When I was younger, I was fascinated by the idea that someday I'd have my very own house. I used to spend hours drawing floor plans and designing where I'd put the furniture, even drawing the furniture to scale and cutting it out to place on my pictures. Of course money was no object, so there were indoor swimming pools, two-story libraries with tall, rolling ladders to reach the top shelves and huge playrooms. At some point, my parents got catalogs from home builders, and I loved looking through all of the different types of homes available and their layouts. This was the 1980s, so I think the fanciest features that most of those homes had were dens, offices, sunrooms and bonus rooms over the garage -- all features that are often considered standard in newly-built houses today.
Today, people are building homes with rooms and features that my eight-year-old mind probably couldn't even imagine. If the sky were the limit, what would your dream home include? Would you construct it to suit your own very specific tastes, or would you keep in mind things like resale value? Not only do interior decorating tastes change, but so do home designs in general. (If you don't believe me, check out the tiny closet and bathroom in the so-called "master bedroom" in my late '70s-era house.)
Read on to check out the best things to build into your home today that people who live in your home in the future might also enjoy, too.
Why would you want to worry about features that make cleaning easier? Although some people do enjoy cleaning, most of us take the "work" part of "housework" literally. However, there are a lot of different features that you can build into your home to make your household chores easier and maybe even more pleasant.
Let's start with a chore that all of us have to do: laundry. If a laundry room is big enough and well-designed, laundry might even be enjoyable. Cabinets, hooks and open shelving can hold cleaning supplies that are cluttering up other parts of your house. A built-in cabinet, with a fold-down ironing board is handy. A counter top or small table gives you space to fold instead of doing it on your sofa. A sink would be great for hand-washed items, and if you have a lot of clothes that need it, consider a built-in drying rack, or hanging one from the ceiling. Shirts that need to be hung up immediately can go on a mounted bar. And lugging that laundry up and down the stairs can be tiresome, so build in a laundry chute. All you need is an unobstructed path (no wires or pipes) from a central upstairs location -- like a hallway -- through the floor to a waiting basket in the laundry room.
Sometimes people combine laundry rooms with mudrooms, but the latter can be separate, too, or just a part of the entryway. A mudroom stores all of those things that tend to spill out of a too-small coat closet, hang over the backs of chairs, or jumble up the foyer: coats, jackets, gloves, hats, rain boots, shoes, sports equipment, backpacks and purses. It can be as simple as a standalone cabinet with baskets and hooks inside, or a whole wall of hooks and built-in shelves.
So laundry, outerwear and cleaning supplies are organized ... but what about the vacuum? Instead of hauling around the vacuum cleaner, install a central vacuum system. There's a fixed unit, usually in a garage or utility room, with tubes running through the walls and inlets placed in different areas. You attach a hose (which usually has a power switch) to an inlet and voila, vacuuming! All of these features can not only make your home neater but also add value.
The terms "green" and "energy-efficient" are all over the place, and home features are no different. You can start out making a house more environmentally friendly when you're building it by working with an architect and designer who specializes in such things. It might even include how you situate the house in relation to the rising and setting of the sun and the placement of windows and doors (which influences cooling and heating costs). But if you didn't start out with that in mind, there are still lots of different green and energy-efficient features that you can use in an existing house. Not only can some of them save you money over time, but having a house with green features can be a big selling point for an eco-conscious buyer.
There are several different directions you can go in; energy efficiency, air quality, water conservation and energy generation are just a few. For example, making sure that all of your major appliances have Energy Star labels and you have a high-efficiency water heater and HVAC system make a huge difference. An updated HVAC system with good filtration also affects air quality, but so does making sure that your home is painted with low-VOC paint and the flooring you choose is low on pollutants and renewable (such as bamboo). Installing double-paned windows will keep in heat in the winter and your air conditioning in the summer.
Ready to take it to the next level? Look into water conservation. You can install gray water systems, which use water that isn't drinkable (but isn't sewage, either) to do things like flush your toilets or water your lawn. Or just collect rainwater. Solar panels are just one way to generate electricity that you can actually use in your home -- you can also have wind turbines (or windmills). Yes, some of these features can get pricey, but if being green is your thing, it might be worth it to you.
