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Ask HN: I'm renovating a house, what clever stuff should I build in?
66 points by AlexMuir on Feb 26, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 111 comments
- I'd like a way of pumping music round the house into separate rooms (maybe controlled from an iPhone/iPad). It doesn't need to be wireless (Sonos) since I'm rewiring anyway.

- Is it still worth cabling ethernet in?

- Any ideas for green tech that might actually work and pay off? I'm probably going to put in a wood-burning stove.

I'm doing almost everything myself, and money is definitely a consideration.

If I had had more time the last time around, I would have build in a 'secret' vault that is controlled by RFID. I have an RFID chip in my hand and I'd be able to open the vault by waving my hand in front of it.

You need to think this through if you want to do it, though - devise a way to unlock it mechanically, make sure it doesn't open when the power is off, etc.

More mundane things:

- induction cooking plates in your kitchen. That's a no-brainer.

- Ethernet to a few places, but don't fuss about it. The jacks will never be where you need them, anyway. Instead, make sure you have a solid backplane so that you can put wifi repeaters on each floor.

- Floor heating, as mentioned above. No-brainer too.

- For optimal living comfort, thick insulation. 10cm (4") of PUR at the least, preferably 16 (6"). Make the house air tight. Put in a ventilation system, preferable with active intake and exhaust, with heat recuperation (it's called 'System D' here, don't know if that's international).

Also, put in an easter egg for the next person remodeling the house. Write a message on an inner wall that you drywall over, put a waterproof sealed envelope with some pictures of you and your family in a false ceiling, those type of things. It's awesome to discover one of those (I once did).

Totally air-tight houses can be a danger as well; in my home (which is old and "breathes"), a heater once malfunctioned; when I noticed the malfunction (black accumulant around the vents) and called a technician to come check it out, the technician said that if the house had been air-tight I would likely be either severely hospitalized or dead, so sometimes a little non-air-tightness can be good, especially since it encourages you to open the windows and doors and get some fresh air instead of relying on the air conditioner all year round.

That's why you need ventilation! The house itself needs to be airtight, for energy preservation. The heat-recuperating system and natural ventilation takes care of taking out the dirty air. Of course when renovating a house (a renovation will never get it airtight) with antiquated dangerous heating systems that can exhaust fumes when malfunctioning, those need to be removed.

Modern building standards (I don't mean building codes, I mean state of the art in building engineering) says to make houses 100% air tight, but with proper ventilation systems, of course. Opening the windows and doors is not enough! CO levels will get back to 80% of their old levels in 30 minutes after closing them! Modern houses need to be continuously ventilated to achieve the highest levels of living comfort.

(PS I'm a real estate developer)

A home that can breath is also more comfortable. It keeps moisture in check and helps with stale air transfer.

No it's not! That was thought 30 years ago, but building technology has advanced. Ventilation needs to be controlled. Having cracks and leaking windows is very inefficient in keeping an optimal indoor climate, not to mention very energy inefficient. An airtight, very well insulated house with active ventilation (an indoor climate control system, not to be confused with airco) is the best way to get an optimal indoor living climate all year round.

I wasn't talking about leaking windows. You can't seal a house up and think it's going to be a nice place to live. You need a way for the house to breath. Which is exactly what you've said.

Sorry, I thought you were agreeing with the person you were replying to. Like adestefan says, I consider 'breathing' (like 'organic ventilation') a euphemism for 'crappy air control'. But if we use 'breathing' as 'well-ventilated, in a controlled way', then I guess we agree.

I suspect Roel is Belgian. "Breathing" would in his context refer to euphimism for a leaky house.

I wouldn't say induction cooking is a no-brainer, not everybody likes it. I rather cook on a gas stove.

Come on, that's either because you didn't really adapt to induction, or because you had a crap stove. Induction is equally good or better than gas in every aspect but one:

- Lower energy use

- Induction responds equally fast as gas (i.e, instantaneously)

- Standing over an induction stove doesn't get nearly as hot as over a gas stove

- Induction is much much much easier to clean.

