The idea of designing and building your own home becomes a dream come true for thousands of Australians every year. This article explains some of the main things to consider when designing a house. Your DIY dream could sour if you don’t think through the whole project and consider it when designing a house. For instance, how many bedrooms should we have? Can we have a games room? And what about that study I was always promised?
Now that you have the “business” part of your transaction done and have signed a contract for your new home, you’re ready for what most homebuyers think is the best part about buying a newly built home: choosing optional features. Whether you have a detailed vision of every feature and finish you want, a broad idea of your colour scheme or a fixation on one particular item such as having a wine cooler in your kitchen, the design phase of building a new home ranks as one of the most pleasurable activities in the process. Of course, if you’ve opted to build a custom home, the sky and your budget is the limit to what design features and finishes you can include. Of course, you’ll also have to consider the land you own and the zoning and permit regulations in your area.
A common mistake is simply facing your most commonly-used living spaces in the wrong direction, which will likely result in a hothouse in summer and a cold house in winter. If you want the best of both, orientate your bedrooms and living areas to face the north to provide sun penetration to as many rooms as possible. Of course, the importance of room alignment varies depending on what part of Australia you live in. According to archicentre.com.au, homes built in the tropical north can become unbearable after a hot spell, especially those built with high thermal mass construction. These will absorb heat during the day and retain it for longer periods during the night.
Simply put, you’re probably not going to want the hot afternoon sun beating down on your bedroom in summer, so you could be well advised to build it in the northeast area of the house, particularly if you’re a morning person.
10 Mistakes to Avoid When Building a New Home
You’re going to build your dream home, and you’ve thought it all through – or so you’ve thought. You know exactly what you need and want to have in your home, but have you thought about what you don’t want and what you don’t need? Have you thought the whole thing through? You have given much thought and consideration to what will work for you, but have you taken the time to think about what won’t work?
Poor planning and budgets that are too small can lead the way to some wayward, inconvenient and disastrous mistakes. When you plan on building a new home, you must look at the home from many angles. First, you must consider your current and future lifestyles. Next, you need to consider family planning – Will, your family, be expanding? Or will your children be leaving the nest? Do you entertain often and host overnight guests regularly? Take your time and do your research both online and in person. Finally, be sure to take the time to meet with professionals in the industry. Poor design choices can make your home not only uncomfortable but downright unhealthy. Architects, engineers and builders are all trained to help you make effective decisions. They will help guide you to where you can save a few dollars and where you absolutely should not cut corners.
Pay attention to your HVAC system.
Poor planning here can lead to issues with moisture and terrible mould growth. This can lend itself to great health concerns. Furthermore, careful attention should be given to the size of your units. Models that are too small will be underperforming and won’t cool and heat your home efficiently. You’ll come to regret this when your home is too cool in the wintertime and not cool enough during the hot summer months. Conversely, those that are too large will utilize too much energy.
Poor space planning
Unless you have plans to build a very large home, space planning and design is crucial. Ample storage is necessary, but pay attention to where you place your storage space. Does the master bedroom need an oversized walk-in closet when the space could potentially be added to your bedroom or master bath? Pay attention to where you place your closets. There should be one in each bedroom and the main hallway. But too much and the storage space takes away from the living space. Do you want a closet in the foyer? If you live in a cooler climate where coats are worn at least half of the year, this would be wise, especially if you entertain in your home and the front entrance is the main entry point. If you have no use for a coat closet, don’t build one. Do you plan on adding a mudroom? If so, there should be a closet or enough space to add cubbies or some other similar storage area. If you need more space, consider buying a larger home.
Poor overall planning
When designing your own home, you should take your lifestyle and habits into consideration. For example, how long do you plan on staying in this home? Will you need to accommodate safety features for new or young children? Or might you need to think of your needs later in life as you reach retirement age and beyond? Think ahead, long term, to see where you will be and what you will need from your home.
Poorly lit homes
Light fixtures and outlets should be plentiful. As should windows. Windows should be present in every room and as large as possible. Natural light, when possible, should be the main source of light. Think about adding skylights as well.
The addition of a playroom, game room or multipurpose room sounds enticing but only plan to build a room that will get used. For example, what good is a wasted home gym where the treadmill holds clothes from last season? Often an unused room becomes a dumping ground to place those things that never get used. If you plan on adding a spare room, make sure that it is a room that can transition well from one type to the next. For example, a sewing room may never get used, but a sewing room or office that also doubles as a guest room could indeed get used often.
