Building a house is a large undertaking. As an architect, when people contact me for the first time they always ask “what do we do first?” This article will be 7 first steps or considerations when you are planning to design and build a house. I am not bothering listing hiring an architect as I assume that is obvious, since you are now on an architect’s blog.
Building a House, Seven First Steps
- Site Planning
What’s going in the house?
Architects use the term Program to define everything that goes into a house. The program is the list of all the rooms and requirements for the house. You should take your time to think this through. Most importantly you do not need to have everything figured out on day one. Start with the big things and then work your way down to finite details. Sit down and make a list of all the rooms you will need in the house. Also make a second list, your wish list of additional rooms / things you may want if you can afford it. Don’t forget your budget may limit what you can build. Start with the basics. Here are some things to consider:
- How many bedrooms? Do you want master suite? Will bedrooms have their own bathrooms? Do you want walk in closets?
- How many bathrooms do you want? Bathtubs or showers or both. How many pieces? Do you want lavatories in certain areas (just toilet and sink)?
- What do you need in your kitchen? How big of a kitchen? Do you prefer open kitchens or a closed kitchen?
- Living Rooms:
- How do you want your living room to work? Is it big or small? Do you want multiple living rooms?
- What about additional rooms like Family Room, Sun Room, TV Room, Exercise Room?
- Utility and storage rooms:
- Laundry Room, Mud Room, equipment room, storage spaces. Do you want an attic or a cellar?
- Work Space:
- Home office, work shop, library, music room, homework room for the kids.
- Special Rooms:
- Do you have any special requirements that wouldn’t typically be included in a house. I had a client who wanted a screening room for example.
- Do you want a garage? Do you have multiple cars? Do you want a detached garage separate from the house or part of the house
- Exterior Spaces:
- Exterior Spaces:
- What kind of outdoor spaces do you want: balconies, terraces, roof deck, patio, porch, 3 season enclosed porch, barbecue area, green house, shed, vegetable garden, driveway, swimming pool etc…
Everybody has different requirements there may be many things you need or want that are not on this list so think them through and prioritize them. What is most important and what isn’t.
How Big Will Your House Be?
The size of your house has to be balanced with your program and your budget. Your architect will help you with this but here is a starting point. How many floors do you want? Do you want any double height spaces? Do you have an idea of the square footage. Some people find difficulty visualizing square footage. I like to take a tape measure and show my clients dimensions in person. You can layout cones or stakes on the property to start figuring out dimensions. You also need your architect to do a zoning analysis as your local regulations may limit what you can build.
How much will it cost to build your house? Nobody wants to think about how much this is all going to cost, but you have to come up with a budget. Talk to contractors and your architect but knowing your finances is critical. How much can you really spend on building your house. Also think about project cost. Its not just the construction, although that is the majority of the cost. Here are a list of expenses you should consider:
- Materials, labor, contractor, appliances , fixtures, etc …
- Architect & Engineering, survey, geotechnical, etc ….
- Municipal or County fees
Have a Contingency budget. Try to budget an additional 15% – 20% over your project cost for surprises.
Get A Property Survey
If you do not have one already get a property survey. The architect does not do this. Surveys are done by a land surveyor. We always get a complete “Architectural Survey” when we start projects. You may also need to get borings, this is a soil test your architect will let you know about this. The property survey is always the starting point with regards to drawings.
Where is the house going to be on the property? If you have a small lot in an urban setting this will be quite limited. If you have a large property in a rural area you may have many options. There will be some technical issues to consider and your local zoning regulations may have a great deal of input on this matter. Start thinking about how the house will engage and occupy your property. are there any views you want, or want to avoid.
Depending where you are and your local regulations zoning can be simple or complicated. Make sure to have the architect review all the relevant zoning regulations. These can limit the house size: square footage, number of stories, height, roof pitch, etc… Zoning can also limit where you can build on your property. You may have restrictions on areas of the property where you can not build.
Do Design Research
This is the fun part. Do some design research. Architects like to call this “Precedent Research” Look at lots of houses go on Pinterest or Houzz. Look at houses and interiors and try to get an idea of things you like and things you don’t like. Share this with your architect. Take a walk or drive and look at homes in the neighborhood especially if there are new ones.
Good Luck designing and building your house.
You may also want to see another article we wrote – 21 Ideas For Building A Sustainable House