House Design Checklist
By Duo Dickinson
Whether you're looking for a cabin plan or a larger house, the Design Survey will help you clarify needs and wants. Plan 891-3
Creating a home is complicated. To figure out what works for us in a home, we must know how we want to use the space. But let’s face it: most of us adapt how we live to the layout and location of our homes, rather than the other way around. Most homes don’t fit the way people live because they were not designed specifically for their occupants. How can we bridge the gap between what we know about homes generally, what we want our dream homes to contain, and how to make the space work for us? Much of that can come from knowing the right questions to ask.
That’s where this survey can help. Use it as a guide to see if a design meets all your requirements, and whether modifications are possible. Even if a stock plan fits your needs perfectly, it has to mesh with your building lot and a variety of codes (zoning/wetlands/septic /energy), so change may be inevitable.
This survey does not supplant a designer or architect, but will help jump-start the design process. These questions will help you understand what you need and want in a home, and will serve to reveal the possibilities and limitations of your current space. They will empower you to gain control over your home, whether you’re living in it now or are thinking of building new. Sometimes very inexpensive and small changes in a plan can make all the difference.
Every site has natural characteristics,
whether in a town, a city, or the suburbs. Think about terrain, trees, foliage,
weather, and man-made realities:
1. Do you want to live on a flat site or
one with a slope?
2. Do you want a small site with neighbors close
at hand (one quarter of an acre or less), a medium-size site (an acre to
an acre and a half), a generous site (an acre and a half to 3 acres), or a large site (more than 3
3. Do you want large trees or open areas, or both?
4. Do you want a view, or to be protected from people viewing your
home, or both?
5. If you want a view, do you prefer a rolling landscape? The ocean
or a river, lake, or pond? Mountains? Trees or fields?
6. Do you want a lawn that is mowed?
7. Do you want to have gardens that you maintain (annuals), gardens
that are planted once and then need to be trimmed and weeded (perennials), or a
naturalized site with no gardening necessary?
How big do you want your home to be?
1. Under 900 square feet: 1 or 2 bedrooms,
1 bath, no garage
2. Under 1,300 square feet: 2 to 3
bedrooms, 1 bath, no garage
3. Under 2,000 square feet: 3 bedrooms, 1
1⁄2 bath, both formal and informal living areas, dining area, perhaps a garage
or car port
4. Under 2,800 square feet: 3 1⁄2
bedrooms, 2 baths, dedicated office space, informal and formal living areas,
possibly a separate back door/mudroom, perhaps a garage
5. Under 3,600 square feet: 4 bedrooms, 2
1⁄2 baths, kitchen with separate pantry, dedicated formal and informal living
areas, dedicated office, dedicated project/homework/craft area, dedicated laundry room, study, separate back door/mudroom,
6. Under 4,500 square feet: 5 bedrooms
plus dedicated spaces for many activities, separate front door/ back
door-mudroom, second staircase, 3 1/2 baths, a laundry plus localized
washer/driers, 3 car garage.
7. Above 4,500 square feet (no upper
1. Do you want a house that has formal and
informal functions held apart, including entries, or do you want an open,
2. A home that has separate rooms or spaces that
are created within one large open interior – either formal or informal?
3. Will there be separate areas for generations
to live together – parents living in, children back from school – or just
one area for sleeping accommodations?
4. Do you want a master suite separate from other
5. Do you want a master suite on a different
floor from other bedrooms?
6. Do you need separate spaces for working out,
working at home, homework?
7. Do you want a private way to get into your
home and get to bedrooms ion addition to a public way, or does one entry
stair, and hallway work for you?
8. Do you want a basement for future expansion?
9. An attic for storage/future expansion?
10. Do you want a one-level home (easiest for
“universal design”) or two-level home (normal sleeping above and living
below; “split” – sleeping one side, living other side; or “upside down” –
living above sleeping?
