Home Plans: What You Need to Know

Packaged verses Custom Home Plans

A very popular question, commonly asked by home buyers that are considering building their own home, is how to find plans for the home that satisfy specific requirements. The most important aspect of understanding the answer to this question is to evaluate your own lifestyle and home requirements. There are several basic questions as well as suggestions that should be considered, prior to selecting how you will obtain your new home plans, and what your expectations for either packaged or custom plans should be.

  • What type of home are you considering?


  • Family home / providing housing for a growing family, until such time as the home becomes too large, or as the family matures, the home does not parallel your needs.
  • Empty nester home / providing ease and functionality for a couple or single individual that has not had a family or has reached an age that housing for the entire family is not required or being considered.
  • Social entertainment home / designed for entertainment purposes, with large and diverse dining and gathering areas, as well as substantial kitchen facilities.
  • Professional home / designed to accommodate home offices as well as functional capabilities for entertainment and efficient daily activities.
  • Vacation home/ designed to be used occasionally and accommodate recreational needs, leisure or simple pleasure.

These five types of homes, and their intended usage, are just a sample of the thought processes and reasoning that should be discussed and analyzed, prior to considering plans for your new home.

  • What are the specifics of the property that the home will be located on?


  • Waterfront / obviously this type of situation will be specific to the type of waterfront. Is this a river, lake, pond or ocean, and where is the structure located on the property? There is additional information within this website that can be researched for further discussion regarding waterfront homes.
  • Narrow lot / there are several specific plans that have been designed and devoted to long and narrow lots. These occur in smaller neighborhoods and tight urban environments. Building codes normally require a minimum square footage for the property, as well as a minimal frontage. Satisfying both requirements, in many cases involves a narrow, long piece of property that will require a specific interior layout to satisfy the other setback requirements.
  • Interior lot / this type of property is located off the primary access highway to the home. In many cases the interior lot will require an easement through another property owner’s land, to allow access to the interior lot.
  • Hillsides / The overall pitch and slope of the lot is a factor in the overall layout of the home and the possible use of the lower level (basement) as a primary living area. Hillside construction, if properly performed, can introduce another level of usable and aesthetically pleasing space.
  • Property elevation substantially lower than the roadway / this type of property requires a special layout to adequately access the home as well as the roadway. Elevation becomes an issue, and the upper portions of the home may be used as the gathering spaces to accommodate the entry elevations. These accommodations, if properly designed and constructed, can offer very creative opportunities, due to the grade elevation variances of this particular situation. 1q2`


  • Positioning the home on the property as well as adjusting the floorplan within the home to accommodate compass orientation.

The positioning of a home on the property is in many cases a consideration of the sun’s orientation to the home. What is meant by this concept? There are basic parameters that are normally followed to provide the most comfortable and convenient home layout. Such parameters include the following. (Note that these general principles are in many cases modified, to accommodate other specific and custom requirements of the occupants, or the land itself.)


  • Kitchen and early morning dining areas are positioned to catch the morning sunrise and sunlight. This assumes that the family, or occupants of the home are using these areas in the morning, and the welcoming of the sunlight, will enhance the use of these areas of the home.
  • Living or gathering areas, such as the great room, family room, living room and formal dining room, are positioned to accommodate the westerly sunlight and the sunset. The general impression is that this portion of the home will be used in the later afternoon and evening, therefore their positioning should be on the western side of the home.
  • Positioning of various types of rooms within the floorplan of the home.


  • Bedrooms are normally situated away from the general gathering areas of the home to minimize sound transmission, as well as maximize privacy, when using these bedrooms.
  • Bathrooms are located close to the bedroom areas, and in many cases are directly attached to the bedrooms, for efficiency and privacy.
  • Utility spaces, such as laundry rooms are located specifically to accommodate the bedrooms and bathrooms. The areas where dressing and undressing take place, as well as where the clothes are stored, is the normal area to locate the laundry room.
  • Foyers and entry spaces are located at the primary formal front door.
  • Mudrooms, garage space are located to provide access to the backyard, as well as any bathrooms specifically designed to accommodate the exterior of the home. These types of spaces are normally located for kitchen access as well as rear of the home accommodation.
  • Special spaces such as home offices, media rooms, and sewing or hobby rooms are normally located off the gathering spaces on the primary level of the home.


  • Positioning the home for energy efficiency and accommodation.


The proper positioning of the home in regards to the sunlight and the prevailing winds for energy efficiency is also an important aspect of determining how and where the home will be placed on the property. The following considerations are important.

