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Building a house - house plans

Post in 'DIY and General non-hearth advice' started by Shane N, Feb 25, 2013.

  1. Shane N

    Shane N Feeling the Heat

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    West Central MN
    We're hoping to break ground on building our house next year, and I've been stressing myself out with the billions of plans out there on the internet. We like lots, don't love any. They don't give them away either. Most are $1k+ for drawings with CAD versions we'd want to have in order to tweak things.

    Has anyone worked with an architect? Would it be worthwhile hiring one and just bringing in a few plans from the web that we like parts of rather than pay $1k+ for a plan and have to pay an architect to modify a bunch of things on it anyways?

    I don't want to screw this part up as it is pretty hard to change your mind later :)

    We are planning on building a "small" (~1800 sq ft) house with lots of character. But to keep the construction loan to a minimum, we want to skimp on little details and add them later. Things like beams on the ceilings, and other "craftsman" type built-ins.

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  2. lukem

    lukem Minister of Fire

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    Some building supply houses (even Mendard's/Lowe's/HD) have some pretty decent books with floorplans and drawings good enough for rough capentry, plumbing, and electrical. These are pretty cheap, if nothing else they give you some good ideas.

    There's some pretty good software that's user friendly. I wish I could remember the name of the package, but my Uncle designed his house with it. It 3-D rendered, allowed you to place furniture, and gave very detailed drawings and material lists. This was still probably a lot cheaper than hiring an architect. Dang...still can't think of the name.
  3. SIERRADMAX

    SIERRADMAX Feeling the Heat

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    Architect would cost more than $1k. Go to local lumberyards. I know my lumberyard does plans for free with the purchase of all the lumber.
  4. Beetle-Kill

    Beetle-Kill Minister of Fire

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    Well, you could always download the portions you like, have them printed to scale, and fit 'em like a jigsaw puzzle.
    Then buy a scale,(looks like a triangular ruler), a few sheets of paper (24"x36" being very common), and draw the print yourself with the changes made the way you want them.
    Have a structural engineer review them and go from there.
    EDIT- This only gets you as far as the basic floor plan. There is a lot more to it than that.
  5. Ehouse

    Ehouse Minister of Fire

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    I was able to draw rough plans myself, and take them to an architectural draftsman.who polished 'em up and had them stamped by an engineer.
    Dune likes this.
  6. greg13

    greg13 Feeling the Heat

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    A lot depends on you local officials. I've seen some towns so laid back that you can go in with a pencil drawing of what you want and walk out with a permit. Others want 3 copies of stamped sets of blue prints (with 8 x 10 color glossy picture photographs with a paragraph on the back about what each one is about! Extra points if you know where that line is from)
  7. Shane N

    Shane N Feeling the Heat

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    I do worry a bit about drawing my own plans. While I could probably put walls where they need to be for load bearing, I wouldn't know where to start with the plans and where to stop. Do you need to have a plan for the basement? Does it need to specify information about footings, etc? Even if the county doesn't need it, whoever is building is likely going to need it, right?

    Any suggestions on a relatively easy to use app that could generate decent plans? I've used AutoCAD back in high school and it was a bit overwhelming. I'm thinking something between AutoCAD and Sketchup :)

    *goes to look in the mirror for new gray hairs*
  8. greg13

    greg13 Feeling the Heat

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    An off the wall idea may be to check with a Vocational school in your area. They are learning in a supervised environment how to draw up plans, They are familiar with the required codes and depending on the instructor's licence you may be able to get stamped plans for next to nothing.
    seige101 likes this.
  9. Butcher

    Butcher Minister of Fire

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    My first step would be to pay a visit to your local city or county building and zoneing office and have a visit with them. Where I'm at you need an act of God to get things done but 10 miles east of me in another county you could build a tar paper shack with no permit and live happily ever after.
    Shane N likes this.
  10. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    It takes experience to have tried ideas and tested them against reality. A "good" architect can be a godsend because he/she has been down this road many times before. That said, a bad one can be a nightmare as you become the guinea pig. Get references and check them out.
  11. PapaDave

