Choosing a lot can almost be trickier than having your actual house designed. When you head out, here are some top things to keep in mind.
Trying to assess the neighborhood is the most obvious suggestion when choosing a lot, but there’s more to it than you think. Sure, you don’t want to buy a lot next to what is probably a drug den. But what about odd noises?
When my wife and I got our first apartment, we loved how there was a nearby busy intersection. The noise of the tires on pavement, especially after rain, was actually a big plus for us. What we failed to consider was an ambulance service half a mile away. Those sirens, four, five, six times a day, were definitely something we should have factored in.
Keep these things in mind:
- Drive or even walk the area. Get a sense of your potential neighbors and the general traffic.
- What’s the sound like? Lots of nearby traffic? Freak ambulance service?
- Any sort of nearby sewage treatment or landfill? Even if it’s a few miles away, a change in the wind could bring a quick halt to any sort of outdoor party.
- School district, and with that, school taxes.
- Honestly, taxes in general.
- Take a look at the streets around your lot. Imagine a car on those streets at night, do the headlights hit your windows?
- Look into any nearby undeveloped lots. Maybe they’re building a tiny shack where a kindly grandmother hands out free ice cream. But maybe they’re building a factory that manufactures and tests chainsaws. You won’t know until you ask.
- Type the address into Google Earth. Just look at what’s around.
Another no-brainer, but, again, more to this than there seems. You walk up to the lot and there’s gentle hills of perfectly green grass. “Where do I sign?” Am I right? But maybe also think of these:
- Slope of the land. Some slope is great. Lots of slope can be, well, not so great. If you’re planning a walkout basement, then maybe this is what you want, but a steeply sloped yard can basically be worthless for regular yard activities. Ever try to grill at a 45 degree angle? Best to call 911 in advance.
- Water. A lake or river or tiny little trickling stream can be a great plus to your lot, they might even be the deciding factor, but consider any areas that look like they collect standing water. Any areas of dead grass or (gasp!) outright mud. Places like that can stink, breed mosquitoes or damage nearby buildings.
- Sun and anything that might get in the sun’s way. If you expect to do any gardening, use solar panels or hope to put off snow shoveling until after the sun’s melted most of it, you’ll want to pay careful attention to trees, nearby buildings, mountains (if they pertain to you), etc.
The history of the area is sort of a weird thing to consider. An old, established neighborhood will probably stay very similar to what it is when you buy your lot, which could be a good thing or a bad thing.
A new, growing neighborhood can expect to go through some growing pains as it attracts new people. This can mean new stores and restaurants that you might like, but it could also mean the whole thing goes in a direction you don’t really care for. Like those chainsaw testers I mentioned earlier.
- Get an idea of what came before. What was your lot before you started looking at it? I’m not suggesting you may be purchasing an ancient, Native American burial ground, but it could have been some sort of business where environmental hazards could be an issue. Or maybe there used to be a restaurant there you didn’t like. I know I wouldn’t be able to live where there had once been an Applebee’s.
- If the fledgling neighborhood you’re about to move into is trending, expect change. Change is good. It can bring good things. But maybe it brings a new school, with new taxes you didn’t expect.
This part’s my favorite. Let’s say you’ve found a really interesting piece of land, with some really unique qualities. Now’s the time to bring in your designer and for the two of you to let the land inform the design of your house.
I’ve seen houses with rivers flowing, not around them, but through carefully designed arches that take it under and through the house. I’ve seen houses that cling to the natural arc of a hill, as if it grew there. Let your lot and your designer create a house for you that couldn’t exist anywhere else.
- A designer will be able to see what unique qualities your lot has.
- They’ll know what elements can be pushed to the limits.
- They’ll know which of your crazy ideas aren’t possible or will make the house fall over.
Give us a call to set up a time to discuss your project and how we can help you through the process step-by-step.
There are many questions we ask ourselves over the course of our lives. Questions we might go years without ever really answering.
- Do aliens exist?
- Who shot Kennedy?
- Is the McRib ever truly gone if it lives in our hearts?
- Do I need an architect to design my house?
I can’t help you with those first two questions. The third is obviously true – the McRib is never gone as long as just one of us still believes in it. That last question, though, I’m gonna break it down for you.
Who is Qualified to Design a House?
The thought of designing a home from the footings of its foundation to the peak of the roof, putting down your hard-earned money for it and then living out a significant portion of your life within it—that can seem to be a weighty responsibility. You want your family (or yourself if you’re one of those hermit writers) to be safe and happy. You want a place to return to at the end of the day that’s welcoming and, preferably, still standing. So whom will you assign this weighty responsibility to?
