Clever design can make the best use of space, even in smaller houses. When you are designing a new home, or doing alterations, consider features that will improve access and ease of movement for people with mobility problems and for everyday activities, such as vacuum cleaning.

Ceiling height

The standard height of ceilings is usually 2.4 metres. But some people choose up to three metres. This can give the house a feeling of space, grandness and elegance, but it will probably add to your building costs.

However, according to real estate agents, homes with higher ceilings generally fetch better prices than similar quality homes with the standard ceiling heights.

Consider mixing the ceiling heights, for example having lower ceilings in your bedrooms and adding height in the living spaces. Higher ceilings will require heating with circulation systems to spread the heat and air evenly.

Storage, home offices, and kids spaces

As we all know, kids like to make a mess and generally lots of noise so, if you have the space, consider an area which the kids can call their own. One way to make a small child’s bedroom more useable is to put the bed on a platform which leaves space underneath for a desk or toy area.

Plan good storage and cupboards into your house design.

In the past, a home office would be put into a bedroom or any available free space. Nowadays, a home office is almost essential as work often spills over into the home and many more people work at home. The home computer is used by all family members for homework, work or entertainment. If you can, have a separate office included in your house design. It allows a quiet space for real work, but also separates noisy computer games from other living areas. And it creates a clear separation between work and home.

If you are renovating and don’t have the space for a separate office, consider screens or partitions and, for aesthetic reasons, have storage to keep files and equipment out of sight.

Data cabling

It is important to think about home entertainment, communication and computer needs when designing your new home or renovating. Televisions, DVDs, VCRs, music systems, telephones, faxes, computers and security systems will need the appropriate wiring, cabling and power points to be installed when the house is being built.

To avoid messy cabling, all these appliances can be controlled on one flexible modular system. You should design for the future, for example, you may have more than one computer at a later date. It is more cost effective to get the cabling sorted out when you first build.

Make sure you have enough power points for all the appliances you are likely to be running

Designing for spaciousness

The size of your house does not have to limit the home’s sense of space. This can be achieved by clever design – the flow of the rooms, lightness and airiness achieved by careful placement of windows and walls, ceiling height, storage and interior decorating.

Obviously, the fewer walls, the greater the sense of spaciousness, but smaller areas can be easily created for separate activities without sacrificing the sense of spaciousness. Use moveable screens, panels and large doors to either close off or open out a room.

Other devices to create a sense of separate spaces within a large area without compromising spaciousness include step-downs, different ceiling heights, different flooring, projecting bookcases or wall units, and lighting. A good designer should have ideas but also look for ideas from magazines, books and the internet.

Garages

Consider your future needs when thinking about garaging.

Tip: Andrew says, “Don't be talked into a ‘standard size' for a garage by your designer or builder. I wish ours was much bigger, or that we had incorporated a significant storage area for the tools, mowers, etc. Think about what size vehicles you might be after in the future. Our garage eliminates the possibility of a large four-wheel drive vehicle. Give yourself room.”

Making homes accessible

When considering your house design, keep in mind ease of movement in a variety of situations, allowing for:

  • Ease of shifting furniture around.
  • Access for prams.
  • Access for people who are temporarily disabled – such as being on crutches after breaking a leg.
  • Access for people with more permanent disabilities, such as those requiring assistance to move around, or those using a wheelchair.
  • People who may have trouble opening doors and windows (due to arthritis, for example).
  • People who have sight loss.

Designing for movement doesn’t necessarily mean making the house larger. It does mean using the available space wisely, for example, doing without passageways, or having wider doorways, or rounding off corners.

There are requirements in the Building Code (Clause D1 Access) providing for the safety of people, including those with disabilities, moving into and around buildings. The council must be satisfied that these provisions will be met when you apply for building consent.

Keeping access-ways level to allow ease of access in and out of the house needs special design to ensure the water doesn’t also find a way in - for example by providing wider than normal eaves over the entrance or extra waterproofing at the door.

An excellent source of information about building accessible homes is a BRANZ publication Homes without Barriers. It is full of diagrams and advice for anyone involved in the design or alteration of houses to accommodate those with disabilities and the elderly, and is equally useable by building professionals and homeowners. For more information contact BRANZ on 04 237 1170 or branz@branz.co.nz or go to their website: www.branz.co.nz.

‘Knock-proofing’ surfaces

Consider these ideas for protecting walls and other surfaces from wear and tear:

  • Consider using wall linings that are more resistant to knocks and hard wear in hallways and other high use areas.
  • Consider using paints that are scratch resistant and washable.
  • Consider solid timber around the doors and in the skirtings for longer life.
  • Use hard-wearing floor coverings.
  • Install doorstops to stop door handles breaking the wall linings.
  • Consider rounded corners on wall linings to avoid chipping from vacuumming and normal traffic, especially in hallways, entrance ways and main living areas.