    PapaDave Minister of Fire

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    Alice's Restaurant?
    Eatonpcat likes this.
  12. save$

    save$ Minister of Fire

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    I would make sure your plans stick to some basic tried and true plans for the best economy and use of materials. 6 inches of one way or other could results in huge $$$ increases. Must building places around here will provide the plans if you buy your material from them.
    Shane N likes this.
  13. ironpony

    ironpony Minister of Fire

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    Having built multiple homes for myself, let me say no matter how well you plan, when its built you will think of something you should of done. Within the first year of moving in walls have been moved to make things better. As far as layout there are many thing you can do with measurements to make the most of materials, wall lengths, roof pitch, room size all of these things will make standard materials work better and cut down on waste which you pay for, multiple times.. good luck with your planning and with the building process, it is very stressful if you have not done it before. stay patient and take deep breaths. as you said spend the money on a good structure and add the bells and whistles for cash later. another possibility is to find a local builder and have him build the house up thru drywall and do all the finishes yourself. expect it to take alot longer than planned and cost more too, so you wont be disappointed in the end.
    Shane N likes this.
  14. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    You are fortunate to be building new. If you haven't considered these ideas, they will pay you back big $$$ in energy savings: 1) find a site that provides good solar for PV, solar hot water, and passive solar; and 2) then design the exterior of the house (roof lines, eaves, walls, windows) to take maximum advantage of these, even if you install them later. For example, yesterday was 0F at dawn and 34F at 2pm and sunny; our house faces SW with 30' of window glass; fired the living room wood stove early in the morning to take the chill out of the air, and as the sun moved around to the south the interior of the house was 76F with no heat on during the rest of the day. Eave overhang should be designed usually to block solar heat gain during the non-heating seasons and admit passive solar heat gain during the heating season. Windows should be spec'd the same, block infrared from coming in during the summer and block infrared from going out in the winter; also IMO a very low U-value (0.12 or lower) and high R-value for our MN climate.

    Also an open floor plan with as square a design as you can achieve will provide well for convective heat distribution with a wood stove or other radiant heating, as well as efficient use of space. I live in north central MN, between Walker and Brainerd, weather/climate probably similar to yours. The whole house, 1500+ sq feet, is heated with a small wood stove in the living room, even during the coldest, windiest weather MN has to offer. The house was built in '56, has been mostly re-insulated, and we put in all new high efficiency windows to get great views in all directions plus phenomenal passive solar heat gain.

    I mention a square house design due to its efficient use of space. Our house is nearly 40 x 40. The LR, DR area and kitchen are all open and stretch across the front and down the entire one side of the house. The other side has the bedrooms, and the center has two bathrooms, pantry, and storage area. We also have a full basement.

    As to character, I think that is great for the inside but can be very expensive and useless on the outside. Each gable, valley, dormer, change of roof angle not only is expensive, but also assures you of potential future roof problems. Most of these are non-functional or barely so. If you like that "character," imagine how much time you will sit outside gazing at your house for pleasure vs the time you will spend inside enjoying real character. And limit ceiling height and high open areas. All they do in occupy volume which must be heated/cooled and which are mostly non-functional energy hogs.

    Good luck and enjoy. The advice others gave on finding plans is good. A good builder can help you a lot. Most of house design and building is not rocket science but common sense.
    firefighterjake and Shane N like this.
  15. TresK3

    TresK3 Member

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    I'd call around to a few architects and talk how they do business and what you're hoping to get... they shouldn't charge for that. You may find one that you mesh well with and can reach an agreement. It's possible they may even have some plans to use as a starting point. The architect WILL cost you money up front, but with a good one you should save that much and more down the road. Don't be afraid to call around and ask around. Also, you might begin talking to builders. Some of the larger ones have architects on the payroll to "customize" existing plans. Smaller builders may have other ideas.

