The 9 Elements of an Ideal House

Ceiling height and sun exposure are good. Stairs, not so much.

Home with lovely plantings for curb appeal
Image: Irina88w/Getty

Welcome to the ideal house -- one that satisfies all your needs, functions like a dream, and simplifies your life.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. The perfect house is made up of common-sense features that give satisfaction no matter where you live, or how big or small your house is. And it doesn’t hurt that they also add value to your home.

If you’re missing one or more of these elements, don’t fret -- few houses are truly perfect. But if you have the opportunity to remodel or buy another house, you’ll want to keep these nine essentials at the top of your list.

#1 Single Level

The single-level house is resurging in popularity from its heyday as post-war, low-income housing (and the design darling of California’s iconic 1950s architects). The reason is simple: Single-level homes are easy to care for -- no hauling out a big extension ladder to reach the second-story. 

Everything is within reach for cleaning, painting, and repairs.

Maintenance chores can be done quickly and safely -- saving you time, and keeping you out of the ER. 

Plus, temperatures inside a single-level house are easier to regulate. Without an upstairs and downstairs, temperature differences are minimized, reducing stress on your HVAC, and ensuring your comfort no matter what room you’re in.

Related: Show Your Energy Bills Who’s Boss

And a final benefit: A single-level home is ideal for aging in place because of the lack of stairs.

#2 Nine-Foot Ceilings

Tall man reaching for ceiling and not reaching | Ideal Home

Nine-foot tall ceilings have magic, opening up interiors without actually increasing square-footage, and generating a sense of well-being and comfort that standard 8-foot ceilings lack.

A survey from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) shows a preference for tall ceilings among homebuyers -- about 65% of respondents say they prefer a house with 9-foot ceilings over a similar house with the standard 8-foot ceiling -- up 11% since 2004.

Although you’re probably stuck with your 8-foot ceilings if you have them, you can go with taller ceilings if you add on. A contractor will charge an additional $1 to $2 per square foot of living area for the upgrade. However, 9-foot ceilings are a marketable feature, and you can probably recoup much of the investment when you sell your house.

If you’re really craving that open feeling, you can vault your ceiling into the attic. You’ll end up with a ceiling higher than 9 feet, but it’s a pricey remodel, costing $18,000 to $25,000. Again you’ll recoup some of that at resale, but not as much as you would with an addition.

#3 Southern Exposure

View of boho bedroom with southern exposure in mirror

A southern exposure has many benefits:

  1. In winter, south-facing windows let in sunlight that converts to free heat, known as solar gain.
  2. In the summertime, if you plant trees against those windows, your house will stay cooler.
  3. Sunlight is a mood-enhancer that will chase away the winter blues.
  4. Southern exposure is ideal for solar panels, an increasingly popular alternative.
  5. Houseplants, which improve air quality, and garden plants thrive in southern exposure.

If you’re lucky enough to have southern exposure, here are some tips to take full advantage of natural light indoors:

  • Remove or transplant evergreen plants that block winter sun from reaching your south-facing windows.
  • Open up shades and drapes on south-facing windows during the day. This is a simple chore that often gets overlooked in unused rooms, such as spare bedrooms. Cover up at night.
  • Add awnings to south-facing windows -- they help block summer sun but let in winter sunlight when the sun is low on the horizon.

#4 Outdoor Living Spaces

Back deck with grill, chairs of wood cottage home in summer

Being outdoors isn’t just enjoyable, it’s healthy. A study of “life at home” by UCLA concluded that spending time outside reduces levels of cortisol -- a hormone that contributes to stress.

In terms of home value, outdoor living areas, such as patios and decks, have a high desirability factor with homebuyers, and cost a fraction to install compared to enclosed, year-round spaces. 

In fact, if you add a patio or deck to your home, you can expect to get back more than 100% of your investment (102% and 106%, respectively) according to the "Remodeling Impact Report" from the National Association of REALTORS®.

Related: Decks Have One of the Highest Returns on Investment

#5 Maximized Insulation

You can’t see this vital feature, but you’ll really feel it. Maximizing your insulation helps lower energy requirements and keeps indoor temps stable -- a big plus when it comes to feeling comfortable.

You’ll get the best ROI if you max out your attic insulation. If you boost the insulation of an 800-square-foot attic from R-11 to R-49, you’ll save $600 annually, and pay back the cost in about three years.

Related: Attic Insulation Savings

#6 Separate Master Bedroom

White bedroom with white canopy bed and pink pillows
Image: Photo by Thomas Dalhoff/Design by Brett Mickan Interior Design

Sure, we like the one-big-happy-family theory. But we like sanity even more. Although your needs will probably evolve through the years (nurseries close to mom and dad; teenagers not so much), ultimately some separation is a great way to give everybody peace and quiet.

For a single-level house, the ideal configuration has three “wings” -- a master suite on one end, kids’ and guest rooms (plus bath) on the other, and a common living/kitchen area in the middle. 

 Adding a Master Suite Addition

#7 Low-Maintenance Siding

You choose: Weekends spent scraping, caulking, and repainting siding; or weekends spent relaxing and enjoying yourself.

We thought so.

Your ally in your dreams of pleasurable days off is a low-maintenance exterior that maintains its good looks even in harsh climates. Two of the best options are low-cost vinyl siding and durable fiber-cement.

Replacing old siding with new vinyl siding yields an 75% return on your investment, while fiber-cement siding has a 83% return, according to the "Remodeling Impact Report" from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

Pricier fiber-cement siding returns slightly less -- 79% -- but scores big when it comes to satisfaction. Homeowners polled for the "Report" gave their fiber-cement siding project a perfect Joy Score of 10 -- a rating based on those who said they were happy or satisfied with their remodeling, with 10 being the highest rating and 1 the lowest.

Related: Home Projects with the Highest Return on Investment

#8 Great Storage

Kitchen with built-in rafter shelving and library ladder
Image: Photo by Alec Hemer/Design by Tim Cuppett

You don’t need us to tell you that storage is big priority, but did you know you’ve got tons of hidden storage space right at your fingertips? Max out your storage capacity, and you’re one big step closer to having the perfect house. Check it out:

#9 Ergonomic Touches

Tile bathroom with curb-less shower and lever door handles

More architects and contractors are adding the common-sense features of universal design, and you should, too. Although UD is often associated with mobility issues and wheelchair accessibility, it’s really smart, sensible design that functions well for everybody. For example:

  • Wide doorways (36- to 42-inches wide) make everyday life just that much easier. Ever try to move a piece of furniture from room to room through a narrow doorway? You get the picture.
  • Levers instead of doorknobs don’t require awkward twisting.
  • A curbless shower eliminates potential trips and falls.
  • Rocker switches have a big on/off button that you can flip with a knuckle or even your elbow when you’re struggling with bags of groceries.

Related: 7 Remodeling Projects With Top-Dollar Returns

The Intangible Feature

No house is without imperfections. But that’s a good thing -- quirks give us individuality and personality, and they keep our houses from being cookie-cutter.

The perfect house takes all that into consideration, and let’s you be you. Want red kitchen walls? Go for it. Love salvaged building materials? That 1930s pedestal sink in the bathroom is a charmer.

If you’re able to have your home express the true you, you’re gonna love it. And that’s the true definition of the perfect house.

Related: Home Upgrades You Shouldn’t Do

John Riha
John Riha

John Riha has written seven books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He’s been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.