Building a new house in Palo Alto

Building a new house in Palo Alto

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Family-Friendly Design: Home Features I Love As A New Mom

Every house needs a tub...with Puj treads.
When it was time to decide whether to install carpet in our new house, our dog Astro made the decision for us. A very practical friend and mother of two had advised me to skip the carpet. You'll thank me when your kid vomits all over the floor at 3am, she said. Our baby was not due for another several months, so we had no idea what we were in for, and I was not quite ready to give up on my dream of cushy wall-to-wall carpeting. Then one day while discussing the matter with my husband, our cavapoo Astro scooted by, dragging his derriere across the family room area rug. We looked at each other horrified and the decision was instantly made. Here's a visual for those of you who don't know what I mean:

These days every time I wipe spit up off our new home's hardwood floors, I thank my friend and Astro's itchy butt.

Since moving in and having our baby, there are many features I'm grateful for. Here is a list of kid-tested, mother-approved features I recommend when buying or designing a home:

1. One bathtub (and only one)
Most real estate agents will tell you every family home needs a tuband they're right but you only need one. Now that our baby can sit up on his own, he loves to splish splash in the tub. He's a scooter like Astro, so we added some extra cute bath treads from Puj to prevent slipping.

We installed the Kohler Archer tub because it has a low, 19 inch step-over height, (which is important when you're bending over bathing a baby), but has a high slotted drain which allows the same water depth as a standard 21 inch bath (important when mom needs a deep soak). This meets all of our bathing needs, so I'm glad we opted to not put a tub in the master. Instead we used the space for his and her closets and splurged on a deluxe shower setup.

Sidenote: For family bathrooms, I recommend NOT installing a shower door over the tub. Doors simply get in the way when you're bathing a baby. We left ours open and will hang a shower curtain when needed. Also, be sure to install a handheld shower head that reaches down to the tub so it's easy to spray down a little one.
Super-size your shower bench and make sure you have a handheld shower head.
2.  Oversized shower with bench (bonus points for Mr Steam)
The first month with our new baby, I tried bathing him in the various sinks throughout our house to find one that was just right. In the end my favorite place turned out to be on the bench in our shower. For parents who don't have time to shower, I have one word: Co-showering.

With a foldable Flexibath baby tub and a Primo infant seat inside it, baby O sits and soaks while I shower. (By the way, Puj also makes a great flexible bath perfect for sinks). Turning on the Mr Steam shower feature keeps everyone warm and relaxed. Now that he's too squirmy to sit in one place he mostly bathes in the regular bathtub but I still use the steam feature when I showerit's heavenly. Other parents have told me the steam shower is also handy for helping clear head colds.

Baby strategically positioned towards sink in case of open air accidents.
3. Sinks with long countertops
According to BabyConnect (an awesome app for tracking all things baby), we've changed over 2000 diapers in the last 8 months. This is made infinitely easier by the fact that we have long counters next to our sinks that serve as perfect diaper changing stations. Having a sink built into your diaper station is especially handy if you are the unfortunate victim of an open air accident. Speaking of diapers, we use cloth diapers and love the Tiny Tots diaper service. They are reasonably priced and will deliver fresh diapers every week while hauling off the dirty ones.

The NextStep potty seat because toilets are easier to use when you're not worried about falling in.
4. NextStep seat (for baby), Toto Bidet (for mom)
In an effort to reduce the diaper count, we recently started potty training thanks to advice from super mom, Vicky Nguyen. Vicky recommended elimination communication and the nifty Bemis NextStep Potty Seat that you install over your regular toilet. It's a normal adult seat with a kid-sized seat built into the lid that you can put down as needed. The kid seat is hinged and magnetically attaches to the lid so that it's secure when down and inconspicuous when up. My little poo champ loves using the toilet almost as much as I love not having to clean a poopy diaper.

We installed a bidet in our master bathroom on the advice of friends who swear by them. I was pretty happy with our TOTO Washlet before becoming a mom but completely in love with it afterwards. Let's just say that childbirth does freaky things to your body and bidets are way better than Tuck's pads.

Laying down the radiant heat tubes.
4. Radiant heat + the Nest Thermostat
Radiant heat is our number one favorite home feature for the whole family. Now that we've experienced it, we will never be able to go back to forced air. We love it because it's comfortable, quiet, more energy efficient, and most of all--healthier. Indoor air pollution is much more hazardous to your health (and extra, extra bad for little ones) than outdoor pollution. Radiant heat creates a cleaner environment because it doesn't blow dust, allergens and other pollutants around your house.

Another major benefit of radiant heat is the ability to zone your house so that you only heat the rooms that you need. Zones can be set at different temperatures at different times. This is great because we can crank up the heat in the baby's room, giving him his own tropical microclimate, but keep our bedroom cool at night, the way we like it. We also installed an awesome Nest Thermostat in the nursery so that we can check and control the temperature from anywhere we are via an app on our phones.

