Home build/design/architecture questions

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Trying not to screw things up worse
Jan 6, 2017
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Oh Hah
Home build/design/architecture questions pop into my head a lot, so I'm starting this thread for them. Here's the first one:

If you were designing a house from the ground up, would you cluster all the "water stuff" (water heater, kitchen sink, bathroom sinks, water hookups, etc.) close together to minimize the scale and complexity of your plumbing? Or is it not that big a deal if, say, one of your bathrooms is on the other side of the house from the others?
I would not cluster the water units for the sake of simplifying the plumbing. However, I would consider trying to minimize the distance from the water heater to locations that need hot water. To minimize the time that I wait for hot water.
Many modest homes try and do exactly that. As an example our first floor bath and second floor bath are stacked and share a common drain stack etc.

High end homes they don’t worry about that at all and put in several water heaters if needed and some even circulate hot water like hotels do.

My pet peeve is the way they start out with a beautiful huge basement area and plunk the furnace in the center and utilities and the sump in a corner and then run drop downs every direction and it becomes a mess to try and use the basement.
@bud16415 To avoid those problems, what would you recommend as a general strategy regarding utility placement? (Not necessarily to make the basement elegant -- some houses don't have basements -- but to make construction and maintenance easier and to make space more usable.)

@Steve123 Trying to think which water units typically don't need hot...the clothes washing machine, what else?
When my house was built they were going to put the water heater right in the middle of the basement by the stairs, sending the vent stack up through the walk-up attic I had visions of finishing. I had them move it to an alcove under the laundry room to get rid of the stack. The problem is the 1" line to the master bathroom is now over 75 feet long, the kitchen sink is longer than it needs to be. I put in a circulation pump to fix it. But I'm probably going to replumb it to shorten the runs and eliminate the wait at these two points of use. I don't see a way to consolidate my bathrooms and kitchen to simplify the plumbing. My childhood home had an upstairs bathroom above the first floor bathroom, which backed the kitchen, keeping all the runs pretty short. Waiting for hot water in that house was never a problem.

With tankless water heaters you need to have a different strategy for circulating water so you don't constantly cycle the water heater keeping hot water at the taps all the time. You can use a remote controlled pump to push the water around the system for a minute or two before running the tap. Otherwise if you have a long run you'll be running a couple of gallons down the drain waiting for the water to get hot. Adding multiple tankless water heaters is a fairly large expense for installation and ongoing maintenance, especially if you have hard water.
Hey mods, thanks for adding the new section. I think it's perfect for a lot of the threads here...

...but not sure why this one got moved there. This thread is more about practical/technical concerns about acquiring a house than financial or logistical ones.

PS. I also think this section could be called "Home Buying/Selling" unless you think there will be enough threads specifically about selling to justify its own section. But that's just my $0.02.
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How much resistance to shearing force is provided by drywall vs. shiplap vs. nothing but studs and a few horizontal planks of wood to provide privacy/separation of space and a place to hang things?

I've dreamed of building a home with walls where drywall was at a minimum and exposed studs were at a maximum, but I suddenly wonder if this affects the structural integrity. (Resale value is another matter, but I figure it's easier to add than subtract!)
I insulated inside walls for sound proofing and so that I could close off unused bedrooms.
Hmm.. I'm terrible at doing layouts for stuff like this. I think I'd want them close enough that I wouldn't need more than 2 roof penetrations for plumbing pipes. The talk about water heater location is a good point. I'd want to have water heater located where it wouldn't be too far from any of the fixtures that would need it-- although recirculating pumps could be used if there was a bathroom farther away.

Strangely, in my current house, water takes a long time to reach fixtures that are within 10 feet of it. I guess the piping is routed in a weird way. I really need to gut it all and have it redone.
@zannej I also think about placement for installation/removal. I know updating water heaters/furnaces/etc. only happens a few times in the lifetime of the house, but when it does I want it to be easy. So, dead center of the basement might be best for proximity to fixtures, but that's a long way to lug a water heater from the garage, and I'm never going to be as young when it's time to replace it as I was when I built the place and moved in. (Then again I'm probably hiring younger guys at that point.)
In the olden days, production builders used to stack bathrooms back to back to save on plumbing costs and be able to sell a house for less. That was back when every dollar counted and houses didn't cost so much.

In today's selling environment, it's not done as much.

The best "deal" you can get on design work is with a set of good per-drawn plans from one of the plan services. There are good one and bad ones. In fact there are probably more bad than good. Look through the books or online and look at the floor plans. Do they make sense? Can you live in a home with this floor plan? Where will you place the furniture? I've see large family rooms with no place to put the sofa because someone put windows in the wrong place. Same thing with bedrooms. Where will the beds and dressers go? Is there room for the nightstands? I've seen many rooms that simply won't hold the nightstands because there is a closet, a bathroom or a window in the wrong place. Will the kitchen hold your double door refrigerator without hitting a wall every time you open the door?

Will the plan require modifications for your lifestyle? I have one plan service that I have used over and over because I had always gotten good results. The plans and designs are classic. They cost a bit more to build, because there is more to them. It's easier and much cheaper to have the plans modified before you build the house. Do all of your modifications on paper. Don't start changing things when the walls are up because it gets really expensive to pay for something going up and then having to take it out and do it again.

As far as where to place the systems, that is always something that you should look at. For example a lot of plans have a standard 20 X 20 garage. If you build this home on a crawlspace, then the steps going into the home, from the garage, will jut into one of the parking spaces in the garage and you will have built a two car garage that you can only park one car in. I've seen it happen over and over again.

How can you solve this garage step problem? Make the garage bigger or don't build on a crawlspace. An expanded 24X24 or 24X28 garage will do the trick and it really does not add a whole lot to the cost because the garages don't have systems. Years ago, I started building 3 and 4 car garages and the buyers really liked the upgrade.