The days of a big green lawn in front and back, with a few trees, bushes or flower beds scattered around, are long gone. Some people don't want to spend all that time weeding, raking, trimming and mowing, so that's why there's a trend toward things like xeriscaping. This means landscaping with an eye toward reducing water consumption (a bonus green feature) as well as less work for the homeowner. It uses drought-tolerant plants and much less traditional grass, while still looking pretty.
There are also less extreme ways of reducing your workload in the yard, such as the use of English ivy or other spreading plants that need very little maintenance. On the other hand, you may have always dreamed of a planned English garden. What about a labyrinthine hedge? If gardening is one of the great loves of your life and you have the time and space, there are plenty of resources out there to help you indulge your fantasy.
Even if you don't care much for gardening, you've probably noticed that the backyard isn't just for kids' swing sets. Lots of people consider their outdoor spaces an extension of their house, and that's manifested in the popularity of big sunrooms, screened porches, verandas, decks, and patios. Sometimes it's like a second kitchen, living and dining room out there, complete with burners, sinks and TVs. Large built-in grills, or maybe a brick pizza oven, would make your home party central.
Of course, if you have a pool or hot tub you're already there. To be on the cutting edge of cool, install an infinity pool (which have vanishing edges) or a stationary pool. The latter can be installed easily indoors and takes up very little room, but generates a current that you can swim against for exercise.
Did you see the Jodie Foster film "Panic Room"? I didn't, but I know the basic premise: a woman and her child are trapped in a room designed to keep out everybody and anybody. The problem is that the room also contains millions of dollars. You probably don't have millions of dollars to protect, but the idea of a safe room is a pretty appealing one. It doesn't necessarily have to be a room to protect you from intruders. Maybe you live in an area of the country that gets a lot of tornadoes or you're worried about a zombie apocalypse.
So what makes a safe room safe? FEMA has guidelines on building a residential safe room, so check those out. Normally it's on a ground floor or even below ground, with a solid foundation. A strong door, preferably made of steel, needs to be resistant to battering, bullets, and fire. If the rest of your house is built with wooden studs, the safe room should have steel studs (because they're fire-resistant) and a reinforced ceiling to prevent intruders from entering and debris from coming through. You can also build the walls out of concrete, or include things like metal mesh. Now that you have your cage built, so to speak, what else can you do to make it safe? If you really want to go all out, you can install a separate ventilation system, power supply and telephone line. That way if anything happens to those things in the main house, you'll be just fine in the safe room.
If telephone lines are totally down, though, consider a satellite phone or ham radio for communication. And since you may be in there for awhile, you'll need cots, clothing, first aid supplies, ready-to-eat food, water, a portable toilet, flashlights and any other gear you might deem necessary for the long haul.
I consider my cats to be part of my family, but my house wasn't built with them in mind. I'm sure they'd appreciate it if I did so, though. Pet lovers often consider the needs and wants of their furry friends when designing or remodeling the home they'll share. The simplest thing you can do is install a pet door so your buddy can come and go as he or she pleases. It can be just a basic swinging door, but you can also get high-tech with doors that open when a magnet on your pet's collar activates it. Unlike regular pet doors, these seal tightly and will keep animals like raccoons from deciding to come and check out your digs.
Once your pet heads outside, though, what will he encounter? Hopefully, a safe area to potty, play and explore. The classic is a fenced-in yard. Of course cats can climb fences, but there are special toppers you can install to keep them from getting out. Many owners install invisible fences, which keep pets (typically dogs) inside the yard by delivering a mild shock if they stray outside. It doesn't usually take long for the dog to learn. Dog houses can be as nice as a people house, with furniture and electricity. What about a little pool just for puppy? Cat owners sometimes install screened or mesh enclosures in their backyards that allow them to safely enjoy the great outdoors, while protecting the surrounding wildlife, too.