There are three types of professionals who can handle the job for you. Which one you choose depends on exactly what you need and your budget.
These guys are the ones who get all the credit. If we played the First Word That Comes To Your Mind Game and I said “building design”, you’d more than likely say “architect!” And you’d be correct. That is what they do.
However, their specialty is in commercial work—high rises and landmark buildings that change a cityscape for decades to come. They often work on large teams to cover all the tasks involved from concept to drafting to structural calculations to renderings to on site visits because designing a skyscraper from ground up is a daunting task. They can design your cozy little home for you but it would be like asking a brain surgeon to administer a flu shot. And you’ll pay the brain surgeon price too. So what other options are there?
On the other end of the scale, interior designers are taking the structure that’s already there and making it look gorgeous inside. Pillows with varying textures, complimentary materials in furnishings and lighting fixtures, finding the perfectly sized sofa for the room and for your lifestyle. They’re the frosting flowers on a perfectly layered cake.
Now there are some interior designers who can handle a bit of structural change—moving a wall, extending a room, or adding a window. But you’ll need an existing house to work with. Minor renovations? A very small addition? They might be able to help with that. It’ll depend if they have a qualified building designer on staff.
If you’re losing hope in finding an affordable home designer, don’t. The answer is here:
Certified Professional Building Designers
Take a deep breath. Now exhale. Certified Professional Building Designers (CPBD) specialize in designing houses of all sizes from foundation to roof, kitchen to bedroom, parlor to guest suite.
They’re qualified to meet all safety codes, calculate for high wind zones, and design the structure of your entire home. They’ll also do it for much less than an architect. And, if I’m being completely honest, building designers will do it better, because home design is their specialty.
A building designer, just like an architect, is familiar with the industry of building a house. They know what the town needs in order to approve the project. They know how to design a home in a way that accentuates the best parts of the lot it’s being built on. They know what the general contractor needs to keep all his people moving on the project.
It’s All In the Details
Where an architect would completely manage every detail of a project from start to finish, dictating to all those people how the job’s to be done, a home designer draws up a house plan and leaves it up to each specialist to handle their field of expertise on their own.
For example, a building designer will lay out a kitchen and leave it to the cabinet folks to specify exact cabinet size and style. A building designer will roughly locate lighting fixtures but leave it to the homeowner and contractor to decide on which fixtures to use.
When it comes to meeting the state building codes however, you can be assured that building designers have you covered down to the finest details. They know what size and spacing rebar needs to go into the foundation walls, what size beam will hold the roof up, and how many braced wall panels the house will need based on the highest calculated wind speed in the location it’s being built.
Is It True You Get What You Pay For?
The knee-jerk response is to go for the bigger, more expensive option of an architect. I mean, this will be your home, and these architect people have a degree that promises they know what they’re doing. They have licenses, they have letters near their logo that mean some big organization agrees they’re super cool people. And those points aren’t wrong – architects will totally design a house for you, they do know what they’re doing and they very likely are super cool people.
And then they’ll charge you five to ten times more than is really necessary. And you’ll have to deal with their egos.
I get it – they went to a big school, they got their degree, they did their internship, they passed their tests and got their license. Honestly, if it was me, I’d strut a bit too. But with that strutting, with the license, comes an unbreakable will to see their vision and their vision alone on the blueprints.
Your Home Your Way
We’ve seen it here at Home Designing Service Ltd over and over—clients disappointed after hiring an architect to design their home. After spending an arm and a leg, they didn’t feel heard and it didn’t feel like their home. They’ve come to us to redraw the plans their way.
After the sawdust clears and the last bit of grout has dried, the plans from a home designer and an architect are both going to produce great houses. They’re going to pass all their safety tests, they’re not going to fall over — something we at Home Designing Service Ltd feel is very important — and you’re going to be able to fill them with great memories and happy occasions for generations to come. The question is, will you need the hefty price tag and the strict control of an architect, or will you prefer the freedom and budget of a building designer?
Whether you’re looking to add on to your home, renovate it, or start from scratch, we’re ready to help.
To learn more about the cost and features of the three types of professionals mentioned in this article, check out our chart here.
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One day, I’ll write one of these posts and not mention Tesla or Elon Musk. Today is not that day. Next one isn’t looking great either. Who knows, maybe 2018. Probably not.
