New American Design with 5,013 Square Feet - HOMEPW26972
Case Study in Home Building
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What would you do to escape the sweltering summer temperatures—well into the 90s from June through September—in the Deep South? Aside from locking yourself inside with the air conditioning turned on full blast, water is the best way to stay cool. And what could be better than having a swimming pool in your own backyard?
That was exactly the thinking of Kevin and Patti Miller, who live east of Birmingham in Anniston, Ala., when they began considering a new home for their growing family. "You can go outside and do absolutely nothing and come in soaking wet," Kevin says of the summer heat. "The pool was a must."
The pool, and the way it fit into the home design, was much of the attraction that Plan HOMEPW26972 held for the Miller family. "We don't entertain a lot, but we have a large family," Kevin says. "We didn't want to live in front of the house; we wanted to live in back of the house and enjoy our privacy." The way the home hugs the pool makes it well suited for the way the Millers wanted to live. "The home wraps itself around the back porch and pool area, and just about every room in the house provides a view out to the pool," Kevin says. The view beyond the pool—of natural forest and a man-made waterfall—is equally compelling.
The site they chose complemented their soon-to-be home. After six years of searching, they found the perfect place to build. Kevin says, "It's about the same here as anywhere else: It's hard to find what you want and what you can afford. But one Sunday we were driving, and [a subdivision of] estate homes had just opened up called Edgefield Farm. We drove down a dirt road and the owner was right there, and I said, 'You've got a beautiful piece of land here.'" It was high ground, with plenty of breathtaking trees: pine, natural dogwood, wild magnolia. Kevin and Patti purchased three lots—a total of fifteen acres—in the middle of the developing cul-de-sac and centered the home on the site, some 70 feet back from the curb.
Besides being in a beautiful area, the home's location is perfect for Kevin and Patti and their four children, Rachael (16), Christine (13), Sam (5), and Jack Henry (1), because it's near all the places they need to go on a daily and weekly basis. "We wanted something that was close in, and we are literally five minutes from the bank, the cleaners, the shopping center, you name it," Kevin says. "Edgefield Farm is kind of unusual in that it's like being in the country, but it's really close in." It's within the city limits of Anniston; schools, a supermarket and their church are all less than ten minutes away from the family's home. For Kevin, who sells advertising from his home office, commuting was not an issue. And so it was settled.
Once the site was chosen, the family selected a builder and broke ground. "Butch Welch [of Butch Welch Construction Inc.] was the builder," Kevin explains. "He's the best in the business around here." Welch proved to be a wise choice. He consulted the Millers about their preferences throughout the project. "Every little detail, he'd call me and I'd just say, 'Butch, you fix it like it was your own.'" And he did. Kevin and Patti were thrilled with the finished product, and equally pleased with the building process itself. "There were no glitches. It was smooth as silk. You hear all these nightmares [about working with a builder], about how you're going to hate it, but we didn't experience it," Kevin says. "You really have to have a high level of trust with your builder, and we had that. If you don't trust him, you've got nothing," he advises.
The Millers weren't the only ones who liked the look of the finished home: others stopped to admire it as well. "It was just stunning," Kevin says. "People were amazed. There was a constant flow of traffic back here [while it was being built]. We had half a dozen people try to buy it before we finished it." No sale was made, however—and for this salesman, it was a good thing, because the home was just perfect for his family. They packed their belongings and moved into their new home.
Plan HOMEPW26972 was so close to what the Millers were seeking in a home that they built it almost exactly as it was designed. "We built it pretty much stock," Kevin says. The only change they made was to omit the stairs leading from the foyer to the gallery, which connects the main living areas of the home. "The plan called for a raised foyer," Kevin explains, "and not knowing what the future holds, there [are very few stairs] in this house, to make it handicap accessible. We wanted it all on one level—we wanted no steps."
The result is a stunningly open floor plan in which one room flows easily into the next, and the next, and the next, without encountering stairs or dark hallways. A minimum of doors—only 18, including closets—adds to the openness.
What the home lacks in doors it makes up for in windows. As a result, almost every room harvests lots of sunlight. "The natural light is incredible," Kevin says. "We [rarely] use lights here, except at night."
The thoughtful floor plan works well for the Miller children, too. The spacious living areas foster togetherness, and the pool practically begs them to come outside and play. When it's time for bed, three bedrooms—each with a walk-in closet—await the kids down a quiet hallway off the family room. One of the bedrooms provides the convenience of its own bath; the other two include private entrances to a shared bath. Both baths have ample storage space for linens, making shouts for a clean towel from a dripping-wet child a thing of the past. "This is an ideal home for children," Kevin says.
Kevin and Patti have space just for themselves, as well. "The master [suite] is isolated from the rest of the bedrooms, which we like," Kevin says. Truly an end-of-the-day retreat, the suite is introduced by a peaceful sitting area, where a three-way fireplace subtly divides it from the bedroom. In the lush master bath, separate vanities and toilets give Kevin and Patti each a measure of privacy as they prepare for the day, and an enormous walk-in closet provides the clothing storage they need. An oversized tub and shower flank the entrance to the only stairs in the house: Just a few steps up, an exercise room awaits. "We've got bikes and treadmills in there," Kevin explains, "and a TV in the corner so we can watch the news in the morning while we're sweating." The exercise room opens out to the expansive deck and pool area in the backyard.
