From choosing an architectural style to creating a floor plan to selecting a landscaping style many big decisions must be made to design and construct a house. Homeowners should do two things before making any of these decisions: purchase the land for their homes and develop well-thought-out site plans.
Architect Gordon Tully1) stated the following: "among my saddest hours as an architect have been those spent trying to adjust someone's cherished design to a site that cries out for an entirely different house." Thus, site planning forms the foundation for creating a beautiful home that (a) fits the site and its surroundings and (b) brings its occupants comfort and joy for years to come.
What is a site plan?
A site plan2), also known as a plot plan, is a detailed architectural drawing that shows the intended improvements to a piece of land. It includes drainage facilities, landscaping, lighting, parking, sewer lines, structures, trails, travel ways, and water lines.
The site plan is used throughout the home building process3) to (a) make sure that local building codes and zoning requirements are met, (b) minimize house construction costs, and (c) help ensure that the lot will drain properly.
How does a site plan differ from a floor plan?
In contrast to the site plan that focuses on the land, a floor plan4) focuses on the house itself. It provides a view of the house's interior layout from above. It includes the size and location of rooms; location of doors, stairs, and windows; electrical elements and structural details; and placement of appliances, bathroom fixtures, and kitchen cabinets. It generally does not include floor and landscaping plans.
How is a site plan used?
In addition to helping the builder construct a house that meets the homeowner's specifications and municipality's codes and requirements, the site plan has three additional uses.
The site plan helps the home builder and others navigate the house construction process—from the outermost boundary (i.e., the property line) to the innermost boundary (i.e., the interior of the house).
The site plan is crucial to building and designing new houses and renovating existing houses. As mentioned earlier, a site plan is used to develop a house design that will fit the land and create the kind of living environment that the homeowner can truly enjoy. Furthermore, understanding the layout of a site with all its improvements and how they relate to each other is important for making renovations to a house and/or the land that do not create additional problems or violate municipal codes.
The site plan is disseminated to several parties involved with the house construction or renovation process.
- Excavation contractor: The contractor who excavates the land uses the site plan when digging to set the house's location and elevation.
- Foundation contractor: The foundation contractor uses the site plan to help set the foundation's forms5) and footings6).
- Grading contractor: The grading7) contractor uses details about grading to create the rough and final grade.
- Homeowner: The homeowner can use the site plan for future projects.
- Landscaper: The landscaper uses the site plan to help create the design for beds, plants, shrubs, and trees and to minimize the impact of landscaping on the lot's drainage.
- Local government: The municipality uses the site plan to determine if a building permit should be issued.
- Surveyor: The land surveyor uses the site plan to effectively stake8) the lot.
Who creates a site plan?
Civil engineers create site plans. These professionals9) design, construct, manage, and maintain airports, buildings, bridges, dams, and other structures. When creating site plans for houses, they perform the following tasks:
- Design and draw the site plan
- Verify that the house will comply with local zoning laws
- Perform dirt calculations to determine if soil needs to be removed or added to the site
According to the Armchair Builder, it costs between $600 and $1,500 to hire a professional engineer to create a site plan. These costs vary according to location, project size and complexity, and requirements.
What does a site plan contain?
A variety of elements impact a building site and thus the house that the site will support. Rock, slope, soil type, surrounding construction, vegetation, views, water, and weather as well as zoning requirements must be considered to sufficiently prepare the site for a house construction and create a beautiful house and landscape. Some of the most important elements to address when creating a site plan are discussed below.
Zoning requirements and building codes are the first matters to consider when developing a site plan. A house and/or additional structures that do not meet these requirements may have to be removed or altered, which could be costly. Three actions can help homeowners avoid regulatory complications:
- Hire experienced professionals who thoroughly understand the legal requirements for constructing a house.
- Learn about the rules that govern sites before buying or building on a piece of land.
- Gain an understanding of the likely outcome of the building proposal before submitting it to the municipality.
The site plan includes elements that depict the best location for maximizing the house's functionality and aesthetics. Access, drainage, easements, sunlight, utilities, views, and wind are important factors.
It is important to consider how the size of cars and driveways relate to the house. For example, even the smallest cars need sufficient parking and turning space. The key is to make car access as "graceful and natural" as possible while saving vegetation and creating a smooth transition between the car and the front door.
The driveway should be constructed in a way that minimizes danger and eliminates the need for future removal. For example, in cold climates the slope on the driveway should be minimized to prevent dangerous conditions during icy weather. For a corner lot, the driveway should be constructed as far away from the intersection as possible. Additionally, the driveway should be located as far away from utilities as possible to provide future access without having to remove it.
The house's foundation and drains are designed to manage the land's water and soil conditions. Therefore, elements like swales and yard drains should be indicated on the site plan. Swales10) are manmade or naturally occurring low tracts of land.
Easements should be clearly identified to prevent contractors from building structures on these locations. Building in these areas could pose a serious problem if utilities require repairs.
Sunlit rooms can provide occupants with contentment in both summer and winter. Therefore, the house should be constructed in a manner that allows for sunlight in every room while minimizing overheating to (a) provide comfort and (b) save energy.
Town utility services or on-site utilities are important for deciding where to construct the house. When town services are provided, routing the trenches to the house can be problematic. Sometimes the most efficient route will disrupt or damage existing plant life. In these cases, a different building orientation or alternative route should be considered.
Government entities highly regulate on-site disposal of waste. Percolation11) and groundwater-level tests are usually conducted to determine if a site is usable as well as where and what kind of structure can be built on the site.
Some sites provide more picturesque views than others. When there is only a slight or partially-obscured view, the house should be constructed in a way that gives the main rooms access to it.
When a site provides a panoramic view, the effects of the sun should be considered. For example, floor to ceiling glass will provide a great view, but the sun could overheat the room. A large window above a wall may be a better choice. It provides a nice view, brings light into the room, and creates a "sense of enclosure."
It is essential to understand a site's typical wind patterns so that outdoor elements can be placed in locations that receive summer breezes and allow for outdoor activities in cooler weather. For example, typical wind patterns in the northeast region of the country are as follows:
- From the east and southeast: Warmer winds bring rain and unstable weather.
- From the northeast: Cold winds often bring snow or heavy rain.
- From the west and northwest: The strongest and coldest winds cause freezing in the winter and cooler temperatures in the summer.
- From the southwest: Cooler winds generate nice breezes in the summer.
Building a great house starts with creating a site plan that incorporates all of the elements that will impact both the land and the proposed home. This allows the homeowner to create a home and landscape that complement each other; comply with all regulatory requirements; and provide maximum comfort, beauty, and joy.
Learn more about the issues that impact residential real estate such as floods and natural hazards, mortgage fraud, and duties of real estate brokers at RealEstatece.com.
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