Contest - Help me find the perfect 4 bedroom plan

pittkolNovember 24, 2012

Everyone keeps telling me that there is no such thing as the perfect house plan because everyone has different tastes and needs but I disagree. I think there has to be a nearly perfect plan in each different price point that can be adjusted a little to meet the individual special needs. I'm not talking about the cookie cutter, mass produced houses like Ryan or Heartland homes that have little character. I want to create the iPad of houses.

Here's the rules: The house needs to be between 3500 - 4000 sq ft.

It has to be able to be built for 150 - 175 $/sq ft. Using medium to high end products. In other words, the structure has to be relatively simple to construct, not too many bump outs or complicated roof lines.

Master bedroom on first floor and a little hidden from rest of first floor.

Here is where my opinion will get questioned but trust me, like we did with Steve Jobs, I know what most people should want and need:

No formal dining room but an extra large kitchen which includes a large dining table and a large kitchen island with seating for most daily meals. This is the heart of most houses and is the room that could also be partially vaulted like upside down" V". I didn't know how else to describe it.

Great room not vaulted because that is a lot of wasted space and not too cozy. More opinions which are correct. LOL

Large pantry, and large mud room.

Study or office.

3 decent bedrooms and two full baths upstairs.

3 car side entry garage.

That's the majority of what is needed. Send me your plans!

Thanks and let's have fun with this! I might even name my house after the best suggestion.


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I really don't think this is the way to go about finding a plan, and I'll bet most other replies will echo these comments. There are probably a hundred thousands of plans that have most of what you're asking for. So it's hard to suggest just one plan that's close.

At the same time, it's probably hard to find a single plan that matches everything you're asking for. I'm not sure I've ever seen a two-story house that had a non-vaulted great room but a vaulted dining room/kitchen--that has to be pretty rare. I also doubt you will find many plans this size without a formal dining room (but I think that emphasis is silly because usually a formal dining room can simply be closed off and made an office or the like).

I searched one of the house plan sites, and came up with 104 plans that fit most of your criteria (see the link below). You should look through these, play with the criteria on the side. And this is just one of the house plan sites of many--probably not the best site, but will give you an idea.

This is far too personal of a choice for the kind of perfect plan you're talking about. For a year I've looked at lots of plans people have posted on here, and while most were great, I would not have wanted to build hardly any of them--they just don't fit our wants, needs, and priorities. I'm also not sure you should give up on the previous plan you had--apparently you have an architect, give him or her a chance to turn your "visual wishlist", as another poster styled it, into a real plan that would work. In the mean time, look at lots of other plans so you can see what you like and don't like.

Here is a link that might be useful: 104 plans that might work

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 2:00PM
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Read the Not So Big House. You'll find that you've got a lot of company in your opinions on layout,

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 3:22PM
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I have to agree. An ipad isn't really like a house plan. I have a three bedroom plan that I think is perfect and I don't think any other plan even compares to it. But someone else on this site would probably hate to live in my plan because everyone's wants and needs when it comes to a home are different. I wanted a small living room and most people want them larger. I wanted a corner pantry which most people hate. I wouldn't like a vaulted ceiling in my kitchen and I don't like large bathrooms.

There may be someone on this site that has similar wants to yours, and they may be able to show you their perfect plan. But other than that, your perfect plan may be completely different than others, so it's usually best to look yourself and get an idea of what YOU want before you ask others for help.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 3:29PM
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Sorry -- I can't agree with your "one nearly perfect plan" thesis. A ground-floor master would never have been nearly perfect for me when my kids were little. And a "perfect plan" also depends on lot size, climate, family size, etc. Views? No views? City? Suburbs? Country? Too many variables.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 4:06PM
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If you are serious about a perfect house design you should hire an architect; this is what they do for a living.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 4:14PM
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You want folks who don't know you, your budget, the cost to build in your location, your site with its terrain, views and any improvements, climate, and, most of all, your life style and preferences to help you find the "perfect" house?

Why don't you save yourself a lot of time and find a good architect? As Reno points out, designing custom houses is how they make their living.

Good luck with your project!

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 5:42PM
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So you declared a contest and set forth the rules....

What are the cash prizes?

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 6:15PM
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Can't build for that price in my high cost of living area ...