  • Solar gain and solar cooling are concepts that have been primary considerations for home placement and orientation since the start of civilization. Cave dwellers would try to use the sun as heat, and attempted to locate their homes to face the sun, utilizing the free energy of the sun to warm their homes. Colonial homes, such as the saltbox, where designed to accommodate the sunlight, and allow the warmth of the sun to heat the home. Proper shading and overhangs are used to properly shade homes in warmer climates. The consideration of the sunlight on the home for warmth, or to enhance the ability to keep the home cool in the heat must be considered. The importance of home location must be considered in efforts to maximize and / or minimize the use of shading for both heating and cooling of the structure.
  • Lighting is considered an important element to any artist within the home, as well as to the general overall impression that the home conveys to its occupants. Some individuals prefer a darker interior environment that enhances the aspects of privacy and intimacy within the home. Other individuals love the sunlight, and prefer a home that is bathed in sunlight from the morning to the evening hours.
  • Use of the home is enhanced by the proper positioning of the home, in regard to the afternoon light and sun. If the home is located at the bottom of a large hill or mountain, that is due west of the backyard of the home, the afternoon will appear to be much shorter, than a home that is positioned in a fashion to utilize the late afternoon and early evening sunlight in the backyard. I have had several occasions, when constructing homes, when the afternoon appears to be extremely short due to the lack of sunlight. Shade, due to the topography of the area, becomes an important aspect of living in the home. This consideration is normally not realized when positioning the home on the property, however will influence the way the home is used, as well as the overall comfort of the home. A setting sun at four, due to shading by the surrounding topography, will cast a different feeling to a summer afternoon when the sun doesn’t actually set for several hours later!
  • In northern areas, where ice and snow is prevalent, the positioning of the home is important to the melting and accumulation of ice and snow. If the home is positioned to allow the warmth of the sun to melt the ice and snow on the drives and entries to the home, both the maintenance as well as the safety of the inhabitants of the home can be accommodated. This orientation also affects the icing of the eaves as well as the accumulation of snow on the roofs. A southerly facing exposure will accommodate the thawing of ice and snow, a northerly exposure will cause this ice and snow to accumulate and build up.
  • Utility considerations.


The positioning of the home on the property is influenced by the type of utilities that service the home. For example, if the home has a septic system as well as domestic water artesian well, the location of these elements of the home is important to their safe use, as well as functionality. In most instances, the well is located on the opposite side of the area that is used for the septic system, to ensure that there is no contamination of the well by the septic system.   The location of the septic system requires exposure to sunlight as well as a properly graded surface area and proper subsurface material. Each of these elements of functionality will determine the proper location of the septic system. Proper orientation of the structure on the property will allow the proper location of specific utilities necessary for the occupancy of the home.


  • Roadway access.


The positioning of the home on the property must be coordinated with access to the road, as well as access to roadway overhead utilities as well as any underground utilities. The garage access is normally positioned to accommodate the shortest access route from the road, as well as to enhance the ease of entering and exiting from the garage space.



These questions and suggestions, as briefly described, are some of the basic decisions and accommodations that should be considered when evaluating the type of home design, as well as the layout of the home you are considering.

How do you go about finding the best home plan that accommodates all of my specific requirements, as well as considers all the elements of the property, utilities, orientation, etc. that you have now identified as important to the selection of the perfect home design and layout?  

First of all, there will be no perfect home plan. Like everything else in life, there will be compromises necessary to provide a home plan that satisfies as many of your considerations and requirements as possible.

There is a basic choice that must be made prior to the formal choice of a proper home plan. You must decide if the land is more important, or the type and layout of your home, is the most important element of your decision. Obviously, if you have already purchased your property, this decision is easy, if you are just starting out; the selection of the property will help determine the layout of the home, as well as the type of home that you should be considering.

How do I start the process of home design and home layout?

Home Plans


It is my recommendation that the use of published plans and industry designed home plans is used as a research tool to satisfy the need to understand basic plans and layouts of homes. The purchase of thousands of already created home layouts, in the hundreds of books available online, at the local supermarket, or at the bookstore, is an inexpensive way to obtain knowledge and insight. Purchase the books, and not the actual plans, for your initial exposure into the various means and methods of home design and planning.


There are several considerations and particulars that should be noted when you start the research for your home plans.


