Are you having a custom home built, or remodelling to make your present home more functional and comfortable? As you work at creating a great home design, so you can have your designer or architect draw up the plans, remember that a floor plan that is ideal for your lifestyle may not be suitable for another family. A perfect design and floor plan must not only meet your current needs but support your family’s lifestyle in ways you may not yet have considered.
Our homes are where we live, work, study, socialize and relax. You may need a larger kitchen area and an additional bedroom, but while you’re reworking the floor plan, or designing from scratch, are there other changes you could make to significantly improve the functionality and your quality of life?
With the right designer, your practical ideas could come to life, to make your home fantastic. Here are a few design options you may not have considered in your layout and design.
Have you arrived at the correct number of rooms and living areas?
Establishing what rooms and spaces are needed will be one of your first decisions. Does your floor plan include the right number of bedrooms? Did you remember an additional bedroom for guests? Would you like more than one living area… perhaps a dining room with a fireplace plus a theatre or game room? Will you need one or even two work-from-home offices?
With people spending more time in their homes, some rooms and living spaces may have to pull double duty. For example, if your children are being home-schooled, or some of their classes are taken via online learning, the kitchen/dining area may also serve as a classroom.
Considering your evolving needs over the next ten years can be useful. Have you designed some rooms for repurposing at a later date? As teens decide to move out, one of the bedrooms could be converted into a den, and perhaps another into a sewing and crafts room.
Maximizing the view
If your property offers a breathtaking view, the floor plan should offer vantage points for overlooking the expanse of your property or taking in the scenery or cityscape. You will want to decide which rooms and living spaces are going to offer these vistas, like the kitchen, master bedroom and its ensuite, the living room, or an outdoor entertainment area.
Floor-to-ceiling windows are the classic way to optimize your view, but the sizes you can work with may be dictated by the home’s orientation, sunlight and energy efficiency target. Placing two windows in a corner could allow you to look over a greater expanse with a panoramic view. Building a terrace around the top level of your home is another traditional way to provide unobstructed views, above trees or other buildings.
Opening up areas in your home to expand the volume of a space can help disperse hot air. Small rooms can heat up quickly, even from body heat. Having larger spaces helps to average out the temperature throughout the house, for greater comfort.
With fewer walls, you have fewer barriers to natural light during the daytime. Natural light makes us feel more energized and can improve our mood. Larger spaces feel airier and can help us feel less confined.
The greatest advantage of open-plan multi-functional spaces, where living and being together become easier, is they bring families together. Open areas are more inclusive. They are also great for entertaining and hosting parties.
Do you ever feel like you need to be in two places at the same time? Open-plan spaces allow you to bring two places together, so you can cook or watch television, while also keeping an eye on a small child or your pet, or the teen who is supposed to be getting her homework done instead of texting.
Open plans don’t work for everyone though. In some families alone time and privacy are highly prized, and too much interaction can feel overwhelming.
In conventional homes, open-plan layouts can take longer to heat, and this can increase energy costs. The cost consideration can usually be mitigated in modern high-efficiency homes, with airtight envelopes, thick walls, triple-glazed windows and engineered thermal mass.
Many home designs and floor plans fall short because zones were not taken into consideration. Zoning involves understanding the purpose of each room and space, the connections between them and the way the occupants will move from one space to another. Designing a floor plan that arranges complimenting zones is an art, and this can be particularly important when remodelling an existing home.
Of particular importance is segmenting busy living spaces and laundry rooms from quiet spaces like bedrooms and offices.
If your home is in a quiet neighbourhood, or you’re making changes to a high-performance airtight home with thick insulation, noise may not be a consideration. However, if you’re located near highways or busy roads, railway tracks, shopping districts, schools or sports fields, your floor plan, airtightness and insulation specifications should consider noise reduction.
Every sound your ears pick up is airborne. Structural sounds are the vibrations carried through objects. Noise can often be hard to pinpoint, and that’s why soundproofing experts advise the best time to consider soundproofing products is during the blueprint phase of your home. Making a room or living space nearly soundproof from scratch is a lot easier than trying to address noise problems after the walls, ceilings and flooring have been finished.