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 7:07PM
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You guys are taking the easy way out and not thinking with an open mind. This test is really not to find a perfect house plan for me but to open up the idea of creating a floor plan that would be the starting point for most houses in that price range. Need to start the process in a more general frame of mind and not focus on the details of climate, terrain or views. Focusing more on layout and utility of the first floor for the criteria set in original post. I know a first floor master is not for everyone but that plan would fall under a different category, which there will have to be many.
I gave budget, sq ft and if we need more specifics, let's say family of four in the suburbs. I understand that the cost can differ a lot depending on location but I gave some leeway in the budget for that.

Check link below for my entry but I think it can be made more efficient,
especially with eliminating some dead.

My point is that there are way too many different plans out there that are absolutely useless. When I ask a builder, and I asked many, what's your favorite or best plan, they never come back excited to show me this 'perfect' plan that they built numerous times, tweaking each time, to perfection.

The Heartland Homes and such come pretty close but they are mostly concerned with maximizing profit and don't have the personal feel. If they started getting more creative with their exteriors and increase their quality they would be more on track to what I am trying to create.

Also, submit local builder's websites in your area that may fit this build. Also, google the MIT and Bensonwood home project where they discuss the concept of efficient building.

Thanks for all your post so far!

Here is a link that might be useful: My first attempt

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 8:59PM
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Honestly, what you describe isn't close to what I would want. I don't get the current obsession with main level masters and I don't know why you'd want 2 full baths for an upstairs that doesn't include the master and only has 3 bedrooms.

The reason you aren't finding a plan that's ideal for you is that your taste isn't universal. Houses are so personal, everyone wants something a little (or a lot) different. If you want someone else to design your perfect house, you need to pay them for it (like Steve Jobs did!)

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 9:17PM
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I just really don't see how an open mind has anything to do with this. What you want people to post is a floor plan that you like. Your builder could show you his "favourite" plan, but it could be a two bedroom two bath one story home, which is not even close to what you want. So that would kind of be a waste of time. I understand that some aspects would suit 90% of people such as a master bath or a mudroom. But I don't understand what your asking for?

Do you want my perfect plan? Or do you want your perfect plan? What is this contest? Because I can tell you there isn't a single plan out there that would be both my favourite and your favourite.

I guess I just don't understand whether you want us all to find/create a perfect plan for you, or just randomly post plans that we like and have nothing to do with what you want? But I agree with zone4newby, if you want someone to design a plan to suit you, that's what an architect is for unless you already know what you want?

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 10:25PM
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Zone4newby, you are still missing the point. Since you don't want a master on the first floor you would be looking in a different category than the specs I listed. So there would be a "perfect" LAYOUT for each category. The layout should be more about what is truly what most people would get the most use out of, in a design that flows nicely and is efficient to build.

You would add your "personal" touch in all the details and some minor customization. Did you ever notice how when a great feature is added to a
car's design, all the other car manufacturers adopt that feature. And that the basic design of cars in each category keep getting better over time because they keep making improvements to that basic design that all cars in that category have.

To me starting from scratch with an architect, which I am doing, is not a very practical or efficient process. I'm an Industrial Engineer by trade and find this home building process very inefficient. There is a ton of waste generated by constructing a new house design. Look at the size of the dumpster and garbage generated at a new house site. And architects are in business to make money and will look at my wish list and draw it on a piece of paper and I will like it because it's everything I thought I wanted. They don't want someone to crack this perfect layout concept because a lot of them would be out of work. Why do so many people say that building a house was the biggest pain in the butt ever and that they would never do it again. They are okay with it because they say they got the house that they always wanted, which makes them feel good, but what I'm contending is that most people, including me, do not truly know what they want. Steve Jobs showed me exactly what I wanted.

There should be some more science and/or statistic applied to the home design process. No builder ever told me that the home builders association did a survey and found 90% of the people with masters on the first floor would do it again.

The "Not so big house" book is very popular and is a great start to getting people to start thinking more on how we build houses. Also, check out the philosophy of Bensonwood Homes.

This is not an easy problem to solve because everyone has been trained that this is the process. Put together a wish list and general layout, get an architect to draw it up, put it out to bid to builders and hope everything comes out the way you thought you would use the space and within budget. That's a little too much speculation for me for the amount of money I plan to spend.