  • In most cases, home plans are categorized by the type of homes that are reflected within the magazine, book or pamphlet. The homes can be identified as waterfront homes, narrow lot homes, southern homes, modern contemporary homes, colonial split levels, colonial saltboxes, raised ranches, cape-cod homes, etc. Normally the identification of the particular type of home that the publication includes is identified on the cover of the publication.
  • The home plans within these publications are normally available in opposite hands. What this references is the ability to order the plans right handed or left handed. This will allow a better customization of the specific plan to accommodate the land and your individual needs. Look at your hands to see the difference, the thumb is on the right side of your left hand and the left side of your right hand. This is the way that these types of plans are published, simply reversed.
  • The finishes of the home in many cases are not clearly and specifically identified on these types of plans. The rationale is that you are looking at what are considered standard plans that can accommodate any type of finish, such as shingles, stone, brick, clapboard or other types of custom exterior facades. Each home plan will normally not have the specific details required for each type of façade accommodation.
  • The home plans will not be specific to the region of the country that you are considering, unless the plans are specifically identified as waterfront homes in Dade county of Miami or some other specific locale. This would be an unusual situation, if a publication is specifically developed to accommodate local requirements and is published by a local publishing company and local architects are used to supply the plans and layouts. This is rarely the case, therefore the plans that you will find, normally do not consider any of the specific requirements of certain areas of the country. This is important!

Although the specific accuracy of these plans is not focused on special code accommodations or special regional requirements, the review of these plans for research and information is invaluable. There are thousands of home plans that can be researched and reviewed. These stock plans are developed by architects of all types, and will provide every different layout and assembly of rooms conceivable.

What are some of the specific points of information that should be understood, if you have made the decision to use a plan found in a magazine, brochure, or any other type of publication.

  • In almost all cases, the fine print will instruct you to consult with a local architect and / or engineer to ensure that local codes and requirements are properly followed.
  • The choices of finishes are normally not a part of the documents. Most plans require a detailed door and hardware schedule, finish schedule, etc. to allow contractors to price and eventually build. In most cases these particulars will not be included within standard purchased plans. Finishes are usually not identified due to the infinite variety of choices that can be made. All homeowners will have their own influences and choices, that will create their finished environment. Therefore, in most instances, additional time and effort will be required to develop a finish schedule, select doors, hardware, plumbing fixtures, lighting, etc. to satisfy the requirements of the building department as well as contractors bidding on the project.
  • If the documents need to be revised, in most cases, this is not a part of the purchase package for these plans. For example, if the kitchen is too small to accommodate the homeowner’s requirements, the plans cannot simply be ordered with a larger kitchen. There will be a need to have either a local architect customize the plans, or make an agreement with the publisher of the plans to modify the layout.
  • Any added details, such as a front porch, or multiple decks, are not normally correctly identified on the stock plans, due to the various and specific positioning of the homes on the property. For example a beautiful mountain vista might be located to the south of the property and the decks on the purchased plans are located on the western elevation of the home. This type of incongruous detailing is more likely to occur with packaged plans.
  • Localized habits, customs or specific standards, as well as popular layouts, specific to a location, will not be reflected on the packaged plans. For example, the use of a mudroom in the northeast for exterior clothing, boots and shoes, will not be included in a southern design. The location of an exterior pool and the subsequent patios or decks servicing the pool, will probably not be readily available on a northern colonial salt box.
  • Insulation requirements such as an additional layer of rigid foam insulation on the exterior façade of the home may not be included on your favorite floor plan. This may not appear to be a big issue with a homeowner; however the additional insulation board requires different soffit, water table detailing, as well as other specific requirements. Lack of these details and requirements may offer the contractor an opportunity for change orders as they construct the home.
  • Localized specific construction techniques may not be reflected on the packaged plans. The plans may use balloon framing instead of the standard wall and deck framing of another region. Each technique could be specific to the region, and local contractors might be intimidated by another type of framing or detail. This type of alien technique, to the area, could cause an increase in the quoted value of the home, as well as the possibility of issues as the home is constructed.

What are the advantages of packaged home plans?

  • In most cases, the final cost of the plans themselves, for delivery to the building department to obtain a building permit, will be more economical than the use of an architect to draw your specific home documents.
  • The plans are normally associated with already constructed homes and have some of the common issues worked out. This is a general statement and really depends upon the publisher of the plans, as well as the architect that was responsible for the development and completion of the plans.
  • There are countless designs and layouts that can be reviewed and researched. I can remember many years ago when we were constructing custom homes, we had libraries of standard home plans and designs. With the ability to research via the computer, the home plans are basically endless.
  • The review of packaged home plans is the easiest and most convenient method of familiarizing yourself with the endless possibilities of home design and layout. Taking the time, and making the effort to summarize various home plans, will offer you an infinite series of specific layouts and thoughts. This is important to provide you with as much information and knowledge as possible, prior to selecting your final layout and design.

