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Living on the Edge: House Plans on Cliffs, Slopes and Hills

Striving to live the dream, many of us have thought about how cool it would be to build a home on the edge of a cliff with breathtaking panoramic views of distant mountains majesty or shores from sea to shining sea. Here are some expert thoughts about what it really does take today to live on the edge – for a high-value home builder who is untroubled by vertigo.


If you envision sitting in your great room enjoying unobstructed vistas and panoramic views, far away from society, just know that you are not alone.  Cliff homes date back over the centuries and were once built for protection from one’s enemies. Today anyone with a cliff home can be assured of privacy and unobstructed views. However, when reality sets in, one realizes that the actual house plans for a home atop a cliff require careful logistics, design and construction considerations involving specialty engineering and architecture, not to mention the extra costs.


There are four main things to be aware of when building on property that is a cliff, or hillside, namely:

1) topography,

2) logistics, zoning and permits,

3) solid ground and

4) protection against the elements.

These variables can change considerably depending on the region where you live.


Unlike building on a flat surface, constructing on a cliff or slope, requires building on an uneven terrain. There are architectural challenges that require a careful balancing act between design artistry and safety. To achieve this balance, you’ll need to work with architects and engineers who have experience with sloped houses, and/or contractors or builders in the field who are experts at working with your particular topography.


However there are compromises that will give a home owner the feeling of a cliff home -- such as a sloped lot. A common reason for building on a cliff side or a sloped lot is that the finished home will overlook breathtaking views of the city or mountains. Depending on the location, a sloped lot can also provide better privacy from neighbors.


The Plan Collection features this house plan (#163-1048) which is a derivative of the Hyde Park mountain style house. The master bedroom suite, great room and breakfast area all have a generous windows allowing lots of light with a chance for breathtaking views of a mountain, lake or golf course. There is a screened-in porch with a fireplace attached off the kitchen and breakfast area so that you can enjoy morning coffee in the fresh air.  Special planning for an elevated house plan like this is involved to make sure the foundation is solid including: soil erosion and stability, plus the stability of the bed rock formation your house will sit on.


A sloped lot encourages unique design options as well, from the landscaping to the view and interior space which often has split levels. Often times with a steep slope lot, the home owner gets the bonus space of a house plan with daylight basement levels that have natural light, full-length windows and possibly walk out terraces, unlike basements that are completely underground.


Just remember that since sloped lots are often in unique locations, specialized equipment might be required to function in the available space. Sloped lots may require a greater budget if the land needs to be built up. There also needs to be adequate drainage and sewage accessibility from the street at ground level.


It is important to do the extra homework necessary and take the time to build a safe and stable home on a cliff or a sloped lot. Building up the land to the standard 8 inches above soil, along with adding retaining walls for stability in the home, is extra work that isn’t incurred when building on a flat lot. If it needs to be equipped with sewage and drainage capabilities as well, this will also require additional work.


d/or environmental restrictions. Just be aware that dwellings on cliffs and sloped hills can often be more challenging. All permits takes time, so work with someone who understands your local building codes and ordinances.


One advantage of living perched high up above everyone else on a hill or overlooking a lake or the ocean is the breathtaking views. But depending on the exact location, it is also important to protect your home from the elements, including high winds and mildew from lakes, streams or sea salt from sea spray. Special building materials may be required.


You also may need to consider how accessible your hillside lot is when it comes time for building on the site. Will special building equipment be required during the construction phase of the project? Is site access easy or is it difficult? Are utilities accessible somewhere on or near the property?


In the end, once your new hillside home is built and you are living on the edge, most homeowners agree, there is nothing like the peace and tranquility of living high up above the rest of the world. 



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