Build a Home on Your Farm, Part 3 - Design and Site Planning
Updated: Jul 2, 2020
This is a 5-part series of articles that discuss building a house on your farm or homestead. We look at planning, budgeting, designing, building, and we share our lessons learned along the way. In Part 1 we explore why to consider building a home on your farm. In Part 2 we discuss different types of homes you may want to build. Part 3 goes into site planning and home design. We'll discuss the people you work with to help build your home in Part 4. And finally the step-by-step process is explained in Part 5.
So far in this series we've discussed why you may consider building a home on your farm as well as what types of homes you may want to build. Now let's get into design considerations and site planning.
Once you've decided to build a house, you may be tempted to start with picking out the perfect floor plan... or what you think is perfect. A good architect will tell you to start first with the home site and let that dictate the design of the home. That "perfect floor plan" may not be so great when you realize the topography of the land won't allow for the patio where you want it, or if you're a late sleeper and your bedroom windows face the rising morning sun in the east. Here are things to consider for your site planning.
1. Easements and Restrictions.
First and foremost you should be aware of any easements or other deed restrictions that would prohibit you from building in a certain area of your property. This information will be in your deed for the land, or you can check with the local county office to see if there are easements or other restrictions on file for your property.
Think about how you enter the farm from public roads. Can you get to the spot on your land where you wish to build? There may be a beautiful knoll on back part of the property, but if the farm is cut in half by a creek that runs wild when it rains you will have to consider how you'd navigate such an obstacle.
3. Power and Water.
Consider potential home sites' distance from utilities such as electricity and municipal water lines. The farther your house is from utilities, the more expensive it will be to connect to them.
4. Terrain and Geography.
Keep in mind the lay of the land where you want to plant a home. Steep slopes will drive more expense for preparing and building foundations. Is the terrain rocky or sandy where you want to build? Each comes with building considerations that will affect the cost of your project.
Orientation of the sun is important when considering lighting, locations of bedrooms, outdoor entertaining, and heating & cooling. The afternoon summer sun is brutal where we live, so planning for that was important in our design. Furthermore, if you plan to - or think you might - put solar panels on your roof, you will want a large portion of your roof facing south (if you're in the northern hemisphere) so that is has exposure to as much sunlight as possible throughout the day.
We've been told some old timers in our part of Texas had their homes oriented facing south by southeast because that's the direction the summertime prevailing wind originates from. They'd just open all the windows and turn on a few fans. No expensive air conditioning bills to deal with.
While you may not share their enthusiasm for going without AC, you should consider utilizing the prevailing wind in practical ways such as allowing a design that will allow it to cool your patio or porch in the afternoons and evenings. Wind may also be a planning variable for your farm with regards to positioning of orchards or livestock pens.
Where does the water run on your land? Do you know where the high and low points are? Are you in a flood zone? These are important questions to ask, not just for locating a spot for a home but also for the management of your farm. Visit our article on how to use the National Map for more information on resources you can use to answer these questions. Likewise, be sure to visit the FEMA flood map website for information on flood zones.
8. Farm Incorporation.
It is important to understand how your house will fit in to the flow and operation of your farm. Do you want to be close to animal pens or stay more isolated from the farm operation? Do you want gardens and workshops near your house? Where will the tractor and equipment be stored? In other words, you're not just planning for a house but for the layout of permanent structures on your farm or homestead.
Designing a Home.
We discussed in the previous article about the types of homes you may want to build. Manufactured, pre-fab, and tiny homes will limit your floor plan options, so your main considerations with them will be site location and orientation on the property. For custom homes and also barndominiums the floor plans are limited by only your imagination... and then maybe your wallet if your plan gets out of hand.
When it comes to custom homes you need to work with a residential architect. Architects understand how to bring all the variables together to meet your vision. An architect may have ideas to improve the floor plan and properly incorporate the home onto a piece of land.
While an architect may have many good ideas for your home, be aware he or she may not be fully aware of the cost for construction. (Adding that fancy tile shower may drive the cost up a few thousand dollars.) A home building contractor/residential general contractor can advise you of costs and recommend ways to reduce unnecessary expense. For both a contractor and an architect, don't be afraid to interview several different people before hiring one. Make sure they are familiar with rural designs and construction.
Go into the design process with clear ideas of what you want in a home. List out things you like and don't like. Perhaps you want a double-oven in the kitchen or a dedicated office space. Maybe you really dislike busy-looking rooftops with lots of angles. You need to include those items early in the planning process so as not to incur unnecessary expenses by changing plans too far down the road.
For your final plan, get out some graph paper and sketch out your property to include fences, entry ways, gates, easements, significant terrain, utilities, and driveways. Brainstorm and draw some different ideas on where the house could be located, different ways you may want to orient it, and where other permanent farm structures may be placed. A visual tool will help you make decisions.
There are several important variables to consider before deciding on a home site and home design. Working with a good residential architect and general contractor will help you make wise decisions for your future home. In the next article we'll step through the process of planning, financing, and building a farm home.