Design your own house

Nowadays it does not occur to people that you can design your own house. Many actually thinks that it is not possible and that is is not allowed to design your own house. However, it is possible and allowed. In fact it is not that long a go that people would just go ahead and build their homes when and how they needed it. It may not be that easy any longer, but lets see how it can be done. There are a few practical considerations and then off course rules and laws you will have to comply.

Outline the restrictions for your property

Check out the zoning restrictions on your property. The best way to do this is to check local zoning office, city hall, or local planning and building board. If you do not know where to ask, contact the city hall. They will at least know where you can find the information. Once you know where to find the zoning restriction you have the option to go in person, give them a call or send them an email. When you do contact them ask them for the zoning restrictions on your property using the address, the name of the owner, parcel number or the latitude and longitude coordinates.

The zoning ordinance may affect or limit your design in many ways. This is because it may dictate where on the land you should put the building, what orientation it should be given, how high you can build and more. This is why it is often a good idea to ask the zoning department to give an example of what you can build on it when you talk to them. If your piece of land is big, you should give the exact location of where you intend to put the house when asking.

If you are planning to build in an already established residential area, you would also want to check it there are any neighborhood association (NA) or homeowner association (HOA) and if they have any regulations established. This will save you trouble in the long run and get you started on the design your own house with all the needed information from the start of.

Analyze the property

Once you know within what restrictions you have to work, the time has come to analyze the property itself. Several things may determine the best way to place your house, like if the land is sloped, where does the sun rise and how many hours of sun it has and where, is the area windy and from what direction does the wind come from, which do you consider to be the best view, are there any noises you should take into consideration, are there neighbors close and would you like to shield from insight. It is also crucial that you consider the ground because different grounds will need different foundation. For instance, to build on clay ground requires a completely different preparation than if you are building on rocky ground when in comes to things like drainage and weight support.

This is most often not possible, but if it is, the ideal would be to observe the land closely for a year before building on it. This way you would be able to determine the best orientation and position for your house.

Planning of the spaces

Finally you have come to the stage where you can start to consider yours and your family's needs and actually start to design your own house. At this stage you would perhaps consider taking a look at some design advice books, like this book from Sarah Susanka.

Analyze your needs and set up a list of needs AND wants. This first time around do not think about the cost. Consider inside spaces as well as outside spaces. You may know that you would very much like a pool, but that you cannot afford it now. However if you consider it in your design at this stage, you may be able to leave some space for it and build it later on. Also, a pool does not have to so expensive if you build yourself a natural organic pool. In the same manner you may know that you would very much like a two story house, but that you can afford only one story. But knowing that you would like a second story, you could build with a stronger structure, that would allow for a second story later on.

Consider if you feel more at home in light and open spaces or in small and cozy spaces. Do you like straight clean lines or do you have a heart for warm details. Whatever you choose, remember it does not have to be one thing or the other. There may be a fine harmony in balanced combinations.

Consider what kind of heating and cooling you would like, should you go for the conventional type of solution like furnace and air conditioning, or should you try to think out of the box and look at solutions like passive heating and cooling solutions. A cool looking mass rocket stove for heating and a ventilation tower to help cool the house on hot days. There are lots of solutions to look into that does not have to be expensive and that may save you money in the long run.

It is time, go ahead and design your own house

design your own house

Set up a very simple diagram, like a bubble diagram, of how you would like your room layout to be. Think of how your lives would evolve in this space. How would the member of the family move through the house. What rooms do you tend to use the most. Remember that it first and foremost should be your family's home, somewhere that you feel comfortable. Don’t think of it as a place to put furniture or to impress your guests. Of course it is important to be able to entertain, but most of the time you will be alone, with your family. The important thing is how you use your spaces and how you would like your home to be. The guest will not be comfortable if you aren’t anyway.

At this stage also keep in mind that even if you seat 12 or 20 for dinner in Christmas, you may not need a formal dining room standing empty the rest of the year. It may double as a music room or similar with a solution like this expandable table, where you seat 12 people on your entry hall console.

With your diagram finished try to imagine your family's day to day life and your daily routines. Who is getting up when, who is leaving the house at what time, cooking, dinner times, cleaning after cooking and eating, shopping, food storage. Think about everything. This is your unique opportunity to create a house to serve your needs. Think about the exterior. What kind of style you like. Would you like a garden with flowers or would you like to grow vegetables, etc etc.

If you can then draw your own floor plans and perhaps even a 3d model. If you cannot then get in touch with a professional home designer or an architect to get proper building designs drawn, so that you can get the permits you need. What papers you need will depend upon where you live.

Greg here has some advice about how to find out:

If you don't own land yet, check our article on How to buy land.