Both Kevin and Patti enjoy cooking, so the kitchen's layout was another important consideration for them. "The kitchen is huge," Kevin says. "There's room for three to four cooks. My wife and I can both work in there without getting in each other's way." An island cooktop with plenty of counter space for chopping vegetables on either side of the range serves as just one of several handy meal-preparation stations. The island, which features a granite countertop that Patti and Kevin purchased from a North Carolina quarry, is also the family's primary eating area. The kitchen is a beautiful place to dine, because, like the rest of the home, it is very well lighted. Three front-facing windows brighten the kitchen, as does a graceful bow window in the adjacent morning room.
The kitchen flows into the family room, which looks out to the pool. "My wife spends most of her time in the family room, knitting, sewing or reading," Kevin says. Besides the gorgeous view through two walls of windows and French doors, the family room includes a fireplace and a built-in niche for two Philips flat-screen TVs on its list of amenities. Nearby, a pass-through opens to a clever ale bar.
During the day, Kevin works from the den. The only room with just a single window, this is the one place that requires artificial light. It's perfect for work, since, as Kevin explains, "It's isolated from the rest of the house, so it's quiet." Since it's not warmed by much sunlight, Kevin says, "[The den] is like an icebox!"
When the workday is done, it's time to play. When he's not poolside, Kevin spends much of his free time watching sports in the living room. "There's a home theater in there from Polk Audio®," he explains. The living room's vaulted ceiling follows the rounded shape of the wall of windows, which sheds light on the room and overlooks the front and side yards. Certainly a highlight of the facade, beautiful curved copper shingles from Zappone™ Manufacturing top the roof above the living room.
The remaining roof material is tile, which gives the home a warm, Mediterranean feel and contrasts with the shiny copper that the living room wears. Since the tile roof is extremely long lasting, the Millers chose to spend a little more money and line it with copper flashing, rather than with galvanized steel. "We didn't want to use galvanized because it's not a lifetime product, and we didn't want to have to replace it," Kevin says. "That roof will be up there as long as the house is up!"
The landscaping was designed by Bob Elam, APLD, of Environmental Design Consultants, Inc. The Millers executed the plans themselves with the help of longtime friend Rickey Weems and nephews Jon and Ben Miller. All told, the Millers added some 1,400 shrubs, trees and flowers, including a rose garden, to the trees that were originally on the homesite. Miller Landscape Supply, which is owned by Kevin's brother, Craig, contributed their special blend of rich mushroom compost, topsoil and peat moss to the project.
Much of the foliage, especially Japanese maples and a weeping willow, is concentrated in the backyard, where a sizable deck by Trex® sits atop a crawlspace and introduces the pool.
That all-important element of the backyard is made of gunite, a mixture of dry sand and cement that's applied to a form. The Millers chose gunite for the pool for the same reason they chose tile for the roof: durability. Most gunite structures last 15 to 20 years. Since they wanted the pool to look as natural as possible, they chose a freeform shape, as opposed to a rectangle or circle, gave the pool a black bottom and lined the perimeter with native stones. "We wanted it to look like it was a natural lagoon or a lake in the woods, and we built the house around it," Kevin says. The result requires a double take: At first glance, one might wonder which came first—the house or the pool!
A waterfall gushes into the pool. Miller Landscape Supply came through again, providing the boulders for the 12-foot-high structure, which Kevin and Jim Loftin, a local museum curator and waterfall enthusiast, built themselves. The construction of the waterfall took six months, and, as Kevin exclaims, "It was a bear! But it's great to lie under. You can swim up to it and take a dip underneath. The sound is just marvelous." A suction line was built into the pool so the waterfall recirculates the water. The Millers find that the swimming pool's filter needs to be changed every couple of weeks; "Other than that," Kevin says, "it's no maintenance."
If the pool is the principal cooling agent outdoors, the home's interior rivals it with refreshingly cool temperatures. But you won't find an air-conditioning unit anywhere near the house, because the Millers chose a different route. Their geothermal heating and cooling system from TETCO uses a relatively new technology that takes advantage of the ambient temperature of the earth to heat and cool a structure. The hardware is more expensive to install than an air conditioner, but the ongoing energy savings makes up the difference in five to seven years. The Millers purchased three geothermal units, sized at 2½, 4½ and 5 tons, and are pleased with the results. "It does a good job in here," says Kevin. "It really keeps it cool, and it keeps it warm in the winter."
The insulation the Millers chose, cellulose, grants them the peace of mind that comes from choosing an earth-friendly recycled material, and allows the home to make the most of the temperature achieved by the geothermal system. Kevin estimates the savings per month over a traditional heating and cooling system is around $550. "With all these high ceilings—some of them are 16 feet—we knew we had to research [some alternatives], or the electric bills would eat our lunch!" Their smart choices help to keep the cost to heat and cool this 5,013-square-foot home at a manageable $250 per month, on average.
Not that all those behind-the-scenes details matter when the family is relaxing outside by the refreshing pool. Instead, their satisfaction rises with the steamy temperatures, as they congratulate themselves on a home well built.