- No need to find matches/lighter (unless you get a gas stove with build-in ignition)

- No need to put in separate gas piping

- Safer: never having to worry about children turning on the gas, or accidentally turning it on e.g. by bumping into it with a pot

- Pots are on the stove in a much more stable position, both safer and easier to use.

- Induction comes with build-in timers to turn off the heat for a pot (maybe some gas stoves have this, but then only the very expensive ones - I've never seen an induction plate that didn't have it).

Only disadvantage is that not all pots work on it (i.e., you need pots with iron in it, aluminum won't work).

I wouldn't say that's the only disadvantage -- with induction, I'm only cooking if the pan is in contact with the induction element. If I'm tossing a pan, I'm not cooking. I lose the ability to pull a pot slightly above the cooking surface to cool it down to a simmer while still maintaining heat.

There's an art to cooking with gas, and being technologically superior doesn't necessarily make it better.

With induction you can control very finely how much energy is added to the pot, no need to put it slightly higher. Professional chefs have switched to induction across the world except for the US; talk to European chefs about their opinions of US kitchens - most find it downright antiquated.

It still wouldn't call it a no-brainer just because of the "only disadvantage" that you mention. I'd have to throw away half of my pots (including a beautiful tagine)

When you're spending $1500 on an induction plate, or $20k on a proper kitchen, the $250 to get some new pots isn't going to make the difference. And yes you can get induction tajines, Tefal has one for example. You use that one to cook in and the other one to look at.

Note that portable single "burner" induction cooktops are available at under $100 for anyone who wants to investigate the technology before committing to it. It will remain a useful appliance, whatever your preference (warming plate, at-table presentations, cooking on the porch, etc.).

These things is what most people get their bad opinions of induction cooking from! The one linked above is a paltry 1500 watts. Enough to boil an egg. not to do proper cooking. A proper induction plate has one zone that can be boosted to 3500 of 4500 watts, which you need to get the same or better performance as a good gas stove. Don't base your opinions of cooking on induction on one of these small plates!

An induction plate will probably be more expensive than a gas stove (depending on where you live). What I like about them a lot is the fact that they are a lot easier to clean.

I would go induction any day of the week, incredibly handy.

Agreed, I much prefer cooking gas. Dislike induction.

Serious cook, serious equipment, serious mistake with a ceramic high-output cook top. We did it for the simple reason that my spouse is tired of cleaning up the disaster of a stove after cooking for 12. We considered induction for the home with some of our pets being underfoot/on counters while cooking.

Our expensive cook top was tested and branded as copper safe. It is, until water gets between the cook top and the copper pan. Also found that the rapid heat generated by an utterly imprecise dial control system could damage cookware, so I now tend to bring them to temp in two stages.

I would definitely go with gas if the line is already brought into the kitchen and available.

You can obtain Fogor induction cook tops and try them out and take them back if they don't work. Same mechanic as a full scale range. Make sure you do a double oven and if you can afford it, install a micro hood with a real vent outside the house - or your attic goods will smell like bacon in perpetuity.

Are you talking about induction or ceramic? They're totally different, ceramic is crap, don't get that - it's only barely better than a 'regular' electric plate. There's no comparing the ease of use between the two - it's just that the look roughly similar from a distance, that's where the similarities end.

From my first sentence: serious mistake with a ceramic high-output cook top

We did not go with the induction, I should have run gas. I did, however, test pretty extensively with induction. Even in the $6,000 range I wasn't pleased with the results in testing.

Site is in flash, but they have many "secret" doors and vaults.

http://hiddenpassageway.com/ (I think this was previously mentioned on HN).

Since the house doesn't (and never will) have gas, the choice is between electric and induction. Seems that it really is a no-brainer for us. I'd never even heard of induction so I need to do some research here.

I rebuilt a house in the SF Bay Area several years ago.

In-floor radiant heating is my absolute favorite feature. Nothing like it.

