Contemporary Home Case Study

A Home for Caring & Sharing (Part 1 of a series)

Don and Judy Jordan of Plainfield, NH, are building a home where Judy’s parents can live with them comfortably, safely, and warmly. This is the first in a series of articles covering this prototypical project.

Prudent Living Magazine: You’re building a multi-generational home on part of your 200-year-old family farm in New Hampshire. What brought that about?

1_DonandJudyJordanDon Jordan: Well, my wife’s parents are in their mid-80s, and in general good health, with just a few issues that may eventually hinder their ability to live on their own. We’re in our mid-50s, and empty nesters, and recently acquired property on the family farm. Around that time we invited Judy’s parents to consider allowing us to co-age together in our current home so we could be more immediately available when needed. After Judy visited custom home demo houses just for fun with her mom in Florida, the dreaming became an idea for future building plans, initially for us in our retirement years, but for now for them, too. The property is just three miles from our current home, allowing us to continue our current jobs, and we will be right next to the original farm house where our daughter and her family now live. The new home will be co-funded—and a great opportunity for both couples to custom design it to their needs. Four generations will be right next to each other on the property.


Prudent Living Magazine: This is an approach that many are considering these days, for a variety of reasons. How did you begin to develop a plan for the home?

elevation for issue6Don Jordan: Initially we focused on some kind of a duplex that would support independent living by both couples, with two kitchens and so forth. The greatest benefit would be privacy for all. Each couple could do their own grocery shopping and cooking, though meals could be shared when desired. Obtaining permits for this type of project used to be difficult, but many towns including our own have seen this trend of multi-generational need, and have made the permit process easier.

3_JordanHouseBut the duplex idea has a downside, also, most significantly the added cost – duplicating kitchens, for example, can be very costly. When you add two comparable living areas, the initial building costs rise. Continuing increased cost would include electrical, heating, and property taxes. Long-term, another problem arises when the second “apartment” is no longer needed. We might be forced to rent that to make the mortgage, and we would prefer not to do that.

So we fairly quickly moved away from the duplex idea and decided on one kitchen and dining room for all. The main floor will contain a kitchen and the largest dining/living room area as well as the living space for the parents. In order to ensure privacy for all concerned, we settled on a full finished “walk-out” basement for ourselves, no second floor, and a garage.

Prudent Living Magazine: Sounds like you have discovered some valuable information in this process, not only for yourselves, but for others considering a similar project.

Final ENERGY STAR Report 10Judy Jordan: One thing we discovered is that the term for all of this is “universal design.” This means choosing a home design or organizing your living space for future handicap or physical limitations. Some universal design specifications might include: step free entrance and no or low thresholds throughout the house, wider hallways, lever style handles on doors and faucets, pull out drawers in cabinets, side by side refrigerator, variable heights for counter tops, sliding casement windows, lower light switches, higher electrical outlets, grab bars in the bathroom, higher toilet seat, nonslip tile, wood, and low pile carpeting, hand-held shower fixtures and curbless shower, front loading washer and dryer, adjustable hanging closet rods and shelves, and open knee space under all sinks.

Prudent Living Magazine: And what were you able to work into your own living space?

Judy Jordan: We will include almost all these universal design elements in our home design except the most costly ones like variable heights for the kitchen counters. We will include lots of grab bars in the bathroom, for instance, one of the most dangerous places in the REM Reporthouse, and will design the tub and shower for easy access. The hallways, thresholds, and hardware are all universal designed, along with our appliances, flooring, and electric planning. Our house will be accessible for the grandchildren when they visit, too. The basement will have our main bedroom plus a guest room and some common space so that we can entertain friends, children, and grandchildren without “crowding” mom and dad. We’re building a little playroom under the stairs for the grandchildren, so they will feel special when they come to visit.

Prudent Living Magazine: Once you learned about “universal design,” did you find the concepts helpful or more confining?

6_JordansHomeBackJudy Jordan: It expanded our thinking about what to consider. While not many people around here have much experience in the universal design approach, I think it should be considered by every new home builder, to plan for aging in place comfortably with diminishing assets. Since finding out about this, I’ve invested countless hours investigating how to incorporate these ideas. I think it’s resulted in more revisions of the kitchen design than our designer wants to remember, but when completed it will give us all a great portfolio of experience and knowledge to share with others.

Prudent Living Magazine: What other issues have affected your primary decisions about the overall design?

