From Site Plan to Floor Plan

A beau­ti­ful home is one that works well for the peo­ple that live in it. Fol­low these guide­lines for get­ting your ideas and needs on pa­per.

Timber Home Living - - Con­tents -

A beau­ti­ful home is one that works well for the peo­ple that live in it. Fol­low these guide­lines for get­ting your ideas and needs on pa­per.

While it’s prob­a­bly the most in­volved of all the stages of home build­ing, the de­sign phase can also be the most cre­ative and re­ward­ing. Now’s your chance to de­sign a liv­ing space that matches your fam­ily’s unique lifestyle.

Most peo­ple think of de­sign­ing their new home as the fun part of the process. And it should be. But de­sign­ing a home that fits your fam­ily’s needs, site, cli­mate, bud­get and lifestyle also takes time and re­search. Even if you plan to work with an ar­chi­tect or work off a stock floor plan, chances are good that you’ll want to scratch out some de­sign ideas on your own first.

Your first step is to de­ter­mine your bud­get. Don’t make the mis­take of de­sign­ing a home you can’t af­ford to build. Good de­sign and re­al­is­tic bud­get­ing go hand in hand. A visit to a lender can give you a rough idea of how much money you can bor­row. As the de­sign process pro­gresses and you cre­ate a more re­fined draw­ing of your home, you can be­gin es­ti­mat­ing your costs.

With your bud­get clearly in mind, you’re ready to gather in­for­ma­tion on two of the other vari­ables — site and cli­mate — that af­fect the de­sign of all suc­cess­ful homes.


Your home will be a much more en­joy­able place to live if it’s de­signed to work in har­mony with its sur­round­ings. You can eas­ily cat­a­log your site’s nat­u­ral fea­tures by bring­ing copies of your site plan or prop­erty sur­vey with you when­ever you visit your prop­erty. Note the slopes and planes of your site; this will help you bet­ter plan the el­e­va­tions of your house. Look for the best views so you can plan for win­dows or decks to face those di­rec­tions. Study the sun’s ori­en­ta­tion so that you can plan to cap­ture free en­ergy in the win­ter, and note the ex­ist­ing tree cover that can shade the house in the sum­mer months. Use these nat­u­ral fea­tures of your site to their full po­ten­tial.

Try to vi­su­al­ize your home on the site as well. You may want to bring stakes and string and mark off prob­a­ble lo­ca­tions. It you an­tic­i­pate adding on to your home in the fu­ture, po­si­tion your home with that in mind. (For more in­for­ma­tion on tim­ber­frame ad­di­tions, turn to page 22.)

It’s a good idea to hire a civil en­gi­neer or land sur­veyor to pre­pare a plan of your build­ing site. A site plan in­cludes such valu­able in­for­ma­tion as prop­erty lines, build­ing set-backs, ease­ments and rights of way. A site plan also maps out the lo­ca­tion of trees, hills, ponds or streams and any other sig­nif­i­cant land forms. And a thor­ough site plan will also lo­cate roads (so you can de­ter­mine ac­cess to your site and po­ten­tial noise) as well as build­ings on ad­ja­cent sites (in­clud­ing win­dows and out­door decks and bal­conies). You’ll need the in­for­ma­tion a site plan pro­vides to prop­erly lo­cate a sep­tic sys­tem, prop­erly po­si­tion so­lar pan­els or a swim­ming pool, plan a walk-out base­ment and much, much more. A site plan pro­vides the en­vi­ron­men­tal base of in­for­ma­tion for your home’s de­sign. Chances are, the first prob­lem you en­counter be­cause you saved money by avoid­ing a site sur­vey will cost more than what you saved.

Some peo­ple camp out on their site to get a bet­ter feel for it. Be­fore you be­come too at­tached to the idea of build­ing your house right next to that bab­bling brook, how­ever, you need to check with your lo­cal build­ing

de­part­ment. You may be con­strained by rules about where on the prop­erty you may build. There may be other re­stric­tions that ap­ply to your build­ing plans. If you’re build­ing in a sub­di­vi­sion, your project may be sub­ject to neigh­bor­hood covenants, some of which may reg­u­late a home’s ex­te­rior style. Take the home to re­search all pos­si­ble re­stric­tions be­fore you start to de­sign your home.


