New Mexico Urban Homesteader

Hello, I am A 50 Something, Prepper ;-}; former 60's Flower Child, don't believe in taxpayer subsidized special interest groups (political parties), DO believe in the Constitution and Bill of Rights (1st 10). Long time Independent & Informed Voter. Lover of the outdoors and firm believer that History Teaches - if only we will listen!

(No longer Urban or in NM. Now Rural in the mountains of Maine.)

This blog was started at the request of some dear friends that wish to become Preppers.

“No man who is not willing to help himself has any right to apply to his friends, or to the gods.”

Demosthenes (384–322 BC, Greek statesman and orator of ancient Athens)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Can you afford your House Lifestyle?

What is a house lifestyle? It isn’t your lifestyle per se, but the lifestyle you live in your home.

To find out what your House Lifestyle is do a Home Usage Audit and collect the following information:

List the following for each room on a separate piece of paper:

  • Square footage and ceiling height
  • List the closet space to each room, including ceiling height
  • How often do you use the room and much time do you spend in that room, doing what. For specialty rooms like bedrooms, baths, kitchen and laundry rooms do not count; sleeping, daily three SSS’s, actually doing the laundry or cooking the 3 squares a day.
  • What you like and dislike about each room.
  • How much time you spend cleaning and or maintaining each room.
  • Collect a year’s worth of heating and cooling bills. If you are really ambitious, also record a year’s worth of actual fuel usage for gas and electric and not just the dollar amounts.

Calculate each room’s square and cubic footage using these formulas:

  • Cubic Feet (or Volume): Volume=length x width x height
  • Square Feet: length x width

Note: Do not use the square footage listed on your deed or real estate brochure. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) suggests that residential property be measured using exterior measurements of the building at each level for real estate legal square footage. (For the purposes of figuring a home's square footage, room dimensions are irrelevant.) Keep in mind that ANSI standards (which are guidelines, not regulations) define finished spaces as any enclosed area that is used year around. It is this measurement that is usually listed on real estate documents.

Measuring rooms

There are a variety of good reasons to measure the rooms in your home. Buying enough paint, wallpaper, or flooring; arranging furniture; and calculating the type of home theater components are just a few.

A third dimension that often comes into play with rooms is ceiling height. Cubic area—that is, width x length x height—is used to calculate the size of air conditioning units and heat pumps.

Measuring cubic feet is the same as measuring square footage. A living room that is 15 x 14 x 8 feet is 1,680 cubic feet. For a room with a cathedral ceiling, the illustration in the next post may help.

Study your usage of each room and if you are like most folks you will undoubtedly find that you have a room or two that you rarely use and another room that you would use more often if it were larger or warmer or brighter, etc.

For instance when I did this with one of my homes I found that I rarely used my large master bedroom or bath (beyond sleeping, getting dressed and the daily 3 S’s) and often wanted more space in my kitchen/family room. Or maybe you don’t use those formal living and dining rooms more than 3-6 times per year when you need the space to seat your guests.

Now look at the time you spend each year cleaning and maintaining these rooms that are not used all that often. Then add in the cost each year to heat and cool these rooms.

To find out what it costs you to heat and cool each cubic foot of your home divide the annual cost of heating and cooling by the total cubic feet of the house. Be sure to include the cubic feet to any closets. This is your cost per cubic foot to heat and cool your house. To see what this averages out to per room just take this dollar amount and multiply by cubic feet to that particular room.

Some of the items that affect the cost and strain on heating and cooling units for your home are:

  • Number of: walls, halls, doors and archways. An archway here means one that is door to double door width and not the whole width of a room archway. In general this is anything that affects natural air circulation.
  • The building material used and insulation or thermal envelope of the home. The tighter the seal of the house to the outside the better the thermal envelope is.
  • Window types and their orientation to the elements. Are these deep seated or shallow; large or small; thermal glazed or thermal paned.

This Usage Audit is your Home Lifestyle. You may think of yourselves as sophisticated urbanites that do a lot of formal entertaining when in reality you are just people that do entertain and have cocktail parties but the formal part is a myth. Yet you pay in time and money to have those rooms to entertain in. Or you may feel you have really moved up in the world with that large master bedroom and spa bath yet rarely have the time to enjoy them while you have another room that is used much more frequently on a day to day basis that could use more space. On top of this wasted space you are paying to heat, cool and maintain it.