7_akitchenforcaringandsharingDon Jordan: Our emphasis has been on “caring,” which also involves some of the energy issues we have considered. For example, our elderly parents will be spending their winters in rural New Hampshire after twenty years in Florida. They will need to be warm, without breaking the bank with heating costs. Since they may spend some time alone at the home, heating with firewood did not seem like a reasonable long-term plan. A great insulation package, and renewable sources of heat and power seemed like a good way to go. So we’re having a photovoltaic (PV) system installed to provide electricity, and we’re using geothermal to heat and cool, with the PV power covering the expense, winter and summer. We also chose to install an all house generator. In case we’re not on the property and the power goes off, we did not want mom and dad heading out into the storm to try and start a standard type of generator by hand.

Judy Jordan: For extra warmth, or maybe ambience, we’re also installing a modern looking gas fireplace in the great room upstairs. We probably won’t need to actually use it for heat, but it will warm our feet as well as our hearts whenever we need them warmed. For example, when it’s twenty below zero outside, with wind and drifting snow, that fireplace sounds pretty cozy to me.


Don and Judy Jordan Residence Projected

Heating and Cooling Costs

  • Annual heating and cooling cost is $1,066.00 or 7,113 kWh
  • Annual Hot water Estimated cost is $393.00 or 2,625 kWh

Combined, this is an estimated $121 per month if they choose to cool their house. If not, it will be much lower. The proposed photovoltaic system will cover all of this usage and bring their heat, cooling, and hot water bill to $0.


A Home for Caring & Sharing (Part 2 of a series)

8_multilevelkitchencabinetsDon and Judy Jordan of Plainfield, NH, have built a home where Judy’s parents can live with them comfortably, safely, and warmly. This is the second in a series of articles covering this prototypical project.

Not so long ago, people building new homes built for appearance and then had to wait for the dead of winter before they really knew if they had made a good investment in terms of energy efficiency. Today, this question can be answered in the dead of summer through an energy performance review by a residential energy efficiency specialist, like Joe Rando of GDS Associates in Manchester, NH.

Rando conducted such a review on the newly finished Jordan home in Plainfield, NH, using the nationally recognized “Home Energy Rating System” (HERS) on August 21, 2013. The rating system generates a one-number index that documents the home’s efficiency. The number generated is between 0-150, where an index of 100 is indicative of a typical new home built to code and an index of 150 being typical of an older home, with zero being a home that generates as much energy as it consumes.

The Jordan home achieved a 12 on the HERS index, which Rando said was the best he has ever rated.

9_greatroomfeatureshardwoodfloorandbaywindow“This score of 12 means that the home uses 88 percent less energy than a typical new home built to code,” he said. “Considering everything, including the solar panels and reduced load on the geothermal heating and cooling system because of the high performance building shell (e.g. high performance: insulation, windows, and doors), the home produces nearly as much electricity as it needs (including the heating system) making this one of the highest performing homes that I’ve ever worked on. Could the rating have been lower? Yes, with more solar panels perhaps, but with the projected net energy cost of $953.50 per year for a home of more than 3,000 square feet, there is a point of diminishing return in terms of making the solar panel system larger.”

All things considered, Rando issued a Home Energy Rating Certificate of “5 Stars Plus,” which is the highest possible rating, an official ENERGY STAR® Home certificate, and a blue ENERGY STAR Qualified New Home sticker with the HERS Index of “12” prominently displayed. Not only does this confirm the quality of the home’s construction, but it reinforces its value, should the Jordans ever wish to sell it. But considering the fact that the Jordan farm on which the home is built has been in the family for more than 200 years, their focus is on paying forward the caring family vision that they learned by example from their parents and other family pioneers.

D10_diningareaingreatroometails … Details … and More Details

Many houses of the past were built this way: The project was overseen by a general contractor who sub-contracted with multiple individuals and/or companies to do their part when it was time, from excavation, drilling the well, pouring the foundation, doing the framing, sheet rocking, plumbing and heating, electrical, insulation, flooring, cabinetry and fixtures, finish carpentry, painting, roofing, and so forth. In that scenario, the typical primary goal of each sub-contractor might be to get his people in and out as efficiently as possible. Neither the sub-contractors nor the laborers took much personal interest in the project as a whole, except perhaps the finish carpenters, who often took some pride in their contribution to the finished product.

11_upstairsdoorsuseleversinsteadofknobsThe reason this Prudent Living Home is so well built, from an energy performance point of view, is that the home was “orchestrated” rather than assembled by a variety of workmen who focused primarily on their part of the work. And like an orchestra where everyone plays his or her part as well as possible, striving for the perfection of the overall performance, this home is exceptional because every single person involved was striving to make the whole better than the sum of its parts.