    Good luck on your adventure!
  16. semipro

    semipro Minister of Fire

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    There are many construction companies now that do "design-build". You can take a plan you like to them, consult, make changes, and they can work with you to build it.
  17. tfdchief

    tfdchief Minister of Fire

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    Check on permits with your local jurisdiction. Some may even require you to have an architect.
  18. xman23

    xman23 Minister of Fire

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    Shane
    Excellent!!! responses from our group. I did what your doing when we built our cabin in the woods. 28 X 36 timber frame chalet style house. As a kid I was slave labor for my fathers house building business. Being an engineer, I figured this design should be easy. I got a few good books on construction, and worked for months on the codes, design and plans in Viso. I researched and spec-ed ever detail. A huge amount of work, but well worth doing IMO. Met the building inspector, payed the fees and got a permit. But before you go down this road check with the building inspector to see what he wants. I never did and got lucky he didn't ask for a PE or AS stamp. You can do some, all or none of this. A good builder can do all of what your looking for.
    Shane N likes this.
  19. greg13

    greg13 Feeling the Heat

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    We have a winner!!! Free surfing at the hearth for life!!!!
  20. SolarAndWood

    SolarAndWood Minister of Fire

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    I used one of the free layout programs and then had the lumber yard spec the trusses and beams. Foundation, wall and insulation specs from buildingscience.com. More than a few tips from hearth.comers along the way. If you have someone building it for you, they are going to tell you what you missed/screwed up or they aren't the ones you want building for you. I think this works for a fairly simple building but if you are looking for more than that, you probably want to pony up for plans and/or an architect.

    Might be heresy but you also might want to consider a spec building. Our neighbor in the Adirondacks did it and ended up with a lot of house for the money. No architect, no builder and they will leave it rough for you to finish if that is what you want.
    Shane N likes this.
  21. shoot-straight

    shoot-straight Feeling the Heat

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    internet plan builder here. well, i didnt build it, a contractor did. long and short- i wouldnt do it again. our house is gourgous, lots of little things that give it character. however, with each, you pay a price, both up front (construction), and down the road (maintainence, heat loss/insulation). if you pick a builder, go to homes he has build and pick a "been there, done that floorplan". you can phiscally see the spaces and then make educated descisions on what to change. looking at our plans on paper we thought certain room sizes were perfect, only to find out we shoud have made some bigger and some smaller.

    homebuilding is addictive. i now want to build another. and fix all the crap that should have been done right the first time.

    if costs are a concern, go modular. although frequently associated with trailers, they are some of the tightest, most efficicient homes built. your location should make that a concern along with the relatively short building window weatherwise. also, forget cape cods if you want to save energy bills.

    here is a pic of my house.

    Attached Files:

    nate379 likes this.
  22. semipro

    semipro Minister of Fire

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    This sort of thing is also an option. http://bensonwood.com/
    Not exactly what you think of as "modular" but sections are built indoors in a factory and then assembled onsite.
  23. nate379

    nate379 Guest

    Are you going to be building the house yourself or having a contractor do it?

    If a contractor is doing it, why not work with them on house design? A decent home builder will have a good idea on what will work well and what won't. Often then have some sort of "designer" on staff that can add in all the froo-froo stuff to make it look pretty.

    I'm sure your like the rest of us, could have a shack with a cot, fridge and toilet... and of course wood stove and be all set... provided there's a 2000 sqft workshop a few feet away. :)
    PapaDave likes this.
  24. Shane N

    Shane N Feeling the Heat

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    I'll be having a contractor do it. The only bad part is it seems like the majority aren't interested unless you are planning on building right away. I'm being cautiously optimistic that I'll build next year.

    Spot on, my friend, spot on. If I wasn't married and had no intentions on ever being married, I'd probably be living out on the land in that workshop. Who needs a house?
  25. Paver56

    Paver56 Member

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    Lititz PA
    We built 4 years ago. I spent yrs looking at houses I liked. When it got time to draw plans, I went around to the houses I liked and talked to the owners. Some were reluctant to share any info, but at my favorite house, the owner let me in. He spent 2 hrs with me, giving me a tour of the entire house. He let me bring my wife over and in the end he gave me his blueprints. We took them to an architect who made the changes to the floor plan that we wanted. Having plans for the architect to start with saved him time and me money. We ended up with a house that we love. It is similar to the one we "copied" but ended up quite unique and different from the origional house that I liked.
    I recommend going thru houses so you can get a feel for various configurations and room sizes.
    I feel that spending 1-2k on an architect is well worth the money. Mine was able to do 3D renderings of our house-inerior and exterior. That helped us decide on the ceiling height of our living room and the color of our hardie plank siding.
    Enjoy the process!
    Eatonpcat likes this.

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