My husband and I moved in together when we got married. We had just purchased a home that was big enough to grow a family and had everything we wanted. It was a dream come true. What we didn’t see coming and couldn’t predict was that the city we chose to start a life in would change drastically and cause us to rethink our entire family plan.
We started looking at options to move, hoping to relocate far enough away from our current city but stay within the same state. I started shopping for houses, looking at different cities and towns outside of where we were currently living. Due to certain circumstances, we knew that we couldn’t make another mortgage purchase for a couple years so we had time to take things slowly and figure out our plans piece by piece.
Even with the long and flexible timeline stretched out before us, we quickly became overwhelmed with the size and complexity of our possible move. On top of that, the issues within our current city were pushing us out more and more. Was there a way that we could speed up our timeline and escape as soon as possible? Then came a big “what if” question. When I first asked it, I thought for sure it would be immediately shot down. It’s crazy! Preposterous! We don’t have the money for that! Etc. Etc.
What if we could buy a piece of land and build our dream home over an extended period of time? Surprisingly, the question didn’t fall flat. We were both quiet for a few minutes trying to poke holes in the idea with the realities of our situation. But we couldn’t! So we began trying to figure out how one goes about building their dream house.
Step one was to buy a piece of land. For the sake of keeping this post at an abbreviated length, I’ll just say that over the course of several months we found the perfect piece of land and made the purchase. I may get into details of land purchasing in a different post.
The next step that we needed to figure out was how to design our dream home and turn it into a drawing that a builder could actually use. Here are the things I learned along the process:
Step One: Gather Ideas
I started by brainstorming with my husband a couple lists, defining all of the things we wanted to have in our dream house. Number of bedrooms, bathrooms, floors, special use rooms, special features. No matter how ridiculous they seemed, we wrote them down. Once I had those lists, I started to gather visual examples for the ideas on those lists.
I started with Pinterest. On Pinterest, I was able to create pin boards for all the rooms, features, and visual aesthetics we wanted. On those boards, I collected as many examples I could find. It also helped me find new and different ideas. I also found that there are thousands of floor plan links to look through for good starting points. Pinterest also has a function that suggests similar visuals, so if you find a particular type of floor plan that you like, you can find many variations of it there. This is how I found the original floor plan after which we modeled our design. Of course, each floor plan has copyrights, so you’ll have to make significant changes to any that you choose or pay a fee for the right to use it.
Step Two: Draw Up Some Floor Plans
Regardless of how you begin to assemble your floor plan, it can be a very helpful starting point just to start sketching ideas. After searching Pinterest for floor plans, I took a few that fit most of our requirements and combined them to start with. I used a couple methods for doing this. The first was to grab some good ol’ fashioned graph paper and hand-draw up some rough plans. Put rooms next to other rooms. See how they fit and flow together. I used a light table (you can also use a window with light coming through it) to stack the floors on top of one another to see how they line up.
Another option for drawing up floor plans is to try out the many different home design apps that exist. I tried several. Always try the free versions first to see if you like them. None of them are perfect, but many of them are helpful. Depending on your level of dedication and time available, these apps can be very useful for visualizing your floor plan ideas.
Here are some things to keep in mind when designing or choosing your floor plans:
- The plans that you initially design will be VERY different from the plans you end up with from a designer. This is not a bad thing. Just be prepared to compromise and change.
- Hallways are a huge waste of square footage and can drive up the cost of your house.
- Consider the layout of your land. Which way does the sun rise and set? Where are your views? If your land gets significant wind storms or road noise, make sure to place rooms in your design methodically based on those (and other) environmental factors.
- Are there going to be baby rooms/nurseries in this house? Consider placing those rooms far away from the noisier/high traffic rooms like the kitchen, living room, garage (due to garage door noise), theater/game/play room, etc.
- If your land is sloped, consider putting in a finished daylight basement.
- Roofing can be one of the most expensive parts of building a home. If you can have less square footage to cover in roofing, it could save you money. As an example- try to design multiple, stacked floors rather than a sprawling rambler-style house.
Step Three: Find a Designer/Architect
Something I learned early into our design process was that you need someone to draw up your blueprints regardless of how intricately you’ve drawn up your floor plans. There are varying levels of how much a designer provides you for your build process. This depends on the specific design firm and what they offer for their services. A designer and architect are generally the same thing, but they may refer to themselves as one or the other. Either way, a designer/architect is there to take your ideas and make them into something that works visually.
They usually have experience in knowing how a house should flow and what ideas work and what ideas are not worth considering. It is in your best interest to take their advice. Of course, I can’t speak for every designer out there, but you should choose one who has had a proper education and can show you a portfolio of work that fits with what you’d like for your house. They should be able to answer your questions, interpret your ideas, and steer you in a direction that gets you well on your way to building your dream home.
The designer we chose offered some very thorough job packages that covered everything from the exterior and interior design processes as well as the civil engineering and permits. We chose this because this was our first experience with the home building process, and we wanted to make sure that things were being done right.
Additionally, civil engineering is one of the most important parts of your home’s design process. Some design firms may offer this service in-house, but some may not. If they don’t, you’ll have to find a separate civil engineer. A civil engineer is the one who takes your visual house plans (from the designer/architect) and turns them into something that actually functions. They make separate plans for your lighting, your vent systems, plumbing, electrical, roofing structure, etc. These plans are necessary for your builders, which we will talk about more in a future post.
A few things to keep in mind during your design phase:
- Be very clear with your designer/architect on what their prices include. You might be surprised to find later on that something like civil engineering or permitting could be a separate charge all together.
- Listen to the suggestions of the designer. They should have the skills and experience to answer all of your questions and concerns. They also know when something just isn’t possible or might be out of your price range.
- Make sure you talk with your designer about what your home building price range is. Be very honest with them about how much you are looking to spend on the actual building of your home. They will then be able to keep your designs within that range.
- Know that there may be a lot of revisions and back and forth during this part of the process. Be patient and know that you’re that much closer to perfection.
- Be very honest and verbal about your questions and concerns. You need to get your plans exactly how you want them, and you cannot assume that your designer knows what you’re picturing in your head.
- Find a designer who is familiar with the permit processes and code requirements for the specific county your house will be built in. Different counties have different requirements to pass inspection, and if your designer doesn’t catch them all the first time, it could lead to expensive rework.
- It is possible to find a designer who runs permits for you. This is very helpful if you are unfamiliar with the process. They will know what permits need to be filed and when and can help make sure those are completed on time.
In the end, this process should be fun and exciting. You should begin to see your ideas turned into real plans. Plans you can hold and show other people. It makes a huge difference to do your research first. Know who you are doing business with because you will be spending a lot of time and money on the design process. This is also an area of the process that you don’t want to skimp on. Being cheap with the design plans can cause a lot of rework and could end up costing you more in the long run.