When working with a residential architect or designer, the process of creating plans to build a new home always begins with the land it will be constructed upon. No matter what the homeowner’s needs or desires are, and no matter what the size of their budget is, every decision must comport with the property’s characteristics.
Which direction or directions provide the best views? Is the land open or covered with trees? How will cars access it from the road? What are your limitations on width and length? Or height? Where does the sun rise and set? What climate will you be living in, especially in the winter and summer? What kind of soil are you building on? What are your local codes? Is the property in an area that floods, or subject to extremes of wind or snowfall. You get the idea…
These very same questions should also be considered and answered by anyone wishing to purchase previously-drawn house plans online. Along with, of course, a long list of needs (numbers of bedrooms and bathrooms, location of the master suite, size and location of the kitchen, etc.), and an equally long list of desires (tall or vaulted ceilings, a Jacuzzi in the master bath, a screened porch or sunroom, etc.). These lists of criteria are so long, in fact, that no one can conduct a proper search for someone else. Particularly when you add in the homeowners’ combined aesthetics!
I have often been asked by visitors to help them search for house plans that will work for them and their property. I was eager to help them in any way I could, but no matter how long their list of needs and desires was, it was always incomplete. So I’d search based on their list, but my recommendations rarely suited all their needs. Ultimately, I learned that I’d be of more help if my site provided lots of search functions, and if I walked callers through the best way to use them.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that the topography of the property the original house was constructed on need not match your property. Which is extremely fortunate, as otherwise the already difficult process of finding the perfect set of house plans would become nearly impossible! I will go into great detail about this in a future post.
Fifteen years ago, when I first started calling architects around the US and Canada, asking them to consider making their original designs available to others, they inevitably responded with some version of the same comment: “Thomas, I don’t think you understand what I do. I design homes to be perfect for a specific piece of property, in a specific climate, matching the needs of a specific client.”
And I always responded with the same answer: “Let me ask you a question that you need not answer because it’s so obvious. What’s better for a family in Alabama or Washington, or a builder in the Mid-West – buying a set of generic “stock” plans that were drawn in an office without a client or a piece of property; or purchasing the full working drawings from an architect that led years ago to the construction of a one-of-a-kind home?”
I went on to explain that just like with “stock” plans, the plans and/or the property might need to be modified to work together. And I assured them that our customers were aware of that – it is pointed out in our FAQs; repeated (in bold) on our Important Info page; clearly displayed on the plans themselves; and noted again on a sheet with a red banner that is wrapped around every set of plans we ship.
And since our clients had (hopefully) already purchased their property, they knew exactly what would fit their property and their neighborhood (width and depth, as well as style), where the car access point was, where the best views were, and where the sun rose and set. And they often had identified the builder they were going to work with, so they had advice on where the best site to build on was after walking the property.
In a future post I’ll describe how plans (and sometimes the property) can be modified so that the house you want to build can be “married” to your lot. Think about this for a moment: if this was not true, the house plan industry would be tiny instead of huge. None of them were designed specifically for your property. So, while the questions above need to be considered before purchasing house plans, the topography of your lot – in most cases – will not keep you from building the house you want. Unless of course you want a walk-out basement on a perfectly flat lot!
One more thing on this subject: Sadly, we have had customers purchase house plans before identifying or purchasing the property the house will be built upon, only to discover they need to buy another set of plans. And while modifications can (and typically are) made to our plans, the homeowner may have inadvertently made the search for property much more difficult. It’s hard enough finding plans that suit all of your needs without then having to search for property that will accommodate the design.
This of course works both ways. No sense looking at property that will not allow you to build the house you want and need. So when looking at land, be sure to limit your search to property that’s large enough to suit your needs. Fortunately, either through purchase or inheritance, most folks looking at house plans know exactly where they are going to build.