5. Whole House Fan & ceiling fans
While radiant heat keeps the baby cozy in the winter, the whole house fan keeps him cool in the summer.  Since radiant heat doesn't require ducts, we decided it also wasn't worth putting ductwork in just for air conditioning. Given Palo Alto's mostly mild weather, we figured we could deal without A/C and instead installed an Airscape whole house fan. We also installed ceiling fans in all the bedrooms to create a nice refreshing breeze.

Whole house fans provide natural cooling by pulling hot air out of the house and drawing cool air in. They use a 10-15% the power drawn by A/C and are much more effective than just opening your windows because not do they cool your rooms but they also force the hot air that builds up in your attic out through the roof vents. On hot days we turn the fan on in the morning and evening (when the outdoor temperature is lower than indoors) and it cools the house pretty quickly. For more detail, here's a great write up on how whole house fans work.

The whole house fan is also a great way to improve indoor air quality by bringing in fresh air and pushing out stale air and pollutants. (By the way, plants are also good to have around too. Here's a list of 15 Houseplants for Improving Indoor Air Quality. As a busy mom, I love Mother-In-Law's's the most low maintenance plant ever and virtually unkillable.)

Insulation between the floors and interior walls is one of those "invisible upgrades" that matter.
5. Insulation & sound proofing
As a new parent, everyone tells you to sleep when your baby sleeps, but frankly, I'd rather stay up watching Game of Thrones and Madmen. Our baby's a super light sleeper and also has the lungs of a long distance runner, so I'm thankful for the additional soundproofing measures built into our house. It's not a standard practice to put insulation between floors and in interior walls but I highly recommend it to keep the noise levels down in family homes. For our bedroom walls we also used Quietrock, a special kind of drywall that's supposed to reduce sound transfer by up to 8x, which has helped make sleep training a bit more tolerable.

Kid magnet! The latest (and greatest) James Witt home has a book nook tucked into the hallway.
6. Kid-friendly spaces
Think of it as the water cooler for kids...a space that draws kids in. It's a cozy place for kids to read, do homework, or just daydream. We put a built-in window seat in our home. You don't necessarily need a dedicated spot for kids. A home with an open floor plan makes it easy to carve out spaces as needed. We love our great room because there's enough space to incorporate a baby swing, Jumperoo, Lego Land corner, or whatever the next obsession will be. I'll take that over a formal dining room any day.

7. Ample storage
Kids...So. Much. Stuff. Attic, basement, mudroom, under the stairs closet, garage can never have too much storage space. Enough said.

Stairlights are handy if your hands are full with a sleeping kid or if you're an old dog who can't see so well.
8. Stair lights, night lights & carpet runner
Everyone in the family benefits from our stair lights. They're on a basic timer and come on at night so there's no need flip a switch when going up and down the stairs. The ones we installed are dimmable LEDs and use virtually no power. If you don't want to wire your stairs for lights but have outlets near the landings you can use plug-in night lights instead. We have these motion sensor LED night lights in our bedrooms and bathrooms. They provide enough soft light to navigate around and do a diaper change in the middle of the night without being so bright that they fully wake you up.

Another good safety feature for the stairs is a carpet runner. When we first moved in, our older dog Cisco kept slipping down the stairs. While we love the hardwood floors, we love our babies even more, so we got Stanford Carpets to install a simple wool carpet stair runner. By the way, carpets are terrible for indoor air quality but if you have to have it, it's recommended that you get one made out of natural fibers. It's definitely a lot more comfortable treading down carpeted stairs and it's easy enough to replace a runner when needed.

I could go on and on about other kid-friendly home features, but those are my top picks for now.  If you're interested in the ultimate feature for fur babies, check out my post on making a dog-water fountain.


  1. Another awesome blog post chock full of info. Thanks for the shout outs Auntie Kay! So many great ideas for the next casa...

  2. Kay, I am building a new home in Palo Alto and would love to hear how you like the radiant heat and whole house fan model. Do you think the Airscape is enough to cool down the house or do you wish you installed A/C. Do you have issues with allergies (bringing in the outside air) using the whole house fan. Lastly, who did you use to install the Airscape? Thanks in advance for all your help.

    1. Hi Emily, The radiant heat is definitely our favorite home feature. We will never go back to forced air! It's so much cleaner and more comfortable, though I would say that it's nice to have a fireplace too in the main room where you spend a lot of time (in our case, the great room). We use the fireplace for a burst of warmth when we come home on cold days or get up in the morning. As for air conditioning, there are definitely days when it'd be nice to have, but it's probably less than a week a year. Most of the time the house stays cool (in the 70s, even when it's hot) just by using the whole house fan. On days where it's going to be very hot, we run the fan in the morning before it heats up and that helps a lot. No problems with allergies, supposedly the fan actually helps remove allergens from the inside air. All in all, very happy with this model and highly recommend it unless you have a lot of South facing windows.

  3. I really found this page useful - thank you for writing it! Have you by chance had any conflicts between the NEST thermostat and your Airscape whole house fan?

  4. Hi Chan, no conflicts but unfortunately the two don't work together. The fan has a manual switch that we turn on and off. The one regret is that we didn't get a more powerful model (they don't cost much more). Oh and I wish we had installed a timer.