Choosing Land for Your New Home
How do you decide which plot of land is the spot for you? Determining the optimal placement of your new home on a given piece of land could provide you much of the answer.
A Practical Guide
With a tight, urban infill lot or a narrow lakefront property, the answer to siting your home may be self-evident; however, on a larger parcel, this can be a multi-faceted subject. There are professional land and soil consultants and civil engineers who can analyze your property for a fee. But, prior to making that investment, here are ten questions to evaluate as you consider where to place your new home on your land.
1. Which comes first? Selecting the house or the land?
For some, the desired lifestyle, views or design of the home will be paramount to land choice. For others, the land itself may strongly inform the design of the home and how you inhabit the place. Either approach can work, but knowing your must-have requirements will save you significant time, effort and added expense. Start by creating a checklist of your requirements: a home can usually be designed to take advantage of the landscape, but it may not be economically feasible to alter the landscape to accommodate a predetermined plan.
2. What are the general characteristics of the land through the seasons?
With your checklist in hand, it’s important to walk the land and spend some time on it. Imagine how it will look throughout the seasons. If you’re building a seasonal vacation home, visit the land in the season you expect to be in the home to ensure there are no unpleasant surprises. Will falling leaves increase desirable views or reduce the level of privacy? Where does the sun rise and set through the year? What direction is the predominant wind exposure? Are there seasonal streams or flooding? What do you hear? Pay particular attention to road noise, airport traffic, nearby businesses (sawmill?) and recreation (shooting range? snowmobile trail?). What sorts of activities take place over the course of a year on the land, in the neighborhood, or nearby? What challenges to or opportunities for meeting your requirements does this land present?
3. How will the site views and exposure support your quality of life through the years?
In what direction do the most desirable views lie? Will you want to see children play or pets romp from inside? What would you like to see from the various rooms where you will spend time during the day? Would a multi-level house be necessary to capture views that are important to you? Is a single-story home a requirement for your family, now or in the future? If you’re in a northern climate, will you want a southern-facing house to help save on heating costs? Conversely, if you’re in a southern climate, will you want a northern-facing house to save on cooling costs? Balancing views with energy efficiency is a calculation that will deserve some thought.
4. How does topography and siting impact the cost of developing the lot?
On a smaller lot with zoned setbacks, or within a Homeowners Association (HOA), there may be little choice in where to site your home. But even large, rural lots may have siting challenges. Beyond any local zoning which is addressed separately below, distance from the home to the road directly impacts the costs of developing the lot. Topography also directly impacts the cost of developing the site of your new home. Is the site flat or hilly? Rocky or on ledge? Wooded or open? Are there wetlands, streams or other indications of how the land drains? Generally, a flat, open site with few rocks and well-draining soils will be the least expensive to develop.
5. What is the property access for vehicles and utilities?
Is there an access road? Alternately, is the property landlocked, requiring an easement through a neighboring property to access? Where would the driveway go and will its length, grade and drainage be manageable in terms of initial cost, upkeep, and plowing? How much parking space for family and guests, as well as turnaround space for delivery trucks, will you need by the house? Is it economically feasible to bring electrical and cable service to the house? Will there be a municipal water/sewer connection to make, or a well and septic field to install?
6. What site work and landscaping will be required?
Is it likely that large trees or boulders would need to be removed to create a driveway? Will foundation excavation require blasting? Will you desire or require significant landscaping such as terracing or regrading? Will retaining walls be required? Will you preserve much of the natural landscaping or plant many trees and shrubs? Extensive site work can be a major expense.
7. Are there potential site issues?
What conditions exist with respect to soil analysis, perk testing, land stability, and drainage? If you must install a well and septic field, you can hire a soil expert to do perc testing for septic fields, as well as water table studies and radon testing for a well. Is the property in a flood zone, or a hurricane zone? If so, investigate what insurance may be required or desired, as well as special building codes.
8. What are the architectural characteristics of the area?
What is the predominant architectural style in the area? Will your preferred style complement the local vernacular? Will your home be visible to the neighbors or from the road? Will the size of the home be contextually proportionate to the size of the land? An architect can advise you if you are unsure how your plans will fit the neighborhood.
9. What are the local zoning, building code, and easement considerations?
Are there height restrictions to buildings? What are the setbacks? Are there easements on the property? Is the lot within an HOA with specific restrictions? Is there adjoining land that, if developed, would change the characteristics that currently attract you to the area? A real estate agent and/or builder can put you in touch with an Accredited Land Consultant (ACS) with the legal and scientific expertise to offer both land and building advice. Your consultants will investigate the characteristics of the land and explore zoning, building codes, easements, and other factors.
10. What’s the bottom line when buying land?
In general, it’s best not to settle for a problem lot. The cost of extensively altering a building lot can be far more than purchasing land that naturally complements your goals. Likewise, a lot that doesn’t meet your privacy or noise expectations may lead you to purchase more land as a buffer than you would prefer to maintain.
The ability to build a home on land of your own choosing gives you the opportunity to create a sanctuary that supports and enhances your family’s lifestyle. Thoughtful consideration can help you make a great choice for your new home. Professionals are available to assist and guide you in evaluating your options and avoiding pitfalls. Ultimately, building a home on land that truly speaks to you is a gift you will wake up to every day.
View our portfolio
Landscape influences design
When it comes to the environment, Bensonwood starts with something very basic: the longer a home lasts, the less materials will be needed to build another. View our portoflio to see how our high performance homes live softly on our planet.