Placement of the laundry room
This is a very personal decision. I’ve had laundry rooms in the basement and off the mudroom far away from all the bedrooms. Neither was ideal. Placement of the laundry room, or washer and dryer, should be relatively close to the bedrooms. I love an upstairs laundry room, but many do not.
Placement of the bedroom
The bedroom needs to be as far away from the noise and traffic as possible. The master bedroom should not be near or above the garage if your family members are likely to come and go while you are asleep or resting. It would be advisable to keep the master bedroom away from the central living areas as well. If your home is on one level, the master bedroom should ideally be at the far end of the house, the end furthest away from the garage. The master bedroom, ideally, should not share a wall with the central living area.
Placement of the kitchen
I had two homes where the kitchen was nowhere near the main point of entry. When it came time to bring in groceries, one had to walk through the house to deposit the groceries into the kitchen. I hated its location. The kitchen should be placed, preferably, near a garage or back entrance and near the dining and living areas. The kitchen tends to get a lot of traffic, and it would be best to divert the foot traffic from constantly strolling through the main living areas.
Placement of the garage
It is preferable to the garage on the main level, near a mudroom and kitchen. My garage often feels like Grand Central Station with people constantly coming and going and coming into the house with dirty sports attire, heavy backpacks, bags of groceries, and other large objects. I prefer the dirt and chaos to be limited to the kitchen and mudroom areas.
You are letting someone tell you what YOU need!
You best know your family and your family’s lifestyle and needs. Professionals can make suggestions, but they cannot tell you what you do and don’t need. You and only you know what is best for you and your family. What have I not touched upon that is important to you in the overall design of your home?
10 Top Tips for Home Design
With so much to think about when designing a new home, it’s no surprise self-builders can get overwhelmed. It’s easy to overlook key elements that could make a significant impact on the finished property. Below I highlight ten things to remember when designing your home.
Budget beyond the construction work
Your design will be dictated considerably by your finances. While most people realize that they need to factor in the cost of the building work, it’s easy to forget about the other aspects that need to be accounted for on top of this.
Quite a lot of money has to be spent on things that seem minor on their own but collectively can tot up to thousands of pounds.
Don’t forget to budget for:
- Finance And Insurance Costs
- Professional And Local Authority Fees
- Site Surveys
- Access From The Highway
- Service Connections
The price of some elements can be fairly accurately predicted – such as planning fees and sewer connection charges – others have to be estimated.
The soundscape is often overlooked in house plans. As a result, unwanted noise is a common problem, not least because of all the gadgets we now have for our entertainment.
The layout of the house also plays a key role in reducing disturbance. For example, children are noisy, so look into how to distance their bedrooms from others. You can try, for example, bathrooms or built-in wardrobes in-between the rooms.
Sound travels more easily to rooms below, which means a second floor or attic space is not always a good place for the loudest family members.
With open-plan living becoming commonplace, don’t forget to factor in a snug or living room isolated from the main areas of activity. This will provide an oasis of calm for quieter activities such as reading or homework.
A major gripe from owners of new homes is often the lack of storage space. Unfortunately, in the early stages of a design, it’s easy to underestimate how many possessions you own or are going to acquire in the future.
This is one reason why most garages are rarely filled with cars. Instead, you are likely to find bikes, gym equipment, unwanted Christmas presents and other debris.
Lots of storage space can be incorporated at little extra cost or loss of floor area, but you’ll need to plan this at the beginning of the design process.
Built-in storage can extend the full height of rooms and become a design feature, making it more efficient than free-standing chests of drawers and wardrobes.
Another thing to consider is a pantry for separate kitchen storage – sturdy shelves allow easy access to kitchenware and products that might otherwise be awkwardly crammed into standard cupboards.
Sooner or later, every element of the construction of a house will need maintenance. Predicting your home’s upkeep should influence how materials and fittings are integrated into the design.
Roof tiles and bricks will last for many decades without attention, but other materials require work more frequently. For instance, plastic fascias and barge boards are popular but must be regularly redecorated atop a tall ladder.
An open roof over a stairwell with skylights and a centrepiece chandelier looks dramatic; however, it also presents a challenge for whoever has to change the light bulbs or clean the glass.
