The highlight of the home building process is the decision whether to use existing house plans or to employ an architect. You have decided on your lot and determined whether you want to build your own home yourself, with a building consultant or with a new home builder.
The next step is to choose a house plan that best fits your needs and the contours of your lot.
Deciding To Use an Architect
You have to make a choice: Do I want to use an architect or modify an existing plan? The answer really depends on whether you are building a luxury home with some extraordinary features or if it is a custom home built from an existing plan with some modifications or a popular stock home design.
If it is the former, then you should probably consult an architect. To find a local residential architect, you could check with the American Institute of Architects as a starting point. Click on www.aia.org to find your local chapter. Then click on “Architect Finder”. Fill in the search information including “Residential” under Building Type. Another option is to check your local Yellow Pages Directory.
For minor modifications, you could consult with a residential home designer. It is more economical and feasible.
The selection of an architect is extremely important. Inspect the houses that he designed to see if his style matches yours.
Does he waste too much space with lengthy hallways. This really is evident on a two-story design where the second floor hall bridges between the two bedroom wings over the Family Room and/or the Foyer. It may look good at first glance, but what a waste of space. In addition, your heating and cooling bills will be excessive with these high ceilings.
Check the references of the architect. This is very important. You want to be confident in your selection. You have to be able to work with the architect so it is important that you two are compatible with each other.
Remember: It is much less expensive to make changes to your design on paper rather than during construction. It is also more economical, if you can, to make changes yourself on paper before you submit them to the architect. You can sketch out your ideas on paper and review them before you submit the ideas to the architect. It will save you time and money.
Okay, enough on the architect. You get the idea.
Modifying Existing House Plans
In most cases, modifying existing house plans is the preferred route to take. Does that mean that I have to pour through thousands of house plans before selecting one? Is it as bad as selecting wallpaper? No, the home building process is much easier than that. Today, you have the internet. Use it wisely.
You can search through craftsman home plans, unique house plans, architectural plans and home building plans on the internet. The easy part is that you just enter your criteria into their search engines on their websites and you will be able to narrow down your choices.
I know that you are probably concerned about the multitude of websites. Well, that is one of the benefits of this site. I am going to narrow down the list even further for you.
When I was involved in my own home building projects, I had to search for house plans because I did not have the time to design them myself. The internet was much easier to use than browsing through plan books and magazines at the bookstores or grocery stores looking for unique house plans.
After all these years, I have narrowed down the list of credible house plan websites that offer the best selections. The list includes the following websites:
A couple of years ago I purchased two different house plans from Donald A. Gardner Architects , and was pleased with the design which I modified slightly to meet our needs. The comprehensive package included several sets of house plans, material lists, and estimates of the quantities of materials to be used in the construction. His designs will fit most situations and criteria. It is worth a look.
As I mentioned, I modified the house plans slightly. Fortunately, I was able to draw up the revisions myself since my background includes design and construction.
If you do not feel comfortable making the modifications yourself, then I suggest that you contact a residential designer, not necessarily an architect. They are usually listed in the Yellow Pages. If you can, you should find one locally to work with you.
Design Tips and Suggestions
Now, let me give you some design tips and suggestions that will enhance your home building experience. The worst thing that can happen to you is to build your dream home, move in and then find out that you left something out or that you should have made a design change to make the home work better.
I had that happen one time and cured that problem by spending more time during the design phase and researching the latest home building ideas on the market. Don’t make that mistake.
Really think about how you are going to use your home. How are you going to personalize it so it does not look like all of the houses on the street? The house plans look very similar, don’t they?
Do you like to entertain friends and relatives? Do you like to cook? The two most important rooms in the house are the MASTER SUITE and KITCHEN.
A word to the men out there. The wife buys the house. You just write the check. Personalize the house to meet your needs and desires.
Okay, here are some tips and suggestions. Do you enjoy the outdoors or do you live on the northern border of Minnesota where summer comes on the fourth of July each year?
If you like the outdoors and like to entertain, then consider including a screened porch. If your experience is similar to mine, you will be spending all of your time on that porch along with all of your guests. They are not that expensive to build and will enhance your home building design.
Do you like to grill outdoors? Consider a grilling deck near the kitchen and adjacent to the screened porch. You will be eating some of your meals on the screened porch. Of course, if your home is built on a slab, it will be a patio and lanai (Florida designers love to call their screened porches – lanais).
When selecting the type of roof design that you want (i.e. gable, hip, etc.), be careful if you select the “hip” roof. There is nothing more unsightly than a hip roof that comes to a point in the middle of the roof line. Design around this to avoid it at all costs. Seriously.
Do you like lots of natural light in your home? Consider skylights, yes I said skylights, and unique window combinations. The natural light will save on your electricity and heating and cooling bills. Combined with a whole house attic fan located in the first floor hallway, you will really save on your cooling costs.
