A Year and a Half After Moving In

It’s now been about a year and a half after moving in, and since many people have asked me to do a follow-up post on how things are going, I thought I would do that.

Overall

Overall, we couldn’t be happier with the house. It’s been even lower maintenance than we had hoped, and there really aren’t any significant aspects of it we’d change. When building a house, you are always extremely worried that anything which isn’t perfect is going to end up bugging you for years. Counterintuitively, I would say that the opposite has been true for us. We tried to get as many things perfect as possible during the build process, but there are always little things like imperfect drywall angles, imperfect cabinet tones, and imperfect rainscreen panel alignment that get left imperfect. I would say that since the moment we moved in, we’ve noticed that stuff less and less.

Lesson: Try to get everything as right as you can, but realize that nothing is ever going to be perfect and that the enjoyment of living in your house will make you forget anything that isn’t.

The architect/builder relationship

You can really tell a lot about a company by how well they treat you after they’re “done”. Although we haven’t had anything major go wrong with the house (not even a single drywall crack!), the team at Build LLC has been superb about following up with us and taking care of miscellaneous things that needed taking care of; things like fixing or replacing some door hardware, regrouting some cracked grout, and facilitating the replacement of a (gigantic!) defective pane of glass. Not only has everything been done quickly and efficiently, but almost as importantly, it’s been done happily. Team Build stands behind their work, and as has been the case from the beginning, they aren’t happy unless you are happy.

Lesson: Make sure the company who builds your house cares about you; not just finishing the job.

Wiring

I am so glad we ran as much ethernet wiring as we did, and in fact, I wish we would have run even more. Once most of the wiring was in, a friend of mine who was helping me asked if I wanted to run some outside too, particularly on the roof. I said I couldn’t imagine why I would need that so we didn’t run it. Lo and behold, we had to steal a couple of existing lines in order to operate some devices we hadn’t anticipated, so it would have been nice to just have several nascent extra lines sitting in walls around the house.

Lesson: Overwire. Then, when you’re done, overwire again. Running wire is dirt cheap and it’s a pain to do after the drywall is in. Put it everywhere.

Home automation

Overall, we’re extremely happy with the home automation/security system we put in; it’s a source of daily convenience and peace of mind. Controlling everything (lights, arming/disarming, blinds, etc.) via iPhone is so convenient that we probably wouldn’t even install a touchscreen wall panel if we did it again. The standard keypads in the walls are fine, but with how great iPhone integration is getting, the phone has really become the primary way we interact with our home technology. Also, if you’re building a new house, a security system is valuable beyond its obvious use; it also gives piece of mind when you hear the inevitable settling noises at night.

Lesson: You don’t have to spend too much on a security and home automation system, but get one that gives you the utility you need. You will use it every day.

Heating and cooling

We went with an electric heat pump for the house’s main heating and cooling, and then put electric radiant pads only in the master bathroom and one other concrete slab. This strategy has worked out superbly. I don’t wish I had “real” whole-house radiant heat at all, and in fact, I think that in most cases, it’s overrated. Forced air is able to heat and cool the house a lot more quickly, and it’s well-suited for solar retrofitting when that becomes affordable.

Lesson: Don’t write off radiant heat, but don’t think it’s going to make you automatically more comfortable either. An electric heat pump will give you both heating and cooling in one shot. That said, an inexpensive radiant pad in your bathroom will keep your feet toasty in the morning.

The best feature

The most enjoyable feature of the house is the rooftop deck/hot tub.

Lesson: Strongly consider a rooftop deck/hot tub.

Bathroom hardware

As far as bathrooms are concerned, the most important thing for us has been our beloved Kohler Flipside showerhead. It’s quite simply the best showerhead in the world and I don’t understand why everyone in the world with $70 to spend hasn’t purchased one yet. Take the little yellow plastic flow regulator out and it will change your life. The most overrated bathroom item so far has been body sprays in the shower. We rarely ever use them and wouldn’t put them in again.

Lesson: Go out and buy a Kohler Flipside today. Seriously, just do it. I love this showerhead so much that I keep an extra one in my garage just in case.

Induction

With regard to our kitchen, we’re very happy we went with an induction cooktop instead of gas and recommend it whole-heartedly. Additionally, the GE Monogram Advantium Speed Oven has given us a second oven and a microwave, all wrapped up in an attractive package. Microwaves are almost always ugly, so it’s nice to have one embedded inside a legitimate oven.

Lesson: Induction is the future.