On-demand tankless hot water system. With two loops (one open, one closed) and a heat exchanger between the two, one on-demand system can serve your domestic hot water plus the in-floor heating.

Humidity switches in the bathrooms to kick on the exhaust fan when moisture builds up from the shower (an anti-mold measure).

I put in structured wiring for phone, Ethernet (CAT 6), and video. I feel really stupid now as the only video I watch is on the computer and I gave up my landline to go solely cellular. I still like the Ethernet jacks in every room but mostly because I can put my wireless router anywhere. Lesson learned: technology changes rapidly. My structured wiring box looks quaint instead of high-tech after only five years.

A solar tube (basically a round skylight with a thirty foot reflective tube) that brings natural light down to ground floor rooms. Very nice.

One piece of advice: Don't get started on house remodeling or construction if you're doing a startup or trying to run a business. It tends to demand far more time than you have. And it's true it can put a strain on relationships (for the same reason).

Put in some proper cable ducts so you don't have to tear up the wall once some new standard is introduced.

Put up some solar thermal panels; they last forever and really do work. Look into geothermal, maybe it's worthwhile where you live. But the biggest money saver will be better insulation. You can save up to 70% of your heating/cooling costs by proper insulation.

Make sure the wiring conduits are large because a small conduit can screw up the rating of the cable if you really have to force it through.

You should use talcum powder on the cables to easily pull them through the conduits and reduce stress on them.

For example, in my house the conduits are tiny and routed at extreme 90 degree angles in places. There's no chance that I'll ever be able to route any decent cable without degrading its performance. The last time I routed cable it was extremely difficult to do.

Also leave a pull wire or two and always pull a new pull wire every time you add a cable and use the existing one.

Wiring conduits are great. A good sized basement to attic channel will cover most things, but dedicated conduit to likely locations is good too for the unforseens. (e.g. AT&T U-verse needing its own ethernet because it can't live behind the firewall.)

Ethernet everywhere, and more than you think you need, even if you don't terminate every connection. Put in Cat-6, as it's easier to pull, and future proof.

Everywhere you think you might need one cable, put 2, need 2, put 4. In fact, 4 strands/room might not be overkill.

Where everything comes back to, put a patch panel - you can buy panels with 24 square slots and a bracket to hook it into the wall. I'd put this in a closet or utility room (laundry room/garage/etc.). Make sure that power and your other utility terminations (cable/phone/etc.) go there as well.

I would put architectural moldings that hide easily accessible duct where can run Ethernet for now.

On house time scale, not sure Ethernet is future-proof, might want to run fiber or who knows what in 20 years. Twisted pair is only mass market for last 20 years.

Or you might even want to run speaker wire or who knows what.

Nah, don't put cat5 or 6 everywhere. It's spendy, even if not terminated. And you're not going to use most of it. What you do is: put in conduit/flex tubes in the walls in every conceivable location and run them to a common distribution frame. THEN inside the conduit, you place pull string. When you need a drop, you simply tie the wire (and a new piece of poly pull string) to the existin pull string, pull the cable through, and terminate.

And you're not limited to cat6. You Can drop coax, cat3/5/6, fiber, or whatever.

I'd just use wifi.

Ethernet in the walls is a definite yes of course.

A backup electricity generator would be cool if power outages aren't uncommon in your area. Something like a central UPS.

Good insulation is key. Double glazed windows, etc.

A solar water heater is a good idea if you get a good amount of sunshine.

Grey-water recycling is a good idea. You can also reclaim heat from it.


A composting setup would be handy if you have a backyard or garden.

Choose robustness and longevity over style and minor cost savings for the various components/materials that will be used.

A couple of points on generators: make sure you can use it in the dark, while you are panicking (I've heard horror stories about generators that couldn't be switched on in an emergency, because nobody could see, and nobody knew how to work them); and make sure that it can't fill your house with poisonous fumes (or even just CO2).