But let's head back inside. If you have the space for it, why not give your pets their own room? The rest of the house is yours, after all. Ideally it would have lots of light, a warm comfy bed, toys and a food station. Cats love to climb, so that's where to place your cat trees, ramps and hammocks. You could even install a dog shower -- a special low sink and sprayer for baths. Other pet-friendly features to consider installing throughout your home include easy-to-clean flooring, like tile or hardwood. And if it's heated, that's even better. Extreme pet owners go all the way by installing cutouts between rooms, walkways, and ramps for their cats to climb.
When I was a kid, I didn't know anybody who had a playroom. My toys were kept in my bedroom. I had a toy box as well as various bins, shelves and containers to hold all of my stuff. I could take my toys elsewhere in the house; I just had to make sure that I cleaned everything up when I was finished. Although bedroom sizes have grown over the years, many kids also have a separate room just for playing. It not only holds their toys, but also might have bigger play structures, a desk, a computer, and an entertainment center.
Playrooms are where some parents get really whimsical with decor if they didn't do so in the child's bedroom. If your child loves the great outdoors, you could bring nature inside with a built-in tree house or a swing that hangs from the ceiling. Basketball fans would love a hoop inside and a court-style floor. No room outside for a slide or climbing structure (or the weather's bad), but plenty of room inside? Then why not? I've even seen a first-floor playroom that could be accessed from the bedroom above by an enclosed slide or a fireman's pole. Built-in cabinets are ideal for storing toys, games, books and DVDs, but open shelving or bookcases work too. When bedtime rolls around, the bed doesn't have to be cleared of toys first because they're all contained elsewhere. A playroom would definitely be a draw for parents or parents-to-be.
Let's face it, game rooms are playrooms for adults. It could be a version of the traditional "man cave," with things like dart boards, poker tables or pool tables. With enough room, though ... imagine you and your friends having air hockey, Ms. Pac-Man or Skee Ball tournaments, all in the comfort of your home. To keep up that realistic arcade experience, make people pay you for tokens and have machines spit out tickets for cheap plastic toys.
Remember when the bathroom was a utilitarian sort of room? You went in there to use the toilet, get clean, take medicine and all that good stuff. At some point along the way -- and maybe this is Calgon's fault -- we started to think of bathrooms as a potential haven from the stresses of the day. Can't afford to visit a spa? You can have a spa experience in your own bathroom.
Usually the master bathroom gets the royal treatment in these cases, but once again, those things that were once luxuries are expected. No more fighting with a partner over the sink and mirror when getting ready to leave the house; people just expect to have two sinks and plenty of mirror space and storage. It's also normal to have separate "toilet rooms", a tiny room for just the commode to sort of close off that unpleasantness. (It makes sense that in Japanese culture, the toilet is always in a separate room from the shower and tub.)
So what's considered luxurious these days? While they've been de rigueur in many European bathrooms, only now are more people in the United States installing bidets. You can modify your toilet to perform a similar function, or -- in another nod to Japanese culture -- go for a high-tech toilet with a heated seat, water sprays and drying jets. High-end materials like soapstone and teak also make it feel more like a spa and less like just another room in your house. How about a really deep, really long soaking tub or a shower that's big enough for two or more, with multiple shower heads? It's not unheard of to enjoy music, TV or colored lights while you're getting clean and relaxing. Another trend is towards old-fashioned claw foot bathtubs.
Extend the experience by connecting the bathroom to a large walk-in closet, where you can sit on a chaise lounge and dress in comfort.
You may have heard the adage that if you put money into your kitchen or bathroom when building or remodeling a house, you'll get that money back when it comes time to sell. In the current economy all bets are off, but that definitely used to be the case. Even people who don't much like to cook love a high-end kitchen. If you do enjoy cooking and have a "normal" kitchen, you've probably run into the limitations and wished for something better.
Companies that sell to restaurants make five or even six burner ones that you can install in your home. They usually also have the ability to get much hotter than a traditional one, reducing your cook time. Love to grill but wish it were easier? Built-in flat top and traditional grills and even rotisseries can be yours. I love cooking and eating Asian food, so a built-in wok would be fantastic. Cook a lot of pasta? Lugging those big pots over to the sink can be annoying, so install a faucet that swings out over the cooktop.
