Pet-Friendly Design Hits Home

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Saturday, August 19, 2006 
Written by Abby Lowell

Pets are members of the family more than ever.  Just look at the growth of the pet products industry:  Retail sales jumped nearly 20 percent to $8.5 billion from 2000 to 2004, according to New York-based consumer research firm Packaged Facts. "Considering and anticipating what you'll need for your pet is vital." said Mike O'Neil, president of SolAire Homebuilders.  "I've actually put special tubs in strategic areas.  For one homeowner, we expanded a laundry room to include a stainless steel tub that was raised off the floor just for washing their pet." He estimates that more than half the people buying and building custom homes in Central Oregon have furry friends in tow. Singles, couples and families alike are seeking homes that fit their pets' needs, as well as their human ones, and developers and home builders are listening by providing more pet friendly amenities.  The most common is the aforementioned pet bath:  a room designed for grooming. Grooming rooms - typically in or near laundry rooms - include a large dog-bathing sink and a solid raised surface on which the dog can stand while being dried.  But many differences between a pet-friendly house and a regular house are not necessarily noticeable at first glance.  In fact, many are aimed at concealing the fact that a home has a cat or a dog at all.

  • Air. Mike O'Neil recommends a central vacuum system that vents dust, dander and pet hair to the exterior of the home.  "If you're using a traditional vacuum, detritus will surely seep out," O'Neil said.  But with a central vacuum system, "everything vents out of the 'living envelope'. Humidifiers and electrostatic air filters, air cleaners and air purifiers help neutralize odors and remove allergens.  As a builder for nearly 30 years, O'Neil recommends Venmar's fresh air furnace which has the capability to filter everything from pollen to dust mites, while monitoring humidity and overall comfort.
  • Floors.  Traditional pine or oak wood floors don't go with animals.  But today's consumer has options.  O'Neil suggests choosing products that will resist scrathcing and recommends name brand products such as Pergo, which offers an engineered wood floor that boasts UV Protection and a lasting finish.  "Any hard surface is ideal when pets are involved," O'Neil said.

Ronda Fitton, President of Cascade Design Center, agrees and has suggestions for the home buyer who demands true wood flooring.  "For long-term wear, we prefer to recommend one of the new hand distressed hardwood floors," she said.  "They look beautiful even with the additional wear that pets cause." If carpets are necessary, Fitton recommends avoiding products made of wool or wool blends. "While wool is extremely forgiving on typical spills, it does not do well with pet type stains," she said.  "A good, quality branded nylon such as Dupont Stainmaster or Wear Dated will ultimately out perform the competition." Thickness, texture and tint also play a large part in carpet selection.  "When choosing, I would avoid a longer texture and stick to a short pile - less to clean - with a good tight twist.  Color of course also

plays a part," Fitton said.  "For heavy wear, a darker color or a pile with multi-color will look better [over time]."Other, natural flooring options abound.  Marmoleum, for instance, is not only natural but also easy to clean and warm to the touch.  Its antibacterial properties prevent microorganisms from breeding and can be installed easily.  But there are better options.  Marmoleum, which is backed with jute, is installed using solvent-free adhesives that contain no lead, formaldehyde or chlorine. In any case, O'Neil stressed that floors need particular attention and benefit from stained concrete or ceramic construction that can handle wet and dirty feet and easily be cleaned.

  • Restrictions.  Stylish, built-in gates help limit access to rooms that are off limits.  Picket systems around doors or windows keep dogs from putting their noses against glass.
  • Safe Harbor.  Similar to a crate, a pet house within the house can help an animal deal with anxiety (and potential destructive behavior) triggered by thunderstorms or simply the absence of its owners.

For a building's exterior, pet friendliness typically means landscape that a pet won't ruin.  That usually means deeply burying sprinklers, strategizing shade and water locations and not planting immediately adjacent to a fence, where a dog typically will wear out a path.  Instead, install stones or other types of walkways, suggested O'Neil. Outdoor access is often a topic that pops up when pet considerations are important.  "Pet doors are great for easy access in and out of the house," said O'Neil. But with energy efficiency always a concern, O'Neil warns that the design of such doors does not create an airtight seal.  "We discourage clients from installing pet doors to areas like the garage because they'll allow potentially harmful fumes to enter the home," he said. Not to mention unwanted insects and critters who could carry harmful diseases. Regardless of what additions, alterations or amenities consumers choose for their furry family members, options and solutions abound.

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