And yeah, visit a hotel that was stylish in the 90s, and never got updated. Just think about the cringe factor your fancy gadgets will have in 10 years time, when everything is wireless and is controlled by iPhones and Androids.

>> Ethernet in the walls is a definite yes of course.

Why Ethernet instead of PLC? I know EthCat6 is faster and reliable... but you can get now 500Mbps from some PLC kits, and no maintaining is required

I faced this choice when I bought a new house and opted for PLC. As much as I like wired ethernet, I'm glad I went with PLC. It was cheaper in the long run and more flexible because I can use any power outlet in a room without having to grab an extra long cable. Wireless has improved so much, I only use PLC for legacy devices like network printers or old laptops. I also inherited a mess of telephone and security cables with the house and the basement is an incomprehensible tangle. Be nice to future owners and avoid adding cables whenever possible.

Spray foam insulation in attic and basement (cellulose based).

Mini-split AC system (multi-zoned Mitsubishi or LG).

CAT-6 wired, RJ-45 connections (two in each room).

Electrical, instant-on hot water heater (no tank).

Graywater system to save on toilet flushes.

Double-gang outlet boxes (so you can have 4 outlets, instead of 2).

Air-to-Air heat exchanger (they are called many things - it replenishes stale, indoor air with fresh outdoor air without changing the temperature too much).

Steam shower.

Wiring closet.

CAT-5/CAT-6 to outside eaves of house for CCTV streaming network cameras.

Mutli-zone sprinkler system with soil moisture monitoring.

Rain-water fed cistern (for irrigation, toilet).

Laminar flow fountain with LED color-changing lights.

Green roof (it grows plants on the roof to absorb the sun's energy and reduce rain water runoff).

Natural pool (it uses plants to filter the water, not chemicals).

A mote.

A portcullis.

Do instant-on hot water heaters work well? What are the best brands. I'm in an apartment with a small tank that I would like to replace.

They don't work well with high-efficiency washers. The washer pulls a small amount of hot water so slowly that the heater never sees the demand to kick the heat on.

Depends where you are. We had one in Puerto Rico (i.e. warm water coming into the house) and I loved it. Up north it's questionable. And note that when it's on, especially during the winter, it will suck down a lot of amperage - like, 60 amps. If you've only got 100 amp service, like I do, you probably want to go with a gas heater.

A buddy did a top-of-the-line instant-on gas water heater, I'm sure it saves money but it does take a minute or more for water temperature to stabilize and get to the 2nd floor and actually be able to take a shower. YMMV.

Stiebel-Eltron. You may have to add some extra circuit-breakers.


Ethernet is absolutely worth it. Streaming video or audio will benefit from this. Having a wired network can help improve your wifi network because you can put wireless access points anywhere you have a wired connection.

The combination of Apple's iTunes + Airport Express + Remote app works very well. But it's much more reliable on a wired network. I used to have this setup on a wifi network, and the music would cut out every so often, but that was because my wifi network was unreliable. Also note when it is on ethernet, the Airport Express can also function as a wireless access point at the same time as streaming music.

Underfloor heating, much nicer than radiators, cheaper to run and more wall space :)

+1 for ethernet.

Oh, yes absolutely. I wish I had made the decision to tear down the cement leveling and installed floor heating when I has the chance. Gas heating is killing me, and don't even get me started on electrical. That, combined with a coke heater will reduce your heating bill significantly. Also, consider solar water heating panels - those are subsidized by the state in some areas.

I'd definitely put in ethernet. But maybe there's some way you can wire everything through 1" PVC pipes, so it's relatively easy to replace it.

For Wireless music you can also using Apple's Airport Express?

I don't know how expensive solar panels are where you live, but here they are definitely worth it, especially as they get subsidized by the government. Another good green thing is a big tank which uses all your overheat to keep water warm, and then uses it. Don't know what it's called, but it saves quite a bit on the heating bill.

Solar thermal and solar hot water preheat is usually a big win. It takes a lot of energy to heat water. Heat in the form of natural gas is still dirt cheap, but you'd be saving a lot of carbon footprint.