In this scenario, the composers were Don and Judy Jordan, and Judy’s parents, Warren and Marian Biebel, working in concert with Paul Biebel, President of Biebel Builders and Prudent Living, who designed and redesigned and then redesigned some more, each revision taking the entire group closer to the goal. Paul also served as the conductor of the orchestra, even as Judy continued to revise some of the movements while the performance was underway.

Judy Jordan became very engaged with this project, knowing it was for and with her parents, and that this home would become “Grandma’s House” for the four generations already living, and for many generations to come. Caring and sharing would control many of the decisions that had to be made – caring enough to include as many elements of “universal design” as possible, even when it stretched the budget … and sharing the satisfaction and joy of the finished work.

12_masterbedroomislightandairyJudy estimates that over the fifteen months from first envisioning the multi-generational project to actually moving in, she invested thousands of hours making hundreds of decisions, hundreds of phone calls, and spent hundreds of hours visiting websites focused on subjects from electrical fixtures to bath and kitchen design to interior decorating. Every revision produced another set of questions or issues that had to be addressed.

And providing background noise was “the budget.” Excellence is not cheap, whether it is the craftsmanship involved in just the right kitchen drawers or counters or the master bathroom she ended up designing herself, drawing upon all the research that she had done. It’s a formidable challenge to incorporate as many elements of universal design as you can, using as many of the best fixtures as are available, knowing that doing it right the first time will be the most prudent choice over time, while each new decision reactivates the calculator in your brain that seems to be on standby all the time.

Sometimes choices come with big enough price tags that you believe you can do that one yourself and save enough to do that other thing you’ve been wishing to include, whether it is a bay window or a walk-in tub. Take, for example, painting the interior of the house. When the estimate came in at $20,000, this seemed like a no-brainer: There’s no way we’re paying $20,000 for painting, when I can do that myself! Judy figured. Hundreds of hours and forty gallons of paint later, she’s actually glad that she did that part, because she says, “Now I know how to do that.”

A Composer’s Photo-Centric Tour

(Judy Jordan, narrator)

The Kitchen:

In general, the kitchen has an element of universal design built in, but we chose to incorporate a wider expanse between the island and the counter so a wheelchair could get through. We did consider a two level countertop, but since this part of the upstairs is an open space, we have a large table close by if someone in a wheelchair needs a hard surface to work on.

The drawer pulls were selected for easy opening by a person with arthritis or a limited range of motion. It’s much easier to put your fingers into something and pull it than to turn it with a wrist that hurts. I selected KraftMaid® for our kitchen cabinetry because of their superior quality, creative and attractive design, and the functionality of their products.

For example, a person can pull the kitchen cabinet drawer all the way out, without bending, or reaching. And, in the particular cabinetry we chose, each drawer has two levels so you can really store a lot of things and have them all fully accessible, too. This is different from many kitchen drawers that are packed with stuff, where the things at the back are either hard to reach or rarely used.

The kitchen sink faucet is also easier to use because there is nothing to turn; you just lift or push down the lever. Additionally, the high arching faucet makes it easier to fill things like pots and pans with water.

The appliances are all energy star rated, and constructed for decades of use. I selected a refrigerator that makes it easy for anyone to reach in and get something. The top part has a French door, and there’s a pull out freezer on the bottom.

The Great Room

We learned while caring for Don’s mother after her stroke that smooth floors are important for ease of wheelchair movement. So we planned the floors on this level to facilitate the use of wheelchairs or walkers. Specifically, we settled on hardwood floors to accommodate possible future needs, and also because they are more attractive and durable than cheaper floor coverings.

This room is huge, but when you put in furniture and people, it doesn’t seem as huge anymore. We chose the open design so that while we are preparing a meal we could be watching TV if we want to. The TV is also easily viewable from the dining room table, if there’s something on that we’re interested in (we’re Boston Red Sox fans!). The size and design also make it possible to host groups from our church when we wish to do so.

The “Red” Room

Between the great room and the back deck is the “red” room. Originally designed to be a room for sitting or reading, this room has evolved into a fun room, where Mom can work at her computer or just relax while enjoying the beautiful view out the picture window.

The “Mud” Room

When we enter the house through the garage, we use a ramp designed for wheelchair use. The ramp is about four feet wide, with railings on both sides for ease of access for anyone. This provides access to the mud room, which gets as much or more traffic than any other part of the building. The mud room has multiple hooks on the wall in addition to a coat closet, and a utility sink that is very useful for clean up when we’ve been working on the lawn or in the garden … and especially when someone chooses to paint the whole interior!

