Avoid These Top Ten House-Planning Blunders

Filed in Construction by on February 18, 2014

Once in awhile I receive suggestions for articles to write. For this issue, it was my “Top 10 list of major boo-boos when planning a house.” Good idea. I thought they asked for “Top 10 list of Phil’s architectural boo-boos.” Perhaps we’ll chat about those another time…

10. Not knowing what you want in a house

Although we all grew up in a home of some fashion, leaving your parents and being on your won most likely changed the way you now would live in and use a house. Your career, potential spouse and/or children will easily change your lifestyle. If you have been living in an apartment or even a condo and haven’t lived in a house for some time, I would recommend renting or buying an existing house for a while before jumping into a new home. Think of it as taking a house for a test drive.

9. Wrong neighborhood or lot, poor orientation and poor views

Please research the neighborhood or area where you might live. Are the special assessments so high that you will be strapped later in paying? Does the lot have any decent views? If it’s a new developement, do you want to wait 10-plus years for trees to mature? Does the street require your garage placement to block all southern light? It is hard to have a green thumb without precious sunlight to grow your plants.

8. Buying a house plan

Ok, ok, if you want to buy one, go ahead. But please don’t just plunk the house down onto your site. One should really evaluate the solar orientation of the lot to maximize the natural light into your house. I personally like a southeast placement of the master bedroom and the breakfast nook, etc. It is best to start with the site and prioritize where you want each space before putting it into a floor plan. A designer can definitely help, even if it’s just to review your purchased plan.

7. Not planning for the future

If you are planning for children, try to imagine the noise they will make or the privacy you’ll need. They might need to be close to you when they are young, but as they age you or your children might want more distance between bedrooms or activity areas. If you are empty-nesters, consider how to age gracefully towards the years when wheelchairs may be necessary. This could mean a patio home where everything is on one level, the master suite is on the main floor, etc.

NapkinSketch (2)6. Napkin sketch

So you don’t buy a house plan or hire a designer. You, ahem, just waved your arms around, said some nonsense about a dream home and handed your builder a napkin sketch. Ouch. Look out! You will get your builder’s ideas of your house, not what you envisioned for your dream home – not to mention some stressful days ahead during construction.

5. Toilet door opens into the dining room

The title for this one should be more generic, perhaps “bad space planning.” Zipping up your pants as you step out of your bathroom into the dining room in front of Grandma at Thanksgiving is a good word picture of some things you might want to avoid whiling laying out the rooms in your house.

4. Noisy plumbing (cast iron vs. PVC pluming in toilets

Speaking of dining rooms, I once was dining with this family in their home when their daughter flushed the upstairs toilet. I could tell exactly where the PVC pipe was in the wall of the dining room. Sorry folks, no lie. Plumbers can still use insulated pipe (called quiet pipe) or cast iron piping for toilet drainage runs. Much more quiet.

3. Window/solar orientation

Although already mentioned in site layout, you need to consider views from within the house to the exterior. Walking down a hall or along a path within your home deserves a window to the outside. A bright house is a healthy house. Also, a bedroom window looking out into your neighbor’s living room might force you to have the window blinds always drawn. This is an undesirable view, psychologically uncomfortable and a waste of a good window.

2. Lack of character, which translates to no proportionate window or door trim, or poor siding & color selection

Everyone wants character, whether they build new or buy existing. Trim is the easiest way to add character to your home, inside and our. Make sure your budget has enough money to trim out your home. Limited “standard” color selections of low-maintenance siding has caused neighborhoods to be bland, don’t you think? Try some color if possible.

And the No. 1 boo-boo in planning a house: Not hiring a designer

Oops, did I just say that? Well, actually I meant not planning ahead and thinking through some of these and a myriad of other issues before building. Remember, this is probably the biggest investment you will make in a lifetime.

Whatever your preferences, even a short conversation with a designer can make a difference in a successful home vs. a project that is always referred to as “that mistake we made years ago.” Above all else, have fun building your new home, and remember to take time to enjoy the process.

by Phillip Stahl of Stahl Architects and Builders in Fargo

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