Originally Posted by gabbyraja
*I've read that cathedral ceilings are pretty and all, but cost you more for heat. Not sure if it's true, or if it can be offset by ceiling fans...?
I live up north. As in, we've started up the wood stove already to warm up the house, and we don't bother with those goofy gates around it for our kids since they figure out it's hot fairly quickly (our 19mo goes up and blows on it when it's hot, or puts kindling in it when the stove's cold). If you live in a cold climate and heat with gas or electric, odds are you won't care about heating anything above the 10-foot level, but if you live in a warmer climate the cathedral ceiling type thing may be nice for the hot air to rise to. And heating *that* much, at least in my area, gets up in the $200-$400/mo range for most folks I've asked. I'm only used to this area though, and I know all my now-dead relatives had smaller houses with low ceilings when building/growing up back in the day.
*Open concept: are big open spaces harder/more costly to heat/cool?
If you heat/cool by section (like crank on the electric baseboard only when you're in the room), maybe. If it's all one big area that you want the same temperature, then I think you'd be good. We have a split level with our wood stove on the 'main' living/dining/kitchen floor, homeschool/laundry/entry down half a flight of stairs and bathrooms/bedrooms up a half a flight of stairs. We keep the bedroom doors closed/partly closed during the day to keep the toddler out and keep the rooms cool enough to sleep in.
*Currently we live across the street from dh's job and he walks/bikes to work. This move will mean 1 more car+gas+insurance
And fuel prices won't likely hit $2/gallon ever again. So make sure to budget for it. Also, if you have to drive kids in to school every day or have sports or other extra curriculars, that'll also add up.
*We'll be on well water/septic, so -$89/month for water bill
But a septic tank still needs upkeep. Our $300 pumping turned into a $1400 bill due to a ruptured pipe, a giant 4'x4'x8' hole that needed dug, and a tank riser thingie we put in so we never have to dig again. I have photos of that giant hole - took the kids a month of 'playing' to fill in all the dirt and rocks again.
The water pump could die or you could need to get the well re-dug or re-drilled, and that typically runs into the thousands of dollars up here - unless you luck out and have an artesian well. Pump, pipes and electrical things can cost a pretty penny. Or find a place with a a community water system - we have an un-metered community water system of about 150 houses.
*Long driveway would mean we have to pay someone to plow it a few months of the year.
Buy a good tractor that you can use several different ways (plow the garden, snowplow the driveway, etc.). That's what hubby's plan would be if we managed to afford acreage at some point. Or strike up a deal with a neighbor to do it for you when the weather dictates it, or park the vehicle at the road and snowshoe to it. You can be creative if you have to be (it just might not be as fun).
*I want lots of windows (will this increase heating costs? We own insulated curtains...)
Make sure there's insulation around the windows, like behind the trim. Sigh. We learned that one the hard way. Usually you can work with windows. Our living room is usually a dark pit looking place in the summer (hot afternoon/evening sun on four giant 7-foot windows and zero cross-breeze possibilities), but it works.
*Gas stove and/or water heater: more expensive or less than electric?
Depends on where you live and the prices, but usually gas is cheaper - even if it's not necessarily more efficient. We do a bunch of canning/cooking from scratch, and have an electric stove that we want to replace with a dual-fuel. Our water heater is natural gas, and no complaints once we got the defective one replaced (oh yeah, hard water shrapnel from the inside of the water heater's an experience).
*What to look for in terms of efficiency if there's a fireplace?
Fireplaces suck. They literally pull/suck the heat out of the house through the draft up the chimney. If you want to heat with wood, you need an honest to goodness wood stove. Not a goofy insert from the 70's. A regular plain fireplace is 20-25% efficient. A crappy non-airtight 70's insert is about 25-35% efficient, and the newer wood stoves are about 65-75% efficient. It's the difference between waking up every two hours to load your stove/fireplace vs. waking up to load it every eight hours. Can't speak for everyone else, but I certainly prefer having a toasty house during a 3-week 10*F snap, and only having to load the stove 3-4 times in a 24-hour period. We have a QuadraFire and an Englander, those both have good options. We've met the Kuma Stoves guy and a friend has one of those, and they're well built. Just see what's in your area. Oh, and if you go from a straight-up fireplace to an insert (which I totally would do again in a heartbeat, that's how much we love the wood heat), also check the building codes (non-flammable floor, stainless stove pipe up the chimney) and homeowner's insurance cost. Also keep in mind how much a cord of wood costs, or if you plan to cut down your own firewood the costs associated with that (chainsaws, safety gear, truck, etc.).
Anything else we aren't thinking about?
Would 1600sf be okay for your nice sized family if you're housebound for a day or twelve due to weather if that's a concern? If we couldn't leave the house at all for weeks at a time, we might want more room for the kids to literally bounce off the walls.
Storage. Out of season clothes, if you plan to do any food storage (again, what would you do if snowed in or a vehicle breaks down?) or canning or anything, make sure there's a spot you can claim for that. My pantry has taken on a life of it's own and spilled out of the 'pantry' into another basement room and garage. Makes me happy, but not so fabulous for total home organization.
Have fun house shopping!