Constructive Comments Jun 2022

Ceiling Height
We have 10′ high ceilings and 8′ tall doors and both seem unnecessary and impractical.

9′ high ceilings and 6’8″ doors would be perfect.

High ceilings add cost, reduce structural performance, add to heating and cooling costs, provide poorer acoustic performance, cause cabinet design problems (what to do when practical cabinet height limit is reached?), make access more difficult (lighting, cleaning). I can hardly reach to hang someting on a closet door.

Seems to me lately, the windows are often too large and too low. I’m guessing windows are less per square foot than walls but my objection isn’t about costs.


Low windows restrict furniture placement which in turn, tends to dictate traffic patterns. Window coverings require sufficient access for opening and closing drapes/blinds. Modern sash windows fold inward for cleaning — this must also be considered if, for example indoor shutters are used. Privacy and safety are dependent on good window placement. Low windows imply more insect problems as the insects are usually found closer to the ground.

I suggest the bottom of the windows should be high enough to allow a sofa along the windowed wall. Similar considerations should be given for bed (and headboard) placement in bedrooms.


Large window openings facing the south and even more so, the west, greatly affect the heating/cooling load on the house. Despite proper air conditioning sizing, rooms with windows facing the afternoon sun may be impossible to cool sufficiently. In extreme cases, the window will be closed and draped to block the sun thereby defeating the purpose of the window.

Egress Windows

Building code requirements may vary somewhat but certain rooms are required to have egress windows.

Here is an excerpt from the 2006 International Residential Code:

Basements and every sleeping room shall have at least one operable emergency escape and rescue opening. Such opening shall open directly into a public street, public alley, yard or court. Where basements contain one or more sleeping rooms, emergency egress and rescue openings shall be required in each sleeping room, but shall not be required in adjoining areas of the basement. Where emergency escape and rescue openings are provided they shall have a sill height of not more than 44 inches (1118 mm) above the floor.

R310.1.1 Minimum Opening Area.
All emergency escape and rescue openings shall have a minimum net clear opening of 5.7 square feet (0.530 m2). Exception: Grade floor openings shall have a minimum net clear opening of 5 square feet (0.465 m2).

R310.1.2 Minimum Opening Height.
The minimum net clear opening height shall be 24 inches (610 mm).

R310.1.3 Minimum Opening Width.
The minimum net clear opening width shall be 20 inches (508 mm).

R310.1.4 Operational Constraints.
Emergency escape and rescue openings shall be operational from the inside of the room without the use of keys, tools or special knowledge.”

Tray Ceilings
Put the money toward something useful. Would you want to repaint the tray ceilings?

Just say no; never.

For asphalt shingles, a modest slope say 5:12 to maybe 12:12 — no more.

Forget the pop-up sprinklers at 8′ to 10′; instead, install one half to one fourth as many impact sprinklers.

Less water loss due to wind; less maintenance; fewer valve stations.

Instead of all the gutter guards and their annoying ads — how about no gutters? Just let the rain fall to the ground? Okay, maybe a gutter segment along a porch or patio area but otherwise just have no gutters.

Exception: multistory buildings and buildings with basements may well benefit from gutters.

Maybe not for every house situation, but I suggest the gutter approach is over specified.

Climate, soil, grade, vegetation, and runoff must always be considered.

Consider the pros of having no gutter:

  • easier to roof and flash,
  • no rotting of fascia boards (and rafters),
  • fewer mosquitos breeding,
  • less insect infestation (in and behind the gutters and especially downspouts),
  • less path for insects and varmints from ground to roof level,
  • less dangerous cleaning and maintenance,
  • free watering for your lawn,
  • less runoff for the city drainage system.

Underground piping from downspouts may need regular inspection and maintenance to avoid foundation damage due to piping clogging, piping breakage or other failure. The underground lines from the gutters likely hold water and allow mosquito breeding.

A possible alternative approach

How to Install an Alternative to Gutters | Ask This Old House
Not an ad — just one alternative.

Lawn Trimming
Aggressive string trimming — trenching — should be avoided. Consider the loss of soil from the process of cutting and blowing away the soil. Especially down slopes, such as next to stair steps — do not trench the edge of the grass; this will cause erosion with each rain which may result in undermining the soil under the steps.