I'm just trying to find a better way and that's usually not the easiest or most popular approach. It's easy to say it's not possible.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 10:46PM
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While we're at it, how about contests to design:

a) the PERFECT icecream. Provide the recipe. Ground Rules: It has to sell for between $5 and $8 per gallon and have no more than 500 cal/serving.

b) the PERFECT prom dress. Provide your sketch and list the materials it would be made of. Ground rules: it has to retail for between $200 and $400 and it has to be available in sizes 0 to 32. Oh, and it has to be blue because surveys have shown that more people list blue as their favorite color than any other color.

c) the PERFECT musical composition. Ground rules: we'll make this one easy... it just has to the perfect music for when someone wants to relax after a hard day at work.


    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 10:59PM
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Ok, well you being an engineer explains a lot. Here is one (just one of many) issue where people will divide. Some people like me, would never accept a kitchen that did not have windows, others prefer to have the kitchen as an interior space and save the windows for the dining room and living room.

BAM. Perfect plan destroyed. There are so many examples. For many, the home building process IS creative. It is not solely technical.

Contest fail. :)

    Bookmark   November 25, 2012 at 2:00AM
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Baskin & Robins has 31 perfect flavor ( categories) that they did extensive research and testing to try to appeal to the majority of the public. You don't walk in and say I like pizza so whip me up some pizza ice cream.

As for the prom dress, you are correct, you don't take in a sketch of a dress you drew to a dress maker and say here's a bunch of money, make this dress for me by Prom. And two weeks before the day of the prom, the dress maker says you owe her a bunch more money if you want it in time and than once you get it it doesn't fit your body type correctly. What process did I just discribe!?!? That's why fashion designer dictate what the current styles are because they are the experts.

I like this message board because it is very active and a good civil debate is always heathly.

Everyone it taking "perfect" to literally so I think I need to change the name of this string to "BEST" 4 BR Plan or TOP 5 as voted on by the participators. Kind of like a awards show that chooses the best musical composition each year and even can make it to the Rock and Roll hall of fame if it stands the test of time. And I realize there will be a lot of different categories but let's start with the specs in the original post.

So anyone interested in posting a floorplan or trying to start a thread to find the top 5 most like plans in different categories or will this never happen here?

Thanks again for your posts.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2012 at 8:14AM
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You are describing what I have been doing full time for 40 years so I may be able to shed some light on it.

The first and most important part of a problem solving exercise is defining the problem so all participants can contribute to the solution. If this step is done poorly the rest of the exercise is usually worthless.

IMO your definition of the problem is hopelessly flawed because you have assumed that the goal of a house design is to be efficient rather than to please the occupants and this idea appears to be based on a further assumption that homeowners do not know what they want.

Based on my experience all of your assumptions are misguided and oddly self-serving. Designing a house for a family takes a great deal of insight and imagination and I see none of that in your descriptions and drawings. You need a good experienced designer to help you but you obviously see such a process as inefficient and think of a designer or architect as someone who will "draw up" your schematic design. That is like taking a sandwich to a banquet.

Anyone on this forum could design a better house than the one you have posted but your design contest is destined to be bogged down in trivial discussions of efficiency and irrelevant comparisons to the design of cars and consumer electronics. A house is not a machine for living and an efficient "layout" should not be the ultimate goal. The interior spaces should support and encourage the lifestyle people desire. For a design professional discovering the relevant parts of a family's lifestyle is only difficult and inefficient for the first 20 or so years, then it begins to get easier and the process gets more efficient and collaborative which can be an incredibly effective design approach.

The design of your house rather than being a contest should be a collaboration between you and those who wish to help but I see none of that here.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2012 at 9:15AM
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Okay, I'll take a stab here. I think the most livable, flexible basic plan is the classic American Foursquare in one of its many permutations. Add a family room/master bedroom wing off the back, attach a garage to the side of the family room, convert the upstairs master bedroom to a craft/rec room. The basic Foursquare is one of the most economical homes to build ("the most house for the least money"), although the one-story addition will increase the cost per square foot, and the traffic flow in them is usually very good. The formal dining room can be converted to an office/study or use of your choice.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2012 at 9:47AM
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I agree with Mrs.Pete's post on your other thread, but I think that if you actually want help, you need to spend some time developing your criteria more specifically. You say "suburbs" but also want a 3 car side-loading garage. I've never seen a suburb with lots so wide a side loading garage is possible on non-corner lots (unless you're looking to make the whole front yard a driveway?). So, how wide is your assumed lot? Define "decent bedroom". Define "large table". Define "large" everything.

