Choosing where to put your washer and dryer

No matter what kind of home you're planning to build, you will inevitably have to allocate some floor space to the washer and dryer. Whether working off of luxury or small house plans, consider the following pros and cons before deciding between a downstairs or upstairs location. 

The common choice
Downstairs utility rooms, such as the one outlined in HHF-3601's floor plans, are often the preferred choice to house washers and dryers, and for good reason. These appliances can often be loud, and having them stored downstairs can be a great way of keeping noise to a minimum at times when people are still in bed. If, for example, you prefer to do laundry in the morning, children can still sleep soundly. People who prefer to do laundry later at night need not worry about keeping people up.

Keeping your washers and dryers downstairs can also be an efficient use of space. The utility room in which they're stored can double as a mudroom. As mapped in plan HHF-4093, the garage leads straight into the utility room, and even offers side nooks that can be used for storing boots or hanging coats.

Going upstairs
Downstairs utility rooms may keep washers and dryers out of sight and better used, but upstairs washers and dryers offer their own advantages. First and foremost, it means homeowners won't have to trek up and down stairs and across their home to do the laundry. Traveling back and forth can get especially exhausting if you're already doing chores in the bedrooms. With an upstairs utility closet, the laundry process – from washing to folding – is streamlined. The layout drawn in house plan HHF-2514 demonstrates a well-situated upstairs utility room.

By locating your washer and dryer upstairs, you would also be cutting down on noise pollution downstairs. While it may mean you can't do laundry very early in the day, it also means that people can relax in the living room or entertain in the dining room with little distraction. Furthermore, you won't have to worry about guests stumbling into the utility room to find it in a state of chaos.

The only major downside to an upstairs utility room is if your appliances break or flood. Leaking water can wreak havoc on your upstairs floors, and removing the washer can be a huge hassle if you have to replace it. In this regard, at least, a downstairs washer can be better because the potential damage is relatively contained to a lower floor. 

Housing market expected to continue improving in 2014

Homeowners may be perusing more floor plans in 2014, as the housing market in the new year looks to be a slowing but steady continuation of last year's recovery, according to USA Today. Home construction may be a key component in that process.

A slow improvement
According to MSN Real Estate, home prices are expected to rise in 2014 as the market continues its recovery. Clear Capital, which provides real estate data, found that 225 of 276 U.S. cities saw an increase in home prices. Nationwide, that came to about a 10.9 percent bump in housing costs, at a median increase of about $30,000, MSN reported.

While an increase in price may seem like a bad thing, it means homeowners with previously worthless mortgages may no longer be underwater, and can start selling old homes and buying or building new ones. In 2013, the housing recovery also pushed buyers into taking advantage of low prices and mortgage rates, resulting in limited housing selection and bidding wars. The upcoming year's slowed but steady growth could signal more stability and a less frantic market. 

"You want boring in the housing market," Svenja Gudell, Zillow director of economic research, told USA Today.

What to expect
In addition to price increases, homeowners can also expect higher mortgage rates and more home sales, albeit at a slower pace, according to USA Today. That means that as the market moves more toward sellers' advantage, there is a shrinking window to take advantage of the current prices. Homeowners who do not want to buy may consider housing construction, another part of the industry that's expected to continue recovering. Goldman Sachs Asset Management told USA Today that, while construction won't return to normal levels, it will still be strong enough to be  a main component to the housing recovery.

"The construction revival is primarily a matter of when, not if," Tom Teles, GSAM head of securitized and government investments, told the news source.

Tips for buyers
More homes being built means more jobs for construction workers and manufacturers. It also means a more stable time to build a home. Homeowners who are unsure where to start looking into construction may also want to consider the benefits of a newly constructed home compared to buying. According to U.S. News & World Report, newly constructed homes often require fewer repairs than existing homes, as well as less maintenance. Customization also means homeowners know what they are getting. Finally, mortgage-financing perks could be accessible through builders, according to the news source.

How brick can regulate your home’s temperatures

Craftsman house plans can be outfitted with a wide range of siding options. However, if you are looking for ways to better regulate the temperature of your home, you may want to choose brick, as offered by HHF-4696.