Be honest here and don’t get side tracked by the marketing and advertising on those “Home & Garden” shows. All those rooms, all that space and all those walls, halls, doors and archways cost money to heat and cool; time and money to clean and maintain. Sure they look great but that is just the décor NOT the size or number of rooms and that is the marketing hype to sell you on that style home. If you don’t or won’t use it, don’t buy it or build it.

Wow a lot of time and money goes into rooms in your home that are rarely used while other rooms would be used more often if “improved”. Today time and money are the two items that just about everyone could use more of!

If you are relocating due to your job or are looking to downsize because of the economy then I strongly suggest that you also take the time to do a Home Contents Audit.

To do a Home Contents Audit, perform the following:

  • Check every drawer and closet in the entire house and determine the last two times you used or wore that item.
  • If the item has not been used or worn in the last year and has no sentimental or monetary value, set it aside for a garage sale or give it away.
  • If the item has not been used or worn in the last year but does have some sentimental or monetary value, set it aside for box storage. Those vacuum shrink type plastic storage bags are perfect for clothing, bedspreads and other cloth items that you wish to keep but do not use.
  • Do the same with any garden shed, garage or attic items.
  • Clothing items that are too worn to be used again should be put in the scrap pile or thrown out. If the “gadget”, tool, toy or whatever is broken – throw it out. Items in good shape but no longer used, sell or give away.

Once you are down to what you use or need to keep for sentimental or monetary reason, you will probably find that your closets and drawers have tons of space. This is a good thing if you are moving because the resulting space is what you really need so you won’t be tempted to purchase a house that has large closets, attics or garages. Not only that but all these interior drawers, dressers and closets cost you money to heat and cool no matter what size house you are in!

The last thing to consider if you are going to relocate is to look at your front and back yards and decide what you like and don’t like, plus what it costs you in time and money to maintain.

If cost cutting is your ultimate goal take a look at alternative landscaping options. This is where your yard has native plants, edible plants and low maintenance grasses and plants. Look for items for your yards that you will use but will not require lots of fertilizers, maintenance or water. Reduce the time and money needed to mow, trim, prune, weed and nourish your yards and that is more money and time for other things (from savings to fun stuff). Keep in mind there is no such thing as a “no maintenance” yard unless your yard is the wilderness.

Now that the hard work is done with the Usage and Contents Audits it is time to think about what you will need for your Home Lifestyle in your new home.

If you need a place to put that family dining table and the space to seat your extended family around it, look for a home with a large kitchen/dining area that is all one room. You need the space not the separation.

Likewise if you only use the formal living room when you do your large entertaining but only because everyone can’t fit elsewhere, then look for a home that has a large enough kitchen/dining/family room without all the walls, halls, doors and archways that rob the house of air circulation and increase the heating and costs.

Don’t use those walk-in closets or huge bedrooms and baths, then look for a home with good sized closets, bedrooms and baths. Space is not needed to make a room look and feel luxurious, only the décor does that and the smaller spaces are cheaper to heat and cool.

Have young children? Think twice about a house that has the master bedroom on another floor or opposite side of the house. In an emergency do you really want to take the seconds needed to get up those stairs or to the other side of the house or yell through those walls?

Also remember that the square footage on that real estate handout is not the interior square footage and the amount of square footage does not mean that it is all usable square footage.

I once owned a home that was 1053 square feet of interior space and it was more usable, livable and comfortable than a house I had that was 2000 interior square feet. The smaller house was 1/3rd cheaper to heat and cool too!

My ideal home would have a Public and Private wing. The public wing would be one room where each corner had a purpose – kitchen, dining, living/family rooms with a laundry room off the kitchen side that was just large enough to wash, iron and sew. The private wing would house the 4 bedrooms with modest 6 foot wide standard depth closets and two full baths that are big enough for two adult males to stand side-by-side at the twin sinks with their elbows out but not touching. All through the house would be built-ins. My yard would be edible and low maintenance. I actually have plans for such a house that is about 1600 interior square feet all on one level, waiting for suitable land to build on.

You know have the basic tools and knowledge to make good use or remodel your existing home or purchase a new home. So go for it and enjoy!

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