Tag Archives: style

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.

choose your location

choose your location

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.

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House configurations

Bill D. Bechwards called the employment agency when building a house and asked that they send him a Carpenter. An hour later a fellow arrived and Bill sent him up on the roof to do a shingling job. Several hours later Bill returned to find a terrible job being done. He yelled up “I thought you were a carpenter.”. The fellow replied in a heavy accent “I am, I pent cars.”.

A family type house is built in a few basic configurations with multiple styles available and with an almost unlimited variety of floor plans.

The term style is often used to describe a houses configuration but from my point of view configuration is the naked model and style is the clothing added for personal taste or to make a house distinctive.  For now we will stick to the basics and discuss a few pros and cons of each.

The ranch

Ranch style usually refers to a single story no basement house often with an attached garage. Size is really only restricted by the amount of land available to build on. Porches, decks and attached garages can make this type of house look much bigger than it really is.

Simple gable type roofs are common with this design and they are built on a crawl space or on a slab. Mechanical equipment may be located on ground floor, in a partial basement or in the attic in some climates. Elaborate front entries are sometimes added for aesthetics. Open concepts and fireplaces are common feature.

for blog (2)The low profile can be an advantage when landscaping as it allows for variety in heights.

This profile fits well in a rural environment and on acreages.

Can be simple to add rooms to this house as long as you have the land.

No stairs and few steps are good for seniors, toddlers and handicapped.

Large windows can be shaded with wide eaves.

Easy to design and build.

More material is used for the same living area of multistory houses. This is largely offset by ease of building and lack of stairs.

They do need more space and may not work in higher density residential areas.

Heating and air conditioning may need careful engineering in larger models.

May not have the height to take advantage of views.

The Bungalow

There is some overlap with ranch. Bungalow usually describes a one story two or three bedroom house on a full basement. A very pervasive configuration of the sixties and seventies when whole residential subdivisions were built with almost nothing but bungalows especially in the mid-west and western Canada. Conducive to a wide variety of styles and meant to appeal to the widest group of consumers they were relatively inexpensive to build. Simple roof styles and a split rear entry are common features of this house. Basements are often developed by the homeowner to provide extra bedrooms and recreation rooms. Some houses built on slabs were also called bungalows if they seemed too small to be ranchers. Cozy is a description often applied to them.

Appealing to a wide variety of people, resale is usually easy.

Considerable value can be added with basement development.

They fit well on the common 50 ft. X 120 ft. lot.

Once the middle class standard they are less common as new builds today.

Attaching a garage with entry to the house is often difficult.

Carports were often added in warmer areas but proved of little value in cold climates.

Multi story

for blog (1)This category includes 1 ½ story, 2 story and more. Often built on a full basement these houses are excellent for utilizing small lots. Typically built with the kitchen, living room, a bathroom and perhaps a bedroom on the floor nearest ground level. Upper floors could be used for bedrooms, dens or sitting rooms. Newer houses usually have a bathroom on each upper level. Some times built with wrap around porches and upper story balconies it was possible to take advantage of a good view. Farm house or Spanish styles can work well with these. Not often seen in the years of the bungalow they are making a huge comeback.

Extra care must be taken when insulating and venting a 1 ½ story.

Stairs take up space and can present dangers for seniors or toddlers.

It can take years for landscape trees to reach the height of the house.

A good alternative to semidetached housing on narrow lots.

May stick out like a sore thumb until landscaping is mature

Lots of living space in a small footprint.

The bi level

Sometimes called a raised bungalow it provides a lot of space for the dollar. Typically with a simple gable roof but not necessarily so, this house sits on a full basement that is only about four feet in the ground. This allows for large basement windows and a much more livable space when the downstairs is developed. There is at least one split entry and often a large deck off the top level. Attached garages are common and sometimes there is a garage on the bottom level. Many of these have five bedrooms or more and are excellent for large families.

Stairs are not as dangerous as there is a landing about halfway down.

By-level house circa 1980

By-level built in about 1980

The best overall value for a large living area.

Bathrooms and bedrooms can be stacked for economy and ease of construction.

Not so easily adapted to some styles but Spanish seems to work.

Basement water may not be as big a problem.

Resale is similar to a bungalow.

Adapts well to a sloping lot.

Cantilevers are sometimes used which have to be insulated with care.

The split level

This house can be 2 to 5 levels but more commonly 3 or 4. There are many ways to arrange them but each level is at an elevation ½ away from the ones next to it.

This can be one of the more interesting houses visually both inside and out.

Lots of stairs but none too long.

May be awkward for cleaning and chores such as laundry.

Can provide multiple areas for decks and balconies and various outdoor living spaces.

Heating and cooling may become complicated.

Doesn’t seem to have as wide an appeal so might be more difficult to resell.

May be more costly to build on per square foot basis.

Semi detached and row houses

Basically any one of the above configurations but attached to a neighbor on one or two sides. They may be either under one title or separate. Not really a subject for this blog but you may want to build a multifamily house to help pay the mortgage. Special building techniques are required for noise and fire considerations.

One day Bill hired two painters and told them to paint the porch out front of his house. He was surprised when they were back inside in an hour. He paid them saying “you guys are the fastest painters I have ever hired.”. One replied, “Oh it wasn’t a big job, but by the way that isn’t a Porsche it’.s a Ferrari.”.



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