Thermomax tubes can collect solar energy to heat water, even when it's freezing outside. You can also use their output as part of a radiant heating system.


Pair solar water preheat with tankless, and you have the best of both worlds -- use of free solar energy with the exact water temperature you want.

These folks used the Thermomax tubes in Arizona -- and had too much energy collected: http://www.solarhaven.org/Hydronic.htm

This guy has a bunch of tricks: http://mtbest.net/

You also might price out getting photovoltaic, and writing your own controller so that a small auxiliary air conditioner (separate from main system) gets turned on, but only when your panels are producing enough juice to run it. This means you are getting all the benefit of "free" cooling, without paying for a battery system and without paying for enough solar panels to run the AC for a whole house, and getting this boost exactly when you need it. (When the sun is beating down on your house.)

You can also look into air heat exchangers. This lets you preheat your ventilation input air with heat from your ventilation output. This only works well for super-sealed super-insulated houses. (The Germans even have a standard for super-green houses that includes such devices.)


In Houston, the air quality varies with the tides. If you are in a similar situation, I'd look into a custom controller that ventilates the house when the air quality is good, but seals it when it's bad.

The conduit is a good idea. If not everywhere, then from various strategic locations, maybe running up and down to basement or attic.

It's an auspicious week to advocate this because Apple and Intel just released Thunderbolt, formerly known as Light Peak. The initial implementation is all copper, but the protocol is designed for fiberoptic, so within five years we may all be routinely plugging keyboards and monitors in one part of the house into a computer in another part, which in turn is plugged into the storage array in the attic. But only if we pull the cables.

That's what I had in the back of my mind indeed :)

+1 for PVC pipe in the walls. A friend of mine did that, and it's worked on great for him.

If you have vent system for heating and cooling, it might be worthwhile to look at smart systems with per room control. In my house it's all or nothing, so the bathroom can be 85F while the living room is 65F. (My low tech solution was to cut out thin cardboard from cereal boxes and place it under the vent covers. It's visually unobtrusive, easy to do, and makes a big difference in the heating / cooling effectiveness.)

Having read some of the comments already I vote heartily for radiant heating floors, green tech which does not cause more maintenance proceedures/confusion for next buyer, proper amounts of electrical plugs (id put them in the floor in the main living areas or at least at the very base of the floor molds. Lots of houses have ethernet cabling... I think you're safe with that. Air exchanges aren't sexy, but awesome.

hack summer - partly screened in deck/porch from mosquitos are wonderful.

I'm gonna second radiant heat in the floor. You'll never regret it.

Here's what I did when we built our house about 10 years ago:

I ran a bundled cable containing 2 cat5 and 2 coax to each bedroom, the kitchen, my office and the family room. Even with wireless it's nice to be able to put another access point in pretty much any room. I did additional single cat5 runs to various places where I didn't think I'd need all four. Today I'm not sure the coax is still justified, but it has been handy for satellite. Now, I'd at least run several cat6 to each location and just leave it in the wall.

I ran speaker wire everywhere, every room including the garage, outside for the deck, even the laundry room. It's just sitting in the walls/ceiling in most places still, but I add a new "node" occasionally.

For the music nodes, I have a bunch of airport express units in the basement where all the wiring terminates. They're not running in wireless mode, just plugged into a gigabit switch with a single channel amp hanging off each one.

I got several of them refurb here (apple has them refurb too): http://www.cowboom.com/product/160235

These are the little amps (they have various wattages): http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001P2VV50

You can spend as much as you want on speakers, but I usually go for the cheap ones since they're generally just for background music anyway. That lets me put in a new node for under $150.

Here are some cheap bics that I have in a couple of rooms: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0008MFIFM


- take pictures/video of all your open walls so you can find your wire - label all your wiring at both ends

Are these Airports really the cheapest/best way to get music playing? seems like a lot of wasted technology in them if I'm just connecting them to ethernet.