11. A “master bedroom down” house?
12. A three-level home with a finished basement?
13. A three-level home with a finished attic?
14. A walkout basement?
15. Do you want direct access to the outdoors from
as many spaces as possible or controlled outdoor access from a few spaces?
16. A screened porch/outdoor room?
17. A patio/terrace that is uncovered?
18. A deck?
The layout you just determined
organizes the rooms that harbor your activities, so do you want:
1. Taller ceilings? In what spaces?
2. Separation from the stair to other
3. Separation from the kitchen to other
4. Minimal or generous hallways?
5. Garage – 1, 2, 3 or more cars?
6. A separate back stair near back door?
7. Space to display art?
8. Space or storage for books?
9. A social TV/media room, or separate
TV’s in smaller locations such as a study or bedrooms?
10. Do you need Limited Mobility access? Universal Design?
1. An eat-in kitchen?
2. A separate dining area?
3. A social area in the same space as the
4. A kitchen island or peninsula for food
prep and buffet?
5. A separate freezer?
6. A prep sink in addition to a clean-up
sink in the kitchen?
7. A walk-in pantry?
8. A sewing area?
Bedrooms and Bathrooms
1. A dressing room in addition to closet
storage in the master suite?
2. Walk-in closet(s) in master suite?
3. A second/off-season closet, cedar or
4. A separate area to work out? Where?
5. A tub, tub-shower, or separate shower
in any, one, or all bathrooms?
6. Separate sinks in master bath; other
7. A shared bath – called a Jack-and Jill
bath – connecting two bedrooms?
8. How many linear feet of hanging storage
for each non-master bedroom? In master bedroom?
9. A second master suite with en suite
1. A laundry room or mud room with added
space for additional functions, sink, folding area, hanging area, hampers?
2. Laundry room in basement? First floor?
Second floor? More than one location?
3. A back door with a mud room/pantry connection
to the kitchen next to the garage?
1. A fireplace? Wood or gas? In what
2. A bar?
3. A media room?
4. A central sound system?
5. A central vacuum system?
6.Transoms over doors?
8. Other amenities like hot tub or pool?
1. Do you want to walk out of your home at the
same level as your backyard?
2. Do you want to go out of your home and feel
elevated above grade?
3. Do you want privacy from street and neighbors or is some public exposure acceptable?
1. What architectural style do you prefer?
2. What are the elements of that style
that attract you? Will those elements suit your climate and site?
1. Solar panels?
2. Solar hot water heater?
3. To build with structural insulated
panels (SIPs) or other energy-efficient building system?
4. To use eco-friendly materials?
Factors that Affect Cost
Obviously bigger means more to build, but building a larger simpler home
using generic technologies and materials can cost less than a smaller more
complicated home with customized craftsmanship.
Describe your property:
(less costly to build on)
2. Lightly sloped (little cost impact)
steep for you to drive up if paved (will cost more to build upon)
4. Rock outcroppings breaking through the dirt
(will cost more to build upon)
Describe your site’s ground water:
areas, even in summer (might have costs associated with construction)
wet/boggy/covered by water (will cost more to build upon)
What is the level of your property in relation to the access
level (less costly)
grade change up or down you could not drive upon but isolated to the area near
the road (more costly to deal with)
level change that makes access to the buildable area a real issue, i. e. lots
of fill to be added or earth removed (will cost more to build upon)
Infrastructure: what does your site have access to (with
each yes, there is less cost)
in the street
4. Power lines on your side of the street
Shape – which of the basic home shapes do you want for your home?
They are listed in ascending order of cost.
with no wings
with wings and or porches
or “bent”, but simple roof lines
angles and roof forms
walls and roof planes
Roofs – these are listed in ascending order of cost:
one-way pitched roof
hipped roof – one horizontal eave around the whole house, no angle eaves
gables, even aligned at the same height, same slope for all roof planes
hipped roofs, eaves aligning, same slope
gables, varying eave heights and slopes
hipped roofs, eaves at varying heights and slopes
roofs, simple/one way
curved roofs, multiple planes, eves, etc.