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Before the Blueprints. Tips to Streamline Your Pre-designed-House-Plan Search

The Deciding Factor: What To Do before Beginning a Search for Your Dream Home



Jim and Anna have been discussing a big step for a while. Their family is outgrowing their house, and they can’t seem to find another one that meets their needs and their idea of the perfect family home. So they are thinking of building the house of their dreams from scratch. But how to begin? 


Maybe you can empathize with Jim and Anna. You might even be in a similar situation. You want to build your own home and put your personal stamp on it. The first thing to do is to look for property or a lot on which to build (click here for more on purchasing property). Without knowing where you house will go and how it will fit, your run the risk of setting your heart on a home that is not appropriate for your needs. Next, decide whether you want to use an architect to design a custom home from scratch or buy pre-designed house plans and build from them. Then, if you want to make your life easier, there are lots of decisions to make and tasks to accomplish before you even begin the design or home-plan search process.


Architect or Pre-designed House Plans?


Using an architect will allow you to create a home that is uniquely yours. You will discuss the architectural styles you have in mind, the size house you want, your lifestyle preferences (entertaining needs, cooking habits, and the like), and myriad details that will make the house your home.


However, the design process will take up a lot of your time, possibly months, subject to the architect’s schedule. It will require a number of meetings and back-and-forth communication, force you to make countless decisions, and may take several weeks to a few months. And all of this customization comes at a cost. For a 2,500-square-foot house, you should plan on spending a minimum $5,000 to $10,000 (most likely more toward the high end) for finished plans from which to build.


Pre-designed house plans will also enable you to have your dream home, and with a modification or two, something uniquely yours. There are many thousands of pre-drawn house plans to choose from, in almost any style and size you can think of, many of which have been built and are proven concepts.


Searching home plans may take a few days to a few weeks and can be done at any time that is convenient for you. And pre-designed house plans cost a faction of the amount you’d pay for a custom design from an architect, plus you will receive them within days of ordering them.


There are tens of thousands of beautiful houses and corresponding floor plans to consider when searching for your dream home plan (Plan #142-1023


How Big a House?


Probably one of the first deciding factors in your search for a home plan, pre-designed or not, is the size. When you think about the ideal size of your house, you should consider two aspects: number of rooms and square footage. Bedrooms and bathrooms are usually the deciding factors in the “room size” of your house. Only you can decide what’s right for your situation regarding bedrooms. It is nice to have a bathroom for each bedroom, but more often than not budget constraints limit the number of bathrooms you can afford. Again, this is a personal decision. Remember to consider putting a half bath, or powder room, which contains a sink and toilet but no shower or bathtub, on the main floor near the great room, family room, kitchen, or other entertainment are.


Ideally, you would have one bathroom (left) per bedroom, but that is often not practical—or possible (Plan #109-1191). Try to include a half bath (right) near the entertainment space of the house (Plan #153-1781).



Square footage is the other aspect of size that you need to take into account. This will be affected by the budget you can afford (more on this later). The average size of homes built last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, was a record 2,598 square feet, probably the result of current low interest rates, at least in part. You need to decide what size is right for you. When searching house plans, you should use a couple of hundred square feet above and below your desired square footage to see the maximum home-plan selection, keeping in mind that you can modify floor plans if necessary.


One Story or Two?


Deciding on the number of floors in your home is another key, elementary search criterion for you. Do you want to climb stairs to private bedrooms on the second floor, or would you prefer to have everything on one floor and eliminate steps altogether? Maybe you can compromise and have your own master suite on the first floor, with secondary bedrooms on the second floor? This has been a growing trend in the last 10 years or so.


Young families may not think twice about having two or even three sets of stairs to climb. But as we get older, we start thinking twice about facing steps. That is why first-floor master suites are such a popular feature in today’s homes, especially among the aging baby-boom generation.


Remember that, if cost is an issue, building a two-story home is usually less expensive than building a similar-size (in square feet) home in one story. The reason is that building up is less costly than building out, with the associated costs of land excavation and foundation building.