The last home that I designed and built had over 60 windows including 8 skylights. The back of the house faced a beautiful lake. Our total-electric house cost less than $200 per month to heat and cool. We utilized a split-zone system (two separate heating and cooling systems) and a whole house attic fan in the hallway in this 2,600 square foot ranch on a daylight basement.
Now I can just hear all of the griping about skylights. Most builders do not know how to build skylights properly. DO NOT USE flush-mounted skylights. USE curb-mounted skylights that are flashed properly to prevent leaking. For additional insurance, add a rain diverter (very inexpensive metal angle) above the skylight on the roof to ensure that the rain is diverted away from the skylight.
I have never had a leak from the skylights. You just have to know how to do it. The natural light from the skylights will save you a great deal of money on your electricity costs. Most house plans, including the unique house plans, avoid the skylight issue.
Reduce the amount of hallway space. It is a waste of space. Remember, for every square foot of wasted space, you are spending approximately $125. Use it wisely. You can put your whole-house attic fan and attic access in the hallway if you are building a ranch-style home.
One minor feature that you should consider in your home building process is the inclusion of ceiling fans throughout the house. They are very inexpensive and can move air throughout the house. You should consider them for the bedrooms and living area at a minimum.
The layout and design of the kitchen is critical, especially, if you entertain a great deal. Most of your friends and relatives will congregate in the kitchen. It is a fact of life.
Make the kitchen large enough to accommodate this or design a separate area to confine them. Add a central island for additional work space and a serving counter. You could also add a wider countertop on the cabinets that separate the kitchen from the eating area and add a couple of bar stools to keep people out of the cooking area.
Make sure that you have good lighting in the kitchen. The use of recessed can lights will provide concentrated light in the work areas where you need it.
Make sure that you have a separate pantry large enough to hold a supply of staple food products. This is an essential element in your house plans.
If you like to cook, then I suggest that you include a double oven and a separate cooktop. If you like to grill indoors, select a Jenn-Air type cooktop with multiple modules.
Be sure that you have counter space next to the refrigerator, oven and cooktop to set dishes on. Also, include lazy-susan corner cabinets below and above for additional space.
There are a multitude of cabinet accessories that you will want to consider for convenience (i.e. wine rack, appliance garage, etc.).
Master Suite Design
The master suite should not be as big as the rest of the house. You do not need a sauna, wetbar, entertainment center and fireplace in your bathroom, unless you want to waste your money. Save all that space for walk-in closets. You will need the space.
Do you really need a sitting area in your bedroom? You do if the only way to get away from the noise and kids is to retreat to the master bedroom. Otherwise, there is not a logical reason for it. You would be adding costly space that will go unused.
Design your house plan wisely here. Only the most unique house plans utilize these amenities. You can add a privacy deck or patio adjacent to the master suite for privacy.
One of the least expensive and most efficient rooms that you should consider is the room over the garage (aka Bonus Room). You can create an additional 200 – 500 square feet of living area above the garage for less than $20,000. What an investment.
This is a great place to let your kids or grandkids play away from the rest of the house. It is also a great place to put your exercise equipment, sewing machine or computer. You can close off the room from the rest of the house as well.
Many builders love to use vaulted ceilings or very high ceilings in their home plans to create that “volume” feel. Where do you think the heat in the winter goes? Yes, to the top of the ceiling and the only way to get it down to your level is to reverse the ceiling fan. Now if you like paying $600 – $700 per month heating and cooling bills, then keep them.
A more efficient way to achieve additional heighth is to add “tray ceilings” or “recessed ceilings.” You can add an additional 2+ feet to the ceiling height with these ceilings.
The only difference between the tray ceilng and recessed ceiling is that the side walls are sloped in the tray ceiling. It gives you the volume feeling without having 30 foot ceilings with high heating and cooling costs. You can use tray or recessed ceilings in the living area, dining area and/or master suite for the desired effect.
If your house plan calls for your foundation to be a basement, make sure that it is a “walkout” or “daylight” basement. Many people do not use their basements but they have spent an additional $10,000 – $20,000 for it. So, why not take advantage of it and reduce the size of the main floor.
You could move two bedrooms, a full bath and a living area to the lower level while keeping the master suite and maybe, a study on the main level. The benefit is in the reduced construction cost of the home.
I was discussing this subject with some friends recently and they immediately pointed out a negative to that concept. If you put your teenagers down on the lower level, they will sneak out at night.
Well, I called Donald Gardner, Donald A. Gardner Architects , (see above) and asked the question about his experience regarding this matter. He said that they had sold numerous house plans with walkout basements and have not had any complaints yet. By the way, he has several great walkout designs.
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You probably did not think that the home building process required such detail in finalizing your house plans. Remember, it is easier to address these issues now than regret it later.
We have spent a great deal of time here on house plans and designs. However, this is one of the most critical aspects of your home building process. It is easier to use an eraser now rather than a sledge hammer later.
Now, it is time to decide what products you are going to use to personalize your home. It is time to establish your “Specifications.” You have to decide on exterior siding, roofing, windows and doors, cabinets, appliances, bath fixtures, floor covering, etc.