How To Choose Building Plans

10 Steps to Your Dream Home

Money jar, pen, extension wood ruler, and Save More written on sticky note - all atop blueprints
Save More when planning your home. Photo by Børth Aadne Sætrenes/Moment Mobile Collection/Getty Images

Whether you are building a new house or remodeling an older home, you'll need plans to guide you through the project. Here are some tips to help you choose the best building plans for your needs.

How to Choose the Right Building Plan:

  1. Create a Spreadsheet of Needs. Talk with your family. Discuss what each of you wants. What are your needs now and what will your family's needs be in the future? Should you plan for future aging in place? Write it down.
  1. Observe. Look at how you live and where you spend most of your time in your house or apartment. Why spend the time and money to build or remodel? If it's just because you like change, maybe no building plan will satisfy.
  2. Reflect on homes you have visited. What features did you especially enjoy? Look at the way other people live. Is that lifestyle really what you want?
  3. Consider the features of your land. Where is the sunlight best? Which direction offers the greatest views and the cooling breezes? Could remodeling capture a piece of nature overlooked by builders of another time?
  4. Select exterior finishing details with care. Know if you'll be building in an historic district, which may restrict exterior modifications.
  5. Browse through building plan catalogs for ideas. You don't have to buy stock plans, but these books can help you visualize possibilities. Public libraries may have these popular books on their shelves.
  1. Use the Web search function offered by online directories of building plans. Houses from sites like Houseplans.com have often been designed as custom homes before being offered as stock plans. Some plans are "specs" (speculative) and many are often more interesting than "plain vanilla" catalog plans.
  1. Select a floor plan that most closely matches your ideal. Do you need adaptability? Perhaps you should consider a house without walls. Pritzker Prize-winning architect Shigeru Ban designed Naked House (2000) with movable interior modules—a unique solution that you won't find in a house plan catalog.
  2. Estimate your building costs. Your budget will determine many choices you make in the design of your home.
  3. Consider hiring an architect to personalize your building plan, or to create a custom design.

What Comes First, the House or the Site?

Architect William J. Hirsch, Jr. writes, "It's a good idea to have a basic concept of what kind of house you want before selecting a site because the type of house will dictate to some extent the nature of the site that makes the most sense for you." Likewise, if you have your heart set on the land first, the house design should "fit" the site.

Additional Tips:

  1. Choose your floor plan first and your exterior façade second. Most plans can be finished in nearly any architectural style.
  2. It's usually best to purchase your land before you select your building plan. The land establishes the amount of area and the type of terrain you have to build on. To build an energy-efficient structure, try to follow the sun as it crosses your lot. Pre-purchasing the land also helps you budget the rest of your project.
  1. Be sure to budget for landscaping and finishing touches.
  2. Listen actively. Reflect back what you hear when you talk with family members. You might be surprised to find out that your children or in-laws plan to live with you.

Do You Have the Confidence?

Jack Nicklaus (b. 1940) has been called the greatest professional golfer of all time. So, what does he know about design? Plenty. Nicklaus is said to have had an interesting strategy when he played profession sports—he competed against the golf course instead of other players. Nicklaus knew the ins and outs of all the courses he played—he figured out what he liked and what he didn't like about golf course design. And then, he formed a company. Nicklaus Design promotes itself as "the world's leading design firm."

You have lived in the spaces chosen by your parents.

Now it's your turn to decide.

Source: Designing Your Perfect House: Lessons from an Architect by William J. Hirsch, Dalsimer Press, 2008, p. 121 (purchase online)