Four Critical Properties for Your Building Lot

Updated on March 2, 2019
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The Laughing Crow is a moniker whose voice I borrow: a rascal who is abrasive but honest, curious and outgoing.

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The Importance Of Soil

Many people who end up building their own homes will have owned a plot for quite some time before they start. They will have seen its face throughout the changing seasons, have seen what water and snow do to it, where the water pools and where the ground is strong.

This knowledge is critical, because it will make building a house a lot easier - you will be able to find the best spot to place your home, decide how you want the view from your windows to look, and prevent many issues that can come with a plot that are only apparent after observing it for a longer period of time.

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Roads And Utilities

A road is a critical lifeline for your home, and it starts even before building it. You will need to be able to get to your home comfortably, but so do the trucks of the contractors who will build it. You will need supplies and food, and if you somehow can't get it yourself you need people to bring it to you. And if something bad happens, you want emergency services to reach you without having to use helicopters.

But there's power to consider too. Unless you can live completely off the grid, it is useful to have power lines nearby so you can connect to the grid when necessary. Even if you could utilize your own well, don't discount the comforts of communal water and waste disposal. While you could manage all these things without connecting to the grid, I would always suggest to keep some lifelines as backup, just in case you need them.

This also applies to the presence of grocery stores, car mechanics, DIY stores and the like. If you need supplies, how long are you willing to travel to get them? And what options do you have if you end up without a car if it might break down?

How will mail be handled, can it be delivered or do you need to go into town for it? In this modern age, most things are done by internet anyways, but you may need to pick up parcels and official documents. And check how trash is handled in the area. Are they going to come by once every so often to empty bins, or will you be expected to drive your bins to a collection point?

Picture your plot's location not just from the sunny side, but also when things are not going your way, and make sure you can live with that.

A plot that can be connected to the grid in any case is a good start. A basic road suffices, even if it's just gravel or dirt.

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A View For All Seasons

A plot you buy in summer will look very different in winter. The features of each plot are unique, and will change how it reacts with weather and seasonal changes. You need to know these for your plot, to be able to decide if it's suitable to build on, and where you will build.

First off is sunlight. It comes up in the east and goes down in the west. If there are many trees on one side, it will block the sunlight from that direction from the spring to early autumn, but once the leaves are gone it can shine through. The presence of trees will allow you to shield your home from heat in the summer and allow additional sunlight in during winter, when you most need it. You would align your living spaces, especially the garden and the living room, along the south direction of your home, so that it gets plenty of light. Make sure that the view from that direction is some of the best you can get on your plot.

A small hill can be an advantage to build on, as it protects you from the worst of snow and water and gives an elevated view. But it can also mean solid rock to build on, for better or worse. And in winter, if it ices over, it might create a slippery surface to contend with.

If you are in an area that is at risk of forest fires, you may want to make sure that the area around the house is clear of trees and burnable material. Many people clear an area at least six to ten meters from the house, which also protects the house should any tree fall over in your home's direction for any reason. This will also give you rough dimensions to work with for your garden.

The final thing to consider is the wind direction. You want to have a fair breeze along your home if possible, but you don't want it directly blowing into your doorway if possible to prevent powerful drafts and slamming doors. At a slight angle, it will be perfect to deliver fresh air into the home in summer time, and cool down the occupants when they while on the deck or in the garden.

The wind direction, once observed over a year or so, will also tell you from what direction to expect rain and snow to fall. This knowledge will help you to decide where rain screens and overhangs should be on the house, to protect vulnerable windows from hail and vulnerable spots on the facade from leaking through.

You want the sun to caress your home along its southern edge, and the excess shielded by trees in summer. The wind should blow along your home but not directly into it. A great view should stay that way in every season, whether the budding greens of spring or autumnal reds.

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The Presence Of Existing Structures

It is very rare to find a virgin plot that has not yet been changed by human hands before. Once you find a plot, you have to go exploring and learn to know every nook and cranny to know whether there are any existing structures you may need to deal with - or take advantage of.

For one thing, it is an enormous plus if the plot you want to build on already has a small cottage or holiday home on it. It often will already be connected to utilities, but it will allow you to live (or visit) on site while your house is build. If it is already connected to the utilities or has an address, it means it will be much easier to secure these for your main house as well.

Sometimes it can be a great help to find a plot with a building in need of demolishing. Even if its frame is old and rotten, its foundations may still be sound. If it was connected to the grid before, it may mean that a new build requires little more than tearing down the old house and placing a new one on top of the (refurbished) foundation.

Likewise, if someone used the land before, there might be artifacts left over like a water well, stone walls or even an archaeological site. These make great set pieces for your plot, and while they may need protecting and maintenance, they give your plot that much more story and character. If you suspect your plot has an ancient site on it, make sure to confer with an expert to see if it needs conservation and what the story is. In some countries, you might be able to get a government subsidy for maintaining a heritage site!

But prior usage can also have its downsides. For one, older buildings might utilize asbestos and other carcinogens, or have high concentrations of dangerous building gases. Someone selling it cheap might know that the place used to be a dump or landfill. When you buy property, always include a clause in the contract that soil testing will be done, and the contract will be either voided in case of such dangerous finds, or the seller is responsible to finance the cleanup (if possible).

Existing structures can be a great boon to living while building, or as a foundation for a new build. But it can also imply dangerous waste and materials on-site, so be wary of that!

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Build Future Proof

A final consideration when looking for your perfect home building plot is to consider the future, not just the present time. You might want to expand your home or add additional side buildings - is there room for those? If you'd like to take up an experiment in homesteading, can you find a spot with good soil for that?

Such questions can have far reaching impact. If you have build on solid rock, placing a foundation may require a lot of blasting away of rock. Should you wish to expand, you need additional square meters of foundation, which means more work in the rock. But you can no longer blast easily, because you don't want to endanger the existing foundation's stability. This means you'd likely be looking at more expensive machine work closer to your home. Anticipating this in advance means you could blast additional rock in the beginning, and back fill it, knowing that once you wish to expand you have prepared ground for it.

Consider also that others move on around you. Neighbours may expand their homes, a plot nearby might be bought up by a company which starts building a factory, or a nearby piece of woodland might be repurposed for a residential area.

You need to be aware of the plans of the municipality around you, to know if things will happen you do not agree with, so you can oppose them.

I would also suggest in any case to buy a plot that is larger than you think you need it, and landscape its edges to shield you from noise or factory buildings. This way, you are not relying on your neighbours to maintain an idyllic view from your home.

What may happen to neighbouring plots in ten years might be more relevant to your decision to buy a plot than what happened to it in the hundred years before.

Conclusion

When looking for a plot to build your dream home on, you need to consider many factors. A great view, a good size and solid ground to build on. But also the comfort of nearby roads and utilities, and the security that the future will not reduce the enjoyment of the home you built.

If at any time you need to make a decision about the cost of the home versus the plot, my final advice is that you can always start a home small and expand it, but the plot remains as it is forever. So always prioritize the plot if you can compromise on the size and features of the house for it.

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