What is the climate? Which direction does the house face?

Your "contest" as you have it now is a set-up. No one will be able to find a plan you like with your criteria as you've listed them, because everything is too vague. Spec things out properly.

I also agree with Chibimimi that you would do well to look at classic homestyles of the past-- plans like the Foursquare stuck because they work and they are affordable to build. And because the people who have them understand that they don't have the budget for everything they might have liked in a house, and so they make the house they can afford work. My grandfather grew up in a Foursquare and then raised his family in the same house. He always thought it was a dark house, and never liked the house itself all that much. But he had a good life there. I try to remember that when I get too obsessive about wanting my house to be perfect-- it's just a house.

I'm including a link to our latest update to our house plans. They don't meet your criteria, but I'm proud of them (and think they are darn near perfect, LOL), so I'm sharing them anyhow. :)

Here is a link that might be useful: Our latest house plans

    Bookmark   November 25, 2012 at 10:57AM
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Kol, I see what you are trying to achieve. Perhaps there is something to be gained from a popularity contest for stock house plans from the house plan factories, although I, for one, fail to see what it may be. But if that is your goal, then go for it.

The fatal flaw with all of the "stock plans" from the house plan factories is one of perspective, i.e., a too-limited perspective, focused almost entirely on plan features, such as the biggest master bathroom, the most ingenious laundry room, the most gimmicky kitchen, etc.

The house plan factories view house plans just as you describe: a stand-alone manufactured product, to be fine-tuned in order to differeniate one plan from another. Has anyone noticed just how similar many of the plans are to one another? For example, many have a central entry, with equal sized rooms to either side of the entry. Deeper into the house are the major living spaces, with sleeping taking place left and/or right. And then there's the humongeous, dwarfing, out of scale 3-car garage!

When these sort of plans are posted here, and folks ask for advice and comments, almost always the responses focus on deep dives into how to make the laundry room bigger, better equipped, and which way to swing the doors.

How many times do we see any responses that suggest: 1) the house is just too big (how much room does a family of 3 people really need?); 2) the house plan has no concern for natural light; 3) the plan arrangement will create long, unbroken exterior walls and large, bulky roof masses; 4) how will this plan fit on your site and be accessed successfully?

There is seldom anything fresh, exciting or unique about many of these plans. It's because they are viewed as a mass-produced product--a commodity--like milk, tires or blue jeans: created to respond to the common need of being awake and being asleep!

So is it surprising that most of these stock plans result in ordinary, repetitious, bland and banal exteriors? The near-unilateral focus on floor plans, without consideration of exterior character and massing often results is bulky, ill-proportioned exteriors, whose role it seems, is to successfully conceal the "perfect plan"!

Is it surprising that substantial modifications may be necessary to adapt them to a given site's topography, utilities and climate? Is it surprising that zero thought has been given to using natural light as a design and energy-conserving tool (stock plans have no "orientation", often have deep, dark overhanging porches, and the locations of major rooms, windows and views is hardly considered).

My point is your perspective on two-dimensional plan types is too narrow for a useful discussion. For example, the "perfect" two-dimensional plan could easily result in the world's ugliest house!

You need to enlarge your vision beyond a stand-alone floor plan as a manufactured object. You need to consider successful house designs (exteriors and interiors) on specific sites and what may be learned from them for use elsewhere.

There is a substantial difference between science, engineering and art. Each is important and each makes unique contributions to our life. But not every endeavor is easily seperated into a science, engineering or art. The successful design of houses is as much an art as it is a science or example of successful engineering. As a retired architect, the former executive director of The Project Management Institute and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and now, finally, a reasonably successful painter of watercolors, I have learned to appreciate and respect the contributions of science, engineering and art. Often the best contributions are those where the results successfully blend science, engineering and art. The process may be "messy", and not easily defined, but, generally speaking, the results may often be much more uplifting, with greater satisfaction and lasting value than other unilateral processes.

