Focus on Floor Plans, Part II

 by Janet Woodman

Last month we drew bubble diagrams and got a sense of how rooms relate to each other. Now’s the time to draw up, or hire someone to draw up, plans to scale. (Now for a short commercial break: To commission a full set of professional plans may seem expensive at first glance, but it’s one of your best investments. A designer charges a fraction, per square foot, of what a builder charges, yet can anticipate and avoid problems while the house is still on paper. It’s worth the investment. Now back to your regularly scheduled program.)

Keep it modest . . .

Let me encourage you, once again, to go small. Not stingy, but efficient. It’s a temptation to plan a room for a study, and a room for guests, and a room for meditation, but it’s all going to cost money to build (currently $140/sq. ft. in the San Luis Valley) and will need to be cleaned, heated, taxed and maintained thereafter. Can you double up on your usage? You could make a multi-use room 4’ or 6’ or 8’ wider than a single-use room, with built-in drawers and closets–maybe even a Murphy bed—in order to accommodate various activities.

Rough Floor Plan

The bubble diagram from last month has progressed to a rough scale drawing. 1/4”=1’ is standard, and works out well with graph paper.

I think this plan has potential. It provides for public and private space, good solar gain, and a workable simple layout. Although the main entrance doesn’t face south, I can put a roof over the patio by the door, and the remainder of the patio will receive south sun during the day to melt any snow. The walled courtyard will help break the wind while providing micro-climate nooks for plants. To the southeast, the wall will block out the neighbors while allowing a view of the mountains. Unfortunately, the livingroom as it is now won’t have any Sangre views apart from what can be seen through the kitchen; maybe that can be remedied with future tweaks. Now that the rooms are roughed out, I’ll put beds, fixtures & appliances, to scale, in the bedrooms, bathrooms & kitchen, and adjust the room size as necessary. Also, building materials generally come in 4’ and 8’ sizes, so I’d probably elongate that 11’ kitchen to 12’ to eliminate waste and get the most from the materials. I can see that the 1/2 bath is going to be too small—should I take space away from the entry, pantry or kitchen? Push the footprint larger (current sq. footage is 1048)? What are my priorities?

 

. . . but allow enough room

If you draw your own plans, allow enough room for solid objects. Allow for the thickness of the walls, and keep in mind that stairs take up at least 90 sq. ft. Get a chart of minimum sizes and clearances needed for the kitchen, bath, laundry, bedroom, and remember that they’re minimum clearances—it’s nice to allow yourself more space than that. As your plan develops, if you’re tight on room, you’ll have some extra space to take from. 

Remember that one day someone with a walker, or a wheelchair, or an ambulance gurney may need to pass through the hallways and doorways. Are they wide enough? Can those turns be made? Plan not only for your current use, but for future situations; or for what a prospective buyer would find acceptable.

Don’t leave bath and kitchen layouts to be figured out later on-site. You may find that when that time comes you’ll be faced with only unsatisfactory solutions, and those solutions can cause daily inconvenience for years to come. Draw it all out now, to scale, using real measurements, on paper. You’ll be glad, later, that you did. Or better yet, you might not even think about it again. 

Plan for standard-sized cabinets, doors and windows whenever possible. It’ll save you money and labor. If you haven’t allowed enough room in your bathroom for a standard-size vanity and sink, it’ll take you a lot more time/money to custom-create those things. You’d be better off to add another 2’ to your footprint and plan for quick-to-install standard cabinets; it’ll expedite construction and allow you to move on to the next stage. As a bonus, you’ll have enough room to turn around in the bathroom when you get dressed.

Ventilation

Good ventilation can make additional heaters or air conditioning unnecessary. Try to see that every room has an operable window (or skylight) on at least two walls.

Entrances

Allow room for a staging area, inside and outside the door (benches are useful), especially by the most frequently-used door (the one to the car). There you can stack items you’re taking, or set things down as you unload the car. 

Have a transition area outside the front door so that you don’t walk directly into the living room. On the outside, a porch can serve this purpose (as well as protecting visitors from rain while waiting for you to answer the door). An airlock entry provides a place to remove boots and coats, and prevents blasts of cold air from entering the house when someone comes in. It’s also a good place to trap the dog while you put on her leash.

Professional consultation

When you have rough plans, hire a designer or architect to review them. At this point, you’re looking for advice on the livability of the plan. They will look at how the different parts relate to each other, and perhaps suggest a tweak to make it more efficient or attractive. 

After you’ve made the home livable, then focus on how to realize it structurally. That would be the time to consult with a builder. Your builder and your designer might want to get together to work out rough structural plans at this point; or if you are the one wearing all the hats, it might be good to pay a designer, then a builder for some consultation time to look at your plans, make suggestions, and answer questions. Be prepared to make yet more changes.

Last thoughts

When you visit other people’s houses, make note of features and details that you find attractive or useful. Ask the residents what they like, and what doesn’t please them. Take photographs, as you travel around, of the exteriors of houses that you find appealing. Tear out magazine articles and photographs. Keep a notebook.

People often ask me about plans you can buy on the internet. My feeling is, if they are plans that are designed with your particular conditions in mind, they will probably work fine. But usually the plans are not made for here, and even if you modify them, they will not give you a house that functions optimally for how you live, in this environment.

Stay flexible. Consider all options. What’s important? Take a look at the priorities list in last month’s article if you find yourself stumped. Either it’ll remind you of what you set out to do, or you’ll decide to modify your priorities. Balance one off against the other. Don’t be discouraged. It’s a process, and the thought and consideration you put in now, even if you change it later, moves you ahead toward your dream home.

For further reading, I recommend anything by Sarah Susanka (www.sarahsusanka.com) or the voluminous, so well-tended website by former Crestone resident Kelly Hart, www.greenhomebuilding.com.

The previous three installments of “Designing the Dream” can be found at www.crestoneeagle.com/dthed.

Next month: We go 3D