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Home Runs and Sacrifices

July 2018
A Guest Post by Ronald Milligan

This year, the great summer pastime is enlivened by an endless series of hits and misses as Debra and I work with home designers, hardware vendors, appliance suppliers, flooring wholesalers, and building contractors to create our new domicile: the often-misunderstood Custom Home.

I am told by all of the above that this undertaking produces great stress for any marriage, but my Dear Wife and I are united in our agreement that many of the current home design trends are not to our liking. As for the latest crazy building requirements of the Nanny State, we have come to the conclusion that we’ll just have to legally work around them. That activity is a great sporting event in itself.

To best illustrate our current crisis, I have compiled some of the more glaring examples of trends gone too far:

No Wood Exterior for You: Even though we are building a home nestled in the woods, the California Code Enforcers will not allow us to use that natural wonder on the exterior of our new home. We are ever so grateful that the house framing can still be constructed from tree products. I know that wild fires in the West are a real threat, but wood on the house exterior would be a nice touch.

Debra asked what are our choices are then?

Well, the options basically are Stucco, Rock, or “Cement Fiber Board” (made to look like wood!). In the bold move to clobber through that wall of limitations, Debra made the call to mix the Stone in with the Stucco, thereby adding an innovative forth choice. She felt as if she’d hit for the cycle!

Into All Lives Some Rain Must Fall: Speaking of fire safety, yet another recent code requirement is the Indoor Sprinkler System for all new residential construction. In my opinion, this mandate is taking the “industrial look” a bit too far. I’ve been assured by the designers that “we” will not even know the sprinkler heads are there in the ceiling, at least not until we get the installation bill.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any reduction in insurance costs, probably because the potential water damage from a false-positive downpour is more of a certainty that the likelihood that the whole shebang of a sprinkler system will suppress a fire enough to save the house.

Plug and Play: In the garage, the latest edict intrudes into the electrical circuitry — the mandatory plug for the electric car. Although some cars require little more than an USB plug to charge overnight, the builder of any new home must provide enough juice to rapid-charge the top-of-the-line Tesla, if not the latest SpaceX rocket.

Elon Musk may or may not be losing money, hand-over fist, but our next vehicle purchase will not be tethered by a pig tail to a wall plug. It is interesting to note that the consequence of this power-grabbing dictate is another requirement: the electrical service to the house needs to jump to at least 200 amps. For a State that is obsessed with reducing the Carbon Footprint, the power grid to support these new dictates just keeps expanding. Onward and Upward. The Pie-in-the-Sky’s-the-Limit!

Let There be Light: At another corner of the electromagnetic spectrum, we have the latest LED bulb obsession. The lighting supplier called the other day with a most urgent matter — “What color lights do you want?”

I told him that I was partial to oiled bronze, but I would have to consult the Mrs. on this one. I was told, “No, no.” The question was WHAT COLOR LIGHT: yellowish, white, blue?  But whatever you do, do NOT put blue (natural light) in the bedrooms! We may never get a good night’s sleep again.

This obsession with the visible light spectrum seemed immaterial and a bit trivial at this point in the home design, given we are just trying to arrive at a general cost estimate. But the supplier did not want us to make a mistake that we will long regret! It was most thoughtful of him.

Smooth Landings: Moving on to the jungle of kitchen design, we must talk first about counter tops. Or maybe not. Many people seem to have decided that this decision has basically already been made for you. And not by any Design Professional, but by the Real Estate Agents.

It appears that no self-respecting Real Estate Agent would list a “Home of Quality” without granite/marble/quartz counter tops. It just is not done! In the end analysis, you (and your Home) will be harshly judged by the number of grout lines on your counter tops! Even grout lines within the granite are considered beyond the pale!

Well, we do not like to be herded along like cattle to the feeding troughs, but there are some nice slabs (of granite, not beef) out there to be had. So, we are exploring that rock pile now. Debra is trending toward a shade called Mesquite!

Kitchen cabinets are such a world unto themselves that they might require a separate post. Right now, they’re in the outfield, waiting for the Home Run Kitchen Design!

Our Cup Runneth Over: Now for the kitchen faucet. This area really seems to have changed since we remodeled the kitchen of our last house, a One-Story-Mid-Century Cottage, about 15 years ago. Evidently, one’s social status is now measured by the height of one’s kitchen faucet! And yes, length matters, as is apparent by the plethora of “pull out” and “pull down” offerings.

The modern kitchen faucet is capable of spraying dishes and veggies from any angle in the room. And their gangly appearance is only exaggerated by the dominance of the “one hole” design, which is attributed to the common pairing with the granite counter top. Who wants to drill more than one hole through solid granite?!

Too Hot to Handle: While we’re here in the kitchen, let’s turn up the heat on these kitchen stoves! As an All-American, Power Tool-loving Male, I am attracted to the classic lines (and power) of the commercial-style, six-burner stoves flooding the market. But let us not fool ourselves that we will be slinging hash for a 5-Star restaurant inside these domestic walls.

The combined BTU output of all these burners could empty the old propane tank inside of a week. And the gas line needed to supply all those jets might require, in California, red-tape permitting and sizing akin to the XL Pipeline through the Dakotas. So, throttle back the burners Chef Bouche, and keep it real.

Hit the Deck: Whether it is at the upscale tile supply store or the tile aisle at the mega-home store, you always have to do a double take: All you initially see is wood grain. You start thinking you made a wrong turn at the cordless drill endcap at Aisle 28. But no, it looks like the “wood look” for tile is here to stay.

There are actually more wood-look tile species/stain color options than there are types of real wood! And all the laminates want to look like wood, too. They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Wood is being flattered like a MLB slugger who just won the winning run in Game 7 of the World Series!

In view of the fact that there will be no wood on the exterior of the Custom House, we are presently leaning toward the real deal for most of our flooring — before They outlaw wood all together.

How Low can They Go? The low-flow toilet has been with us for some time, but the latest models are bringing back some bad memories. During the most recent drought in California, Dear Wife and I experienced some lingering childhood winces of past droughts in our Home States, which, respectively, are New Jersey and California. It’s hard to forget the recommended “communal flush” techniques of the past. All in the name of saving water!

In California, They used to say, “Flush Twice! It is a Long Ways to the Septic System.” Dear Wife says the Jersey Jargon was more to the point. With these new ultra-low flow models, a flush of three times may be the charm. Wifey suggests a fourth for good measure!

All Ashore: Another unusual bathroom trajectory is the Vessel Sink. Setting the basic appearance aside, it nonetheless appears that to make the sink height work out, the rest of the counter needs to be lowered. If you have ever had to live with bathroom counters that are too low (like in the rental house in which we currently reside!), you will quickly realize that this setup is less than optimal.

These sinks may be easier to swap out when their fashion-expiration date has come and gone, but the first dropped can of shaving cream will shatter one of these glass bowls into a thousand pieces. I sure hope the glass is safety glass!

Of course, a sink made of chiseled rock is always an option. The example shown here might make the powder room welcoming for whenever Fred and Wilma come to visit, but this ship is one that has to be turned back to port very soon.

Home Design Conclusion:

Baseball is a game where the runner must go all the way to third base before coming home. We are definitely trying to stay within the lines, in more ways than one, to come home to that Dream House in the pine woods of northern northern California.

Our adventure is now in the opening innings, and though the sacrifices are emotional more than physical, Coming Home is worth all the effort!

~~ Ronald Milligan, affectionately known as Dear Husband on this website, is a hydrologic engineer and the stagehand for