Agreed, it does seem like a waste, but I haven't found a better solution that allows the same flexibility. You could split a bunch of speakers out of a bigger amp if you just want the same sound everywhere, but I really like being able to choose any combination of sources and output. My family all have macs and ipod touches or iphones. There's something cool about any of the kids being able to pipe their ipod's music through the deck speakers, for example, while my office plays itunes off my laptop.

Taking pictures of open walls is a great idea. Thanks for the links.

Do these Aiports do 802.11n at 5.8GHz or only 2.4GHz?

2.4 or 5 for the current gen express. Airport extreme has simultaneous dual band. Check apple for all the specs.

Go pellet/corn instead of a true wood stove. I got so sick of splitting wood and cleaning a crappy wood stove that I replaced mine. Now I just dump in 40 lbs of pellets and let her rip. After a couple bags I just need to take my vacuum and 5 minutes later I have a clean stove. Plus I can keep the bags in the garage instead of lugging outside in the snow.

- IIRC you have to make special accommodations (battery backup?) to ensure pellet stoves work during a power outage.

- you can buy logs made of compressed sawdust for your wood stove. These are sized properly for most stoves, though I find you do need to split them in quarters or thirds to get them to catch well. Splitting a day's worth of pressed wood takes ~5 minutes with a hatchet and is light-duty work.

Also consider a rocket stove, which are increasing in popularity due to their efficiency.

Also, a power monitor might make sense - there's a project that uses the Arduino if you're feeling like building one yourself.

1. Put velcro around your house in various rooms

2. Put velcro on the back of your iPad and iPhone

3. http://www.apple.com/ipad/velcro/

Warning (taken from Apple's page):

  "Tweet from the street at your own risk!*” 
  *Do not attempt.

- Plain old electric outlets in almost every corner, more than you think you'd need :)

- I'm putting in 2 wood stoves too.

- Yes on the ethernet, wifi only takes you that far.

If you are burying cables in the wall you may as well spend the extra and go for Cat. 6a UTP as it's spec'd to carry 10 Gbit Ethernet. Watch out for the minimum bend radius though its often around 30 mm with Cat 6a (4x cable's outer diameter).

More and more stuff can be carried down UTP like video (HDMI over Ethernet) and USB devices, it is also ideal for hooking up phones around the place too. You can never have too much UTP in your walls when considering possible future requirements IMO.

Oh and don't forget to run some up to your roof area to give you the option of participating in your local wireless mesh project!

But isn't ethernet way faster than your internet connection, which is your true bottleneck? Unless you're gonna do heaps of local movie streaming or something?

In 20 years time, 10 Gigabit ethernet is going to be slow. Maybe he'll want to stream holographic projections or something and he can't do it because his wires only support gigabit ethernet. That's the problem with house remodelling: predicting the future. That's why you always overbuild while you have the drywall off and laying cable is relatively cheap.

Imagine someone putting coaxial for lightning-fast 10Mbit back in the 90s. It might have seemed an overkill back then..

Anyway, if you stream from a local server (e.g. a NAS in the basement), it might totally make sense even today.

While less exciting, make sure you have access to everywhere.

One day water will drip through the ceiling into the downstairs, and you'll have to start either tearing up the floorboards, or cutting holes in the ceiling, to find out what is leaking from where.

Highly disappointing that that final design differs so much from the one here: http://www.geeky-gadgets.com/truepower-ucs-usb-power-outlet-...

I'm sure there are technical/electrical issues that forced a different design - just a shame it's not as well executed (and over double the price).

I would do a wet kitchen and wet bathroom. Having commercial style drain directly accessible in the floor makes life so much easier. Just think about it... how great would it be to hose down the entire room. It's actually very common to have a wet bathroom in asia.

