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Plan Your own Home-Design Planning Tips

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Start With A Vision

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    Get inspired. Before you draw a single line, consult an architect, or buy that cool new software application that will do it all, consider your dreams. At the very beginning of this process, it's not about board feet or setbacks or even floor plans. It's about how you define your desires. Much of this you will already know—it's your dream, after all!
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    Visit your favorite neighborhoods. There is a reason they are your favorites, and it's most likely because you love the homes there. Don't consider price or practicality—yet. What you are looking for is what inspires you.
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    Attend open houses. Look for homes for sale in the neighborhoods you love, and make weekend open houses a regular outing during this phase. Each of those will have features that inspire you, and features that will leave you unmoved. Make note of each of those: it's just as important to know what you either don't care about, or actively dislike.
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    Take photographs. Shoot every angle of a building you like, inside and out. You'll find more detail in the photos than you saw in person, and after visiting dozens of houses, they'll be a great way to recall that thing you loved right at the beginning.
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    Get organized. Dreaming is good, and it's vital to have a vision for what you want to achieve, but achieving it will be much more difficult if you are constantly looking for that scrap of paper you thoughtyou left over there.
    • Get a sturdy, cloth-bound graph-ruled notebook (often called a "computation book"), and keep it with you until your home is finished. Its numbered, graph-ruled pages will help you keep your thoughts organized and your sketches neat. You can use it to tape or paste in photos, list quotes, contractors, numbers, and anything else associated with the project.
    • Dedicate a couple of pages right up front to things that your house must have—whether it be 3 bathrooms or bamboo flooring, these are the things you require in your home.
    • Dedicate another page or two to list of every feature and desire you've culled from your various resources, and call this your "Wish List." This could be anything from a particular shape of molding to an Italian tile bathroom.
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    Paint the big picture. Now that you are getting specific about what you love and what you desire, it's time to focus.
    • Will you prefer urban or rural living?
    • Do your needs put you in expansive home with room for the kids to play and the dogs to run, or a cozy bungalow for two?
    • Do you favor clean, modern lines or detailed, hand-built craftsmanship?
    • Are you happy with standard construction techniques, or are you considering sustainable, LEED-certified design?
    • Perhaps the most important of all considerations, what is your budget?
    • These questions will help guide you as you begin to focus your vision into actionable steps.
    • The more information that you can provide to your architect or builder about the details of your vision, the more likely you will not only get the design of your dreams, you'll stay on budget as well.
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    Find a location. This is where the rubber hits the road...or perhaps more appropriately, where the shovel hits the dirt. Before you can really dig into designing your dream home, you'll need to know what you're building on.
    • The landscape matters. building on a hill has a different set of requirements and design challenges than building on flat ground.
    • A heavily-wooded area may makes a big difference when it comes to windows and lighting, not to mention solar panels or other energy considerations.
    • Lots nearer freeways or other noise-producing areas will need more attention to acoustics than isolated rural locations.
    • Access to utilities and services vary by location. Make sure your chosen location includes those things we generally take for granted.
    • Zoning can make the difference between a dream home realized, or a house full of compromises.
    • Enlist the help of a real estate professional who can help you assess your property choices from an objective point of view.

Develop a Design

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    Consult a professional architect. Designing a home should be a project that will give you years of fulfillment when your dream is realized. The best way to make sure this happens most successfully (and most cost effectively) is to bring an architect into the actual design process. Your part of the design is knowing what you want. The architect's part is helping you make your design goals work, and steering you around design traps.
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    Sketch out a rough floor plan. This will help you take your ideas from concept to concrete. For (very simple) example, let's say you want 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, an open kitchen and a "great room," for both dining and entertainment.
    • Start by blocking out basic areas—for example, on the right side of the house, 2 bedrooms on one side of a hallway, with an adjoining bath, and the 3rd bedroom on the other side, with a master bath. In the middle, the entry way opening onto the great room. And on the left side, the kitchen, laundry room, and access to the garage. You might find this process more fun and flexible if you make cutouts of the various rooms, and then move them around till you find a layout that works for you.
    • Armed with this basic layout idea, consider the box that will surround it. Craftsman-style houses have certain conventions, as do split-levels, colonials, and geodesic domes. A floor plan that works in a craftsman home will probably not feel so cozy in a dome.
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    Create a floor plan. For this, there is software available that will let you place rooms, walls, windows, etc. to create a professional-looking design. Do realize that software and vision will only take you so far.
    • To create a truly workable design that takes in not just splendid design ideas, but considers such practical considerations as structural integrity, flood planes, drainage, slope, and all the other little details, it's important to work with an architect.
    • Mistakes made in the vision phase cost nothing. Mistakes made in the design phase cost you time. But carry those mistakes through to the building phase, and they could cost you more than your budget can even consider.
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    Delegate. Knowing when to hire the pros is what will take designing your own home from a dream to a reality. Let the steady hand of an experienced designer take over the process of finalizing your plans. He'll work with the architect and your general contractor to turn your dreams into reality.
    • You've created the concept, you've driven the dream. You've done all the legwork, found the property, focused your design goals, and know exactly what you want. Now, you have more important duties involved in managing the construction of your dream home.
    Edit Tips
  • If you are having a difficult time in visualizing a design, consider a 3D visualization studio. In these days, they can create a photo-realistic version of your interior or exterior. For more information, type in "architectural rendering" in a search engine. Currently, you can find some incredible studios in south Florida, New York City, and other major cities.
  • A pair of scissors, glue stick and a photo copier are your best friend during the process of revising a plan. Cut and paste to your heart's content and copy!
  • Take your time. Think about how you will use each space, the furnishings in the space, the circulation through and around the spaces, and what is most important about each space. Cut out measured paper shapes for furniture and cabinets and try them out to see how they will work with windows, doors and circulation paths through the space.
  • Tools to use are simple pencil and paper and don't forget a ruler (or scale). Architects use "tissue paper" which can be found at any store that sells drafting supplies. A wooden kitchen cutting board makes an excellent drafting table! A whiteboard and erasable markers provide an excellent means to flesh out a design that is fast changing or incremental in its development. Nothing is better for getting everyone's input and involvement in a design than a whiteboard!
  • Another idea is to find a friendly parking lot where you can pace out and chalk the rough dimensions of your house, including all rooms, doors and hallways. This gives you the opportunity to walk through your prospective home and really feel how the spaces relate to one another. Of course, you'll have to imagine walls and doors, but whatever the limitations, it's a fun exercise that may lead to new ideas.
  • When you're starting out, put all your materials in folders and keep them in one cardboard box. When you find something, the cardboard box will be the place to put it and find it later on when you need it.
  • Talk to a professional about helping you out right from the beginning of this process. Most good residential architects will consult with you early on in the process, and will save you a great deal of time and money in the long run.

Edit Warnings

  • Visit the City Planning and Zoning office before proceeding very far. Find out what you can build on your property, where the setbacks are, how tall you can go, and what you may need a variance for.
  • Avoid the mistake of bringing copies of plans into the very beginning of the process. Most important to the success of your design is giving the people involved in the process permission to just get it all out. Everyone has something that they want most out of the process. Don't ruin the chance to capture those thoughts, hopes and desires by distractingly focusing on the wrong things too early on. Get what you want out of this stage!
  • Verify with a professional that your drawings comply with all local and state codes or provincial codes. That is the Building Code, the Electrical, Mechanical, Plumbing Codes and Fire Codes. Code compliance is required to obtain a building permit.


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