For those looking at building green, become acquainted with Elon Musk and his company Tesla. They are doing for green technology what Google is doing for the internet, which isn’t to say they’re the only or best source, but that they’re the big kid on the block. They have the money and ability to make large steps forward, or test multiple new technologies that benefit several different fields.
Now, this Solar Roof isn’t the only solar option out there, but it might be the prettiest or at least the least obvious. Panasonic also offers panels that also output 325 watts, with an efficiency just over 20%. There’s also a crazy looking contraption that incorporates solar, wind, water and basically any other means to gather energy into a single roof, but that’s the subject of another entry.
Until then, you can go to tesla.com/energy to check out these Solar Roofs (roof has stopped looking like a real word now) and other energy goodies. I’d go over to the column here and subscribe to this blog so you can see the other fun toys I’ll be talking about later.
There’s a lot of go-to phrases attached to the word green. And as a writer, more specifically a writer who’s work is meant to grab a reader and link him or her to a topic they are interested in but may know little about, go-to phrases are the bread and butter, the workhorse, if you will, dragging the reader through the transition from enthusiast to know-it-all.
But back to my original point: the word green’s got a lot going for it. Color of money. The shade of envy and, by extension, the variance with which you judge the grass “on the other side.” The color you get “around the gills” when you’re not feeling well. Green thumbs. Greener pastures. Green light. Now, if I wanted to be cute, I could keep going, or I could promise how I could link all these into some article that essentially had nothing to do with any of the phrases themselves. But I’m just making a point. For such a small word, there’s quite a depth of content.
The concept of building green is just like that. People have been talking about green living or building green in some form or combination of the two since as long as I was old enough to care about the scientific mechanics of the world, the stuff that makes the wind blow, the complexity of purifying water and how all the junk we leave behind somehow makes its way into those same mechanics and gum up the works. The subject has only grown since then. Layers and layers of details, techniques, understanding and then research that clarifies or outright reverses that previous understanding. And it’s only getting crazier.
Stuff is getting sleek. Gone are the days of bulky solar panels thick as slabs of sidewalk cement. Living green now isn’t equal to being in a shack in the woods. Current homes are all but indistinguishable from their non-green counterparts, and when you can tell a difference, the look is classy, modern, at home in a swiftly changing, technology based society. And it’s only going to get better.Modular solar panels that basically install themselves and can be taken with you if you leave the house. Batteries to store all that solar power, not filled with lithium or lead, but salt water. Thin, light-weight insulation that offers better protection from the elements than stacks of the traditional variety. A power hub that helps regulate the transition from AC to DC current with the intent of being cheap, efficient and easy to use. Weird, bendy pipes that are super easy to install and don’t make your water taste like plastic. A self-cleaning roof that combines all sorts of different energy systems into one, providing enough power for six people, increasing ventilation and lighting, along with a number of other neat tricks. Hubs that control lighting, heat and cooling that can be controlled from your phone and monitor your habits to save you every penny possible. Even a solar powered riding lawnmower.
This is not the typical blog-in-three-parts. Going Green will offer snapshots into the constantly shifting world of energy efficient technology. When we find cool new ways to make your house do what it does, but better and safer, you’ll find them under this heading. When we hear of something that takes your house a step closer to being the starship Enterprise, you’ll get to read about me geeking out over it here.
Take a chance to hit the subscribe button over there in the column so you don’t miss when something new drops. As fast as this market is, if you don’t catch it right away, you’re likely to miss it.
Rockefeller. Vanderbilt. Rothschild. Basically all of Eastern Europe, minus the icy wasteland bits. What do they all have in common, other than dreams of world domination? Palaces. Castles. Summer homes. Estates. Power, creativity and the kind of wealth to construct giant monuments to symbolize them.
So we covered the tiny home aspect of living. The sort of artistic, condensed living that allows those with paychecks that don’t quite match their ambitions to make a space they can be happy to show off. And now we’re going to move to the other side of the street, or, well, to another planet, basically. Neither planets are bad, or even a little better than the other. But they are attractors to entirely different circles of people, or… space explorers, in this metaphor.
That’s what we’re going to focus on: creative ways to show off wealth. Castles, while up there, historically, with the concept of a leader’s palace, are more linked to defensive buildings. They took advantage of natural defenses (water, mountains, hills, cliffs), but then there were towers, curtain walls, arrow slits, moats, killing fields, etc. All of these things being less important, presumably, to what you need. If having a building designed that can withstand a medieval army is what you’re looking for, this is not really the type of blog for you, although I’m sure Home Designing Service can draw up plans for you, nonetheless. I suppose when you’re talking 30 ft. high walls and killing fields, zoning and building permits sort of go out the window.
