Thursday, December 10, 2009

Houses Are Not Designed to be Lived In

Something I have just come to a realization of, is that the typical house in a typical development wasn't designed to be lived it, it was designed to be easy to build. I guess that is obvious to some people but its new to me.

It only takes a few weeks to build but it is lived in for several decades. That's backwards isn't it.

Not to say that you can design a perfect house. You can't, there are just too many individual family differences. A young family has different needs from a family with teens and different again if you're retired or have health problems or have a larger then average family.

I've known a few families with 11 kids and let me tell you, your average 3 bedroom+2 bath can't handle that. But those are special cases.

It seems like houses are like software, for a while it was all about the feature checklists. If you had some obscure feature you could highlight that a competitor didn't have you could get a writeup in the press, but now we have ended up with word processors so powerful that you only use maybe 5% of the features.

Houses are much the same, the builder will add features like granite countertops or marble bathrooms or big kitchens without thinking about how they work together with the people who'll live in the house.

I like going to Parade of Homes but most of the houses showcased are new very user friendly. dishwashers will be on the far side of the kitchen from the cabinets and the table. I was in one that was light and airy and as I was trying to figure out how they did that I noticed that there were hardly any doors, but the hinges were all in place. The place would be terribly dark with the doors on.

And usually they choose 32" doors to save a little money, now I don't begrudge them making a profit but if you end up hunt and need to use a wheelchair or walker you're stuck since they need 36" doors and it would cost $30,000 to rip everything out just to put in a few wider doors. So it is easier to move into a retirement facility.

We could have some great homes with a little thought put in at the design stage when changes are very cheap. We had a rule-of-thumb in engineering about cost to change, it was usually an order of magnitude at each stage. A change while still working on paper may cost $5, making a change after the blueprints have been drawn up may cost $50, during construction may cost $500, after construction was completed maybe $5000.

Actually this is looking like something I'll have to continue over time. More thoughts later.