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Six Advantages of Building on a Sloped Lot

Why Your Dream Home on a Sloped Site is Worth All the Challenges


What if the site you have seriously considered for your potential dream home turns out to have a graded slope? Many people will definitely avoid buying a sloped site. Will you be like this segment of home builders – be faint-hearted and dismiss the lot – seeing only the limitations and not the possibilities the site presents?

Yes, there are challenges with a sloping site – as there are with any property. But think slowly and consult an experienced builder/designer who can guide you through the process. Be certain to weigh all of the pros and cons before rejecting the idea of building on a sloped site. Just remember that an experienced builder can help you overcome some site problems – and with a little imagination, some of these obstacles can become assets.

An example is Fall House – a 3-bedroom residence on a triangular 1.5-acre site in Big Sur with dramatic views of the Pacific Ocean, a breathtaking example of a home built on a hilltop. The home is staggered down a cliffside and features a cantilevered master bedroom suite. As created by renowned San Francisco architect Anne Fougeron, Fall House is embedded within its landscape and becomes a structure inseparable from its environment. 

Why would – should – anyone build on a sloped lot instead of the usual flat lot? Let’s look at six good reasons why building your home on a sloped lot can have advantages.


1.  Spectacular Views

Everyone loves a home with a view. Here’s an opportunity to experience the wonders of nature from your favorite spot. While there may be no nearby lake or snow-capped mountains, you can sit and relax in your rear deck or patio and enjoy unobstructed views of the natural landscape. With a home on a sloped site, you can watch dramatic sunsets, a full moon, and bright stars lighting up the sky on a clear night.

2-story, 4-bedroom Contemporary style home built on a sloped site

2-story, 5-bedroom, 5-bath Shingle style home built on a graded sloping lot

Top: This 2-story, 4-bedroom Contemporary style home built on a sloped site provides wonderful views of the surroundings … green fields and mountain ranges from every window and deck in the house (Plan #161-1000). Bottom: Windows around the rear of this 2-story, 5-bedroom, 5-bath Shingle-style home built on a graded sloping lot afford a magnificent view of the ocean (Plan #168-1132).


2.  Interesting Architectural Features

Want to stay away from the cookie-cutter mold? A house on a sloped site allows the owner to be creative and customize to include certain architectural details. For example:


Walkout Basement

How about the luxury of extra space with an atypical basement that’s still located in a lower level – but with abundant light and functional living areas? Walkout basement floor plans offer many benefits, including adding square footage without increasing the home’s footprint.

Walkout basement house plans also allow a family to convert part of the space into a fully furnished in-law suite or guest quarters – or add a wine cellar, media room, or home gym. It also creates another level of outdoor living with a patio, an outdoor sitting area, and a pathway.

2-story, 4-bedroom, 5,023-sq.-ft. Shingle style home with walkout basement

Walkout basement floor plan of home plan #161-1038

Top: The exterior view of this 2-story, 4-bedroom, 5,023-sq.-ft. Shingle-style home shows its walkout basement, a door to the outdoor patio/sitting area, and a pathway. Bottom: The floor plan of the walkout basement shows the various living spaces utilized by the family – including a fully furnished guest suite with an outdoor sitting area, recreation room, home theater, bar, unfinished space, and outdoor patio (Plan #161-1038).


High Ceilings with Exposed Beams

Tall ceilings can add to the character and uniqueness of the home and make the most of the views provided by the sloping site. No one ever feels cooped up in a space with high ceilings because they open up a room and give it an immediate sense of space, air, and light.

1-story, 4-bedroom, 3-bath Cottage style home with high ceilings and exposed beams

High ceilings with exposed beams and large windows maximize the surrounding natural landscapes views on the lot of this 1-story, 4-bedroom, 3-bath Cottage style home with rustic accents (Plan #198-1012).


Drive-under Garage

Many house plans with a basement have a lower-level garage, and most are ideal for a sloped lot. While a drive-under garage may be considered necessary for a home on a sloped site, it is also another interesting architectural feature. By having the garage underneath the home, the main and upper floors can be raised for better views of the surrounding landscapes.

Down the road, this type of garage can even be converted into extra living space.

 2-story, 4-bedroom, 3-bath Country home with 2-car drive-under garage

This color rendering of a 2-story, 4-bedroom, 3-bath Country home shows a 2-car drive-under garage built below the main living areas (Plan #126-1888).


Panoramic Windows

Don’t forget to install lots of large floor-to-ceiling windows around your home to maximize the natural light that filters into the home and to have ideal vantage points to revel in all the amazing sights around your property. You can choose window trims that can be as simple or as colorful and elaborate to fit your personal taste and the home’s architectural style.