When a home is de­signed with­out tak­ing the cli­mate into con­sid­er­a­tion, it can’t pro­vide for the com­fort of the fam­ily that in­hab­its it. Re­mem­ber that tak­ing ad­van­tage of your site’s nat­u­ral fea­tures — the so­lar ori­en­ta­tion, pre­vail­ing wind pat­terns and nat­u­ral tree cover — will make your home much eas­ier to heat and cool than if you ig­nore the ben­e­fits of good site plan­ning.

In colder cli­mates, de­sign­ing pas­sive so­lar fea­tures into your home will boost its en­ergy ef­fi­ciency. Let the sun en­ter through ver­ti­cal win­dows ori­ented to the south or west; a tile floor or brick fire­place will help ab­sorb the sun’s warmth. In warmer cli­mate zones, how­ever, be sure to in­cor­po­rate deep roof over­hangs to con­ceal your home’s win­dows from the hot over­head sun.


Once you’ve re­searched your site and cli­mate, you’re ready to be­gin your de­sign wish list. Go through home-de­sign mag­a­zines (like this one) and web­sites and save pho­tos that show some­thing you par­tic­u­larly like — a built-in en­ter­tain­ment cen­ter, an is­land work sta­tion in the kitchen or a stone fire­place, just to name a few. Also save pic­tures of ex­te­rior home styles, roof de­signs, win­dow styles, land­scap­ing, pa­tios and

decks — any­thing that catches your eye.

Think not only about the types of spaces you’d like to have in your home, but how you’d like those spaces, and your home as a whole, to look and feel. Home in­te­ri­ors can be de­signed in a range of styles and moods from con­tem­po­rary to tra­di­tional, open and spa­cious to cozy and snug, el­e­gant to ca­sual.

Visit model homes and home shows. When in the homes of friends or fam­ily, make men­tal notes of what ap­peals to you or what might not work for your fam­ily’s lifestyle.


A suc­cess­ful home is one that works well for the peo­ple that live there. Ev­ery home needs spaces to serve dif­fer­ent func­tions. Con­sider some of the fol­low­ing ar­eas when plan­ning your home:

Cook­ing & Eat­ing Ar­eas.

To­day’s kitchens of­ten serve as the hub of the home, over­look­ing a great room or link­ing a fam­ily room with out­door liv­ing spaces. Con­sider whether you would pre­fer a kitchen that is open to or part of the fam­ily room or din­ing area, or a more tra­di­tional kitchen in its own space.

How many cooks will be work­ing at one time in your kitchen? Con­sider in­clud­ing an ex­tra sink or ad­di­tional counter space in your de­sign. What type and size ap­pli­ances will be in­cluded in the kitchen? Plan counter and work space ac­cord­ingly. Do you pre­fer a pantry or cab­i­nets for stor­ing food and dishes? Do you need an area to store re­cy­clable ma­te­ri­als?

Will you need a for­mal din­ing room? Or just enough room for a ta­ble and chairs in the kitchen? A break­fast bar in the kitchen is handy for fam­i­lies on the go who of­ten eat meals at dif­fer­ent times. Do you pre­pare and eat a

good num­ber of your meals out­doors? A sun space, screened porch or deck off the kitchen are all op­tions for in­for­mal din­ing.

Sleep­ing Spaces.

Think about the num­ber of bed­rooms your fam­ily needs. Will chil­dren need sep­a­rate rooms or will they be shar­ing rooms? One pop­u­lar plan is to have younger chil­dren share a bed­room that is con­nected by a bath­room or a closet to a play­room, which can then be­come a sep­a­rate bed­room when the chil­dren grow older and need more space and pri­vacy.

Do you en­vi­sion a mas­ter bed­room suite with his and hers clos­ets? An over­sized tub or a sit­ting area? Should the mas­ter bed­room be on the first or se­cond floor? Do you want it to be near the chil­dren’s rooms or away from them? Small chil­dren may need to be near you while ado­les­cents would prob­a­bly pre­fer some dis­tance.

Do you an­tic­i­pate hav­ing reg­u­lar or long-term house­guests? Rather than sim­ply plan­ning a guest room into your floor plan, con­sider a guest suite with a bed­room, bath and sit­ting area.