Self-cleaning glazing and cables that allow the light fitting to be hooked across the landing will solve these problems. Still, redecoration may require scaffolding and is, therefore, a specialist job.
Unblocking gutters is another difficult chore, especially for high-level valleys between pitched roofs. A lot of effort can be spared by putting roof windows in the attic, which will allow you to reach out safely with a rake.
Future-proofing the home
If you’re planning to live in your self built home for decades to come, the layout needs to have built-in flexibility so it can evolve with you and your family. Plan for increases in the size of your family, whether that’s more children, young adults boomeranging back home after college or older relatives moving in.
Consider getting planning approval for an extension to be constructed at a later date; you could put in foundations and capped-off drainage connections ready to be used. Create a loft with a clear space suitable for conversion, perhaps even a structural opening already in place for a future staircase.
It might be a good idea to future-proof in case family members and friends become infirm or disabled. But, again, discrete features can make a big difference, such as keeping doors wider than standard and allowing space for a wheelchair to manoeuvre in a downstairs bathroom. You could even factor in space for a lift to be added at a later date.
The finish might not be perfect
Many self-builders have a natural desire for their house to be as perfect as possible. However, individual people have different interpretations of what a high-quality finish means, which can be a problem if what the client is really after is a pristine result.
Using natural materials with simple finishes can add interesting features to a building, particularly timber left unpainted on the outside or oiled with a clear finish on the inside. But if you put two pieces of the same wood from the same batch next to each other they don’t usually look identical and will weather differently, too.
I once had a client who was ready to send back a whole batch of oak skirting because each section had a slightly different shade and grain pattern from the next, rather than the uniform colour he was expecting. He wanted a transparent finish and had forgotten that nature is inherently irregular. It can be easy to lose perspective.
Windows and heat transfer
Having plenty of natural illumination pour inside through large expanses of glazing is a pleasant feature, hence the popularity of bifolds, sliding doors and double-height windows – plus these units can create an attractive modern aesthetic.
A glazing unit’s effect on thermal comfort depends on its orientation in relation to the sun; when this is badly positioned, then a room can become unpleasantly hot, so be careful with the design.
The easiest way to avoid this problem is to work out how the sun passes over the plot and arrange the glazing in a way that will help to reduce the solar gain when it’s not wanted.
If sizeable windows have to face towards the south (where the sun’s warmth is strongest), there are elements that can be built in to reduce the effects of heat gain.
Incorporate large overhangs overhead, for instance, or brise soleils, which are horizontal screens with slats angled to let some daylight through as well as providing shade.
Once nighttime has fallen, there are all sorts of possibilities to shape and change the character of your home with carefully considered lights. Plus, a single space may need to be put to many different uses, each enhanced by changing the artificial illumination.
A good example is a kitchen-dining-living room because it’s often the hub of the home. It will be used for grabbing breakfast in the morning, cooking and chatting with friends during the day and later on as a space for homework, a shared family meal or time in front of the television.
There should be different ways of lighting the space to suit each of these activities. When building from scratch, it’s very easy to hide cables in the walls and fit programmable lighting controls if planned.
Plan furniture arrangement
It’s rare for house plans to show any more than blank rectangles indicating rooms’ location, shape, and size. Sometimes the house contents are only considered once the property is built.
More helpful designers will include standard furniture symbols on their drawings, but these are only diagrammatic and bear little relation to what you own or are looking to buy.
The risk of your furniture not fitting in with the design of the rooms is quite high unless you’ve considered this from the start, especially if you want large open-plan spaces.
Many self-builders want to keep family heirlooms, such as a dining table or chest of drawers, which must be accommodated. If the furniture is an unusual shape or size, it can have a major effect on the arrangement of other items and the proportions of the room.
Unlike modern furniture, which is designed to be disassembled to get through a standard door opening or up a cramped staircase, period pieces may prove difficult to move around the house.
Homes get messy
The well-known architect of a much-admired house recently admitted that his own property had never properly been lived in. He used the home to promote his practice and felt it would have been spoiled if his family lived there.
This tells us that it’s important to remember that the process of living involves mess and clutter, even for the most streamlined of personalities.
We need to recognize that the unnaturally tidy homes seen in magazines and on architectural websites are misleading. A well-designed building should be strong enough to shine through the stresses, strains and abuse that happen when it’s being enjoyed as a home.