What are the benefits of selecting a professional designer and or architect to provide custom home plans?

  • Total control of the layout of the interior of the home, including placement and orientation of all the rooms.
  • Placement of windows and doors to facilitate the views and the sunlight.
  • Placement of porches, decks and patios to best utilize the property.
  • Local, specific creativity as well as customization, for exterior pools, special play areas, special gathering areas, etc.
  • Specific room sizes that correlate with your individual family requirements. For example, the enlargement of the master bedroom to accommodate dressing areas, etc.
  • Clear identification of all finishes, door and window details.
  • Custom and specific detailing of the home in regards to insulation, exterior detailing, special overhangs for exterior amenities such as an outdoor shower.
  • Custom detailing to accommodate special interests of the homeowners. If gardening is a hobby, specific exterior access and storage areas can be designed into the home.
  • Special details for alternate energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, etc.
  • Custom access to the home to accommodate special needs such as wheelchair access.

The discussion of home plans can be never ending, due to the specific requirements of individuals, as well as the infinite varieties of properties that are available to construct your home on.

Are there basic, common rules of thumb that can be applied to a home design?

Of course, as with any other process in construction, there are standard common rules that should be applied to the design of a home. However, creativity and personal preference can, and will, modify these rules of thumb. Again, the design of the home is a personal experience and adventure, therefore the caveat supporting these basic rules, is in many cases broken.

What are some of these basic rules of thumb?

  • The most efficient use of space is normally a rectangle, which has the length of the home approximately double the width.
  • To more efficiently utilize material, the dimensions of the exterior of the home should be evenly laid out, in either 2 foot or 4 foot increments. This will enable the use of standard 4 X 8 sheathing without additional waste.
  • The steeper the pitch of the roof, the more space becomes usable within the attic floor area; however the more expensive the roof construction.
  • The more dormers and or gables in the roof layout, the more expensive will be the roof construction; however the final usable square footage within the home will increase.
  • If at all possible, the exposure of one or more of the foundation walls to the sunlight, will allow a more efficient and usable lower level. There is nothing like a walkout basement, which as your realtor will indicate, is now called a lower level due to the ability to walk directly outside.
  • In most cases, a ranch is more expensive than a colonial design with two or more floors. This is due to the foundation necessary per square footage of usable space.
  • It is more efficient to stack the plumbing for bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, etc., one over the other, to allow common mechanical chases. In addition the stacking of mechanicals will be a more efficient and economical use of materials, as well as floor space.
  • Placement of a minimum amount of windows on the northern façade will provide less loss of interior heating and cooling.
  • Proper venting of all non-conditioned spaces is essential for proper moisture and humidity control.
  • Normally, the gathering spaces of the home such as the kitchen, family, living and dining rooms are located together, and if the home has more than one level, on the first level of the home.
  • Normally, the bedrooms and the majority of the bathroom spaces are located together, and if more than one level, on the second or third floors of the home.
  • Mechanicals are located within the basement areas, or in separate mechanical rooms, if there is no basement.
  • Kitchen and morning usage rooms are located towards the easterly sunrise.
  • Gathering rooms are located towards the westerly sunset.
  • Vehicle access is normally closest to the roadway.
  • Decks and patios are normally off the various gathering rooms, such as the kitchen or family room.

In summary, the use of standard, packaged home plans will allow an easy and thorough exposure of various home layouts, designs and details. However, the use of the plans without compromise or customization is normally not recommended, unless the home happens to provide all the needs of the homeowner without deviation. This occurs very seldom, and depending on the extent of modification required, the use of standard house plans could prove less efficient than the use of a local proven architect and the creation of custom home documents.

My recommendation is to research home plans by accessing as many of the standard plans and layouts as time will allow. Once you have become accomplished with the standard floor plans, as well as the common home designs, employ a competent local architect to customize your selected standard purchased plan or provide you with a total customized set of home documents. I would also strongly suggest the use of a local home designer or professional home consultant to assist you in the selection of finishes and final detailing for your home. I have known them to be essential to the proper and efficient construction of a home. Please, use the professionals with the proven track records, they will streamline your project and make the experience both efficient and enjoyable.

In many cases, this is the one and only time you will have to construct your own home, utilizing your own personal floorplans and home accommodations. Hopefully you will be utilizing and enjoying the home for several years, and its design and customization reflecting your ideas and needs is vitally important.

Good luck and enjoy the experience!





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