The washer and dryer are front-loading, for ease of loading and unloading. Additionally, we had it installed on a six inch high platform to augment that factor. When we did this room, we amended the design multiple times, in part so we could have more storage room and room for the freezers where we store food grown in our garden, and also because we wanted to have the window in the mud room match the height of the other windows in the house.

The Parents’ Suite

13_uniquelydesignedbathvanityIn the hallway leading to my parents’ suite, we used wider than normal doorways and doors, as required by universal design. The suite includes four rooms – two baths, a master bedroom, and a den. The den enjoys multiple uses including sewing, reading, and TV viewing.

The smaller bathroom, off the den, is equipped with grab bars, and a handicapped handheld shower. In all the bathrooms in the house, the toilets are handicapped height.

The master bedroom went through many designs and redesigns and even re-redesigns of redesigns, each of which then required a new quote. Our builder endured it all with a great deal of patience, and the end product is as functional as it is aesthetically pleasing. Mom especially enjoys her bay window here and also in the great room, both of which add broader views, more light, and a special ambience that doesn’t come in any other way.

The master bath incorporates principles of universal design, with a special touch. After spending hundreds of hours consulting various websites to find something that would look pretty while remaining useful and versatile, I ended up designing the room myself (with Paul’s help, of course).

14_masterbathhaswalkintubwithjetsA person with a wheelchair or walker can easily access this bathroom, and will be able to luxuriate in the four-foot long walk-in tub where you can sit with water up to your shoulders, massaged by the water jets that are built into the unit. It’s very much like sitting in a Jacuzzi. You can wash your hair using the hand-held shower. We included a twelve-inch custom extension in this design in case we ever decide to substitute a standard tub for the walk-in. The beauty of this design is accentuated by light through the East-facing window that frames the old farmhouse. The bottom portion of the window is translucent vinyl for privacy.

In this bathroom we have the same kind of cabinetry with pull out drawers like those installed in the kitchen. The sink-vanity was custom designed by the KraftMaid® people with the help of Sheila Varnese, our cabinet designer and me. We probably exchanged a hundred e-mails related to just this part of the house. I would ask if we could do this, or do that with the space we’ve allotted for the vanity, under which we left room for knees in case someone is using a wheelchair, while designing in black cabinetry to hide the plumbing. It came out beautifully, even though you can’t find this design anywhere on the Internet. It is essentially a redesigned kitchen cabinet.

15_DinetteinbrightcornerdownstairsThe bath has single lever faucets, open circle towel racks, various hooks, and lots of grab bars. Working with Paul, we decided to tile the bath because we were going to have to construct our own shower using tile, with a very small lip to prevent water seepage without affecting wheelchair access.

In the shower there is an up and down hand-held shower head, with a lever to change the direction of the flow. This can be used if someone is sitting in the shower. It has an anti-scald temperature control, so no one can be injured by water that’s too hot. When I consider the whole project, I feel the most satisfaction when I walk into the master bedroom and bath area.

The Downstairs

16_creativeuseoflightingdownstairslivingroomWhen you decide to share a home with your aging parents, one question you will need to decide is whether you’re willing to live in a walkout basement or if you would prefer to build a second story. When we started to discuss this project, we briefly considered a second story, because we knew by experience that living in a basement can be a little depressing. But if the simple act of walking down a flight of stairs to your underground living space contributes to this feeling, why not make it seem that you’re just transitioning to another level of your country manor? Our builder came up with that idea, and carried it out by installing a beautiful, extra-wide oak-tread stairway with a hand-pieced look to it, bright and inviting. In fact, it seems like an extension of the upstairs hardwood floor décor.

17_FamilyGenealogyWallDownstairsWe have decorated the specially illuminated walls on the way down with pictures of our three daughters, and just beyond the portrait gallery, we step into a little kitchenette, with a coffee counter that Don and I use first thing when our day starts and the others are still sleeping upstairs. And then we pass through an archway into the main living area downstairs. This feature also carries the theme from upstairs, visually reinforcing the conviction that we are still in the same house, just another part of it. It’s really amazing what you can accomplish with good lighting, repetition of design themes, research, a lot of creativity, and the encouragement of an experienced builder.

We have a nice open living and dining area, with track lighting focused on special areas of the room, along with regular lighting. This makes the whole downstairs feel more open. In one end of this room, we have a nook where we watch TV, listen to music, or just relax. And there’s also a den and a playroom built under the stairs, which our grandkids love to play in. In addition, there’s a large bedroom and future office space, if or when we need it.

