Good House Planning It’s the First Step toward Designing a Great House

House Planning
Architect William J. Hirsch Jr.

House planning is the most important part of the design process whether you’re designing a new home or designing a remodeling or addition. It’s a fool’s game to try to design your house without having a clear idea of what you want to achieve. I compare it to driving off for your family vacation without knowing your destination. You’ll never know when you’ve gotten there because you really have no idea where you’re going.

Of course, determining the rooms you want is an essential part of house planning. But it’s much more than that. House planning is really “total project” planning. Here’s a list of important questions you can ask yourself about what you want your house to be and some preliminary planning tasks you can perform to help you along.

Critical Design Questions

1. What is the size and scope of your project

A. Create a preliminary program (a list of rooms with sizes and characteristics) and visit houses that are for sale to get an idea of the approximate square footage that your house will have to be to hold the rooms you want.

B. Do a preliminary cost assessment. Talk with builders. Compare sale prices (minus the lot value) of houses for sale to get a range of costs per square foot.

C. If you don’t already have a building site, evaluate the range of prices for building lots and sites that may suit your requirements.

D. Compare the overall cost with your budget.

E. Have preliminary discussions with architects and builders to get opinions on costs and scope.

F. Find a balance between your budget and your desires and needs. Be realistic. Don’t be overly optimistic or you will be frustrated and disappointed later.

2. Who is going to help me with this project?

A. Select an architect or house designer.

B. Select a builder.

C. Select and interior designer

3. Where will I build it?

A. Select a building site if you don’t already have one.

B. Consider site characteristics, opportunities and restrictions.

C. What covenants are there? Do they have an impact on building costs?

4. What will this house be?

A. Finalize the program. This is the most important aspect of house planning.

B. Compile magazine clippings and notes. These are “inspiration images” and they are valuable in communicating ideas.

5. How will the house sit on the site?

A. Compile site analysis, schematic floor plans set on the site, determine the approach to the house, and so forth.

B. Evaluate several house placement options.

6. Where will the rooms be positioned?

A. Do preliminary layouts.

B. Evaluate several layouts and decide on basic concepts.

7. What will the house look like?

A. The floor plan grows to three dimensions and becomes a house.

B. Investigate several alternatives.

C. Don’t be afraid to reassess earlier decisions. House planning is a dynamic process. You will “know” the house better and better as you go through the process. Don’t latch on to early concepts so strongly that you are unable to see the shortcomings later on. Be agile in your thinking.

8. Is the design on budget?

A. Do preliminary cost estimates. You can use a prospective builder for this, or the architect may do it.

B. Determine what the lowest price the house can be without altering the program in some way.

C. Determine what the highest price the house is likely to be unless you chose very expensive or exotic fixtures and finishes.

9. How will I get exactly what I want?

A. Architect completes the construction documents (drawings and specifications). These substantially detail the house.

B. Items that are not yet determined are included as allowances.

C. Owner reviews and approves the construction documents.

10. What is the actual cost going to be?

A. Construction documents are given to the builder(s) for pricing.

B. The builder(s) respond with either bids or solid estimates for a cost-plus contract.

11. What if the bids exceed my budget?

A. Architect and builder work together to establish a list of possible adjustments to the project and what the approximate savings of each would be.

B. The owner then decides which changes to accept, and the builder recalculates the project’s cost with the changes.

C. Architect revises construction documents to reflect all changes. These revised documents become the contract documents between the owner and the builder.

12. How will I pay for this?

A. Owner decides on method of financing (such as construction loan and then a permanent mortgage, a construction loan that converts to a permanent mortgage when the house is complete, or cash and no financing).

B. Builder provides an estimate of schedule of payments and monthly amounts.

C. Contract stipulates how and when each progress payment is to be made.

D. Contract stipulates how the contract will end. That is, when the final payment is to be made to the builder, when the builder is deemed to have completed the work and what warranty the builder will provide to the owner.

If you take the time to do your house planning correctly, you will avoid many of the pitfalls that so often plague home building and remodeling projects. Answer all of the questions you can as early as you can and you will be able to enjoy the fun parts of building your home or remodeling or enlarging your existing house.

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

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