Now that you are ready to build a house, how do you go about finding the plan which best suits your needs? When building a new home from scratch, your choice of a design is the single most important decision you will make.
You have essentially three options:
- You can design it yourself, perhaps using books, other plans, or the help of building professionals for guidance.
- You can select and order plans from one of the many books or magazines available.
- You can hire a professional building designer to prepare a design and drawings based on your site and your personal specifications.
Each option has its own advantages and limitations, as well as cost implications. Let’s look at each in turn.
Doing it Yourself
For many people, designing their own home is the fulfillment of a long-standing fantasy. It seems simple and natural, for who better knows what you want than yourself. And when it all works out, it is indeed deeply satisfying to look around and feel “we created this”. A part of you lives in the walls and spaces around you. If you then go on to build the house yourself you will, hopefully, know how it all goes together.
When choosing this route, be prepared to do lots of homework. Your level of knowledge and experience in construction and design-as well as your ability to translate your concepts into reality using visualization and drawing skills-will have a great bearing on your eventual “success”. Since it’s something you may do only once in your life, you don’t get a lot of chance to practice.
Where resale is a concern, remember that one person’s masterpiece is very often another’s “handyman special.” Try to avoid those extravagantly personal and expensive flourishes that the next owner may want to remove immediately.
Beware, too, the pitfalls that can await couples who do it themselves; co-designing a home requires close cooperation and partnership so that nobody feels left out of the decisions-or one of you may wind up living in your dream house by yourself!
Finally, you should keep in mind that you get what you pay for; while this is the least expensive way to get your plans, they are only as good as you are. Results can range from the sublime to the, well, ugly. If the latter happens, be ready to plant vines, lots of vines!
Using a Stock Plan
If you find the do-it-yourself approach daunting, choosing a stock plan may be more of a sure thing. With the large number of house plan books and magazines available, there is a wide range of options to suit nearly everyone’s budget and taste, and because they are mass-produced, stock plans can be inexpensive.
Looking at plans can help you define what you want (and don’t want) in a house. These designs, the simpler ones anyway, often employ very basic construction techniques which are familiar to builders (and building inspectors) and can be the most inexpensive structures to put up.
The plan books present you in effect with an “inventory” of what is currently fashionable and easily marketable, should resale be a major concern.
Bear in mind though, the same qualities that make a house marketable can also have a down side-these homes are frequently geared for curb appeal, with more focus on flavour-of-the-moment accessories than on good space planning or quality construction. Plans ordered from out of your region often fail to meet local building code requirements, and must be engineered or re-designed. Similarly, these homes tend to be designed for a “generic” flat site, which is hard to find in many areas and building them often requires extensive (and expensive) site modification. The also usually lack references to local historical building styles or personal features. In most cases you have to fit into the house, the house doesn’t fit you.
Of course, some plan companies, among them BC Mountain Homes, try to address these shortcomings by offering homes with a different design approach.(See our “Home Page” for a discussion about The Well-Fitted Home.)
Hiring a Designer
When you hire a design professional, a different level of opportunity and insight becomes available. The design process provides a venue for you to express your ideas, problems, and desires to someone who has the expertise and perception to translate them into an attractive, practical, and well-built reality with an eye to your budget, site, and personal style and taste. Designers have more immediate access to building products and up-to-date technologies, and are familiar with building permit and variance procedures and dealing with the bureaucracy of obtaining approvals.
The potential of the designer-client relationship allows for an open dialogue between all parties right through to the construction phase. This can disarm volatile situations, as the designer is your advocate. Working with a design professional lets you, the client, participate in the development of concepts and the resolution of problems, which can take your design further than what was originally thought possible.
Of course, not all designers have the necessary combination of skill, experience, taste, knowledge, and attitude that fit compatibly with the requirements of the client. Also, since the development of a custom design involves a lot of work, the process can take more time and cost more money than the other options. As a client, you will be required to commit to the project. This means participating in decision-making and being willing to consider different and potentially challenging alternatives. Hiring a design professional can provide a dramatic new perspective, but it does not absolve you of some responsibilitiesa-you will still be expected to communicate, make decisions, and have fun in the unique experience of creating your home.