So palaces, mansions, estates, villas, maybe the parts of a castle meant for entertainment and luxury and specifically not the parts designed to hold off and/or kill an invading army. Now, the Rothschilds alone provide enough material for me to write blog posts from now until whatever replaces the Internet is invented. They have had created enough of the buildings we’re going to be talking about to house the royalty and higher government officials of all but your largest countries. They have GIVEN AWAY no fewer than four of these buildings, structures that would look at home next to Buckingham Palace, or in a live action Disney movie. More than maybe any other family in history, they know what it is to be wealthy and powerful, and if you go by their property alone, they can prove it.
Despite the depth of material there, we’re gonna spread out to as many other families and cultures as we can. Like the Tiny House series, we’re going to review building materials, both old and new, style choices and the hurdles you might encounter, except monetary ones… I assume you to be more of an expert than I am for that (and, for a modest fee, I’ll be happy to write a blog post about you, your family, your pets, your celebrity toenail collection, whatever.)
Until then, your homework is to amass a million or so dollars. You’re going to need it.
No, no, come back! It’s ok, I promise. And, yeah, I know I promised the second part would be good times and it wasn’t, not entirely, but this one is totally a barefoot walk through soft grass and sweet-smelling wildflowers. Or whatever personal equivalent makes your day. When you get through all the flaming circus hoops (these aren’t in a field of flowers, that would be a fire hazard), the rest is a blast. It’s picking out just that right shade of [insert specific thing you want here] and being really, really picky about the kind of message your home says about you.
So you’re back. You traversed the abyss of “Deciding Whether or Not You Really Want a Tiny House” and came out the other side, scarred but stronger. I salute you, weary traveler. Now pull up a chair, make yourself a cup of coffee and get comfortable. We’re going to tackle the Sisyphean challenge of zoning, permits and loans.
No, honestly, it’s not nearly that impossible. It’s more like… what was that Greek myth where the bird came around and pecked out the guy’s liver, which regenerated so the bird could do it again the next day? The labyrinth of legal craziness is more like that. Annoying, painful maybe, but ultimately not deadly.
The problem almost entirely lies in the fact that the whole tiny house “thing” is relatively new and exploded with such speed that the legal and banking systems hasn’t been able to keep up. So while some people try to tell you that you can slap wheels on your tiny home and call it an RV and others will say it works just like a regular home, the truth is that neither is true. It’s something in-between both.
Given the quickly shifting nature of all the rules, regulations, procedures, guidelines, ordinances, (just going down this list of words in the Thesaurus), edicts, laws, etc, the suggestions in this post are going to be more starting points than a bullet-list of steps to follow.
First off, there’s a reason I used that whole “if it has wheels, it’s an RV” thing above. It’s the biggest misconception and quite a few of the shadier builders will try to quash your worries by telling you you’re fine if you have wheels. To even be classified as an RV, you need it constructed by a certified RV manufacturer. And for those who think they’re gonna build it themselves, that certification costs thousands of dollars, requires business licenses and then the structures has to pass a 500+ point test. All very doable, but not quickly or easily.
Then there’s the “I’ll just say I’m camping” or “It’s small enough to not need a permit.” And, yeah, both of those will work. Good job. But neither will hold for very long. The camping one is a solid excuse, and provided you’re on land that’s already ok to have campers, you’ll be fine. But most states only allow that kind of thing for a certain amount of time, sometimes 30 days, sometimes only a few. You’d have to pick up and move regularly. And that “small enough” one is only true of sheds. Once you switch the lawnmower out for a couch, or start sleeping in it, it’s a house.
There’s also a lot of laws in place to protect people from slum lords. Unfortunately, a lot of those codes also work against tiny homes, which gives them the right to deny you utilities, condemn the house and arrest you when you enter, or just fine the pants off you until you go away.
Loans are also an issue. Because banks don’t see tiny houses as having much in the way of resale value, they often don’t see them as worth the collateral of the loan. If you have an extra child or kidney, depending on the bank, sometimes you can trade it for the loan, but it doesn’t always work and you didn’t hear it from me.
