House Design Tips, Part One – Property Considerations
House design tips is meant to help you design your home or to modify existing plans. They can also be of use for major renovations. Siting, capital cost, usefulness, environmental issues, operating cost and maintenance are the main issues dealt with. I will also deal briefly with designing tools and methods.
We are going to make the assumption that you already have the land on which to build and are aware of development by-laws for the area. Choosing a location is a whole subject in itself.
It is important that your home design is well suited to the location. If you are stuck on a particular design, then you must search out a suitable property. Make a drawing of your property showing dimensions and orientation. Note the prevailing winds for the area which may be different in different seasons. Consider the angle of the sun for different seasons (More important at high latitudes). Note the location of all services. With a builders level, or a water level, determine the topography of your property. Map it out in 2 to 4 ft. (1/2 to 1 meter) increments. With this information you can decide to work with any slope or to spend extra for leveling. Remember that footings should rest on undisturbed soil, with the top-level of organic soil removed. It is difficult to compact fill enough for secure footings. Dig a little and determine soil composition. It is important to plan footings sufficient for support on your soil type. Determine the water table, allowing for possible variations. Ask around the neighborhood about basement water problems which may be the result of a high water table. You may want to design your house without a basement. In my experience, wet basements is a common problem, and usually expensive to remedy. Don’t assume that because you are on a slope you are immune from water problems. Water often travels freely through sand, gravel or coal. Look around and note the styles of neighboring homes. Try to choose a house design that will fit in seamlessly. A two-story house can look a little odd in a group of ranchers. A little variety is fine, but your house should look like it belongs there. The front of your house (the side facing the street) should align fairly closely to the neighbors on either side. The most attractive and interesting side of the house should also face the front. On a corner lot, you have the problem of two sides that will be often seen by the public. You can either design two attractive facades or plan for screening with fences or shrubbery. Curb appeal is important for resale value.
You will need to determine driveway location. Do you have a back alley. Will you have an attached or detached garage. Do you need space for an RV or other vehicles. Consider your neighbors in this case as well. Is it going to be possible to preserve existing trees or other landscape features? Do not forget the root area of large trees. Consider the danger from blowdowns. Finally, design for the climate in your area. It is advisable to plan for extreme weather events that may be possible. Insurance may cover damages, but it will not alleviate the pain from injuries or loss of life. Nor does it really compensate for inconvenience.