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August 04, 2007

A rant about houses [Purple Avenger]

Most people live in houses, apartments, cardboard boxes, etc unless residing in a prison cell (you all know Ace is doing this open blog thing on a weekend because he's on work/release and spends the weekends in jail right?). We have a vested interest in these structures.

Here's the thing - most places were designed by idiots, so I'm going to repost this rant I wrote last year since it generated some thoughtful comment traffic on my zero traffic blog.
Are there things that annoy you about the "usability" of your house? Does it sometimes seem like the architect was a drooling moron when certain aspects of it were specified?

Its likely that most houses were designed (not necessarily built) "to code" when they went up. However, "to code" doesn't guarantee that the place is a delight to reside in.

Take for example -- my house.

The master bathroom originally had a single light in the ceiling (and one over the sink). The way the walls were layed out and the ceiling light positioned, the shower stall didn't get any light at all. It was always in the shadows making you feel like you were showering in a cave. This was to say the least, very annoying. Last year I finally got around to rectifying this dreary situation and installed a wet location light in the ceiling of the shower stall. The difference was dramatic. I think I spent maybe $30 on the light/wire/switch/etc needed to do the job. That was one of the most rewarding $30 I've ever spent in my life. It pays me back every time I shower.

It took a few hours of up/down a ladder and crawling around in a 130 degree attic (being careful to not fall through the ceiling) to do the job though. Had that same light been installed when the place was originally built, it would have taken the electrician no more than an additional 20 minutes. Alternatively, they could have just positioned the ceiling light a bit differently and it would have illuminated the
shower OK.

In this country at least, Christmas lights are quite a common thing for people to put on their houses. Why do architects ignore this cultural reality? Why not specify a switched recepticle up under the eaves so people don't have to do horrible things like run extension cords all over their yards or out a window, or pinched under a door? This is in reality a safety issue. Cords dangled out windows aren't guaranteed to be plugged in on a GFCI which outdoor things getting wet should be on.

We typically electrocute a few people a year and burn down a few houses in this country because of this blindness to the American cultural reality of Christmas lights. I caught my neighbor last year running his Christmas light off a cord pinched under his front door plugged into a non-GFCI recepticle. Two years ago, a guy in Miami was electrocuted walking around in his front yard because of such a dangerous lashup. Christmas is supposed to be a happy time. Dying because your house killed you shouldn't be part of the normal holiday plan.

A few years ago I fitted my house with a switched recepticle up under the eaves (fed by a ground level GFCI so it would be easy to reset), with weather cover that allows the Christmas lights to be plugged in while retaining rain tightness. No dodgy extension cords laying in the yard. I am a happy man.

Have you ever noticed that builders often put small shallow cabinets above the space where the fridge normally is parked? Those cabinets are effectively useless because they're so hard to reach. They're usually empty or contain mystery contents you haven't seen for at least 10 years, in which case you dare not open the doors anyway.

In my case, because of the uselessness of those small cabinets, the top of the fridge has become the place of repose for a small B&W television I'll turn on to listen to the nightly news. Parking the TV ontop of the fridge presented new annoyances though -- the dreaded extension cord hanging like clothline was needed to reach one of the normal countertop recepticles. Reaching up to the top of the fridge to turn it on and off, while not excessive work, was slightly irksome too.

While pondering a random pile of electrical parts and wire today, the solution to the TV/fridge popped into my mind. I would put a (GFCI protected because this is a kitchen) recepticle up on the wall alongside the fridge with a switch down at a convenient level to operate the recepticle. This design (which I just got done installing) is a vast usability and safety improvement over the dangling extension cord and reaching up over the TV. Total time to install was a couple of unpleasant hours belly crawling in a hot attic, but I used materiels already in inventory, so the cost today was zero.

The top of fridges seem to collect electrical things like small TV's radios, lava lamps, etc. Why can't architects anticipate this kind of obvious usage?

As you can see, I'm not too fond of architects who design stuff with poor usability characteristics. They are paid well for their talents, and the public has a right to expect better from them.

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posted by xgenghisx at 11:23 AM

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