custom home design check list by richard hewitt
Building a new home?
When designing a new home or renovation there are plenty of decisions to be made and sometimes this can feel overwhelming. I have prepared a page of ideas and suggestions which I consider important in a new home and have summarized these into a top 10 list. I hope you find this information useful.
10 items to consider when building a new home
1. Get the basics right
Get the basics right. Make sure the major elements are all in the right places and optimized for view and orientation. Yes - this all sounds very simple and obvious and you might be wondering why I am stating the obvious but I am constantly surprised when I see houses in Kelowna that are poorly laid out and have little logic in their floor plans! Work from the simple bubble or “flow-diagrams” and develop these into a proper set of design drawings. Easier said than done - this is where formal training as an architect comes into play as we have spent years at university learning the skills required to assemble simple and complex outlines into practical and attractive living spaces.
Orientation. In the Kelowna / Okanagan latitude there are vast changes in the path of the sun during the course of the four seasons. I have always been interested in this and developed a simple sun chart years ago that indicates approximately where the sun is at various times of the day during various times of the year. Of course the CAD system we now use allows us to determine exactly where shading occurs at any time of the day so that has made this sun path diagram somewhat redundant but we still use this as our standard north point so the plans will have a reference tool for the user to determine approximately where the sun would be at certain times of the year. Please feel free to download this template for your reference. Take it out onto your building site and line it up with your north orientation and determine where the sun will be particularly in the early morning (bright, “happy” sunshine - all months) and late afternoon (hot, somewhat unpleasant heat in the July / August months).
I like to bring bright early morning sun into the house to brighten things up hence it is important to me to know where the sun is at around 8-10am in summer in particular. Winter months are of course also important but often impeded with cloud cover so preference is give to the April-September months. Afternoon sun can often be a problem depending on orientation. West view houses need the most attention and long deep patios or a sun pergola will assist in reducing the heat build up from late afternoon sun.
2. Easy entry
Easy entry. Hillside properties often pose an extra challenge to designing a home. My advice and preference is to be able to get visitors to the front door with minimal outside steps and to provide adequate cover from rain and snow when waiting for the doorbell to be answered. Simple advice but again I see many homes where visitors are expected to negotiate numerous icy steps to some fancy entry just because the designer thought it looked “cool” that way! Design the home properly and the natural flow and practical aspects will come out in a logical way and the house will take up it’s own art form that is pleasing to the eye and practical in it’s use and layout.
3. Interior door widths
Size your interior doors properly. During my time as an architect in South Africa we followed efficient European standards thus setting the course for our design principles here. Hewitt Designs has been using 34” doors for interiors since we started in 1993. Standard door sizes revolve around either 32” or 36” both of which I consider poor choices - either too big (space wasteful) or too small (difficulty getting furniture in and out). We are proud that all our early houses featured this size despite protestations from suppliers complaining these were “non-standard”.
4. Stair treads
Stairs - I see too many houses (expensive homes included) that are stuck in the mindset of small minimal steps. Plan for at least 11” goings - this makes a big difference to the “feel” of a nice staircase. Whilst we are on the subject of stairs consider building in some storage on one side - either for books or a simple display area. Make your journey of climbing and descending a visual experience - I like to think of creating enough distraction so that the viewer enjoys the experience rather than think of it as an effort.
5. Furniture on floor plans
Furniture on floor plans. Make sure furniture is shown on all floor plans - particularly beds. Also take note how doors swing open and how they affect the interior space when they are open.
6. Low maintenance exterior rather than expensive interior
Go with low maintenance exterior materials. Spend money on good quality products that will require little or no maintenance. If budget is a concern - spend the money on these finishes rather than expensive interior finish - those can always be upgraded at a later date.
7. Glazing options
Use high performance windows. Don’t get talked into fancy shaded or tinted glass. Use product like Cardinal LowE3-366 or similar. This provides what I consider the best natural interior light. Tripple glazing for some orientations (west) provide even better performance for not much extra in terms of costs. Ask about this.
8. Spend a bit more on structure
1. Don’t skimp on the structure. Many builders are so price conscience they will build to minimum standards. Ask for floor joists performance to perform to the higher 1/480 deflection value rather than the lower 1/360. We specify our joists to perform even better than these by indicating that they must be sized to 80-85% of the 1/480 capacity to provide an even stiffer construction. The extra cost of this is small in relation to the overall and it is with you forever.
9. Outdoor sunscreens
Another item that is useful to consider is outdoor screens. Depending on orientation these will be used for late sun protection as well as creating a bug-free patio environment. This should be considered early on in the design and to plan this properly you will need columns at the corners for guides and better still the roof should be designed to conceal the screen so that when it is retracted only the bottom of the screen is visible - flush with the soffit of course.
10. Your contractor
Consider your choice of contractor carefully. If it is just price you are after - perhaps you might pay the lowest but whether you get the best product could be in question. Saving a few dollars today could cost you in running and maintenance costs later - is that really worth it? That house you are about to build will be there for a long time and needs proper design and planning as well as diligent construction choices.
a custom home requires a 1000 decisions - thankfully they do not all need to be made at once