

Small washer/dryers save a lot of space

Go to Best Buy or Home Depot and look at the washer-dryers; they’re enormous! How am I going to find a place for these behemoths? Luckily, the Europeans came to the rescue, once again.

These are the Miele washer/dryers. They’re compact, efficient, yet accommodate a surprising volume of laundry, and they look neat. They can fit right into a hallway without taking up too much space. The downside is that they are unbelievably expensive. I ultimately decided it was worth it.

The image above is looking down the hallway back toward the landing and the west-facing window. Notice how the washer/dryer stack is flush with the wall — no doors or a separate laundry room to needlessly take up space. The bathroom is off to the right. Both the washer and the shower are fed hot water from a single on-demand water heat located in the utility closet on the first floor, right beneath the hallway. The close proximity of the water heater, the washer and the shower helps reduce the length of the hot water pipes, giving instant hot water and reducing wasted heat.

I also love the fact that the west facing window at the end of the hallway will let afternoon light percolate deep into the hallway. It’ll be a great spot to watch the sunset. In the summer, however, there will be a cooling load penalty: the afternoon sunlight will warm up the home somewhat. I think the window adds so much to the hallway, however, that I’m willing to use a little more energy in the summer to cool the home.

Extra windows for the master bedroom versus overheating?

The architect had originally planned for two windows in the master bedroom, having determined the right amount of south facing window area needed to heat the upstairs while avoiding overheating. But I argued that overheating in the bedroom was less of a concern for me than to have a wide open view, a more open bedroom and more of a connection to the outdoors. A midday nap in a warm bedroom on a sunny day doesn’t sound that bad to me, anyway. I don’t tend to use the bedroom during the day, though, so I think we’ll be OK even if overheating is an issue.

An open feeling in a small bedroom

A couple of neat tricks help make the bedrooms more feel spacious even through they are tiny (the master bedroom is only 136 sq ft while the typical American master bedroom is 256 sq ft). First, vaulted ceilings provide extra space overhead and also look cool. Second, the closet doors were removed in favor of an open closet with a closet system. Third, the position of the door to the third bedroom across the hall allows you to peer across the full width of the home when sitting in the reading chair, the viewpoint from which the above image was drawn.

The walls on the second floor are going up this week, so it won’t be long until we get to see how it all comes together!