Low maintenance landscaping

Although we’re not completely done with landscape design efforts, we’re generally happy with the amount of maintenance our plants and lawn require. We opted for only a small lawn in front, along with a lot of native plants, and some thyme ground cover in the backyard. In the summer, I spend maybe 10 minutes a week mowing the lawn with a manual push mower, and then there’s a little weeding and watering required beyond that.

Lesson: Your house is only as low-maintenance as the most high-maintenance item in it. Don’t kill its low-maintenanceness with a landscaping strategy that requires hours upon hours of your attention… unless that’s your thing, of course.

Conclusion

The house so far has more than lived up to our expectations. It was extremely enjoyable to build and even more enjoyable to live in. If you’re considering building your own place, I encourage you to read A House By The Park start-to-finish. If my experience can help you save a few dollars or make a few better decisions in your own project, it will have made all the writing worth it.

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  1. Seattle Bubble • 18-Months Later, Reflections on “A House By The Park”

24 Responses to “A Year and a Half After Moving In”

  1. Jack Says:

    “Take the little yellow plastic flow regulator out and it will change your life.” I bought a Kohler Flipside on your advice but I didn’t realize it had a flow regulator built-in. I’m guessing I can just unscrew it and yank it out of there?

  2. Mike D. Says:

    Yep: Just unscrew the hose from the showerhead and you’ll see the little yellow plastic thing in there. You might need a little tweezers to pull it out but it should come out pretty easily.

  3. John VanderAar Says:

    Congratulations on a truly remarkable project ! I am happy you are enjoying your new home.

    I took the opportunity to read your essay on the project from start-to-finish and believe me, I learned a lot which will come in handy in the future. Thank you very much for taking the time and effort with your most readable and entertaining ‘reporting’ (esp @ the used-house peddler commission $ battles in The Beginning – sigh) and the most informative site covering your build.

    What will you do for an Encore? (just kidding).

    Cheers for a Great 2012 ! and thanks again !

    ps; you’re RIGHT, the flipside IS a life-changer! :-)

  4. CobyLyn Says:

    So happy for you! Do you have any future projects? I hope so, I truly enjoyed your reportage. Thank you for taking your valuable time to share!

  5. Damon Says:

    Thank you so much for this blog! I was in the middle of a neurotic bathroom renovation and you blog led me to two amazing decisions:

    1) Kohler Flipside: Yes i will encourage the fandom. How can a $70 piece exceed expectations so much? I think i may start giving them as gifts.

    2) Separate controls for volume and temperature in shower.

    Also – got to agree on the radiant heat. I live in cold Pittsburgh, PA and i had a giant steam radiator in my 1920′s spanish mission house’s bathroom. I put in a panasonic whisper warm heater/fan and a radiant heat floor in the bathroom. For me – walking onto the warm floor is very important in my subjective feeling of warmth. And then if we need more heat i put on the whisper warm.

    Great house and thanks for documenting it!!!

  6. Pascale Says:

    I just stumbled on your wonderfully designed blog three days ago – thank you so much for sharing your experiences in such great detail! A little over a year ago we purchased a property up on Whidbey and researching home building has become a second career for me. It’s fabulous to find a resource specific to building a home and the rough costs involved in the Puget Sound area. We are still a few years from building, but I’m so glad we have the time to carefully research and ponder our options.

    A question for you regarding your HVAC – how quiet/noisy is your heat pump? I’m leaning heavily towards radiant floor heating (we don’t need A/C – our property is typically 10 degrees cooler than the mainland) partially because over the years I’ve come to dislike the noise of our gas furnace and the sound of air rushing through the ducts. We have electric radiant floor heat in our master bedroom (did it ourselves during a remodel a few years ago) and we (and our cat) just love it. Only wish we had thought of running it in the shower stall as well!

  7. Mike D. Says:

    Cobylyn: Nope, no future projects on the horizon.

    Pascale: That’s a fair point about heat pumps. I wouldn’t say the noise bothers us at all, but yes, you can hear when it turns on and off. Radiant, of course, does not make a sound. If you absolutely don’t need cooling, I would say radiant is a fine choice. Also, this may not be an issue for you but we needed a system that could respond rapidly to changes in solar gain outside. Because we have a huge SW facing wall of glass, the solar radiation that comes through there dramatically affects the heating and cooling needs of the house. So if you don’t have that issue, it’s one more item in radiant’s favor.

  8. Pascale Says:

    Thanks, Mike. Our property is somewhat similar to yours – our home will be built on the crest of a very steep hill, approximately 350 feet above a sweeping view of Saratoga Passage, Camano Island and Mt. Baker. (Like you, nothing will ever block our view, and we enjoy regular visits from eagles and hawks – I could completely understand your despair at the loss of your eagle’s perch!) Since the majority of our windows will be facing our view to the northeast we’re less likely to face the same heating/cooling challenges you had to address.