What the others have said about not placing the furnace in a traffic area is spot on. However they do want the furnaces near the center of the house so the duct work can spider out evenly to all parts of the dwelling. Just make sure you have a place in the center that is not in the way of something else.

All homes are built these days with some sort of structured wiring for cable, alarm, internet, television, telephone or media. That is something you need to think about. Where will these services enter my home? Have you allowed for "future-proofing" so that when new technology is introduced, you will be able to easily add it to your home. You will probably have smart appliances in the future that will do things for you. We are already seeing it with the HVAC and alarm controls.

Electric vehicles are going to be big. Have you pre-wired for an electric car charger? Will the cord on the charger reach to all of the bays so that multiple vehicles can be charged? Do you know where the charging ports are on the vehicles. Some are on the front. Some are on the left front side and some are on the left rear side. All of this has to be kept in mind if you are building a new home.

You won't catch everything. However you will catch most things if you do this properly. The more time you spend planning; the better results you will achieve.
Because it's drywall or because all the strength is already in the framing?
Drywall is very heavy for one and it detracts from the strength as it is a load to be considered in the calculation. The little strength it could add is likely offset by its own weight.

Secondly it is a very brittle product and as such it might have some strength but when it fails it is rapid and total. Loads that a house will see are things like snow or wind etc. all failures in a structure require bending and movement and I wouldn’t want any safety factor given to items that are brittle and will fail all at once when the go.

Wall and roof sheathing on the outside provides most of the lateral shear loading as all the structure in the house with conventional construction is parallel and most is load bearing.

So I would say drywall like vinyl siding and roof shingles and even windows / doors don’t factor into the calculations.
Thanks @bud16415 that's helpful to know!

@Bob Reynolds that's really helpful too, especially the point about fixing problems on paper before driving a single nail or pouring a single drop of concrete. But I do think you over-state the case for future-proofing. I hope there will always be people who push back against "smart appliances", for example -- I sure as heck would never bring a toaster or fridge into my house that requires a bluetooth or wifi connection, and plan to instill that wisdom in my kids. Also, the future adapts to what's available from the past sometimes too: we didn't have to get a fiber optic line laid in just to get internet, it comes through the same coaxial connections that in days gone by provided my parent's generation with television. To me, simplicity and cost are always higher considerations than keeping up with the Joneses. I'd rather have a house that's a pleasure for me to live in and maintain than one I'm sure the gadget-freaks of the 2060s are going to scramble for.
I insulated inside walls for sound proofing and so that I could close off unused bedrooms.

Hmm...getting into proper sound "proofing" is difficult. Adding insulation inside walls does a little, but not a lot. Why? Consider that you have drywall, 2x4, drywall. A direct path for sound to travel.

A better option is to use 2x6 top and bottom plates and staggered studs. This provides a sound break.

A still better option is to use two 2x4 studded walls, separated by a distance.

The other important part of sound proofing is mass. 2 layers of fire rated drywall on one or both sides is a benefit. More mass = more benefit.

One way to examine different wall constructions is via STC (sound transmission coefficient). This is basically useless for something like music, though. See:


Here are different walls and their STC ratings:

Different walls

If you really want sound "proof" walls, it's costly.

I'll give you an example. I redid a room in my raised ranch (a split level), underneath the kitchen. I added insulation in the ceiling between the room and the kitchen. The drywall for the ceiling went directly onto the joists. When the kids did something like roll a marble across the tile on the floor of the kitchen, this EASILY transferred down into the basement room. Why? There was no sound break.
Mine has worked out well but I am also on a slab floor.
It does work...a bit.

It's just I've been thinking about building a dedicated home theater for many years and have done much research on sound proofing. Every time I see a TV show where they add "sound proofing" for a music or theater room, I can tell they have no freaking clue what they are doing. A "sound proof" room with a double door with glass panels? Baw ha ha! (For a true "sound proof" door, you're looking at double doors, magnetic seals, etc,. or a single door filled with sand and weighing many hundreds of pounds, magnetic seals, ....)
I also have a home media room and frequent The AVS forum and the subforum of dedicated home theaters is the place to go if you really want to understand sound proofing. It is all spelled out there and many great experts to help. They use clips to isolate drywall and then use 2-3 sheets with a special green glue between as isolation. They deal with walls doors and ceilings and every other way sound can get in or out.

I don’t often recommend other forums but in this case I will.
If we're talking design of a house, there are parallels between good insulation practices and good sound proofing. For good insulation practice, ideally, you need a thermal break. So, if you spray foam between rafters a bit, but don't do anything for the rafters themselves, if the rafters are wood, they have an R value of about 1 per inch. If they are 1.5 inches wide, 16 inches on center, that's about 10% of the ceiling at an R value of 1 per inch. You need some type of thermal break for the rafters (or studs, window/door framing, etc.). One possibility is to cover the rafters with spray foam, or cover the roof with insulation.

Similarly, if you're trying to sound proof a space, you need a sound break.

I think of it like this:

Thermal break in insulation = sound break in sound proofing
R value in insulation = mass in sound proofing

Using both of these yields better results than either or neither one.

So, the clips discussed by Bud attach to studs/joists, and a metal track pops into the clips. The clips have some type of rubber mounting to provide the sound break. The track also provides some break, and allow multiple layers of heavy (fire-rated) drywall to be put on them. Thus, you get both a sound break and mass.

A similar thermal break would be the new insulated ZIP system (Insulated sheathing) over a 2x4 wall. This provides a thermal break (other than the screws) and an R of up to 12. Combine that with a normal 2x4 wall, and you've got what's effectively a 2x6 wall, but with a thermal break and a lot higher real R value.