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The Home Design Process

How Much Can I Afford For A Home?

    Virtually everyone must limit their home design, size, style and home design aesthetics according to their budget. This is also true of our clients at the upper end of the home market. Your house design will determine whether it costs $80 per square foot, or $200 per.

    To determine what you can afford to spend on a house design is very easy. Simply call your local bank's mortgage department. By asking you a few financial and family questions, they can calculate, using current interest rates and your current income, how much principal you should be able to borrow for your new house design. This assumes you have given complete and honest answers to their questions. This should take less than 5 minutes, although there will be no guarantee or commitment, it will generally be very accurate but keep in mind that interest rates can change tomorrow, and so can your income. Be sure your taxes and home insurance have been calculated in the equation. As a rule of thumb, 28% of your gross income before deductions can be spent on house payments, including real estate taxes, home insurance and association fees, if any. (35% maximum for all payments including car and credit card payments.

How Much House Can I Get For My Money?

    Once you know how much you can afford, you will need to find out which home design you can get for the amount that you have to spend. This is not as easy. Go shopping for a home similar in house design to what you want and get a feel for their value. From those home prices you will have to subtract the land value, which you either will, or have gotten elsewhere, and the developers profit, which you have no intention of paying. (The home design professional will also have been paid a fee.)

    Also call some house contractors to see if you can get some ballpark figures. You may not get very accurate information because you do not yet have any house design to show anyone, but you do need to know about how much house you can get for the amount that you have. A square foot price can be misleading as prices can vary from $50 to $300 per square foot.

    The vast majority of home designs built in the US today are built for less than $120 per square foot. A nice home design using standard construction methods with stock materials and fixtures should run $95 to $120 per square foot in the suburbs of the major metropolitan areas of the Midwest.

    This home design estimate assumes you will have a general contractor build your home for you. If you are acting as your own general contractor, deduct at least 15 percent. If you can do a substantial part of the labor on the house yourself, you can cut the cost even more.

    More than 40 miles from the downtown areas, house prices begin to drop. Within the downtown areas, expect to pay more. If you plan to build a house in an area prone to earthquakes or hurricanes, expect to pay much more, but at least the land should be cheap.

    Construction loans are available from some lending institutions. They are usually good for one year, at which time you would pay it off with a conventional mortgage.

 One of the most comprehensive books I have seen is; How to Design & Build Your Own House by Random House, ISBN 0-394-75200-7. It includes many detailed drawings and instructions on each of the trades.

(This book is currently available from amazon.com).
To order from amazon.com, just click the picture below:


Two other very good books are also available from amazon.com.
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cover                                  cover

House Design Plans Under 1500 sq ft
Home Design Plans 1500 to 2000 sq ft
House Design plan 2000 to 2500 sq ft
Home Designs Plan 2500 t0 3000 sq ft
House Design Plans 3000 to 4000 sq ft
Home Design Plans Over 4000 sq ft

Duplex Home Plan
Garage Blueprints
Narrow Lot House Plan
Split Level House Plans
Cottage House Plans
New Home Plans


Practical Home Design

   Now that you have a rough idea of how large a house design you can afford, you need to decide how large a house you need, and design it to fit on your lot. You should know where utilities will enter your property and therefore your home. You will eventually need to coordinate this with your local electric, telephone and gas suppliers, preferably using the same trench to reach your home. You should already have determined where any sewer and water connections will be made, or the location of your well and septic system.

   But before you can stake out the house you need to know how big it is. Determine the living area you need.


How many bedrooms?


How many baths?


Family room and Living room or just a Family room?


Do you entertain a great deal? Need a Dining room?


Study or home office?


Playroom for children?




How big a garage?



   Remember you must stay within the limits set by the local municipality. These may include setbacks, height restrictions, floor to area ratio, (floor area of the house divided by the lot area), or a set square foot limitation on your lot. Check with your local building authority for home design codes in effect in your area.

    There may also be a limitation on impervious area (buildings, driveways, patios, sidewalks or anything else that rain water cannot seep through). A wood deck with spacing between the deck boards can be a way around this as long as water can enter the ground below the deck.( i.e. No concrete under the deck.)

    If you have a septic system, the soil type may limit the number of bedrooms and bathrooms you can have. It is important to verify this information with your local health department before designing your home. If you don't, you may find that you have gone through the trouble and expense of developing plans for a home design that cannot be built on your lot!

   It is also important that you consider the value of your home design on the open market. None of us know what the future will bring. To be safe, resale value should play an important part in the design of your home. A very unique design may be exactly what you want, but may be difficult to sell. A home design that does not "fit" in the neighborhood may have a lower resale value even if it is clearly the best in the surrounding area.

    Here are some general guidelines of home design building codes; (But not all of them required)

    Every habitable room must have a window or mechanical ventilation.

    All ceilings must be at least 7'6" high.

    The total height of the home is often restricted.

    Stairs usually have a minimum width and not be too steep.

    There are usually fire restrictions on your home design. Check with your local building authority.

    Plumbing codes are very specific and you should check with a local licensed plumber when designing your home.

    Heating and electrical equipment must be designed with safety devices.

    Chimneys and fireplaces have a fixed set of codes, as well as fuel tanks.

    Some municipalities will not permit you to do certain types of work on your own. It must be done by licensed contractors.

Planning Ahead With Your Home Design

    If you must cut costs, (a very normal situation), rather than give up on the space you need, consider building a smaller house and include a patio with a foundation suitable for a future expansion. By planning exactly where you will expand now, and how big the expansion will be, you can design your home in such a way as to make the expansion easy and relatively inexpensive. The foundation will already be there for you to build a house addition later.

    In this scenario you should avoid installing any plumbing or heating pipes where they may have to be relocated in the future. If you expect to remove a section of wall to access the expansion, install a header at that location during the initial house building phase. A little forward planning now can save big $$$ in the future. 

    If you plan to turn a single story house into a 1 story, install a roof with a steep pitch during the initial construction. You may also want to install stairs to the attic at this point, using it for storage until you are ready to expand. (See the cross sections on the house styles page.)

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