Q: We are thinking about building a new house and found plans, in a plan book, which only need a few revisions. Anything we should know before we order the plans?
A: Many plans are site specific so the first question we would ask is whether you already have your land. A one story, sprawling, ranch style plan on a zero lot line, a basement plan from up north, a cedar shake roof, a two story plan in a subdivision of all one story houses are all examples of mismatched and/or inappropriate plans for specific lots or this geographic area.
Given that have got your eye on something that fits with your land, please consider the following prior to such a purchase. Construction in this state is now governed by one uniform code. The building code changes periodically. This means plans drawn for this area, even a year or two ago could require some modification.
All plans require, at the minimum, a wind load analysis by a licensed engineering firm. This wind load requirement also includes all additions on an existing home (if over 100 SF).
When you noted that only a few changes were necessary to those book plans, did you consider who is going to do this? Copyright laws govern such work and alterations are subject to the approval of the creator of these works. Occasionally a local designer has a working relationship with a few of the larger producers of plans. If you happen to have chosen that particular plan company, the local person may be able to contact them and have the CAD drawings sent to them. In these rare instances, they don’t have to draw the entire plan from scratch. They can make the alterations, pay a licensing fee, and turn out the final product in a timely manner. This is not very likely, so locally produced plans are always the best choice. Locally produced plans should address the foundation, wall and roof details necessary to conform to the Florida building codes. These codes vary tremendously from other states, which aren’t prone to the conditions in our state and have issues which we do not.
Engineering analysis, can take from 2 weeks to 2 months depending on the engineering firms work load, the complexity of the project, if the numerous code requirements are included or if the plans have to be sent back to the designers for changes.
In addition to variations in plans, mentioned initially, i.e. having plans that are workable on your property, other attributes of plans should be considered. Plans drawn by someone anywhere north of Atlanta, and this can span across the entire country, probably include snow load designs for the roof and short over hangs due to this snow load. This is the opposite of the more desirable longer overhangs, we like to incorporate here, to block sun from hitting directly on our windows during the hotter months. Northern plans have specifications for freezing and thawing because the freeze line in northern states can extend several feet into the ground, whereas it barely extends to the soles of your shoes here.
Custom home plans are the opposite of stock book plans, because book plans are not designed for anyone in particular. Stock floor plans frequently give little consideration to your need for wall space for furniture, bookcases, artwork, towel rods and other things that are placed against the wall. The flow through the house and traffic patterns within, are many times sacrificed for artistic flair, which look good in books. The result can be homeowners wishing for larger rooms, better flow and fewer design features that look good but don’t work well. We’ve changed numerous 45 degree angles to 90 corners because as nice as the former may look, as a design, it’s not half as useful as the later. A great plan should be a blend of the aesthetic and the practical, sacrificing neither form nor function for the sake of the other.
The best plans are also subject to the Owners changes, and over the years we have experienced that the most changes were usually made by those that were sure they wouldn’t change anything during the construction. When you see a great idea and realize that with only a little effort and money you can have a better house, you’ll want to take advantage of the opportunity. A change in the plans before you build, for a small fee is smart instead of changes after walls are framed.
A mirror image is something that you would see if you could turn the page of plans over and look through the back of the paper. Some times the plans are just perfect except we need a mirror image. A fancy copier can make the mirrored image (basically flipping the plans over) but the written specifications will all be reversed.
Over the years we’ve had one consistent use for book plans and that is for clients to tear out pages of specific features, a master bedroom suite here, a kitchen-family room layout there, a façade they really liked so that the local designers would have one or two things that the Owners already like, even though they didn’t like much else about the specific plans these parts came from.
The roof example, snow loads you don’t need, wind loads you must have, changes during construction, and mirrored images, are only a few of many reasons we could cite, to suggest that your local home designer should be your first and is the best choice, for any type of building plans.
Just one man’s opinion.
Kip Carpenter, Leon’s 1st Certified-Aging-in-Place-Specialist
Carpenters Construction Co., Inc., 27th Year
Aurora Award Winner 2013 and
2 Remodeler Showcase Awards 2013 & 2014