Let's be realistic: a well-designed house must respond and grow from its site conditions, climate, the use of natural light and the applicable regulations/HOA policies, as much as it must from the owner's individual requirements and life style. A successfully designed house incorporates all of these successfully. Exteriors, interiors and floor plan arrangements are indivisible and inseperable. Each exerts its own important influence on the others. How could it be any other way?

If you really want to provide an informative and useful reference thread, you might focus on what "criteria" do folks think important in their ideal "custom" home, and let everyone chime in as they may.

Good luck on your project!

    Bookmark   November 25, 2012 at 11:04AM
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While this forum is great for feedback, if you're serious about building you'd be better off sitting down with a local architect. We had a rough layout drawn within the first meeting. We sat down at the kitchen table and he kept drawing and drawing. He then went back to the office and drew us three exterior facades. He was also able to tell us the approximate cost per square foot of each plan to help us decide which we could afford.
Aside from the design expertise a local architect will have, they'll also know your zoning by laws and will be able to look at your property and tell you what makes the most sense.

Now, in response to some of your wants... I've just finished designing and am now building a four bedroom that is about 4400 SF. We ended up doing a more traditional four square Colonial because in our area the cost per SF is very high. Also, our lot is large but issues with the Conservation Commission and location of septic ended up dictating the one specific spot where we could build and it would not allow for an expansive first floor. We also wanted a three car garage, but the size required looked ridiculous. It just kept looking like this massive structure in relation to the size of the house. Long story short, what I thought we could build and what we are building are very different and our architect was able to quickly help us understand what we could and could not do.

As for the first floor master, how old are your children? Mine are 4 and 6. In our current house our Master is on the first floor and I can't stand it. No matter how removed it is, I think because it's on the main floor the kids view it as part of the common space. No matter how often I tell them otherwise. This was never an issue in our Summer house where the Master is on the second floor. I also hate having to go up and down the stairs at night when they're sick. If you want the Master on the first floor for long term (aging) plans, I would be inclined to put a guest suite on the first floor which could be used as a Master later.

I'm on my iPad and can't post my plans right now, but I'll post them later. Good luck!

    Bookmark   November 25, 2012 at 11:30AM
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They are okay with it because they say they got the house that they always wanted, which makes them feel good, but what I'm contending is that most people, including me, do not truly know what they want. Steve Jobs showed me exactly what I wanted. BS, Steve Jobs did not show people what they wanted, he did however, do a good job marketing his project.

A house is not the same as a commodity - it cannot be designed in a vacuum. The layout of the house I wanted to live in in TX was not the same as the layout I wanted when I lived in ND. I lived in a house in MA that was designed to be built in FL, it did not work well.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2012 at 12:07PM
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House styles and plans that have stood the test of time and human experience? OK, let's try to identify some of them. Since we are talking about residences, we have to eliminate most of the classic Greek and Roman structures, although one could make a compelling argument, for example, for the iconic houses of Pallidio, who was a Renniasance Italian, not Roman.

Colonial houses, from around 1600-1820, in their many variations, were successful for a couple of hundred years, and are influential in house design to this day. One may learn a great deal by studying how Colonials were designed, built and modified over time. If one wanted to pick only a single type of historic house to study, this might be the one!

Stick and Shingle Style houses are interesting (1860, or so through 1900) and continue to exert influence on contemporary house design. Generally large and built for the affluent of their day, one has to do a lot of editing if one strives to make the lessons learned useful for most folks today.

Colonial Revival comes up a lot, but not many folks know that it's much different from Colonial, in both style and time, being popular around 1880-1940, and in many areas, to this day. True Colonial Revival houses will appeal to those folks who enjoy a side-gabled roof, rather decorative features, accentuated front doors, symmetrically balanced double-hung windows and center door--in other words a clear organization and order to their houses. No rambling ranchers, these!

In parts of the U.S., Mission, Spanish, Monterey and even Pueblo Revival continue their popularity, begun in the 1800s. These have spun-off an unbelivable amount of builder copying in the southwest and much of California.

And of course, we must recognize key "modern" house styles such as Prairie, Craftsman, and Modern/International. These styles of houses continue to influence the design of today's houses in one way or another.

For American houses, there' at least two "folk" styles that are highly influential: the first being the American Four-square, so well described above.