Enclosed deck of a 2-story, 5-bedroom, 5-bath Shingle style home

Panel of panoramic windows around the entrance tower of a 2-story, 4-bedroom Mediterranean-style home

Top: Just the right spot! Sit back and relax on this enclosed deck of a 2-story, 5-bedroom, 5-bath Shingle-style home, and take in the serene ocean view through the large floor-to-ceiling windows (Plan #168-1132). Bottom: Lake views and lush landscapes around the property are on display through a panel of panoramic windows around this entrance tower of a 2-story, 4-bedroom Mediterranean-style home. (Plan #161-1034


3.  Lots of Natural Light

All the windows, high ceilings, and walkout basement in a home on a sloped sight let more natural light in – thus transforming the residence into an energy-efficient and healthy space.

1-story, 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath vacation home with many large windows

Sunlight streams into this 1-story, 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath vacation home through its many large windows (Plan #168-1001).


4.  Landscaping

With a sloped site, the homeowner has the option of doing away with manicured lawns and simply leaving the natural surrounding as it is – or going all out with hedges, trees, shrubbery, and/or some hard landscaping.

2-story, 4-bedroom, 3.5-bath Transitional home with untouched natural landscape

Attractive 2-story, 4-bedroom, 5,023-sq.-ft. Shingle style home with manicured lawn and shrubs

Top: In this 2-story, 4-bedroom, 3.5-bath Transitional home, the landscape is left as it is to focus on its natural beauty (Plan #146-2810). Bottom: This gorgeous 2-story, 4-bedroom, 5,023-sq.-ft. Shingle-style home becomes more attractive with its manicured lawn and shrubs lined up the slope (Plan #161-1038).


5.  Privacy/Seclusion

If you want more privacy than your current neighborhood allows, you can look for a sloped site farther away from the hustle and bustle of city living or busier communities. In your secluded property, you can have all the peace and quiet that your heart desires.

Rustic cabin built on sloped lot in secluded lakeside spot

With its location on a hilly lakeside site – surrounded by trees – this 2-story home provides all the seclusion and privacy a family may desire (Plan #160-1015).  


6.  Savings on Excavation Costs

Since a sloped property typically requires less excavation than a flat site does, the reduced costs will help balance the expenses related to drainage and foundation issues. 


Challenges of Building on a Sloped Site

Don’t let what appears to be problematic issues discourage you from building your dream home on a sloped site. The key is to consult/hire an experienced builder who can review all the potential challenges with you and advise you on design and construction possibilities.  

Here are some of the major risks when building a house on a sloping lot:


1.  Drainage and Sewer Hazards

To avoid flooding, melting sleet or snow, mudslides, and other threats to a home on a sloped site, work with your contractor on proper drainage. Be sure your builder understands how to create pathways for water to move past and beneath your home without affecting the structural stability. If possible, a foundation drainage system that exits to daylight is the best possible scenario to avoid flooding in the basement.


2.  Watch Out for Erosion

This gradual loss of soil to rain is one of the hazards of building on a sloping site. So before you build your home, schedule time with your contractor to do a thorough exploration of the soil types on your sloped lot. Information about the soil can guide you and your builder on ways to minimize the risks associated with erosion.

There are different ways of controlling erosion on the property, depending on how steep the slope is, how much money you want to spend, and the recommendations of a structural engineer or architect. Two of the most common considerations follow.

Retaining Wall

Described as a structure that holds or retains soil behind it, a retaining wall can be made of concrete blocks, poured concrete, treated timbers, rocks, or boulders. The retaining wall prevents the buildup of mud or small rivulets coming down the slope and ruining other landscaping. It acts as a drainage regulator and channels water and mud to be less prone to damage.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends covering bare soils with mulch consisting of two to four inches of bark chips, pine needles, wood chips, and even stones or river rock to help prevent erosion.  

Design experts also use large rocks as mulch for decorative as well as functional purposes. Among the benefits of mulching are:

• helping to protect and keep soil in place

• increasing water penetration

• keeping the soil cool and maintaining moisture.


3.  Maintenance

If your home is on a gently sloped property, you don’t have to worry about landscaping and mowing issues. However, steeper sites can be a bit problematic – but not totally without solutions. For example, retaining walls work well, as do paved steps. Low-maintenance trees, plants, and rocks can also make the home as attractive and eye-popping as traditional landscaping.


Ultimately, the advantages outweigh the challenges of building on a sloped site. With a creative design, thorough planning, and attention to detail, you can turn something problematic into an appealing and unique asset.


Footnote: The lead image in this article is a 1-story, 4-bedroom, 3-bath Cottage style home with interesting Craftsman details and a spacious walkout basement. For more details, click here (Plan #198-1012).

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