Defining regulation
Some materials retain heat better than others. Wood is not very good at absorbing heat. Concrete is on the other end of the spectrum, able to absorb a lot of heat and release it slowly over time. Brick, while more expensive than wood, is closer to concrete in heat absorption. This ability is not the same as insulation, in that it doesn't help a building regulate a temperature independently from the outdoors. Rather, the ability of siding to absorb heat and release it can help moderate fluctuations in daily temperature.

So, a house with brick siding and a layer of insulation could have less of a fluctuation of interior temperature than a house with wood siding. This trait is especially effective in temperate climates where temperatures may drop off significantly in the evening and peak at midday. A brick wall with no insulation on the interior, however, would not be an effective insulator.

Passive heating
In addition to moderating temperatures, interior brick walls can be used to help passively heat a home. If you have an interior wall that gets direct sunlight, you can clad it with brick. It will absorb sunlight as long as it gets light exposure and then release that thermal energy back into the house. The best part about an interior brick wall is that it will release the heat slowly, meaning that you can still get passive heating  from the wall well into the night, depending on how much energy was stored during the day.

Outdoor living rooms are on the rise

As the housing market makes it slow return to normalcy, homeowners are becoming more interested in specialty rooms, according to the American Institute of Architects. While in-law suites, mudrooms and home offices have all drawn homeowners' attention, the most popular specialty room this year has been the outdoor living area.

Turning tides
During the economic crisis, specialty rooms fell by the wayside as the size of homes shrank. Instead of having special function rooms, spaces were combined to maximize efficiency. At its worst, economic and housing activity was at 78 percent of its normal state, according to the National Association of Home Builders. However, economic and housing activity has since reached 86 percent normalcy. With that increase has come a growing interest in most specialty rooms, save for the home office, which saw no change from last year, according to The American Institute of Architects' Design Trends Survey. The survey asks residential architects what trends are increasing or decreasing in popularity. Mudrooms and home offices tied as the second most popular special function room, the survey found, with both trailing behind outdoor living areas.

Getting creative
​Home sizes have increased during the recovery along with the growing interest in special function rooms. Interestingly, however, lot sizes only continue to get smaller, according to the AIA. Approximately 25 percent of respondents cited a decrease in interest by consumers in lot size. Instead, homeowners are continuing to get creative with limited space, opting for multi-function rooms and choosing to blend indoor and outdoor spaces. Outdoor living areas are a common amenity for craftsman house plans. Such spaces include decks, patios, porches and verandas as well as outdoor rooms and lanais. Many of these rooms feature more sophisticated approaches to the outdoor living space.

A model home
HHF-1895 is a great example of a more complex outdoor space that easily interacts with other rooms. The floor plans feature a lanai as well as a BBQ porch, complete with fireplace for cooking food. These spaces are best used in the summer, however, they can easily be converted for use all year long. If the space is screened in, homeowners can install glass panels that help retain heat during the winter, along with a heater to keep the space warm. If there is already glass in the outdoor area, thermal blinds can further help to keep heat indoors. With that house plan in particular, the doors to the family room and nook may be opened to create a blended indoor-outdoor space.

Deciding to build a house in winter

Your dream house blueprints are already drawn up, and you are desperate to break ground and start building. While it may seem hard to believe, it is possible to build a house in winter, and sometimes it may even be cost effective. However, there are plenty of caveats to this project.  If you really want to get started in making your floor plans a reality, consider these aspects of home building in winter.

How it's possible
As The Washington Post wrote last year, a home can be built in practically any kind of weather. One of homeowners' greatest concerns is that snow and rain will somehow rot out the wood as it is being framed, due to the fact that everything is open to the elements. While some wood may swell if it is not properly protected, it all will dry out over the course of the building process. Remember that there are rainy days in the summer and homes are still built then. Concrete may be harder to pour and the ground may be frozen solid, but the use of ground heaters can likely fix that problem.

Saving money
How Stuff Works has made the claim that building in the winter could even save money. The thinking goes that contractors can get lower prices from subcontractors, and may even offer their own discounts when business is slow. If you live in a warmer climate, where snowfall is irregular and the weather is relatively temperate, then some of the hassles associated with winter construction – such as having to clear snow or hold off building because of a storm – can be avoided.