Who hasn't had to do some serious shuffling and planning for oven space when the holidays roll around and you're trying to cook turkeys, hams and sheets of cookies? Double ovens, warming drawers and convection ovens can all reduce your stress levels. You won't regret making room for other high-end appliances like big dishwashers that clean your plates in minutes or large fridges and freezers. Refrigerated drawers under countertops provide convenient space and are accessible by kids.
Storage is a big issue in all kitchens. Food storage containers, pots and pans, spices, canned goods, can all easily become a jumble in standard cabinetry. That's why kitchen designers are available to create customized cabinets and drawers with a place for everything, including slots for difficult-to-store things like sheet pans and pot lids. You can even have little garages built for countertop appliances like toasters, and spice racks designed just for your personal collection.
I rarely see movies in the theater for a couple of reasons: it's gotten really expensive, I have a small child, and too many people act like they're at home instead of in a public place and ruin my movie-going experience. If you have your own theater at home, you can make as much noise as you want, the concessions are much cheaper, and no previews. While the initial installation can be pricey, you never have to leave the comfort of your home. Many of us have far bigger TVs than our parents could've dreamed of as kids, but a true home theater experience means a room devoted specifically to TV and movie viewing.
This often means a darkened, soundproofed room set up with big, comfy sofas or recliners. Drink holders and trays make it easy to enjoy your favorite beverage and snacks. While you're at it, a mini-kitchen with a fridge, microwave or even a popcorn machine means not having to bring anything from the main kitchen. Of course the TV is the big star here. What kind you get depends largely on your preference, but these days you'll probably choose among a high-definition LCD, plasma, LED or DLP (rear projection) television. Some would argue that unless it's projection and at least 70 inches, it's not really a "home theater", but that's up to you. What about a 3D TV? You'd just need enough glasses for all of your guests.
Wall-mounting your TV or a screen that folds or lowers from the ceiling would be ideal. You'll also want an HD Blu-ray player, of course. And what would a home theater experience be without premium sound? Some stores sell home theater systems, which include multiple speakers and a subwoofer for a surround sound experience. Thankfully, you can find professionals to install and integrate all of your electronics.
Speaking of electronics, our last awesome home feature isn't a room. It's a system that works all over your house and is controlled by a touch screen on the wall or via remotes when you're at home. But you can also control things from anywhere using the Internet, your phone, or tablet computer. It sounds like something in a house from the future, but it's all possible now, and can be as all-encompassing as you want, too. Usually this is called integrated home electronics or home automation.
You may have heard of integrated music systems, which include having speakers installed throughout your home and even outdoors so you can listen to your entire digital library of music no matter where you are. That's just a start, though. You could have your favorite music playing for you before you get home, for example, or turn on the TV in any room in the house and change the channel.
It's not just about media, either. Integrated home electronics means being able to control many other different systems in your home from anywhere. Digital programmable thermostats are awesome, but you can integrate them into a system that allows you to monitor and change the temperature in your home from anywhere. You can turn lights and sprinklers on and off, raise and lower electronic shades or blinds, remotely heat a hot tub, raise or lower a garage door, or even turn on a coffeemaker. Worried about the security of your home while you're away? Monitor motion detectors and video cameras, too, or detect things like water or gas leaks. Yes, it's about convenience and luxury, but home automation is also about safety and energy efficiency.
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Author's Note: 10 Best Things to Build in to Your Home
Choosing what constituted the "best things" to build into a home was a challenge. Everything sounds fantastic to me, probably because I don't have any of them. I'm not really into pool or other games so I could probably do without a game room, but my husband would love it. If I won the lottery and built a new home with no limitations, I'd probably consider doing every one of the things I mention here. Presumably, I'd also have someone (or several someones) to keep my big shiny kitchen, bathroom, playroom and game rooms all tidy. At least they would appreciate the laundry and mudrooms, and enjoy the features of my integrated home electronics.
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