Some other things I like: • zoned small duct/high velocity AC • PEX for non-potable water supply • overkill on electrical wiring • wainscoting • gray water collection • heat recovery shower drains (depends on the house) • tankless water heaters / point of use water heaters • potfiller faucet (wall mount faucet above the stove) • a sink large enough to hold a baking sheet pan

Outstanding list. I'd add ground loop geothermal. Plus a second sink in the kitchen if you're into cooking.

When you put ethernet, make sure to use Cat6 or Cat7 - it costs more now, but will serve you far longer. Do that at least to the farthest places in the house (so you can put the wifi access points). Or to every room -- you can use them also as speaker cables, wired phone cables.

Also, I've seen a few places with collapsible walls - one of them had a wall between the livingroom and a bedroom, that was collapsible (so that they become one room), and had a flat screen tv in the middle that could rotate (so it would point either at the bedroom or the livingroom) and would collapse to be on the side wall when the whole thing collapsed.

A couple things I wish I had after visiting some friends. Wire the opposite sides of your rooms on different fuses. Run gas lines to your backyard for access to heaters and grill. The gas from your house is different than what you would use for your grill/outside heating you may need to change the aperture of the openings. Walk around your house and find somewhere you would like your garden. Find a window that looks over that spot, and install a switch inside next to the window that controls an outlet outside the house. It's nice to be able to water your garden with a flip of a switch. :)

I see the logic of wiring different sides of rooms on different fuses but I think this would probably be against wiring regulations in the UK - and possibly against common sense too.

In addition to energy efficiency, do whatever you can with your money to make maintenance easier on yourself.

For instance, bathrooms that are easily cleanable. I myself really like the way that Japanese homes generally separate the toilet, sink, and bath/shower into separate rooms. With the bath/shower essentially being a tiled room, it's really easy to clean up without splashing water everywhere.

A continuous hot water heater will pay for itself (and let you take Japanese-style baths).

This thread just cost me $400 since I just ordered everything to do heated floors in my new bathroom I'm installing. For about $9/sqft, I bought Warmwire and a programmable thermostat. The installation looks super simple too.

I live in Austin, so there's only a few months out of the year that this will be useful, but I can only imagine how glorious it will be to walk barefoot on warm tile in the winter. :)

A couple others have mentioned this, but I looked in to multi-room audio a few months ago and it seems to me that AirPort Express is not only the best solution (at least if your music is in iTunes and you carry an iPhone or iPad) but also the cheapest: it's $99 per room plus audio equipment.

Having a WiFi base station in every room is just the icing on the cake.

If you're able (and if this applies), put a 2"-3" piece of PVC or other conduit from somewhere in your attic to somewhere in your basement, where you can get to it. You never know when you're going to need to fish cable from high to low or vice versa.

second this. especially across rafters. never go above 1.5", always drill center and reinforce with a steel brace clip.

Look into passive solar design options. There are lots of "old" things that can be done to make the house functional without having to constantly run up the electric bill for heating, air conditioning, etc. Passive solar works best if you are building from the ground up because house orientation and things like that can be big factors. But that doesn't mean you can't incorporate some passive solar design principles into a renovation.

If it were my house, I would make sure all those modern gizmos are bells and whistles/icing on the cake and that the entire thing doesn't simply fall apart without them. That's part of my wishlist for some time in the future.

One of the best passive solar methods I have seen is to use plants and trees to obstruct the Southern view of the sun.

As fall approaches, the leaves fall off of the trees, allowing sunlight to pass, and warm your home.

As spring approaches, the leaves return, blocking the sun, and keeping your house cool.

ALSO, a green roof would be awesome AND a "natural pool".

Yes, I was thinking of the deciduous tree thing when I was writing my post. It's very rehab-friendly, unlike some passive solar techniques.

If I were renovating, I'd wire speakers into all parts of the house. This way, the same music can be playing all over the house and can be controlled easily.

In fact, I can't wait until I have a place of my own and the money to make this happen.