The airtight building envelope, super-insulation and triple-glazed windows in net zero homes and passive houses will take care of much of the exterior noise. Interior noises can be another matter, but if you want a really quiet home, some things can be done at the design stage. For example, there are sound-dampening barriers, noise-reducing drywall and sustainable insulation that will fill wall cavities. Floating floors are often installed using adhesives instead of nailing into floor joists. And unwanted sounds can even be masked with white noise systems that move air to cancel them.
Energy efficiency is front and centre in modern home design. Each energy-efficient upgrade has a positive impact on reducing carbon emissions and energy costs while increasing the comfort level in your home.
Taking advantage of natural ventilation
Often the geographic location of the house will place it in the path of prevailing breezes. The direction of these breezes as they relate to your lot, and the size and direction windows face can provide cross-flow ventilation. Taking advantage of natural cooling could reduce or eliminate air conditioning costs in the summer to make your house a lot more comfortable.
In high-performance homes with airtight envelopes and thick insulation, incorporating nighttime ventilation can reduce the temperature, while some of the warmth can also be absorbed in the building’s thermal mass. Using larger windows on the side of the house that is downwind (sheltered from the wind), and smaller openings on the side facing the wind will create a cooling pressure current, which increases the breezes that flow through the house.
Sunlight, passive solar heating and shading
Another energy-efficiency strategy involves incorporating passive solar energy, taking advantage of the building’s site, climate, and high-efficiency materials to minimize energy use. High-performance net zero homes and passive houses have small heating loads, so it’s important to avoid large south-facing windows, and design the building so any south-facing glass can be properly shaded, to prevent overheating during the cooling season.
Designed right, your home can take advantage of the sun’s warming rays during the warming months, to reduce energy costs, while shading those rays to keep solar loads low during the cooling months. The windows will typically face within 30 degrees of true south. The windows will not be shaded during the winter heating season by overhangs, other buildings or trees between 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. Great floor plans take full advantage of the natural lighting in rooms and spaces, reducing the hours electronic lighting is required.
During the spring, fall, and cooling seasons, the windows should be shaded to avoid overheating. Correctly sized roof overhangs can provide shade to vertical south windows during cooling months. Other shading solutions include electronic sensing devices that manage fans and vents, low-emissivity blinds, insulating shutters and awnings. Glazing with a low solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) uses toned glass or tinted films to reduce the amount of solar heat transmitted through them.
Another consideration is the finishes. Direct sunlight on brick walls or dark asphalt shingles can turn a home into an oven. Heat resistance is affected by both colour and materials.
Thermal Mass is a quality in your chosen building materials that allows them to absorb, store, and later release significant amounts of heat. This quality is important in designing a passive house or net zero project in controlling the heat from solar gain, as it moderates temperature fluctuations.
Thermal mass materials like concrete, brick, stone, and tile can be incorporated into the building design to absorb heat from sunlight, which is allowed to pass through the windows, during the winter heating season. That heat will continue to be released back into the home during the cold night. Objects mustn’t block sunlight on the thermal mass materials. During the spring-through-fall cooling season, thermal mass can absorb heat from warm air in the home.
The BC Energy Step Code sets performance requirements for new construction and groups them into “steps,” to put British Columbia on the path to meet the province’s target that all new buildings be “net-zero energy ready” by 2032.
If you’re designing a new home or a remodel, it’s a good time to rough in the wiring for a solar energy system. Or you may be ready to go net zero new, allowing any surplus energy your home generates to flow to the grid. You’ll receive a credit from the power company, which you can use in colder months when energy demands are higher. By decreasing your household energy needs from the grid, you will be in control of your energy consumption and be free from escalating electricity costs.
A great home design and floor plan meet your needs functionally, but they also make your home comfortable for you. The design of your home tells people who and what you are. A beautifully designed home can lift your image in your social circle, and on your block. And in 2022, a responsible design considers your carbon footprint, balancing sustainable energy with consumption, as the world moves towards net zero.
Reid Madiuk's been putting on a toolbelt since he was twelve years old, alongside his father, one of Whistler's first residential builders. As a third-generation Whistler and Squamish builder, Reid brings over 20 years of carpentry expertise to designing and constructing exceptional homes.