Gath­er­ing Spots.

Ev­ery house needs one cen­tral gath­er­ing area to serve as the heart of the home and to pro­vide space for en­ter­tain­ing. A great room can ac­com­mo­date a range of ac­tiv­i­ties, es­pe­cially if it’s de­signed to let traf­fic flow be­tween the kitchen, din­ing room and out­door liv­ing ar­eas.

You may de­sire a more pri­vate gath­er­ing space, such as a sec­tioned-off den or more for­mal liv­ing room, or one for a more spe­cific ac­tiv­ity such as a game room, TV room or home gym. Get the en­tire fam­ily in on dis­cussing the com­mon gath­er­ing area, and don’t be afraid to let your imag­i­na­tion run wild.

Per­sonal Pri­vacy Ar­eas.

Ev­ery­one needs pri­vate time, so make sure your home in­cludes a few spaces to re­treat to for peace and quiet. Pri­vate spaces can take many shapes: a quiet cor­ner for read­ing or study; a den or of­fice where you can work from home; a sewing room or stu­dio for hob­bies. Other spaces you need to con­sider in­clude bath­rooms, laun­dry and util­ity rooms, stor­age ar­eas and out­door liv­ing ar­eas.

Be as com­plete as pos­si­ble when con­sid­er­ing your needs for to­day and in the fu­ture. Re­mem­ber that with thought­ful plan­ning to­day, a prop­erly de­signed chil­dren’s wing can be­come a guest suite for a vis­it­ing col­lege stu­dent and, af­ter grad­u­a­tion, the per­fect in-home of­fice for a semi-re­tiree.


Now it’s time to start sketch­ing your plan. While de­sign­ing, be sure to con­sider el­e­ments such as sun, views, noise level, pri­vacy, out­side ac­cess, traf­fic pat­terns, etc. Don’t be dis­cour­aged if you find that adding in one item from your wish list can­cels out an­other. Com­pro­mises are in­evitable, although more of­ten due to the lim­its of bud­get rather than de­sign. For ex­am­ple, it may not be pos­si­ble to de­sign a ground floor mas­ter bed­room with vaulted ceil­ings if you need to use the story above the bed­room for liv­ing space. On the other hand, what may at first ap­pear to be a de­sign con­flict could lead to a cre­ative so­lu­tion. So, in this sit­u­a­tion, in­stead of build­ing an ex­tra bed­room on the se­cond story for a study you need, build­ing an open loft study above the mas­ter bed­room would al­low you to re­tain those vaulted ceil­ings.

While bed­rooms that soar to the rafters are just some of the mag­nif­i­cent de­sign fea­tures pos­si­ble with tim­ber fram­ing, these wide-open ar­eas may leave you with few places to hide your home’s me­chan­i­cal sys­tems (elec­tri­cal, plumb­ing, heat­ing, ven­ti­lat­ing and air con­di­tion­ing). Take this into ac­count dur­ing the de­sign phases by clus­ter­ing and stack­ing your plumb­ing ar­eas, re­strict­ing them to one or two ar­eas of the home. An­other good idea is to stack clos­ets from one floor to the next to pro­vide hid­den space for plumb­ing, pipes and duct­work.


Be­fore you get too far along with your de­sign, you will want to en­list the ser­vices of an ex­pert. The aid of a tim­ber frame or de­sign pro­fes­sional may help you fine tune your de­sign ideas or catch po­ten­tial de­sign prob­lems in the early stages. A pro­fes­sional also can help point out ways to save money in one area, which may al­low you to in­dulge some­what in an­other area. And a pro­fes­sional versed in tim­ber frame de­sign will be ex­tremely help­ful in in­te­grat­ing your floor plan with a frame plan so that the two work in har­mony. Nearly ev­ery room in your home will be af­fected by the posts and beams in your frame, so the ear­lier you be­gin in­te­grat­ing your home’s floor plan with a frame plan, the bet­ter the chances that your frame will en­hance your floor plan. The frame plan shouldn’t rule the floor plan, but it should be used to its full po­ten­tial.

De­pend­ing on the com­plex­ity of your home, the de­sign phase can take from sev­eral months to a full year to com­plete. You’ll then be ready to hire a gen­eral con­trac­tor and pre­pare to build your new home.

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