I just stayed at a 4 bedroom rental cabin that had this and it was surprisingly useful. All of the audio went back to a receiver in the living room and each room had it's own volume knob. We used it just about every day we were there.

a faraday cage embedded in the walls, with fractally-bent wires upto the roof :)

If you get snow, the next renovation I'm looking into is a heated driveway. It's MUCH cheaper to put in if you're already replacing / repairing the driveway vs. tearing it up for the fun of it.

I ran 4" electrical conduit from where the TV is to where the cable box etc. are. Didn't take more than a few hours to cut, join and mount it, and it is completely future proof.

To mirror everyone else's comments, cable everything you can. I ran 2x RG-6 quad shield, 2x CAT-5e to each panel and home-ran it. If I did it again I'd also run a CAT-3 (I won't use it but future buyers might want it). I've seen cables that have all that plus fiber - check out smarthome.com or similar.

Get one of those fm transmitters, and use old radios in each room for music. Or carry a ghetto blaster or computer speakers and a portable player from room to room.

If I need a tv in another room. I carry one in there.

Not sure how good networking over electric cables is these days, but would seem like an easy alternative to wifi.

Rather than run Ethernet cables through the house, I ran them on the outside of the last place I lived. It was easier, and less messy (at least from the inside).

Make the roof a lighter color (aka, a "cool roof") -- especially if you're in a warmer climate -- to reduce energy consumption: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cool_roof

A cool roof energy savings calculator from DOE: http://www.ornl.gov/sci/roofs+walls/facts/CoolCalcEnergy.htm

In the coming years the price of water will change considerably. You probably wont regret installing a rainwater harvesting system. Also, there is a way to finesse the wasted water that goes down the drain in the shower back into your toilet tanks.

There's a (relatively low) upper bound on the price of water based on cost of desalinating water (turning ocean water into drinkable water).

It looks like, today, water desalination can be done for about a $1000 per acre-foot, which is only ~40% more expensive than current prices (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120053698876396483.html?mod=...). Granted there aren't desalination plants everywhere - but in the event of a serious water shortage many would quickly be built.

40% sounds like a lot, but water accounts for such a small percent of most people's current expenses, that it's practically negligible.

Current per capita total water use in the USA is about 180 gallons per day. That means switching to all desalinated water would cost less than $70 extra dollars per year per person.

Desalination is very energy hungry. with Oil possibly going up 100% (if Libya and Tunisia both stop providing oil), it could easily be 200% higher than current prices for water. But it would still be small compared to other expenses - by your calculation, by ~$300/year. Something you'd start to feel (but then, everything would shoot up in price)

There's something wrong with those numbers, at least on an "as delivered" basis.

Water on the Monterey penisula is already several times as expensive as San Jose's. Neither one uses de-salination.

The Monterey peninsula is adding some desalination and the projected cost for all water is double the current cost. (Does anyone think that the projection will turn out low?)

Is Airport Express the best option for music? I don't like the idea of tying myself to Apple and iTunes. Nor do I have any use for the Wifi/USB connectivity that seems to make up the bulk of the Airport's functionality.

For a house, I haven't found anything better. I value my time, and not having to fiddle with it pays off. Plus it's pretty flexible.

A Toto Washlet.


For the uninitiated...


After using one of these I don't even know how other toilet manufacturers stay in business. It's the gift to your private parts that just keeps on giving.

I'm really, really surprised how much I like it. It's like unlocking a secret level that people only know about in Japan.

Visit www.control4.com and www.sonos.com for the ultimate automated home! Cant wait to build with these.

More electrical outlets. Secret passage-ways. A hangar for the Bat-fleet. A maze for the Minotaur.

heat lamps outside the shower, or even a giant blow drier (I have seen these before, really)

i would build a urinal in my closet, or otherwise easily accessible from my room (seriously)

a bidet for the lady in the house

tankless water heater?

I haven't yet seen a suggestion for sound-dampening blankets/foam. If you live in an urban area, keeping the bedrooms quiet could be a huge pay-off as even minor sleep disruptions (you don't even have to be aware of them, let alone be awoken) measurably affect mental acuity and overall energy levels.

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