While the paperwork related to the land in Taboada worked its way through the Mexican legal system, we hired an architect who asked us for a description of our dream home. It was a good exercise that forced us to think this project through.
Here is what Stew and I came up with. [Notes in brackets explain the reason for some of the choices, which may not be clear to people who don't live in Mexico. Also some updates.]
Hammer/Lanier House Wish List
The design is unmistakably Mexican, but also contemporary. We are open to all suggestions regarding Mexican detailing, as long as it's clever and creative. We want to stay away from the more clichéd elements found in many new homes in SMA, such as second-quality ceramic tiles and bathroom sinks, coarse clay tile flooring and other such details that are often marketed as “rustic” or “genuine” but to us reflect substandard materials and craftsmanship. Stick to clean, simple, interesting design.
The house should be relatively small; we're into function, not grand ceremonial spaces. We like to entertain but not mob scenes; four to six guests at a time is about right. Construction and materials should be durable on account of pets.
Siting and orientation:
The house should be sited North/South to take advantage of the sun during the winter. Most of the windows would face south to catch the winter sun.
We want to take maximum advantage of the views, with the siting of the house, terraces, windows, etc. Keep in mind sunrises, sunsets.
We also want to maintain as much privacy as possible and guard against potential construction near us that could affect our views, privacy and quiet [even though the lot we eventually did buy is 7 1/2 acres]. That would be reinforced with strategic landscaping, trees and other features to keep out the neighbors.
The main bedroom should face east to receive the early morning sun. We should avoid excessive exposure to afternoon sun from the west.
At the same time we’d like to have lots of sun, windows and skylights without the interiors becoming too hot during the summer. Many houses in San Miguel, particular older ones, tend to be dark.
More about energy conservation later.
Basic components of the house:
--Protected interior courtyard for growing tropical or semi-tropical plants. We’ve thought about having a courtyard as you go into the house, sort of a vestibule of plants, maybe a fountain.
--Lots of terrace space, for eating outside. Some of the space protected by a roof, the rest open. Pay attention to sun exposure, shadows etc.
--Living/Dining Room connected to the Kitchen with counter space or some such partial divider, rather than making the Kitchen totally separate. Kitchens in Mexican homes are often totally separate and closed in. We want a more American-style Kitchen that interacts with the Dining Room.
--Generous size Main Bedroom, with a walk-in closet and a good size bathroom. --Extra-large shower stall flush with the floor (i.e., no steps)
--Generous size studio/office with closet space and also wall space for books and pictures
--Smaller bathroom connected to the studio/office and also accessible from the LR/DR (Tub) so that it performs also as a powder room for guests.
--Kitchen with an island, and perhaps a wall of floor-to-ceiling cabinets to serve as a pantry. A door connecting to the terrace for outdoor dining.
--2 ½ car garage, the ½ being space for a workshop and storage of garden equipment. Connected to the kitchen for offloading of groceries.
--Lots of closets.
--Mechanical room for solar power equipment, water pumps and purification system, washer and dryer. Maybe this room could be combined with the extra-large garage.
Energy efficiency & sustainability factors:
Electricity comes from solar panels, probably about 10 of them, installed on the roof but hidden from view from ground level. There is a room on the first floor to accommodate the storage batteries, inverter and related equipment. We want to have enough panels to produce enough electricity so we can live without heroic or ridiculous conservation measures, like filling the place up with candles like a nunnery.
Likewise, hot water comes from a solar water heater, also on the roof, with on-demand water heaters as backup during cloudy days. Can the on-demand water heaters go on the roof? Do we need two, one on each end of the house, to make hot water available quickly without having to let it run at the faucet.
Lighting and wiring should factor in energy conservation, i.e., task lighting etc.
Sound and thermal insulation are very important inside and outside the house. Insulation material in the roof is important to keep the inside cool during the summer.
A rainwater collection system stores the water in an underground cistern. Sizing of the various components is important: How much roof space is needed to collect how much water, and how big a cistern is needed to hold the water collected? Two separate systems, one for household use and another for irrigation?
[NB: According to the latest design of the house, we have enough roof area to fill a 120,000 liter cistern, or approx. 32,000 gallons of rainwater.]
A BOSS septic tank system (or equivalent) takes all the black and gray water from the building and filters it into water suitable for irrigating the (non edible) garden.
Good quality windows—with good thermal insulation and fittings to keep out the dust are a big plus. Aluminum? Keep in mind security considerations. Lockable windows and doors. Vinyl clad?
The physical design of the house takes into consideration the extreme exposure to the sun in San Miguel and shields the inside to help it keep cool during the summer. In some cases that involves extended overhangs or other design features on the south and west sides that let in some sun in the winter but keep out the blazing summer sun. In combination with ceiling fans, windows located at ceiling (clerestory) and floor levels create an airflow that cools down the house, particularly at night during the summer.
Maybe strategically placed skylights could provide a great deal of the light inside—and cut down electrical use—particularly in interior areas.
--Heating: We could be talked out of it, but right now we favor zoned, hot water baseboard heating. Both of us are allergic to propane fumes, so fake fire logs for heating are not an option. We are dubious about radiant floor heating: We've heard it's not cold enough in San Miguel to make such systems work, and that the temperature is hard to control. Maybe Rennai heaters are an option.
The house is on one floor, with no steps inside.
The floor plan provides easy, smooth flow rather than sharp turns, inaccessible nooks and crannies or any other obstacles to mobility, including someone in a wheelchair. These and other access features are incorporated discreetly as if they are integral elements of the design.
Throughout the house, built-ins abound to reduce the need for furniture, particularly for storage, such as china cabinets, side cupboards, standing bookshelves, etc.
The two bedrooms have ample closet space, including the room that will be used as an office or library but which may be converted into a guest or extra BR in the future.
Wiring: We want a "smart" house, in terms of wiring. Sound, phones, wi-fi, satellite TV. In addition to solar panels, there has to be room for TV and Internet satellite dishes on the roof. Built in wiring for sound.
We want mechanized, modern, efficient construction methods to speed up construction and guarantee even quality. Powered cement mixers. Back hoes and other excavating equipment. Wheelbarrows, not plastic buckets. This house has to be ready in 9-10 months, max.
[NB: Housing construction in Mexico often is all-manual, i.e. cement is mixed by hand and delivered to its destination in buckets. The reason is that labor is very cheap. The downside is that it takes twice as long to do things.]
--Building materials. We don't want the usual clay brick construction. It's cheaper, but also slower, more uneven and the R- insulation value of common brick and concrete roofs is lousy.
Adobe or Hebel bricks? Don't know. We've also heard about rammed earth construction. A friend has a house made of straw bales. Wouldn't mice would love that?
So that's it. Anyone with any suggestions or critiques is welcome to comment.