Modify your plan to suit your lot

By Bud Dietrich

Adapting your plan to your lot -- for orientation, views, outdoor connections -- is key to a successful new home. Plan 140-149

Let’s say you’ve purchased the perfect lot for your dream home. But you don't know how to make sure your plan [say Plan 140-149 above] takes full advantage of the site. Here's how to marry your ideal plan to your perfect piece of land. 

Get To Know the Site 
Now that you own your site, spend some time there getting to know its characteristics, its idiosyncrasies, its assets and its flaws. Walk the entire length and breadth of it; watch and record where the sun comes up and sets. Prepare an inventory of the trees and other flora.  And don’t hesitate to experience the land at night. Camp out, take a look at the night sky and find out where the constellations are. Spend a weekend there. Have a picnic. The more you learn about your land the better your future home will be: you’ll know how and where to position the house to maximize the assets and minimize the drawbacks.

Region and Climate
The climate will have a tremendous effect on the house design. A house in the colder regions such as New England and the Upper Midwest will want to have a more closed geometry for efficiency's sake, like a square or rectangle. A house in southern areas, especially Southern California and Florida, will want to have a lot of “ins and outs” that create multiple outdoor “rooms” that increase the living area. This also gets reflected in the overall style of the house: for example, a Cape Cod, with its efficient envelope to ward off harsh winter winds and snow, is ideal in the north; while a home centered on a courtyard that connects each room is a more appropriate plan in the Southwest.

A critical aspect of the marriage between house and land is to know where the sun rises and sets.  A plan that acknowledges the solar orientation of the site can yield a more comfortable and efficiently cooled and heated home.  Sometimes, the solar orientation is at odds with the plan.  For example, a home built in the north will want more glass facing south to capture the warming sun rays in the winter.

But what if the south side of your land also faces the street where, for privacy and acoustical reasons, you’ll want that side more closed?  In this event, can the plan you like be adjusted to include windows higher in the wall, an outdoor “room” such as a porch that creates a buffer between street and house, etc.?  
The trick is to find the plan that works for you and then to adjust it to accommodate the sun and wind so you can be comfortable without relying solely on costly electrical and mechanical systems.

Topography and Vegetation
Is the land flat or does it slope?  If it slopes, in what direction does it slope?  Are there some old growth trees? If so, what condition are they in? Is there a low point where water accumulates? Speaking of water, is the site wet or does it drain nicely? Where does it drain to and what are the chances that it will flood? All of these and more are questions that will need to be answered to fit the plan to the land.

Let’s face it, while a flat piece of land will be easier to build on, a sloping site can offer more opportunities for a more interesting home. And old growth trees will provide plenty of summer shade without having to wait for newly planted trees to mature. And orienting the house so that it doesn’t create a dam to water drainage will require less maintenance in the long term.

View Corridors
What will you see when you’re in the house looking out?  What will the approach from the road to the house be like?  What will you see first?  How will that stand of trees or that house next door affect the view out?  These and more are all questions to ask as you look to marry land and plan.

To get a solid feeling for all this, take the floor plan out to the site and place the plan on the ground.  Now imagine yourself in the plan and looking around.  What do you see? Is it what you want to see? Is there access to the yard in the places you’d like?  Is there a wall blocking the best view? Will the morning sun enter the house where you’d like? And don’t hesitate to play “what if” with the plan and the site.

Go ahead and rotate the plan slightly and ask all the same questions.  Rotate the plan a lot and see what that yields. Flip the plan to see if that’s any worse or better. 

Modify the Plan Accordingly
As you do these exercises you’ll realize that some plan modifications may be necessary -- which is how you'll be able to make the most of your plan and your lot. With a design from the modification/customization process is easy. On the plan Detail Page you'll see this blue tab:

Click it and you will come to this page (below), where you need to decide if your changes are minor, medium, or major in scope:

Then you fill out the form to request a quote from's Design/Modification Department, and you are on your way. Here's an example of Minor Modification:

To get started, click on the Blue Modification Tab on any Plan Detail Page.

Sat Jun 07 00:00:00 PDT 2014