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These are a few of your favorite things

by Steve McKee on January 23, 2008

While planning a new house or remodel with a client I will sometimes hear them rave about some unusual feature that they’ve lived with and have decided they simply can’t live without in their new house and meanwhile the rest of us have barely even heard of it. I find out about these features mostly from you, my clients, and enjoy hearing about them from people with direct experience.

So, without further ado, and so we all might learn from your collective wisdom, here are a few of your favorite things:

Dual dishwashers
Having two dishwashers isn’t just a Jewish-kosher thing anymore. It allows you to have a life in which you don’t have to empty the dishwasher nearly as often. How is this possible!? One dishwasher will be collecting dirties while the other one has already been run and has the clean dishes. Thus you can set the table from one and clear the table into the other. Then, when the dirty one fills up you run it and it then becomes the “clean” one. Before you start to use the other one as the “dirty” one, you remove any remaining clean dishes from it and place these in drawers or cupboards (hence a slight amount of emptying dishwashers will remain in your life.) And so on.

Having two dishwashers isn’t as decadent as it may sound. For sure it’s not an energy waster because you run them just one at a time, at the same frequency that you would if you had one dishwasher. The machines are simply taking turns running alternate loads of dishes. It takes a fairly large kitchen to pull this one off without cutting into needed cabinet space. If you don’t have room for two dishwashers, there are some dishwashers (European manufacturers mostly) made with a top and bottom drawer that allow you to run the top and bottom at different times and achieve the same effect of having two dishwashers while taking the space of only one dishwasher.

Whole house fans
The whole-house fan is a powerful fan hidden in the attic that is seen from below only in the form of a square opening on a ceiling with collapsed louvers that open when the fan is turned on. These fans are a “green” choice, because they eliminate the need to run an energy hogging air conditioner. The fan blows upwards into the attic and is so strong that it flushes air out of the entire house. This works especially well at the end of hot summer days when the outside air cools but your house is still warm on the inside and you want to somehow magically fill every room with that delicious cool outside air. With the whole-house fan you can. You simply open windows and fire up Betsy. The older ones are known to be loud, but there are new quieter models that place the fan further away in the attic and pull air up through ducts in the ceilings. Warm air is pushed up into the attic where it then exhausts out of the attic vent openings (make sure your openings are large enough), and wonderful cool air is drawn in from the outside through the open windows into your rooms (and into your attic as well, to get a head start on the next day of heat.) This is great way to save energy with the only downside being the two foot by two foot square hatch-looking thing on your ceiling. A worthwhile trade wouldn’t you say?

Extra deep kitchen countertops
I’ve had two different clients tell me how happy they are with their decision to make their kitchen countertops an extra 6” deep. Instead of 24” they have 30” of depth. All areas of the counter are still easily reached, but now there is extra room for incidentals in the back (coffee maker, vase of utensils, salt shakers, the usual kitchen paraphernalia) while still maintaining good usable counter space in front. This can be achieved without needing special extra deep (and extra expensive) cabinets because the standard 24” deep cabinets can simply be installed 6” out from the wall (or a 2×6 frame added in between cabinet and wall.) This one works only if your overall space allows for this without stealing space from walking areas.

Central vacuums
There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about this one. We’ve all heard of them. I mention it because of the fervor that the aficionados display when professing their happiness with these central vacuum systems. You probably already know the drill: a powerful vacuum is hidden away in a garage (or similar utility space) and is connected to a network of pipes hidden in the walls of the house so that each room can have an “outlet.” A lightweight hose with a power brush is carried from room to room and plugged in thus activating the suction of the vacuum. The vacuum hose is lighter and easier to use than the heavy and clunky vacuum cleaners we all have come to know, and also has stronger suction but yet is quieter because the motor is off in your garage.

A favorite feature that everybody goes gaga over is the “automatic dustpan” which is a slot located at floor level in rooms that you sweep with a broom such as hardwood or tile. You open it with your toe. The act of opening the little hatch turns on the suction and allows you to sweep dust and debris into it. Your central vac system literally sucks it up. And, just like that, the dust is gone, no balancing act with a handheld dustpan required. You don’t even need to bend over.

None of the above ideas are very expensive, yet they each add to the livability of our homes in ways that will make some of you really very pleased. That’s what I hear, anyway.


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