The Land Dictates the Plan Practical Advice for the OwnerBuilder

I understand the excitement of the plan design process and putting on paper their ideas for their dream home, and let me share some insight on why it is important to have your land purchased first. Here are some considerations before sitting down with a plan designer: 1. Does the land/lot have any covenants you are not aware of? What I mean by this is you should check with the previous owner, Realtor and County or City planning Department and see if there are any restrictions or covenants on what you can actually build there.

2. What are the setbacks for the land/lot and how will that affect the size and footprint of your proposed home? A setback is designated space, pre-determined by the local planning Department, which is not available for your home to sit on. This is usually for right-of-ways for utilities, widening the roads, etc.

So for example, if the lot you are considering is 50 feet wide and you have a 5 foot side yard setback, that means you have to take off 5 feet from each side leaving you 40 actual feet for the width of the home foundation. This is an issue also for a City lot where you may want a side garage. 3. Are there height restrictions in the area? What is the maximum height of the roof from grade (level of the land) that you can build? May be a problem for a larger 2 story plan with a steep roof line.

4. Where are the views? Once you have the land and walk around it, you will get a pretty solid idea where you would like the kitchen, living areas and bedrooms to face on the lot. If you have a plan already, you may find that the existing drawing does not account for the right positioning or amount of windows that would take advantage of the view. 5. Sewer and septic.

If this is an acreage lot, then you need to see if the land has perked and what size of septic field and system you can build and how many bathrooms you would be allowed per how many bedrooms. Your Realtor and local Heath authority should be able to answer that question. A perk test is used to see how the actual soil absorbs or retains water. A failed perk test means alternative septic systems which can be very expensive.

A city lot will usually have a sewer system to tie into, but check with the Realtor or local planning department. 6. Privacy. If you find a piece of property that has steady traffic on the front street, you may change your mind on where you want your master bedroom or living area to be.

If you have plans already done, this may be a re-draw. 7. Engineering.

More and more States and Provinces are requesting engineering reviews on plans before they will issue building permits. If you find land that may be of interest to you, research the local Building Department and find out if structural or civil engineering is required. Better to find out now before you already have plans done that cannot be engineered for that zone.

There are many variables in the owner/builder process, especially if things are not thought out correctly or done in a specific order. I have seen too many clients spend thousands of dollars on dream plans only to have them restrict where they can find land, are too big for the lot they found, or just do not take advantage of the views, slope of the land, area etc and end up either getting new plans or giving up altogether. I am not saying that if you have a set of drawings done that you cannot find the perfect lot for them or that you have done something wrong. What I am suggesting, is that it would be easier and more prudent in the early planning stages to have finding land as the priority before plans and increase your success for a great new home building experience.

Larry J Clark is President of Allpro Building Systems which is in Canada. He is an author and advisor to the Owner Builder Community.Larry can be reached personally at or 604-504-1555

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