But fret not, my concerned readers. Day by day, with the realization that tiny homes are not just a quick fad, everything’s getting easier. Many states have designated areas where a tiny home can be built, outright zoning clauses for them, or make it very easy to get a variance on an existing zone. Sometimes it boils down to them letting you do whatever you want, as long as you’re not a bother to anyone else, but that’s not exactly a guarantee for anything. And if American television has taught me anything, it’s that if government officials get something over you, they’ll make you sell State secrets to Russia. So better to go the legal route.
Again, this seems like a lot of scare tactics on my part, but it isn’t. These are all problems, but they’re problems with solutions. Chances are, provided you’re not paying your uncle’s best-friend’s son’s old juvie buddy to build your tiny home, they’re going to have a lot of this stuff either taken care of or will at least know where you can go or call for specific help. If that’s not the case, then call your local planning and zoning office for yourself. It’s literally their job to help you.
Banks, too, are starting to catch on. A few have specialized loans just for tiny houses. Call them. Ask. Don’t assume. Honestly, decent life advice, not limited to tiny houses.
Next time, we get to talk about all the fun stuff. Building materials, fancy power options, weird toilets. You know, the classics. Till then…
They say good things come in small packages. And, barring vulgar humor, that tends to be the way of things. Everything seems to be getting smaller and smaller as we advance technologically. The computer I’m writing this on is an entire warehouse smaller than the first one designed. Next to me, there’s a phone the size of my hand and about as thick as a travel brochure. There isn’t much I can’t do on that phone. In fact, if it wasn’t for these occasional blogs and my need for a keyboard, I could probably get rid of the laptop and be just fine. Perhaps not as convenient, but cheaper. Simpler.
Did you see my clever segue? Did you?
I suppose, in a way, tiny houses have been around since the beginning. Except, in the beginning, before greed, pride, wealth or whatever engendered the desire or ability to create mansions and palaces, tiny houses were just called houses. That’s all there was. But then the people who could make money did and those capable of building such structures started using words like “convenience” and “quality of life” and “property value” and, well… I’m sure you’ve been to Greenwich.
And that really is the crux of the whole tiny house thing, or movement, as they’re calling it. Of all the hoops someone who intends to own/live in/what have you in a tiny house, and thereare hoops, whether you can or can’t live without a certain level of convenience is what everything boils down to. Which isn’t to say tiny houses aren’t comfortable, or modern, or even downright fancy, because not only can they be, they usually are.
We’ll get to the more technical hoops (read: permits) later. This first entry covers the issue I talked about in the paragraph above. And to do that, we’re gonna play a little game of “C.I.B.H.W.M.T.S.I.M.H.” Or, Could I Be Happy Without Most of the Stuff In My House. The title’s a work in progress.
Look around the room you’re in. Now add a mini-fridge, a small dresser, a sink and a toilet. Remove the rest of your house. Imagine living in what amounts to a single room. You can hear when your spouse or kids go to the bathroom because it’s close enough to hit with a couch pillow, not that you’ll have a couch, in the traditional sense. Imagine heading to the grocery maybe a few times a week because there’s no room for a full size refrigerator or a freezer chest. Imagine never going to an antique store, because there’s literally no room in your house for a knick-knack, let alone a Victorian armoire. Can you be happy without a collection of items to call your own? Do you require a library of every book you’ve owned or hope to read? Do you quantify success by the accumulation of things, like the rings of a tree or the strata of a mountain? You have to go through all these questions and before you look at a single legal document or talk to a loved one, or try to pawn off your rather extensive collection of porcelain cats, they need answers.
And they seem harsh, I imagine. It might seem like I’m trying to talk you out of even thinking about the notion of a tiny house. But on the flip side of all those rough questions, you can ask yourself the following as well. Do you like to be creative with the design of your home? Does the thought of paying little to nothing on electricity excite you? Do artisanal things make you happy? Does the thought of having more time for other things in your life make you happy?
Tiny homes tend to focus your life down to what’s important. Not just the possessions or the space, but what you do, how you do it. Nearly every religion talks at least one time or another about the simplification of life. Living only within your means. Not collecting debt or treasures or whatever. For those who already have all that, they usually suggest to give it away and follow on the path of whichever religion’s doing the talking. And that’s not to say you have to be religious to have a tiny house, only that without the distractions of debt and treasures, you’ll have more time to pursue whatever path your feet are on.
The next parts of this are way more technical. Design options, permits, regulations, etc. I promise the existentialism stays here in part one. So take a breather, answer these questions and think about your life. I’ll see you next time.