Creating a Custom Home Design Is More than Just Picking a Plan

Custom Home Design Planning

What’s so special about a custom home design? Why should you spend time and money creating a unique house when you could simply find a house plan.

These are valid questions. And in these difficult economic times, the thought of “adding” the cost of a custom home design to your home building project seems like a luxury. Although I feel that every house should suit its occupants as well as it can, I admit that I look at this through an architect’s eyes. I see many houses that missed simple opportunities to be better than they are and I secretly wish they had given the design more thought or gotten some help from a design professional. Many of the “fixes” would not have cost any additional money. They would have simply required some planning and clever thought.

These days, any house that is built individually instead of being built as one of a handful of models in a development is called “custom.” Most often these “one-off” homes are built from standard House Plans.

The fact that you have thousands of plans to choose from will go a long way toward helping you select a house plan that suits you and your family better, especially if you evaluate your needs carefully before choosing a plan. Using ready to go House Plans can save you initial costs. 

And if you find a plan that matches your needs, you’ll end up with a nice, semi-custom home. You might find a plan that’s close to what you want and an Architect or house designer can help tweak it to further customize it for you. But even if you do alter a stock plan, it still will not be truly custom.

Back to the question of why spend the time and money on a custom home design? First and foremost, a custom home design must give you added value over a stock plan in order to be worth the cost and effort. Of course, the value it has for the owners is subjective. Custom home design is not for everyone?

For some people it’s critical that their house be unique and perfect for them. They want to maximize the features of their Building Site, customize the look and size of each room, and have a house that expresses their personal image of “home.”

Other people are not as sensitive to design issues and view their homes as a place of shelter. They don’t feel the psychological impact of an ill-fitting house. Then again, many people don’t feel the impact of ill-fitting clothes.

But I believe these design issues influence all of us in our daily lives, either negatively or positively, even if we don’t overtly realize it. Believe it or not, your home has a huge psychological impact on you and your family. It’s my belief that a well designed custom home can improve your happiness and emotional well-being. Home is your security and retreat from the rest of the world. It shapes how family members interact with each other.

The benefits of creating a custom home design are many

1. You can customize the house exactly the way you want it. It can match the image of your perfect home that has been in your mind’s eye for a long time. Most of us live in houses that were built for and by someone else. That “other person” made the choices that determined the style, size, and details of that house.

Sometimes those choices were made for a specific person. But more often those decisions were made by the builder in an effort to “hit the middle of the market” and make the house sell quickly.

When we buy an existing house, we customize our lives to suit the house instead of customizing the house to suit our lives. There is a wonderful emotional fulfillment that comes with dreaming up and building the house you’ve always wanted. 

Sure it’s a lot of work and can be a difficult task. But in the end, the rewards are sensational. You will create more than a house. You will create Your Perfect House, the house that is not just semi-custom, but custom just for you and your family.

2. Your custom home design can include all of the things you have ever wanted. It can truly be your dream home. If you are fortunate enough to find a house that is a good match for your tastes and needs, that’s great. But to get a house that fits you like your favorite suit or dress, you need to start with House Planning and develop a Program that is a list of your needs and desires. Then design a house that fulfills that program.

Your new house should be like Goldilocks’ house. Not too small, not too big, not too soft, not too hard, but just right. That is difficult to achieve in an existing house. Designing a custom home let’s you do the tailoring.

3. Your custom home design can be more cost effective than you think. By eliminating the spaces and features you don’t need, you won’t waste your money on unwanted elements. Think of your existing house or others you may have lived in. Were there spaces or features you really did not need? Was there empty, unusable floor space between rooms or within rooms? Did you ever wish one room was a bit bigger and another was a bit smaller? 

When you create a custom home design, you have the unique opportunity to put all of the square footage exactly where it serves you best. That means you won’t buy space you don’t need. You might just find that you can get everything you want and live exactly as you want in a smaller house than you might have expected. As a result, you will save money.

4. Your new house can be designed around your lifestyle and patterns of living. Do you have any aspects of your present house that feel clumsy? Is there a good place for dropping the mail? Is there enough privacy for the master bedroom? Is placing furniture in your family room awkward? Do you live in only a portion of the house and other rooms, especially formal rooms, go unused? 

When you write your program for your custom house design, you have a chance to decide what you actually want and what you will actually use. Think of the time you spent getting your wedding dress or tuxedo perfectly fitted for the most important day of your life. Your house is the place you spend most of your life. Shouldn’t it fit you just as well? A custom home design let’s that happen.

5. A custom house design will be designed to fit your Building Site, taking advantage of views, gaining energy benefits from proper orientation, and shielding unwanted noise and unsightly intrusions from neighboring buildings or exposures. This is the biggest problem I see in new homes. 

If a stock plan has been used and little or no thought was given to the direction the sun rises and sets, the energy efficiency of the home and the comfort level in each room will be negatively impacted. If the wall with the most windows faces west, those rooms will bake in the summertime and your air conditioning costs will soar. If your front door faces north and is unprotected, the winter wind might howl through the house when the door is opened. 

Similarly, the slope of the land might have offered opportunities for access to outdoor spaces but the house plan was not conducive to allowing use of those spaces. Views might not have been considered and non-view rooms, such as bathrooms or the garage, might actually be located on the side of the house that has the best view. 

A custom home design starts with an analysis of the Building Site to evaluate opportunities and problems that impact design of the house. And the house is designed with those issues in mind.

6. You get to choose where you want to spend your money. By not being a one size fits all design, you can elect to upgrade and enhance the parts of the house that are important to you and cut back on the items that are not. Homes that are built speculatively or are built in most developments are usually driven by the sale price.

The developer/builder will make selections based on initial costs and market appeal. Money will go into visual features that will help sell the house faster. The developer might forego the cost of hidden features, like enhanced insulation, a longer-life roof, or more durable fixtures that would be worthwhile in the long term, because these things would add initial costs and force up the sale price. 

With a custom home design, you get to make all of those choices yourself. Chances are you will look at the long term cost and benefit and not just the initial cost.

7. You can improve the quality of your house. You can decide on the upgrades that are valuable and important to you and your family. Is an extra foot or two in the garage going to make it easier to get in and out of your cars and give you some much needed storage space? Would an extra foot in the shower make you more comfortable every time you use it?

Would you like your closet to be more of a dressing room with built in drawers and shelving? Do you want the floors to be stiffer and not bounce when people walk across them? Do you want electrical outlets near your front windows or even on the window sills for Christmas candles?

These are just some of the many questions you will ask yourself when designing a custom home. And each answer will be specific to you and your family.

It takes a lot of time and effort to create a truly custom home design. But in the end, the results will be a house that is ideal for you and feels like home.

I hope this information is helpful to you. You might want to get yourself a copy of my best-seller, Designing Your Perfect House. It is chockfull of valuable tips and advice that will save you many times the cost of the book on your house building or remodeling project. You might also like The Well-Centered Home: Simple Steps to Increase Mindfulness, Self-Awareness, and Happiness Where You Live. It will show you how to make your home a happy place.

Bill Hirsch | Architect

Bill Hirsch

Leave a Comment