Blog entry

Golden Rule of House Design

Customizing Your New Home

06Apr 2017

Have you searched through hundreds of designs and plans, trying to find the perfect fit for your dream home? After sorting through pages and pages of stock house designs, have you still not found the right one?

There are literally tens of thousands of home designs available in books, in catalogs and on websites. Some of them might come close to your vision. Now you may be narrowed down to a handful of home plan concepts. The façade on one might be gorgeous while the floor layout in another is precise. But blending the two doesn’t work.

You might find one plan is exactly what works on your lot while another design is exciting but wrong for the site. Maybe you’re looking at something too large that can’t fit your budget. You might be wondering how the home design can be reduced yet keep the same flow.

Choosing House Plan Designs

No doubt you’ve found a stock floor plan that’s close. You’ve thought if you could just tweak this or that, it’d be spot on. The problem, you feel, is finding someone to make the changes without breaking the bank. And, no doubt you’ve considered starting from scratch and designing your own custom home.

If this sounds like you, take comfort that you’re no different from everyone else who’s undertaken a home-building project. You’d think that with the thousands of home plans available, it’d be easy to find the right fit in an economical stock design that’s affordable. Unfortunately, it can be more complicated than that.

Most of all, it’s a workable plan you need. Many of the stock plans you find in books and on the net are just plain bad. They might represent a fairy tale dream, but in reality, they’re nearly impossible to build — especially within a realistic budget and when conforming to dozens of code and zoning regulations you’re sure to encounter.

So what can you do when you find a plan that’s reasonably close to your wants, needs and wallet? It’s simple. You customize it. You work with a professional who knows custom home design plans and can make those changes for you. You also apply the basic principles of proper house design and work together as a team to make your dream a reality.

Principles of Proper House Design

The golden rule of house design is that form follows function. This principle is absolutely basic, yet many people approach their home selection and design program the other way around.

Central to the “form follows function” principle is starting with the building site and working within those parameters you can’t change. If you haven’t found a building site yet and are trying to finalize a custom home design, you’re probably headed for problems. It’s the proverbial “cart before the horse.”

Some functions of the building site that will affect your final design form are fixed issues that can’t be changed, not like walls, windows and doors that are easily modified from a stock house plan and molded to fit with the site. These points need to be considered at the beginning of your design program.

Site Location

Where your home is to be built is the number one issue that dictates the final form. Your house design has to function within natural forms that are fixed with the lot. These forms include:

  • Site slope and grading. Changing a sloped lot to accommodate a design meant for a level lot is going to be expensive. It’s far cheaper to change the home design than regrade and retain the ground. Forming the design to the function of the ground is critical.
  • Sun pattern. Solar gain is not just part of your energy efficiency approach. Natural light is hugely important in long-term function of your home. Your design form must work within the sun’s natural travel pattern and be worked in with window placement, roof overhang and outdoor spaces.
  • Weather conditions. Rain, wind, ice and snow are part of the natural package. The primary function of a home is to protect the occupants from harsh elements. That includes high heat and humidity. The form of your home has to work with the functioning elements, not against them.
  • Ground peculiarities. Take into account the functioning nature of the ground when building the house design form. Your drainage, soil stability and native vegetation types all have unique functions that contribute to the final design.
  • View corridors. Your building site may come with an amazing view, and you’ll want to capture as much of the scene as possible. Making your view function with your design is going to be a major influence on its final form and its value.

Site location is only one of the many considerations taking place when determining your home design function and evolving the form. There’s another large function that dictates the final form, and that’s your budget or ability to financially support your building program.

Home-Building Budget Costs

Your final house plan design is going to have a tremendous impact on the eventual cost. Obviously, a large and more complex home design is going to consume more labor and materials than a smaller, simpler house plan. A big, complicated structure is going to be more expensive. A smaller form may function as well as a design with unnecessary space and features. It’s also going to have a much tighter budget.

Custom House Plan Designs Final Cost

It’s critical to have a realistic budget in mind when starting your home design because in the end, your project will have a final cost. The truth is many factors influence your home’s budget. Most can be controlled by implementing good design form, selecting functional but affordable fixtures, and making sure the home design works with its site, not against it.

Factors Influencing Home-Building Costs

Many factors influence the cost of designing and building a home. They apply to building from a stock plan, modifying an existing plan to make the form suit your function and having a truly custom plan designed for your unique wants and needs.

Factors to consider that influence home-building costs might be:

  • Complexity of design. As a rule, the number of corners and roof angles indicate a home’s building costs. This isn’t an exact science, but both indicators consume greater materials and labor time than straight runs.
  • Foundation. Sloped lots require more complex foundations than level sites. In addition, full basements are costlier than crawlspaces or slabs-on-grade.
  • Finishing material selection. Custom cabinets, granite countertops, hardwood floors and gold-plated faucets have a steep price attached. These costs are incidental to basic construction, where expenditures are dictated by design. You’re in final control of finishing your home. That’s well past what a plan designer can help with.
  • Shortages of labor and materials. The home-building industry faces the same supply and demand challenges as everyone else. Staying within standard design parameters safeguards unnecessary and unexpected sticker shock when unique building materials and techniques are sourced.
  • Weather. This is always a wildcard in the building process. Weather can be unpredictable even in areas free from harsh temperatures, wind and water. Planning your project according to favorable weather may have considerable savings, both in time and materials.

With a realistic view of applying building principles and budgeting, it should be much easier to get close to the right house plan design that works for you. Notice the term “get close?” Don’t fret. It’s a home-building reality that even the best-made plans are going to change as the process unfolds.

