Are you dreaming about that cozy, energy efficient, green home that suits your needs perfectly? Finding such a home can be next to impossible. Perhaps the best way to realize this dream is to design and build your home from scratch, so that it fits your preferences for location, aesthetics, principles, and budget. This article will guide you through some of your basic choices to help you design an ecologically sensitive abode. My experience of designing, building, and living in my own home has been extremely satisfying!
The very first consideration in good home design (as opposed to house design) is where to build. The location is paramount, not only because it must fit your needs for proximity to work, schools, and shopping, but also because it must provide space for privacy, gardens, solar access, and all those intangible qualities that create a sense of place. A green home is one that is built to last for a long time, so it might as well be built where it can become a homestead.
Choosing the exact site for your dream home is a Zen art, so don’t hurry the process. Spend some time on the property where you might build and get to know it. Observe what views inspire you. Feel where the wind blows and notice where the sun shines. Pay attention to where the water flows during a rainstorm or where snow tends to pile up. You might spend a whole year doing this to be aware of the nuances of each season. Sit in potential home sites and imagine living in that spot.
The design of your dream home should spring from the land itself, for both aesthetic and practical reasons. You want your home to be part of the landscape, to blend with the landforms and be connected to the earth. Houses that are just plopped on the property, like modular houses often are, rarely appear to belong there. The use of decks, patios, berms, arched windows or entryways, domed or faceted roof lines, dormers, offset or curved wall arrangements, and retained natural features (like trees and boulders) can all help integrate your home with its setting.
From a practical standpoint your home needs to be sited where the water drainage flows away from the footprint of the house. This can be assisted with the creation of swales and landscaping features, but the basic site needs to be well drained. Another highly desirable aspect of a good home site is the opportunity to dig into a hillside to naturally berm part of the house. A south-facing hill is ideal for this purpose, because then the north part of the home can be snuggled into the earth, while the south side is exposed to the sun. Digging into a hill also helps visually tie the home to its surroundings, and saves the cost of bringing in truckloads of fill to level the site.
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