SHOPPING FOR HOME PLANS: Know what to look for as you build toward the reality of your dream home
Building a home from scratch can be an exciting but daunting endeavor, not to mention fraught with hidden expenses. It all begins with a plan, of course, determined by your lifestyle, aesthetic preferences, the features of the building site and your budget. If a pricey custom house plan is a little beyond your reach, fear not ─ you can get close-to-custom by shopping ready-made home plans. A variety of books, magazines and online retailers offer thousands of plan styles and options, which is great news but also a possible detour back to an overwhelmed state.
But before you bury yourself in blueprints, take these steps to ensure a smooth and smart shopping experience:
Before you shop
Start with the land, not the house plan. Knowing the requirements of your lot is critical to selecting a home design thats a good match in terms of siting and grading. The weather patterns in your area will also have an impact on the roof slope and other exterior styling you select.
Carefully consider what you and your family need in a new living space, not only today but for the duration of your stay in the home. Traffic patterns may stay reasonably the same, but the number and ages of family members living in the home will change over time. Access, mobility and future flexibility of the floor plan should all be on your mind (i.e., a two-story home might work well now, but could be inconvenient for older residents later on).
Distinguish must-have features, fixtures and spaces from those that would simply be nice or fun to have, and plan your investment accordingly. Outdoor spaces for recreation and relaxation should also be considered within the lot lines.
Figure out what home size you can afford. A helpful tool for making this calculation is The National Association of Home Builders matrix of average costs per square foot for new homes by U.S. region, which you can find at www.nahb.org. Just multiply the square footage youd like by the corresponding cost in this table, and youll be on your way to a building budget.
Take note of the home styles in your future neighborhood, and confirm any restrictions on size, style and municipal services with your local zoning board. Youll be submitting your home site plan to them before building the new structure, and if you havent done your homework early on, you could find yourself in a no fit, no build situation right before construction is scheduled to begin.
As you browse
Whether or not you plan to buy plans online, check out some of the Internet-based retailers sites to get into the swing of home plan selection. HousePlans.com, among others, offers detailed interactive search tools and a variety of plan views (floor plans, artists renderings and even occasional virtual tours) that can help you narrow down your interests and form realistic expectations for the final product.
Be open-minded. The perfect house plan doesnt exist, so dont turn your nose up at possibilities that have most of what you want. You can always use spaces in a different way than originally designated in the plan (e.g., a bedroom can become an office and vice versa), and purchased home plans can also be altered inside and out with the help of a professional architect.
On the other hand, before falling absolutely in love with a plan, take a good, hard look at its potential traffic flow, the materials used, efficient use of space, amount of storage, and convenience of work areas. The floor plan should be your first concern, and the façade your second.
Readymade house plans have been around for nearly a century, and revived interest in early styles has led to an array of resources that can serve as inspiration. Bungalow fans, for example, can pick up reproductions of original plan catalogs and books on their history and design.
Remember that if you do decide to alter a purchased home plan, youll be changing the square footage and potential cost of your new home, as well as adding fees for the pro who makes your custom adjustments (whether theyre employed by the company you buy plans from or an independent architect youve contracted).
Making a purchase
Expect to pay anywhere from $400 to $1,300 for a full set of home plans. Since you arent the only one who will need a copy, youll either be purchasing one reproducible master set or up to eight nonreproducible sets for distribution to contractors, trades people and lenders.
If youre not absolutely sure of your plan selection, its sometimes possible to purchase only the floor plan for further review before investing in the full set of plans.
Dont stop at the plan when calculating potential costs. Youll also need to review the corresponding specs to know how much materials, features and installed systems will add to the bottom line.
Note: Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program. To find a local radio station, download the show's podcast or sign-up for Tom's free weekly e-newsletter, visit the program's Web site.