KNOW YOUR SITE
Site conditions play an important role in determining the type of house plan used when building a new home, and ultimately the total costs. Conditions such as topography, vegetation, climate, privacy and views all impact both the floor plan layout and structural levels of the proposed residence. Not paying attention to these features can significantly increase the overall construction budget or, at the very least, result in missed opportunities.
Questions You Should Ask Yourself:
- What is the site's microclimate; is wind a factor to consider, or sun, temperature, humidity, rain, or snow?
- What is the topography of the site; is the property flat, sloped, or steeply graded?
- Is passive or active solar gain possible and/or desired?
- Are there views to be taken advantage of, by which rooms?
- Does the slope of the property lend itself to a walk-out lower level basement?
- Does the land provide a good high point for the garage on the main level?
- What will the orientation of the rooms be, will it be best to flip the house plan?
Every site has a microclimate (sun orientation, temperature, wind) which can affect the design and placement of the house. For example, taking advantage of good southern exposure by using more glass in those sun exposed rooms will enable passive solar gain during colder months. Energy savings can also be realized by orienting the house for maximum natural cooling benefits from prevailing summer breezes.
Two factors which can impact the location for a main level garage are topography and sun direction. Ideally a garage should sit on the higher, most level portion of the site. However you also might want to consider situating the garage on the north end to act as a buffer against cold weather and avoid blocking the south sunlight. The effect of sunlight on the living areas in a home is profound and placing the rooms most used during daylight hours in line with the suns pattern is of paramount importance.
Another consideration is that houses don't have to be parallel to the street. Rotating the orientation a bit can create either more yard space or an interesting arrangement for the driveway approach and landscape design giving the home a more majestic appearance. This can be especially useful in de-emphasizing the view of front loaded garage doors by pivoting the house so that the doors are further from the street. This technique will also allow for a curved driveway with landscape shrubs situated in such a way as to shield the direct view of the doors and afford more privacy.
DON'T FIGHT THE SITE
We once had clients with a steeply sloped property, dropping off from front to back. They envisioned a two story house with the first floor at ground level and the second floor above. That alone would not have been a problem; however, they also wanted to be able to access the back yard directly onto a ground level patio. They thought they could just fill in the huge sloping backyard with dirt trucked in from elsewhere and build up the grade level to match the front yard.
Unfortunately, dirt isn't dirt-cheap, especially when it needs to be hauled in on trucks and backfilled with heavy (expensive to operate) equipment. Such an undertaking would have also required the need for expensive retaining walls. We suggested instead, a 2-Story-down style floor plan, utilizing the lower level as habitable walk-out space.
This configuration not only saved money on otherwise enormous site preparation costs, but also allowed the use of pre-engineered roof trusses eliminating costly labor intensive roof construction normally associated with second floor roof configurations. This was a win-win situation. The access outdoors from the living room was from a screened porch and deck (which was the upper level seen from the back of the house). The patio they envisioned was now off the lower level family room used frequently by visiting guests and family members.
A steeply sloped lot can transform what would normally have been the basement or crawl space on a flat site into attractive, usable living space within the same foundation footprint and, thereby reduce construction costs by as much as 1/3rd. With standard wood walls, plenty of windows and access out to the yard on the sloped side this wonderful living space will not feel at all like a basement.
Thus, in order to remain within your construction budget, before you choose your house plans make a list of the features inherent in your property. Building a house that takes into account those conditions, minimizing the bad ones and enhancing the good ones can be beneficial to a healthy, happy and affordable new home.