Sizing Your Home to Fit Your Individual Needs

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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This is a collaborative blog by both Bruce and Carol McElmurray from each individual perspective. Both Bruce and Carol have varying viewpoints on some subjects when it comes to their home in which they have lived for 23 years. It is located in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of southern Colorado at 9,800 feet of elevation. Both have separately expressed their views as indicated below.

Carol: When we built our cabin in the Southern Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Colorado we were both in our 40s. We chose to build a small A-frame which fit our budget and our goal of minimalism. Over the years, and now that we are in our 70’s, we have discovered some choices that we made that have made life a bit more challenging as we have aged.  Perhaps sharing these insights will help others who are making plans to build a retirement home.

Bathrooms. Carol: When we retired we moved from a 2-1/2 bath home to a one bath home with a commode, sink and shower. We didn’t realize how often we would like to have had two bathrooms and a bathtub if only to give the dogs a bath in! Having more than one bathroom — even a 1/2 bath — would be a good thing to consider. Bruce: I would agree that having more than one bathroom even for two people would be a good option. It isn’t often that we have a conflict with the one bathroom but nature being what it is, there are occasional conflicts. A composting toilet would normally be an option but regretfully our county does not allow them. 

Second floor. Carol: It did not occur to us that as we aged that going up a spiral staircase to the sleeping loft would be an issue – but it has proven to be so. Having a home that is on one level is a good choice — or a sleeping loft for company or storage. Bruce: I have to agree that having a one story makes sense for when you grow older. Life in the mountains is hard on our bodies and especially our knees, ankles and hips. Going up and down stairs or a spiral staircase becomes increasingly difficult and painful. 

Bedrooms. Carol: The home we moved from had 3 bedrooms. We have only the sleeping loft. In retrospect enclosing an area on the first floor would have been a wise decision given the reasons cited above or even a second sleeping space. Bruce: We had considered converting our pantry into a bedroom when we became older but that became less practical as time passed and has become less of an option. Adding an additional bedroom initially would have been a better choice. 

Location of doors. Carol: Be sure to figure out where the snow that slides off the roof will go. Will it block doors to any entrances? Having to shovel your way out of your home on occasion is a bit of a problem as you grow older. Bruce: We receive from 250 to 300 inches of snow a year and sometimes get 3-5 feet in a single storm. The contractor that built the shell positioned the steps off the deck along the edge of the roof. We had to change that quickly because given a significant snow storm they were buried under 8 to 10 feet of hard-packed snow.

Basement access. Carol: Being able to get from the interior of the home to the basement makes things a lot easier, especially if snow blocks the doors to the basement during the winter time. Bruce: We do have storage under our house that is heated, separate and dry. I do not mind it as much as Carol does but in the winter we have to put boots, coats, hats and gloves on to get to it. Dealing with 23 feet of snow over a winter season can be difficult enough without having to shovel to get to the basement.  

Laundry room. Carol: Having the laundry room on the first floor instead of the basement makes things a lot  easier for everyone! Bruce: Since I rarely do laundry I really don’t have an opinion on this other than if a washing machine overflows it causes less damage if in the basement where water can be pushed out the door to soak into the ground. 

Closets and storage spaces. Carol: With the slanted roof of the A-frame, being able to build closets is difficult. We have done well by some inventive ideas. Bruce: Closet area has been a challenge for sure but we have adapted and overcome the issues and kept the house looking open inside. 

Kitchen, dining room, and living room. Carol: There is a good possibility that you will not need a big kitchen if there are only two people. Having a dining room for the occasional guest and a formal living room would be a waste of precious space. Bruce: I agree totally. 

Visitors. Bruce: Our small home does not accommodate visitors with only one bathroom and one sleeping loft. We don’t have many visitors but when we do we put them in the sleeping loft and have a sofa/bed downstairs for us. Depending on the length of stay we will often put them up in a motel in the nearby city of Ft. Garland. A local B&B is another good idea.

Garage. Our first project when we moved full time to our A-Frame retirement home was to build a two story garage – A-Frame – to match the house.  It has proven to be a wise choice. 

Early decisions count. When you build an A-Frame where the side walls are really the roof it limits your adding on options.  Also in the high mountains where we get heavy snowfall the snow sometimes piles up several feet deep coming off the roof. While our home is cozy and we have adapted to its limitations, it meets our needs very well. Its small size makes it easier to clean and we don’t need to clean or maintain areas we don’t often use.


Bruce McElmurray homesteads at high elevation in the Southern Rockies with his wife, Carol. For more on their mountain lifestyle and their observances of animals coupled with their strange behavior, visit Bruce’s personal blog site atBruce Carol Cabin. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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