Here's what to know before you build your mountain dream home.
It’s time to get serious and build the
of your dreams. But as you may already know, building a
(including log home plans
and A frame house plans) isn’t as easy as building one in a subdivision setting. Things you
take for granted – particularly utilities and construction trades – can be problematic
in a remote location.
Three big concerns drive the selection of a mountain home
plan, says Angela Loughry of Confluence Architecture in Carbondale, Colorado
which specializes in mountain house plans.
“Site, site, and site.”
Since excavation may be necessary in
the mountains, Confluence’s foundation plans include dimensions and notations
for support columns, walls, and excavated and unexcavated areas.
One of the
firm’s best-selling designs, a modern take on a Colorado mining home (plan 902-1
, seen above), is designed
for a lot that slopes 30 percent downhill. The design ensures that each level
has a walkout door. The layout of the main living space, modeled after an
alpine ski hut, focuses on a wood stove that integrates kitchen, dining, and
living spaces. The home is a great place to entertain a small group of friends
Site demands may create a battle
between conflicting desires to harness views and generate energy. The ideal
situation would be to orient windows toward the great view that led you to the
lot in the first place. Ideally, those windows would face south to harness and
control solar heat. “If
the view is not to the south, you start making tradeoffs on controlling the
sun,” says Loughry. “Too much sun from the west, and you can overheat. Too
much from the north, and your home can get chilly.” Harnessing solar energy becomes a big
deal when building on a site without easy access to electricity, water, and
other utilities. You can grease the skids by selecting a plan that accommodates
solar power, heat, and hot water. One such plan is the highly versatile High
Sierra Cabin (plan 452-3, above) that architect David Wright first designed for Sunset magazine
then made available to the public. “It’s proven a very popular design,” he
says. “It’s being built throughout the country.”
The energy program for the self-reliant
home starts with a high-performance frame built with structural insulated
panels (SIPs), made in a factory and shipped to the job site. With SIPs, “construction
can be easier and faster than conventional framing,” says Wright. (That may be
a big concern in regions with short building seasons.) The home’s electricity
comes from PV panels, supported by a backup electrical generator that runs on
propane. Propane is also used for cooking and backup solar water preheating.
The cabin plan can be adapted to nearly
any aesthetic or neighborhood requirement. It will work with any kind of
roofing from shingle to tile. Exterior walls could accept stucco, wood, cement
fiber, shingles, or stucco. You could even pick metal roofing and siding to
reflect the mountain scenery. A wraparound porch
with ironwood decking nearly doubles the home’s usable floor area. Interior
details skew modern with laminate flooring, cable railings, and simple Douglas
fir trim. Clerestory windows and vent skylights fill the home with light on
winter days.Both architects sweat fireproofing
details that may not be found on other plans. Wright, for instance, designs to
California’s code for fire-safe buildings. He puts a layer of gypsum board or
cement siding under the exterior roof and adds exterior shutters over windows. The Confluence plans include fireproof
screening in attic vents. On porches and roof overhangs of four feet or more, the
plans minimize exposed timbers or include a layer of gypsum underneath. Sometimes
both. “We typically follow our local (Colorado) fire codes, which are robust,”
big concern is how you intend to use your mountain home.
Maybe all you need is a small weekend retreat. Here’s a small plan (design 556-3, above), only 688
square feet, designed with cold and mixed climates in mind, that does the
trick. It comes with a classic loft bedroom that looks down on a great room. A
crawlspace foundation makes it ideal for sloping lot conditions. A solar PV
system design and rainwater harvesting make it self-reliant.
But increasingly people are building full-scale family dream
homes in the mountains. They may use it as a second home now, but it could
become your primary residence later on. Here’s a plan (design 908-1, above) that meets both needs.
the main level, a two-sided fireplace separates the kitchen and dining area
from the family room. Upstairs, the room over the garage makes
for an ideal home office or studio that converts easily to a guest suite.
suite includes a dramatic bathroom with an oversized tub and shower, along with generous
closet space. This plan could be easily adapted to remove the upper level and
add a main-level master suite, a garage bay for a third car, or more bedrooms.
Snow removal can be another big concern with mountain
homes, especially when you only use them periodically. You may want pitched roofs
to keep snow (and rain) away from walking surfaces so that you can at least get
to the front door if you arrive after a big snow. Or you can add stone stops to
keep snow on the roof. There’s also the issue of protecting the home from
wildlife. You may want to investigate bear-resistant door hardware. “Bears love levers but can’t work
knobs,” says Loughry.
Shop mountain home plans
and build that dream retreat.