Along the concrete edges of sidewalk and driveway, I trim using a Fiskars outdoor garden scissors. I wear Husky fabric knee pads while I work. This results in minimal trenching and soil loss as I trim.  I hand sweep the debris with a broom and add it back to the yard (minus any weeds). I manage to get a little exercise and am able to inspect my lawn up close.


ADA Background

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 or ADA (42 U.S.C. § 12101) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. The ADA also requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, and imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations.


I say that (at least) the first floor of all residences should be built to meet the ADA requirements for public facilities — not as a law — but as good business for a neighborhood and for a town. Many of us have family that could benefit. Imagine looking for a home suited to a older person or one with accessibility issues and finding none available. Even if the residence is occupied by perfectly healthy people, friends and relatives visit. As for business pros and cons, an ADA home will cost a little more initially but will sell to a larger market. Renovating to make a home ADA compliant would be very costly.

Here is a link to suggested features for an ADA compliant home; thank you Turnberry Custom Homes

Yard Elevation and Grading

Positive Drainage

A mostly ‘level’ yard is preferred. The building floor elevation should be say 8″ minimum above all yard perimeter elevations (convex lawn). Grading of the yard should result in positive drainage away from all structures. Obviously, following this advice means that no part of the street curb should be above the front yard. Further, the driveway must positively drain away from the garage and toward the street (even after considering the settlement allowance).

Allow for 3″ total building settlement as a minimum (*). Remember there is settlement in every building; residential buildings are lighter yet may settle more (due to poor soil, no soil improvement; insufficient soil preparation, destruction of soil preparation by plumbers, bearing foundations near grade).

The back yard should not be a sloped drop-off. Avoid the yard that backs up to a lower elevation waterway or trapped drainage area.

French Drains

Better to forget this phrase as almost no one is capable of properly executing the idea. The idea is a well graded porous media serving as an underground (or at-grade ‘pipe’) lightly sloped toward a proper drainage discharge location. French drains were conceived to overcome the problems of a flat site with nonporous soil.

Wiki link

The sizes of particles were critical to prevent the surrounding soil from washing into the pores, i.e., voids between the particles of gravel and thereby clogging the drain. The later development of geotextiles greatly simplified this technique.

No matter what, the water goes ‘downhill’: by transport in the sloping drain to the terminus or by percolation into the soil. The drain must be designed for the anticipated rainfall rate and accumulation.

Beyond basic quantity and flow, there are other important design decisions: establishing a sufficient low point, providing a near constant slope to the low point (no sag in the line), keeping the drain from clogging, keeping native soil from entering the porous drain envelope, selecting and grading the materials to last say 25 years. Do not place a French drain adjacent to a foundation or even pavement; both require actual soil cover of at least 12″. The drain might allow raveling and loss of native soil into the flowing water thereby undermining the foundation or paving.

Finally, roots of neighboring trees and shrubs are drawn to the moisture and will infiltrate the drain works; routine inspection and maintenance is required.

(*) In many geotechnical reports (soil reports) used for engineered sites/buildings, the expected total settlement is given as 1″ to 2″ with expected differential settlement of say 1/2″ to 1″. I offer the more conservative, higher, expected minimum for the non-engineered residential site. Total settlement means that settlement that occurs from construction throughout the building design life.

Mud Room / Working Entrance
What could be more productive than an entrance where outdoor gear can be removed before entering the house.  Maybe down South it isn’t about snow and ice but it is about taking off shoes, etc to keep the house clean. At this entrance, I would like a full bath too, or at least a shower and a lavatory to fully wash up after yard work.

While we’re here, let’s address yard access. Too many houses have poor access to the back yard — access is only provided indoors via the house or via a long side yard.

One arrangement is to have full access for foot traffic and say, lawn equipment via the garage to both front and back yards. The modern narrow lots with minimal side yards make such access nearly impossible.

Outdoor grilling should be considered. Is the kitchen adjacent to the back door? Can food, dishes, utensils be easily transported in and out of the house to the cooking/eating area? Can people move easily back and forth with hands free?

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