The other influential American house may be the one or two-story, three-bay "folk" or "I-house", two rooms wide and one room deep. With the arrival of the railroads, "I houses" became a popular "folk" house in many parts of the U.S., built over and over in both agricultural and in-town settings.

These houses can be seen throughout America to this day. They were often expanded by a perpendicular gabled addition to the rear, creating a "L-shaped" structure. Porches are ofen found on the front elevation, and almost as often off one side or the other of the addition in the rear.

Many of these two story "I-houses", with their rambling front and side porches, are viewed as the classic American farmhouse!

I've left out the Rambling Rancher house, which in many cases, is a less-expensive builder's "folk" version of Wright's Prairie Style houses. For advocates of ranch-style houses, you would be well served to study Wright and see what lessons may be learned.

What may not be immediately obvious in the study of any of these styles is that most grew directly from the geographical and climatic conditions in which they first became popular. It wasn't really until the invention of controllable, dependable indoor heating and air-conditioning that designers and builders of houses could ignore the site and climatic conditions. It's a lesson, of it's own, that's worth learning and incorporating into the design and construction of today's houses!

    Bookmark   November 25, 2012 at 6:10PM
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Those of you who might be interested in how the use of interior space in homes has evolved should read "At Home, A Short History of Private Life" by Bill Bryson.

Here is a link that might be useful: At Home

    Bookmark   November 25, 2012 at 6:38PM
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I second the "At Home" recommendation. As with most of Bryson's work, it is highly readable and amusing, as well as offering a wealth of information.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2012 at 7:49PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

Seems to me that what you are asking for already has existed for many years...the basic house plan that gets built for about a decade before morphing into something else....the 50s ranch, the 60's cape cod, the split level thrown in there somewhere which became the 70s raised ranch, the 80s 4 bedroom colonial, the 90s McMansion... Each one of these home styles were very basic and generally you could walk through any of these houses and know exactly where to find what. These basics were then tweaked for local site or materials needs...maybe the garage was under, maybe the front door had a porch, maybe the facade was bricked. So perhaps you are looking for the next gen, post housing apocalypse, post McMansion home style. I think the criteria you set up, though, are not so widely desired as to become the next home classification for the 2010s.

If that's where you are going though, it would be great if the home would incorporate green elements like the use of natural light, window placement for passive solar gain, ventilation, etc. So you would probably need a regional variation for southern vs northern climes.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2012 at 8:48PM
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AnnieD, I think you're right but I think the next generation of homes need to be better thought out. I read articles like the ones I've linked below and as an Industrial Engineer it drives me crazy how inefficient the whole process is. Maybe these links should be in their own seperate thread to discuss but here they are:

Here is a link that might be useful: Dismal standards

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 9:02AM
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Lots of good advice here. I totally agree, Pittkol, that you're too vague in your questions. For example, you say you want a room to be "large". How large is large? To give a recent example, I posted my house plan, and someone said that my dining room is too small. Well, it's the same width and four foot longer than the one I have now, and I consider that size perfectly acceptable. I'm not going to argue with the other person; I'm just going to realize that he or she is measuring with a different standard.

VirgilCarter and AnnieD have given a good short run-down on the history of American housing. Much of this has been affected by geography. If you look at the old houses in my very rural area, you'll see that people used to build a two-room side house with windows on all sides. This is the South; they wanted the breezes. One room was a living room /parents' bedroom . . . the other room was the kitchen . . . and the kids slept in a loft up above it all. When the girls were old enough "to court", the family'd add a room on the front of the house (often accessed only by the front porch). Good deep porches were essential. If the family became more prosperous, they might add another room on the back.

The slightly-newer houses are more of an American four-square, but they retain much of the above, especially the windows positioned to catch the breezes.

In contrast, my house is a late 60s/early 70s ranch. My windows are all small and high. This was the style back then; the concept of connecting the indoor and outdoor spaces hadn't yet emerged, and people wanted small windows to conserve heat and air. "High" was considered better because it doesn't interrupt furniture placement.

Personally, I think the next big style will be something smaller. People can't afford what they could 10-20 years ago, and people are leaning towards a more casual lifestyle.

I do not think, however, that the next generation of homes will be better thought-out. Why? Because most homes are built on spec, and builders will continue to do what's easiest and cheapest. The average buyer doesn't seem to stop to think about what really matters in a home; rather, as long as it has the holy trinity of hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, and granite (or other stone) countertops, it's great!

