My name is Mary. I’m an aging person with an aging house. I’m going to tell the story of transforming my house from something I don’t want into something I do...
Because I’m renovating my home from the ground-up, I’m making sure that every last detail fits my lifestyle: single, aging and with lots of pets.
I have two large, obstreperous dogs and three cats who will need access to the fenced-in back yard. An opening to the patio should be the way they get in and out. Pet doors are not very good for retaining heat and cool, but in this respect, I have to compromise.
The other pets I have are parakeets. They have been living in relatively luxurious cages for a long time and have thrived, but I have always wanted to set them free in a room that will double as a place for plants. The little south wing of the house will be bright, but not too sunny, for this purpose.
I also want a waterproof interior surface in that space so I can give my birds and plants showers. Having a space for birds also means that I’ll have to have a screen door separating the cats from the birds; my cats have never learned to coexist peacefully with those little guys.Getting older
One of the things that I fear as I get older is the inability to get into and out of the bath or shower. I have seen first-hand the absolute necessity of grab bars, but even the rims of tubs and the thresholds of showers can be not only an obstacle, but also a hazard for someone who may lose balance and trip. I’d like my bathrooms to have tubs and showers, but also to be equipped with floor drains and an extendable shower hose. This way, even in a wheelchair, I’ll be able to bathe.The flooring
The more I think about my haphazard housekeeping style, my affection for furry and feathery pets, and my love of gardening, the more I am repelled by any floor material that can’t be easily cleaned. And the concept of hosing down the inside of the house is more and more appealing.
This has led me to the idea of concrete floors with drains.
A concrete floor has many advantages apart from its ease of maintenance. I can embed heating pipes inside it for radiant heat, and it can also retain the heat from the sun during winter days and release that heat overnight. Concrete floors can be stained and polished to look fantastic. The only worry I have is that they may crack.The orientation
Designing the house to allow winter sun in but keep summer sun out means we have to know the orientation of the house as well as our latitude. My architect, Peter VanderPoel, got a sun chart that looks like something out of a medieval horoscope manual
. It shows where the sun will be at any time of day on any day of the year. So, since we’re at about 39 degrees north, the sun rises 39 degrees north of due east in the summer and rises 39 degrees south of due east in the winter. Designing an eve on the south side of the house that screens the sun in mid-summer but lets in as much as possible in mid-winter is a matter of a little geometry. This geometry will dictate, as well, how low above the floor the south-facing windows will be.
The photovoltaic panels or shingles that I put on the south side will catch a good share of the sun, were it not for the enormous evergreen tree growing in my neighbor’s yard. I love trees and theirs is stunning, so another compromise is necessary.
Peter and I have fiddled with the rough floor plans and have finally come to some agreement. This is all very exciting.
Mary McCutcheon is a retired anthropology professor at George Mason University.
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