Our dinette is set in front of a picture window that looks out on the farmhouse where Don grew up and which we love. On the large wall nearby is our family’s genealogy in photos. I’m the family historian, so this was really fun to create. And seeing that display day after day reminds me how blessed we are to be part of a caring and sharing family, a legacy we are committed to carrying forward.


Designing Your New Kitchen

by Sheila Varnese

18_SheliaIn more than twenty years of kitchen designing, I’ve enjoyed helping hundreds of folks choose components that are right for them. Most people I’ve worked with are surprised by (and sometimes overwhelmed by) the vast array of possibilities, especially when they first begin the process. My task is to help them choose colors and styles and designs and to help them customize those to fit their space, their needs, and their budgets.

Sometimes this process takes a few weeks, and sometimes it takes a year, occasionally involving three to five design drafts before we’ve addressed and satisfied all the clients’ concerns. For example, the design might be good, but the client prefers to review multiple styles or species of wood before choosing. Most often clients are as interested in being listened to as in the projected costs.

A summary of the process might look like this:

Initial Meeting

• Client brings blueprints or rough dimensions of the area in question. This is an informational meeting. I ask them to bring a “wish list,” and to describe their likes and dislikes of their current kitchen, which helps me identify special concerns.

• We discuss how they function in their kitchen: who cooks, who preps, are there kids, and if so, do they do their homework there. I ask about the types of appliances they might want – cook top and wall oven vs. single unit; compactor; size and number of sinks; dishwasher; refrigerator; microwave; and so forth.

• I ask how long they think they will be there – i.e. is this a model they plan to resell, or are they building (or remodeling) for themselves and for the long-term? Who will live there, and what special needs should be considered as they relate to the kitchen? (Note: Other parts of the home design area also affected by this consideration.)

• We review cabinet styles, brands, features; counter top options; maximum cabinet height, and other relevant questions.

Second Meeting

• I present first draft of a design; not necessarily priced at this point.

• Client reviews design in 3D, so they can see and tweak it.

• We review placement of cabinets in relation to factors like trash pullouts, storage of pots, pans, silverware, and other implements, and I note any changes they require.

Subsequent Meetings

• Revised and priced design is presented and discussed. This can be done via e-mailed PDF format.

• This process is repeated until customer is satisfied with design and price.

Other Steps

• With final design in hand, we field measure before order is placed, to ensure our design will fit the actual space.

• Cabinets are delivered and installed. I am available to answer questions, if any, from installer. Counter tops go in after cabinets.

• Communication remains open with client as long as needed.


From Dream to Reality

by Sheila Varnese

Designing a new kitchen or bath is nowhere near as easy as it sounds, because the number of suggested designs out there, the wide array of products available, and the budget of those building the home create an equation something like this: designs they like times the products that could be used divided by budgetary constraints = final design. But challenging as the process may be, it’s always satisfying to work with someone from beginning to finished product, because together we’ve taken a dream or idea and given it form.

The process usually goes like this:

  • I ask the client(s) to bring a “wish list” for their kitchen and bath(s). This list could include, but is not limited to, pictures from magazines,, Pinterest, or wherever they’ve been able to find something they like.
  • Also, I ask them to bring a list of accessories they feel would be useful, such as rollout trays, pullout trash, two-layered drawers, and so forth.
  • Another list I request is things they don’t like about their current kitchen, and what they would change about that.
  • We look at different colors and styles; for example, we compare cabinet door samples to countertop choices, flooring options, and paint colors to see how well they all mesh.

My role is to listen to them and help them narrow down their preferences to a couple of choices, to facilitate their decision making. In generating this reduced set of choices I have to keep their budget in mind, so I don’t present options that might ultimately be unaffordable.

Typically, I put together two or three scenarios to simplify their decision making; sometimes only two is best. I encourage them to bring samples home so they can see what the colors look like in their own setting rather than under the fluorescent lights in our showroom. This also allows them to compare what they are considering with existing pieces of furniture that will be in or near the kitchen area, to be sure they complement each other.

As this process moves forward, we generate sketches that they can download and print at home. Sometimes we end up generating quite a few sketches until the design is just right. It’s crucial that the client(s) be as committed to detail as I am, because sometimes something we’ve discussed might be missing on the sketch, and it can be easier for some folks to catch that when it’s printed out. Together, we define, refine, and refine again until everyone is pleased and the order can be placed.

Sheila Varnese is a kitchen designer for LaValley Building Supply, in their West Lebanon, NH facility. She coaches JV Softball at Lebanon High School. She loves her job, especially helping people achieve their dreams and goals in whatever space they have to work with.

Contemporary Home Case Study 1