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 9:29AM
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I posted this by mistake in your other thread so I'll repeat it here:

As has been frequently discussed on this forum there are essentially two efficient house configurations: 1) a two story house that has less foundation/basement as well as less roof but requires a stairway and 2) a one story house that has no stair but must be carefully designed to avoid excessive corridors.
However, there is little efficiency in a two story house with a one story wing. This configuration has the disadvantages of the other two configurations. Why you would set space efficiency as your primary goal and choose an inefficient house configuration is puzzling.

You have also eliminated important spaces in order to increase efficiency and lower cost but the resulting plan is a house that exceeds your gross area goal and puts you over your budget in the schematic design phase.

What you need to do is start at the beginning of the design process and work forward instead of at the end and work backward. The beginning should not involve a computer but it must involve a specific site. It begins with a site diagram showing the access to the site by foot and by car, the location of the major views, the arc of the sun in winter and summer, predominant winds, any flood zones, well or town water locations, septic or town sewer locations, privacy issues, and zoning restrictions. To deal with these issues after the house is designed usually requires redesigning the house or living with some easily avoided mistakes. There are too many of these houses already built so don't build another one.

The next step is to make a list of spaces and their rough areas. Draw them to scale on paper, cut them out and move them around on the site plan. Then start drawing some of the more successful diagrams and adding the proper connections and transitions but NOT ON THE COMPUTER. The computer is for communicating your completed ideas to others; it is not for communicating with yourself. You want to stay inside your own head until the design starts to work. When you start thinking about the width of a door take a walk or read a magazine; one of my teachers once told me he liked to read architectural magazines upside down to recharge his imagination. As your mentor Steve Jobs said, "stay foolish".

Go to the computer when you need to prove the design works but try not to lose sight of the established space relationships while adding real dimensions to cabinets and closets.

As for the overall configuration, the best for efficiency is a story and a half using some clever tricks to create second story spaces that look like cross-gables and dormers. That reduces the attic space and looks more interesting than a box.

So go find a site and show us some photos or a google map link and a site plan with all the issues noted with a bold marker.

Leave the sandwich at home and come to the banquet hungry and foolish.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 10:04AM
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Renovator, thanks for the comments but I need some clarification. What do you mean when you say my plan is a two story house with a one level wing?

As for you other recommendations, I did most of that stuff and that is how I came up with my plan. We purchased 12 acres in the Pittsburgh area and I subdivided it to sell a 1 acre lot. Attached is a survey of the property and we plan to build our house to the left of Lot No. 1. The slope in the back will allow us to have a walk out basement and great views out of the back of the house. The right side of the lot is higher and I was told that is the side I would want to put my garage.

North would be at the top of the attached image so the sun would go across from the right SIDE of the house to the Left. All utilities are at the street. The narrowest part of the lot is 135' so width is a lot less of a problem than depth since it slopes away pretty good after about 100'.

I agree with your story and a half idea to make it look more interesting than a box and increase efficiency.

Thanks again for everyones time and any addtional feedback is welcomed given that lot specifications are attached.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 12:51PM
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Attached survey did go the first time!

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 12:52PM
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You originally said there would be 3 bedrooms in an upper story and I assumed that the upper floor was half the size of the first floor because the first floor was 2,700 s.f. and the total is apparently no greater than 4,000 s.f.

Therefore I assumed there as a main 2 story house with a one story master bedroom wing. It's not easy guessing and you have told us very little about your house design.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 1:19PM
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This is a challenging site to build on, with the rapidly falling contours. It means a large mass of the house will be exposed from the north elevation.

It's also not an ideal orientation, in fact it's hardly ideal at all from a natural light and climatic point of view. In general, the front of the house is often considered to be the "closed", private elevation and the rear elevation to be the "open", public/family use elevation. In this case, auto and visitor access will be from the south (sunny) side, where fewest windows are likely to be located and the "family use" side will be the north, where most windows and views will be locatec, but the sun will never hit that face of the house.

The ideal site would be one in which access and entry is from the northerly direction and the views and open side of the house is to the south.

With 12 acres at your disposal, can you find this sort of location?

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 5:09PM
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I don't see a north arrow.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 5:14PM
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North would be at the top of the page. Virgil discribed it right. But since the house will sit on a little bend in the road it can be turned at little.

