10 things to consider when designing your house plan

Deciding to build a house is huge! Designing your house plan can feel overwhelming. It’s exciting and rewarding, but also scary. If this is your first (or even your second or third) time doing it, you’ll have more questions than answers. You’ll be drinking from the fire hose of knowledge and at times it’ll feel a bit tortuous. But don’t give up because it’s worth it in the end!

The house plan is arguably the most important step in building a house. This is your opportunity to get all the details on paper to ensure your expectations are clearly defined and communicated. Your house plan will set the stage for your build so do not neglect this step. Here are my top ten things to consider when you’re designing your house plan.

Designing a house plan should include working with a designer and/or architect to render floor plans and exterior elevations.
Working with a talented designer and/or architect to bring your house plans to life is so important. Don’t skip it, no matter how talented your contractor is! This is the exterior elevation rendering of our home. It’s a big rectangle with a covered porch on three sides, exactly how we wanted in.

Top 10 considerations when designing your house plan

  1. Look at many, many, many floorplans. Before you start designing your house plan, take the time to study what others have done. Chances are you’ll find some qualities that you love and others that don’t work for you. Take note of all of it!
  2. What will your wall height be? Currently, the standard wall height in builder-grade homes is 8 feet. Precut studs are available for 8 ft and 9 ft walls that are slightly shorter to account of the top and bottom plate when framing. That said, many custom home builders opt for taller walls. We love tall walls around here (my husband is 6 ft 5 inches), so we went with 10 ft on the bottom floor and 9ft on the top floor. The great room is two stories, so those walls are about 20 ft tall!
  3. How wide and tall do you want your doors to be? In historic homes doorways were often tiny (and so were the people, so…) but modern homes have much wider doors. Minimum width (usually reserved for closets) is 24 inches while the width to accommodate wheelchairs must be a minimum of 36 inches. Door height should be no less than 80 inches; however, it’s common to go taller when you have taller walls. Most of our doors are 3 feet (36 inches) wide and 8 ft tall. Some of our doors are 6 ft 8 inches (80 inches) tall with a transom window above the door to fill an 8 ft opening which makes the door appear taller.
  4. What do you use your house for? This may seem like a ridiculous question, but really think about it. Are you gone most of the day at work and only home in the evenings and weekends? Do you love to cook large meals and entertain? Does your family hang out together or do you mostly go your own ways? Understanding how you use your house will help you determine what you want it to do for you. Building a home is a huge investment, make sure you’re designing the right house plan for your lifestyle.
  5. Size your rooms according to their use. Once you’ve determined how you’ll use your house, you’ll have a better idea of how big (or small) each room needs to be. For example, we know that we only use our bedrooms for sleeping, getting dressed, and occasionally some quiet time alone. We don’t need them to house dressers (clothes will go in closets), large chairs or couches, tables or computer workstations… so, we designed our bedrooms to be small by today’s standards. The kids’ rooms are about 11 ft x 10 ft (not including the closets), and our master bedroom is 11 ft x 12 ft plus two walk-in closets. There are some bedrooms that are massive in comparison! There is no wrong answer (as long as the bedroom is 70 sq ft or larger, according the International Building Code) as long as the room fits your needs. You are designing a custom house plan, make it custom!
  6. Hallways, hallways, hallways. When designing your house plan, don’t forget to think through hallway placement. Ask some people and they’ll tell you that hallways are a waste of square footage. Other people will tell you that the best way to achieve privacy and delineation of space is through hallways. Do you want your bedroom door directly off the family room? Could a hallway provide enough space to separate quiet sleeping areas from more public (and louder) areas in your home? Hallways can also be a great place to tuck away storage closets and built-in cabinets! Which brings me to my next point.
  7. Storage! You can never have enough storage! At least that’s what everyone tells me. I do agree that everything should have a place, as long as it’s not a collection point for stuff we don’t use and don’t need. Take note of the things you need to store and make a home for it. You may have holiday or seasonal decorations and clothing that needs to be put away when not in use. Perhaps you like to craft and need a place to store your materials. Keepsakes and memories, if stored and not on display, take up precious room. Then there is linens and toiletries to think about, too. In our case, I made sure we had lots of room to store and access books, books, and more books.
  8. Let in the light! I adore natural light, so it was very important to me to have extra-large windows throughout our home when designing our house plan. There are so many shapes, sizes, and configurations to choose from so make sure you spend plenty of time analyzing your options. Do you want a giant window (or multiple windows) to look out of when you’re doing dishes? I did, so I placed three large windows in front of my kitchen sink. The middle one is a picture window so nothing will impede my view. The two side windows have a casement opening (with a hand-crank) to let in fresh air. In general, window manufacturers have standard sizes (cost savings) and non-standard custom sizes as well as many different types of openings (casement, single hung, picture, double hung, etc). Choose wisely, windows make a big impact on the look and feel of your home from both the inside and the outside.
  9. Roof pitch. One aspect of designing our home that I didn’t spend enough time considering was the roof pitch. We ended up with a 4/12 roof pitch (which means that it rises 4 inches for every 12 inches). We’ll be fine, especially since we have a metal roof that the snow can easily slide down. However, if I was to do it again, I would go with a steeper roof slope – at least 6/12. Do your homework. Make sure you’re building the right slope for where you live and the look that you’re trying to achieve.
  10. What does the outside look like? Last, but not least, consider the exterior look and feel of your home. Do the windows look good (centered, spaced well) from the outside? Do you have covered porches blocking much needed sunlight? Would dormers helps bring in light and add height to an attic space? Keep in mind that different roof heights, dormers, cut-outs and angles add curb appeal and costs. We kept our costs reasonable when designing our house plan by building a big rectangle with a wrap-around porch. It fits our needs by providing much needed protection from the snow and rain and looks great!
Custom family farmhouse with a wrap-around porch that is under construction. The concrete was just poured and the porch beams will be going up next.
I took this photo right after we had the concrete poured for our covered porches. It’s going to look so good once the porches go up! When we first started to design the house, the top windows weren’t centered, and it drove me crazy. Moving the windows meant they wouldn’t be centered in the boy’s rooms but that wasn’t a big deal, so we made the change. Making the change on paper way before framing even started saved everyone a lot of time, effort, and money.

Make it yours

There is not a single house plan that is perfect for everyone. We all have different tastes, needs, and expectations. So, when designing your house plan make sure you make it for you and your family. Sure, sure, take into consideration some resale recommendations but don’t design your home for someone else. You’re building a custom home, make it custom!

Have you built a custom home? Are you just starting to design your house plan? What should be added to this list? Let me know if the comments below!

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