While there is some truth to the possibility of saving money, you shouldn't rely on that as a guarantee. Cold weather means slower workers, more dangerous working conditions, potential difficulties transporting materials to the building site and the obstacle of breaking frozen ground. Those heaters that make it possible to break frozen ground aren't cheap. Also, even the most experienced builders can have difficulty working in cold and possibly slippery conditions. If they aim to do their job right, it will probably take longer and end up costing more.

If a house is going to be built in the winter, then it's still best to break ground and lay the foundation in the fall. Best of all is to get the house under roof before winter storms, so that builders can work inside over the season. Otherwise, wait until later on in the winter, when storms are less frequent and the days get longer.

How to take advantage of skylights

Skylights have a wide range of appeal. They provide natural light for poorly lit rooms, they can help heat a home and they also provide an opportunity for a singular decorative element in a home. Plenty of craftsman house plans make use of skylights. With the right planning you can find the perfect skylight design for any room in your house.

The advantages, in-depth
Skylights are mainly used to introduce natural sunlight into a home. This is especially useful for rooms that don't get enough light from windows, either because there aren't enough or they face a direction that doesn't get a lot of light. Skylights are especially useful because they don't even need direct sunlight in order to brighten a room. Diffused light from the sky will keep a room softly lit all day, according to HGTV.

Depending on the direction of the window, the skylight can also accept solar gain, thereby warming a space. If the skylight is operable – meaning that you can open and close it – it can also help cool a space. Because heat rises, the skylight will provide the most direct route for heat to escape.

The shape, size and setting of the window also make for interesting decoration. They can be flush with the roof, inset, square, round, frosted or even gridded like colonial windows. These designs can be used to echo other decorative features in the room and the house overall.

The importance of planning
The many potential uses for a skylight mean that careful planning is required in order to make sure they function properly according to your needs. An improperly placed skylight could overheat a room, or let in too much light when it's not wanted. If the skylight is too small, it may not let in enough light or even stand out as the decorative element you intended it to be.

The biggest concern when placing a skylight is its location in relation to the sun's path. Southern-facing skylights on a slanted roof will accept more sun than any other skylight. During the summer, the sun will only get higher and make a room hotter. This placement can be beneficial in colder climates, but in warmer weather it can make a room unlivable, especially if the skylight is large. Eastern-facing skylights will let in the morning sun, which is fine unless sunrise is earlier than you care to wake up. Western-facing skylights will accept light from sunset. Northern skylights provide diffuse light, but will not receive much solar gain.

The slant of the roof, the size of the window and the seasons further define the effects of the skylight. In the northern hemisphere, slanted roofs on the southern side of the house will accept more light than on a flat roof. The northern side will get more light from a flat roof than a slanted one, especially in the summertime.

Some general considerations
You should consult with your architect or contractor in order to determine the best locations for skylights. Often one or the other will have a chart that maps the angle of the sun throughout the year. They can help you determine whether a skylight is necessary or advisable, based on the kind of room and its location in the house. For example, the placement of the skylight in HHF-2599 is workable because the foyer would otherwise not receive much natural light. It could also face south without much problem because the skylight is a reasonable size and, because the foyer is a transitional space, the heat from the direct sunlight won't bother anyone.

It is also possible to control the effects of the skylight daily and seasonally. Foliage from strategically placed trees can mitigate overheating in the summertime, while allowing light in during winter. Frosted windows and special blinds can also help diffuse light.

Tips for orienting your living room fireplace

Fireplaces are often the heart as well as the hearth of a home. Plenty of craftsman house plans offer living room fireplaces, but it is up to the homeowners to decide how to incorporate them into the overall layout of the space. 

Orientation of the room is key to incorporating a fireplace. Some of your major considerations should be the purpose of the room, where you will put the fireplace and how you will place the furnishings around it. There are a number of factors that determine the final design, but here are just a few ideas to get you started.

Locating the fireplace
You have two basic options when choosing the location of the fireplace. You can either center it on a wall or you can place it a corner, as is done in HHF-4812. Generally, a centered fireplace lends itself to a more symmetrical room layout where the fireplace is a  focal point of the space. A corner fireplace is better suited for an off-kilter design. However, these are just guidelines, and you can design a room however you see fit. The purpose and size of the space will help determine whether a corner or a centered fireplace is best. 