There is also a 12' high mound from the street to the 35' build line which can all be pushed back to make the drop off in the back less of a problem.

There would be no other place on the twelve acres that would be possible to build on.

The natural light problem doesn't seem to bother me that much. Should it really be a big issue? I plan on having a wall of windows 1.5 stories in the dinning room that should provide plenty of light to kitchen area.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 7:07PM
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P, for many architects light may be the most important ingredient in designing any and every structure, residential or not. Light is emotional, aesthetic, warming and comforting. It's dynamic and constantly changing throughout the day, bringing an infinite variety to one's house and liveing. It's something that non-design professionals may not recognize or appreciate, but you certainly will once you have experienced it first-hand.

Your site's north light orientation will be very cool and unchanging through the day. This is why artists traditionally prefer studios with north light--it stays relatively constant throughout the day.

The good news is that if you have any sort of pleasant view to the north that is enjoyable and pleasurable, you will be able to watch the sun illuminate it from the east in early morning to the west in late afternoon. It's just that your house and yard will always be dark. Large, light-gathering windows on your north elevation may be a good idea, unless you live in a cold, northern environment where storms and heat loss will negate the advantage of lots of glazing.

If it were me, I'd look for property that entered from the north and faced the south, so that my house and property would be warm and inviting, indoors and out, throughout the day. But if you can't, you can't!

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 7:33PM
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I was right with you when you said The slope in the back will allow us to have a walk out basement and great views out of the back of the house. The right side of the lot is higher and I was told that is the side I would want to put my garage. That describes our lot. However, ours has the orientation described by virgil, the front of the house faces north and the back faces south. We have the perfect orientation for solar gain and our house is laid out exactly on the east/west axis.

Curious, is the walkout basement going to be finished? If so, are you including that in your 4000 sq ft max.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 7:53PM
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Most of the basement will be finished and I did not include that in the 4000 sq ft.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 11:01PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

We also built into a southern facing slope and have a finished basement so the south side gets a lot of light, the north side is bermed, only 1 story high, and is sheltered from the north wind. We also have a view of the pond and the woods to the back....street access is on the north side.

Does the light matter? To us, immensely. In the winter, on sunny days, our house gains 4 degrees in temperature due to its orientation and passive solar gain. Our finished basement level is not heated or cooled throughout the year and it maintains a temp of between 63 and 78 all year round. The rooms on the north side do feel colder (north light is blue light) and do lack sunshine and warmth.

Northern exposure with only 3 windows....where the dormers are is just unheated attic space.

Southern exposure

I would encourage you to consider building more green. Can you build smaller? (less to heat, cool, less materials and maintenance in addition to lower taxes and insurance and furnishing costs) Can you work with the site to take advantage of the sun? You might also look into active solar, geothermal, foam insulation, etc.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2012 at 8:39AM
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I have to admit that while I'm great at reading floor plans, site plans confuse me a bit. I know that they matter, so I defer to others on this topic.

I do understand the concept of having 12 acres, yet having only one good spot on which to build. I have 40 acres, yet I have one "obvious" spot where the house will be located. Oh, I COULD build in other locations, but it would be more costly (not adjacent to the existing gravel driveway, need to run utilities farther, etc.), but one general area is superior to the others in numerous ways. I don't want to disturb the roughly 50% that's heavily wooded, I don't want to move too close to the little pond in the woods that floods its banks, and I do want to maintain the open field that I rent out to a farmer (this gets me a drastically reduced tax build, and I'm fine with having a corn field behind my house).

As for natural light, YES, it matters! Natural light is one of those basics I keep harping upon. Look at some photographs of rooms you like; natural light is most likely the key factor in why these rooms are appealing.

To give an example from my current house (though the more examples I give from my sorry old house, the more I wonder why I live here at all), my kitchen /breakfast room /family room faces East. Although I have a covered porch off the back, I get the morning sun in those rooms, and during those morning hours these rooms are at their best. They are MUCH more inviting. The colors are warmer, the room even looks more spacious. By the time we get home from school/work, those prime hours are gone, and although the rooms aren't "dark", they also don't have much life. Colors, window choices, and other things can play into making the most of your natural light, but don't ignore this all-important topic.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2012 at 10:05AM
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