    I just happened to stumble on your blog while in the midst of researching heat pumps and radiant heat – so many options and a wide range of costs. It’s very helpful to hear some real life experiences….

  9. Thanks for the update and I’ve learned a lot from everything you’ve posted here. As you’re celebrating 1½ years of peace and quiet, Amy and I are about to start construction on a 3-story addition for our new project house. Oh, and we have a baby due in March. Well, at least this place doesn’t have popcorn ceilings. We haven’t posted much yet, but we’ll be recording our journey at contemporation.com.

  10. Pete Says:

    Hey Mike: Congratulations on the project. Just wondering about your rooftop deck and the type of flat roof material type you went with given that you have a deck over living space: EPDM, spray on rubber coating, other?

  11. Mike D. Says:

    Pete: We used standing seam metal for the roof and Trex Brasilia for the roof deck. Underneath each is some sort of white single-ply material.

  12. calichef Says:

    Mike: Thank you so much for posting this update on the house. As you may remember I watched your home build with eager anticipation for each new step. But then, I’m the sort of person who never misses an episode of This Old House. Odd, especially for a woman, I suppose. Heck, I would have Mike Holmes babies, if I could still have babies! Be that as it may, I’m really glad to hear that you still love your house after having lived in it for a year and a half.

    I have a project coming up myself, actually. I have to build a new tub/shower surround. My son (and his girlfriend I suspect) fell into (through) the tile and rendered our shower unusable. Bath tubs are fine for a nice, relaxing soak, but not so good for just getting clean every day. I will probably do the cement board myself, and I could do the tiling, I think, but I don’t have the right saw. I am pretty sure I could rent one for a weekend and get it done, but I have a cousin who is a tiler, by trade, so it would be easier and almost as inexpensive to just hire him. But I will put in a Flipside showerhead based on your recommendation, and those of just about everyone who has used one. (I’ll be sure to remove the little yellow flow inhibitor.) I’m sure I’ll love it, too!

    P.S. To Damon (up above) I’ll be happy to be the first person to whom you give one of those Flipsides! Just contact Mike, he has my email address! If you need an excuse, I have a really big birthday coming up in August, the dreaded 50th! A wonderful showerhead is just what I need!

  13. Gianni Says:

    Hi Mike,

    I just ran into your blog tonight, and I am so excited to start reading it. After closing escrow on a lot this January, we are close to finalizing the floor plan with our architecture. Breaking ground maybe ~6 months down the line, and it may be a long road ahead, but we are looking forward to it. And having blogs like yours available really helps. Thanks!

  14. James M. Says:

    Thank you for the joy you are having at your dream house. My family had the spot as our dream house and we were all very glad to see the same spark in your eyes. May you have many wonderful years there.

  15. Mark T Says:

    Thanks for this blog, it’s a great resource even for folks who aren’t tackling projects quite this comprehensive!

    I noticed all links to the photo gallery end with a “MobileMe is Closed” sign; any chance of getting the photos moved somewhere else?

    Thanks!

  16. MIke D. Says:

    Hi Mark. Yeah, I know. Can’t believe Apple discontinued everyone’s online galleries like that. I still have copies of all of the photos, organized into albums, so I just need to post them to Dropbox instead. Will try to do it this week.

  17. Pam Says:

    Thank you for the site-it is fun to browse. I am wondering…..how is the Trex decking holding. I am considering the same decking. Enjoy your beautiful lives.
    Pam

  18. Mike D. Says:

    Hi Pam. The Trex is great so far! No issues whatsoever. Very happy with it.

  19. Mike D. Says:

    Mark: Alright, I moved all of the photos to Dropbox, so you can now view all of them using the link on the left sidebar or directly at the URL photos.ahousebythepark.com.

  20. Ricardo Says:

    Sick house you got there.

  21. Mick Says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful journey. I’ve been reading all the books and online content I could find re: home construction, but your journal has one of the best narratives that shows the progression from start to finish.

    Maybe in a decade I’ll be able to contribute in the same way ;)

  22. Lucy Says:

    straight line design and large floor to ceiling windows, you know how to pull on my heart strings Mike ;)… glad everything has come along so nicely and i wish you all many years of happiness in this wonderful house

  23. April Says:

    Beautiful house. I checked your personal blog and it looks like you are living in San Francisco now. Did you sell?

  24. Mike D. Says:

    April: Nope, we’ll be back up there at some point.