Front and center
If the fireplace is to be the main focal point of the room, then all of your major designs in the space should emphasize that fact. First, the furniture in the room – ideally couches and chairs – should be oriented around the hearth. No tall furniture should block people's views of the fireplace. You may also want to make the design of the fireplace itself special. A larger, bumped-out hearth will make for a distinguished design element, preferably of brick or stone. You can also extend the height of the chimney all the way to the ceiling for more dramatic effect. While mantels can be a nice decorative element, you can make the fireplace more imposing without one. 

Televisions will compete with the fireplace for people's attentions. For rooms where the fireplace is to be central, it is best either to leave the television for a different room or else incorporate it into the space so that it doesn't distract from the fireplace. This kind of design is best for living rooms generally used for activities like reading, games or casual meals that don't make extensive use of a television. 

A nice accompaniment
If you prefer a television room where the fireplace is a side feature, you will have to be smart about the design layout. The television and the fireplace will pull people's attention in two different directions, which can be awkward and even off-putting. When incorporating a fireplace into a television room you can scale down the visual impact of the hearth by insetting it so that it is flush with the wall. You can also move it off-center or onto a different wall as the television. The corner fireplace already does this to some degree, as it literally relegates the hearth to the side. However, if the fireplace is more visually stunning than the television, it could make the furniture that's oriented toward the television feel poorly aligned. Either a larger television or a smaller fireplace could compensate for that problem.

A common practice is to place the television over the fireplace. While this seems to be an efficient solution, heat and smoke may cause damage to the television. Furthermore, if the fireplace is well-designed, then a television may feel like an eyesore over it. Consider the scale of both furnishings before choosing this option. If you have a great room, you may be able to place the television and fireplace on opposite ends of the room. Floor plans will help determine what is possible, as that setup would not work in a narrow room.

Choosing the right site can save you money

Many factors determine the cost of a building site, from the size of the plot to the value of other homes around it. One of the hidden expenses of construction, however, is changes to the land to accommodate your dream home. You can save substantial money by taking into consideration the contours of the building site and either construct a home that adapts to it or find a plot that better suits your ideal floor plan.

If you are building on a plot where a previous structure once stood, then chances are much of the necessary landscaping for laying a foundation has already been done. New ground, on the other hand, can pose numerous obstacles before home construction even begins. Clearing trees can be time consuming and will probably require sub-contractors. In-filling and grading are even more time consuming and potentially costly.

Should you have your heart set on one floor plan and have your choice of plots on which to build, it may be worth your time to consider the cost of landscaping at those different sites and choose the one that requires the least change. However, often the perfect neighborhood and open plot is harder to come by. You can work with a contractor to modify your house plans to fit a site, or choose a different floor plan altogether. Fortunately, there are plenty of craftsman house plans with various layouts from which to choose.

Homeowners should also work closely with their contractor to determine exactly what needs to be done in order to make a site build-ready. Should you need to in-fill, it's possible for your contractor to get free dirt from other building sites that required grading and need a place to dump the excess. Your best plan is to pick a site before you choose your dream home, so you can tailor the house to match.

Tips for designing a winter verandah

For verandah lovers, winter usually means three months locked out of the favorite room of the house. However, these spaces can easily be redesigned for cold-weather use with proper insulation, heating and decoration.

Craftsman house plans, such as HHF-1895, can offer expansive lanais that cover hundreds of square feet. If done properly, a winter-converted verandah can put that space to good use, acting as a dining area or even a secondary living room. Convert three-season porches into a year-round room with these tips. 

Screen it in
The right screening can easily turn covered porches and verandahs into indoor spaces. Many companies make vinyl screens that can be hung in panels over the mosquito netting of screened-in porches. This vinyl can even be clear plastic, which allows sunlight in to brighten up the room during the day. Black vinyl can also be used to absorb heat, which then radiates through the room on cold nights. 

A porch with glass windows already has some of the necessary structure to combat heat loss. However, glass is a poor insulator, and these rooms can still get cold at night. Thermal shades and blinds help retain heat at night, while allowing light and warmth in during the day. They are also more visually pleasing than vinyl screen, and allow for a wide variety of style options. 