Architectural Style


Another important deciding factor in your search for a home plan is the architectural style you prefer. This is a search criteria you can use to be more efficient in looking for a pre-drawn home plan, and there are dozens from which to choose: some classic like Colonial and Georgian; others regional, like Cape Cod or Acadian; and still others innovations of the past century, like Art and Crafts, Craftsman, and Prairie. There are Cottage, Bungalow, Beachfront, Farmhouse, Ranch, Country, European . . . the list goes on.


Deciding on the style that suits your family will be a key to narrowing your search. It will depend on your lifestyle, the area in which you plan to live, the neighborhood, if any, in which you plan to build, and ultimately, the image you wish to project.


The traditional Colonial style at left (Plan #120-1758) is much different from the Ranch style at right (Plan #163-1055).



Kitchen—What’s Important?


The kitchen is traditionally considered the heart of the home, so it is an important consideration when thinking about your dream home. You need to take into account space (or size), design, extent of counters/cabinets, and amenities.


  • Space—do you want enough space for two or more cooks to work at the same time (remember, space is money!), or will one person be primarily responsible for preparing meals? Also, will you want an informal eating space connected with the kitchen, to supplement or replace a formal dining room?


  • Design—you basically have five design shapes from which to choose:


  • One-wall, in which all counters, cabinets, and appliances are placed against one wall. You may see this in smaller houses.
  • Galley, or corridor, in which counters, cabinets, and appliances are arranged on two opposing walls with workspace in the middle.
  • L-shape, in which the kitchen is arranged on two adjacent walls in the shape of a right angle. 
  • U-shape, in which the kitchen is set up on three walls, two opposing walls and one connecting wall on one end, with open space or an island in the center.
  • G-shape, which is similar to a U-shape kitchen but with a peninsula extending off the end of one wall, providing more horizontal workspace.


  • Counters and cabinets—though often determined by the design you choose, you need to think about how much horizontal work space and storage space (base and wall cabinets) you will require.


  • Amenities—may be things like a pantry (walk-in or closet?) or island. Do you require the added storage space of a pantry or work/eating area of an island, no mater what kitchen design you choose?



Take the time to plan your kitchen, the heart of the home, carefully, and you won’t be disappointed. Here are two views of a modified U-shape kitchen with an island (Plan #163-1055). 



Entertainment, Outdoor, Recreation Spaces


Open floor design, in which the “public,” or “entertainment” space—kitchen, eating area, and family or great room—is an open area with no walls, has been a popular feature for new homes in recent years. Keep in mind that if you don’t want an open floor plan but would prefer the more traditional separate kitchen, dining room, living room design, you should look for floor plans with rooms that are compartmented, or walled off.


Consider whether you want any outdoor spaces, such as decks, porches, and patios, included with your new home. Outdoor kitchens incorporated into decks are popular, especially in more mild climates. Porches—front, side, rear, or all three!—are an ever-popular feature, especially for homes with more traditional architectural style.


While you are at it, think about recreation space, like a game room, exercise room, media room, wet bar, craft room, or workshop. These kinds of spaces are often incorporated in a basement or upstairs bonus area and may be added at a later date after the house is built. So think about whether you want a basement or not (the alternatives are slab foundation and crawlspace foundation) and whether you want the basement to be a full basement or a walkout or daylight basement, which needs a sloped lot and incorporates a walkout door directly to the outside and/or large windows for natural light.



This plan is a classic example of open-plan living (Plan #106-1189). The foyer, living room, and dining room are essentially one large space, as are the kitchen, morning room, and family room.



Now that you have all gone over all of the particulars for your new home, you should be able to start your search. To be sure you can afford what you have mapped out, you should gather all of your information and do a budget (click here for details about the budgeting process). You can alter the square footage, the number of rooms, the level of finish, and other items to fit the home into your budget. But with all of the tools in place, finding your dream home should be a rewarding experience.


It's time to search for your dream home plan!


Footnote: The lead image (upper) in this article is a one-story, three-bedroom Craftsman country house plan. For more details, view Plan #141-1035



August 14, 2015

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