Changes are inevitable, whether you’re taking a stock plan from a home designer’s inventory or having a truly custom design created. The trick is to anticipate as much as possible, make the right choices and decisions upfront and minimize alterations in the field.

The best starting point in your home-building process is selecting the right home designer, and then working together to build your custom home design plans. Finding an existing plan is a step in the right direction. It gives your designer a general idea of what function you have in mind. With your input, they can then form a workable set of plans to build from.

It’s normal in the home design business to work this way. Changing details on a basic building plan is far easier today with computer-aided drafting (CAD) programs. Gone are the days of hand-drawing blueprints where changes involved erasing a concept and starting over.

CAD House Plans

Now, most home design software programs have excellent editing features along with icons to drag and drop symbols like doors, windows and stairs. Computers are enormous timesaving tools, and they offer you the benefit of making numerous changes to stock plans at minimal cost.

Modifying Existing Stock Plans

Modifications to existing house plans generally fall into four categories:

  • Redlines. These are penned-in notations on working drawings. They’re normally done in red ink so they stand out and make the tradespeople aware of an on-site change like a different interior door opening or an added closet.
  • Minor changes. Modifications like adding or removing windows or entry doors should be done on the computer-drafted plans as they can affect regulatory calculations. Your designer can easily change a stock plan for little cost.
  • Medium changes. Something that changes a room’s orientation or alters the façade requires clear direction before construction starts. Doing work twice because of poor communication can be very expensive compared to a few hours expended by your plan designer.
  • Major changes. Modifications that significantly alter the home’s footprint or foundation can be very time-consuming and relatively pricey. However, a building plan has to be structurally accurate when applying for a building permit, and it has to be clear to the construction crew how to assemble your home.

If the stock plan you select requires major changes, you may be wise to consider having a custom home designed for you from scratch. Not only may it be similar in cost to having major changes made, but it’s also going to give you a clear picture of what your end result will be and what it’s likely to cost.

Customizing your house plan designs from stock plans extends beyond making modifications to the floor plan and façade. Customizing includes putting your personal touch on the finishing details not noted on most building plans.

Customize Your Finishes

Both stock and custom plans have intricate specifications for what structural materials are to be used, where they’re to be placed and how the home is to go together from top to bottom. These are crucial but disappear from sight once your home is ready to finish with components you’ll see and touch forever.

You can have complete custom control over your finishes even if you work from a stock plan or have one modified to suit your tastes. Final finishes are the area where you can truly make that plan a reflection of your own taste and lifestyle.

Home finishes can be broken into two groups — interior and exterior. There are a wide range of choices in each category as well as wide price spread. Your final selections will likely be based on the theme you’ve built your home around and the style of architecture you’re emulating. Selections also need to fall within your budget.

Interior and exterior finishes for custom house plans

Exterior finishes usually reflect the style or character of your home. Popular styles today are:

Each of these façades can be custom accented with different siding and roofing materials. They range in price, starting with vinyl siding capped by an asphalt shingle roof. Mid-range treatments include stucco lath with roofing tiles. High-end homes are often clad in stone, masonry, brick or cedar siding accented with shakes.

For interior finishes, you have many options of customizing your visual amenities. Kitchens and bathroom upgrades have the best return on investment. Custom wood cabinets and solid surface countertops are extremely desirable. They’re definitely worth the expense if your budget allows.

There’s a vast array of flooring options for you to customize your plan. Again, depending on your budget, flooring selections start with inexpensive vinyl sheeting or what’s often called lino. Ceramic tile is a bit pricier per square foot but pays back in durability. Hardwood strips or planks top the flooring price range and raise the budget. Today, however, there’s a great selection of laminates that are dead ringers for true hardwood floors at a fraction of the price.

Lighting is another area where you can easily customize your stock house plan. The right placement and type of fixtures make a huge statement in the look and living of your new home. Custom lighting doesn’t have to be expensive to have a big impact. You’ll be surprised at how many dramatic and elaborate fixtures are available at attractive prices.

The other main area that lends well to customization is your choice of interior trim. Door profiles and window treatments have enormous effects on elegance. Large casings and wide baseboards are very popular interior custom touches that are relatively inexpensive upgrades. Ceiling crown molding remains a top choice in custom finishes.

Custom Finish Ideas

The list of custom touches you can add to a stock or modified house design is only limited by your imagination. There are many idea sources for custom additions to your home. Renovation shows on television can give you the goods on what’s trending and what’s coming. There are endless online resources providing suggestions, including one of the touchiest subjects — color coordinating. Model homes are also places to visit with your camera and notebook.

Wherever you get your custom inspiration, remember one aspect of house plan designs will always influence another aspect. House design is a big balancing act, and perfection at the design stage is rarely achieved. Changes are inevitable in home building, and they go with the territory.

Changes in House Plans Affect Whole Design

If you plan your house well, analyze the site, work with a form that follows function and remain realistic about your budget, you’ve got the right foundation for a great structure. You can improve your success by selecting the right home plan designer to join your team and work out details at the start.

Nelson Design Group is your place to start for stock and custom home designs. We can modify any of our plans to suit your specific needs and provide you with the best house plan solution possible.

Everything on our plans is at our fingertips. Our home plan specialists can easily review an entire design and answer questions to give you options. Browse through our house plan designs today and get started on customizing your new home.

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Best House Plan Designer
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NDG SmartChoice Home Products™
View our Photo Gallery