Cold does not only come in through the walls. Homeowners should put down rugs to help retain heat. They help keep heat from escaping between cracks in the floorboard,  and they also provide a more comfortable surface for bare feet than hard wood. 

Warm it up
Once a porch is adequately insulated, homeowners can make it warm with electric or gas patio heaters. They come in a number of designs to be hung, placed on a table or propped in a corner. Homeowners should be aware of the safety concerns of these devices, however, as they can spark fires if not properly handled. A special, permanent place should be designated for powered heaters. 

Fireplaces are another means for heating a porch, as seen in HHF-1895, which has a BBQ porch connected to a spacious lanai. As with powered heaters, precaution should be given for proper ventilation, especially in the instance of backdrafts, which sends smoke back into the room. 

Homeowners can save money on heating a porch with smart passive heating provided by thermal blinds. The better the insulation, the less need for powered heating. None of the mentioned heaters should be used until a porch is screened in. Otherwise, heat will easily escape, wasting energy and money. 

Decorate appropriately
Just because the days are a little shorter doesn't mean that a porch has to be any less bright. The right decorations can make a verandah as cozy as the rest of the house. Overstuffed couches, bright pillows and rugs can all lend some cheer to a winter verandah. 

Lighting is also key to the right porch ambience. Overhead lighting can feel harsh. Instead, homeowners can install lamps and fairy lights in order to create a cozy space. Built-in elements in the design of the porch, such as a fireplace, can help create the right vibe. 

Maximize space with an open kitchen layout

Open kitchen layouts are great options for families and can also save on money and space. There are no limits to your kitchen design – here are some of the advantages of an open floor plan and a few excellent examples to get your creative juices flowing.

An open kitchen gets its name because there are no walls to divide it from other rooms. Movement and visibility between two rooms are thus made easier. This kind of design allows anyone working in the kitchen to interact with people in the living room, dining room or any others space to which it connects. The open layout is an excellent option for families who like to host with a casual atmosphere, who have kids parents to keep an eye on, or who generally have a lot of movement between rooms.

An open kitchen layout can also maximize space by combining rooms. Commonly, living rooms, dining rooms and kitchens are combined to create what is called a great room. The maximal use of space means less cost on square footage and fewer rooms to heat and cool, potentially saving the homeowners money. The open layout is a popular feature in many modern house plans.

Defining the space
While there is no dividing wall in an open kitchen layout, barriers can still be used to define the space. Usually, this is an island counter, which creates a physical, but not a visual, barrier. It also provides added counter space without the kitchen feeling claustrophobic. That countertop can be used as a work area, informal dining table or buffet table.

Hosting parties
House plan HHF-5902 is an exemplary design layout for intimate yet friendly dinner parties. The kitchen's open wall looks onto the dining room. allowing the chef and diners to chat while meals are prepared. Furthermore, if the chef needs assistance serving, he or she need only turn and ask. Yet, the island counter that divides the rooms also helps distinguish between the spaces, so that diners feel that they are not sitting in the kitchen.

The island counter with stools also doubles as an informal table. Appetizers and drinks for that dinner party can also be served on the island. If the dinner is more of a tapas-influenced meal, where the chef will constantly be serving fresh dishes, the meal can even be hosted there. For other times of the day, families can sit at a row of stools a quick breakfast or lunch.

Also, just because the kitchen is combined with the dining room doesn't mean that any kitchen amenities are lost. The galley formation makes for a functional, efficient workspace.

Living and cooking
There are plenty of excellent open floor plans that go even wider and capitalize on the great room trend. The best-selling HHF-8292 home plan connects to the dining room and the living room, with all three interconnected. Anyone who has to do work at the kitchen table can still keep an eye on family in the living room or, if there is a game on, can keep watch as they cook. The kitchen even has a straight line of sight to the outdoor living space. Clear the dining room, and hosting an outdoor meal has never been easier.

The HHF-1897 boasts an even broader view of the family room, also making it one of the more conservative layouts in terms of space efficiency. It also has easy access to a number of other spaces, including the nook and the foyer. The dining room, while less directly accessible, is still a straight shot through the foyer. Unlike the other spaces, this island counter is a curved work table that allows anyone cooking to easily multitask.