Building A Custom Home: A 3-Step Guide

Do you want to build your dream house, but don’t know how to begin? It can seem like a daunting task to build a custom home. And admittedly, it is complicated. We are here to help! This 3-part checklist is aimed at getting you on the right track and providing an overview of the process.

Custom Home Builder1. Getting Started with your Custom Home Build

Simple, but not easy. The ‘what’ of beginning the process of designing and building a home can be daunting. We like to begin by working with homeowners to outline in simple terms the spatial priorities for their project. We first consider the number of stories preferred in the home - ranch, upper level, and/or basement, then we break each of these into their component parts by determining the rooms associated with each level, or wing, of the home. Keeping an open mind, we find that some rooms are flexible in their location, while others - often kitchens, living and dining rooms, and garages are fixed by the nature of accessibility required for the space. When we have compiled a list of required spaces and stories, we can determine approximate square footage for the project. Approximate square footage is a critical number to have in mind when moving on to step two, as building codes and site restrictions can limit the size of a project. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself when beginning to outline the spatial requirements for your project:

  • How long do I plan to stay in this home, and how do I expect my needs to change during that time?
  • How many levels should the project be?
  • Do any spaces require a direct connection to the outdoors? I.e. a walkout basement, a dining room porch, pool patio, or master bedroom balcony.
  • Are there any exterior views or sounds that you would like to optimize or avoid?
  • Is there an architectural style that you prefer - craftsman, prairie, Spanish revival, French colonial, mid-century modern, transitional, etc.?

If you don’t know the answer to any of these questions, it’s ok! Do some swiping, pinning, and saving on Pinterest and Houzz to gather some design ideas that you like to share with your architect, and they will help you to hone in on your ultimate project goals. 

2. Finding the Perfect Location

Building location and size go hand in hand. Chattanooga, TN offers a vast array of building sites to choose from when selecting the location for your new home. From the waterfront to the mountaintop, downtown to country land - a critical step in home design is settling on a site. 

Due to zoning regulations and site restrictions, site selection has a direct impact on the type and size of a home that will be viable for a plot. Too often, we encounter a property owner who has acquired a plot of land with the intention to build, who then finds themselves restricted from planning the project that they had hoped for by zoning code, HOA requirements, overlay zones, easements, and building area restrictions. 

Before hitting the pavement to find the ideal project site, be sure that you have an understanding of your requirements for allowable building size and style, so that the lot you purchase has the capacity to host the house of your dreams! 

Some questions to ask your agent, architect, or city official about the site are:

  • What are the required front, rear, and side building setbacks?
  • What is the maximum floor area ratio /or maximum residential building area allowed for this lot?
  • Is this lot in an overlay zone?
  • Does this lot have any easements? If so, where and for what purpose (i.e. utility, driveway access, storm water, etc.)?
  • Is this lot in an HOA? If so, review the bylaws for the community standards to be sure they allow the home type that you have in mind.

3. Selecting Your Architect

Though most of our clients come to us with a lot already selected, and an idea of their building criteria in mind, it is also an option to bring an architect on board as the very first step. A good architect will be very helpful in guiding their clients through both the preliminary design (what) and the lot selection (where) process. 

When selecting an architect for your project, consider the following: Look through the architect’s portfolio of existing built work to evaluate their completed projects for alignment with your own style goals. For example, if your heart is set on a craftsman home, look for an architect with an understanding of that building type. The same is true for any site specialties that you may be dealing with - is your lot on a steep slope, or in a floodplain, or perhaps in an earthquake or tornado-prone area? If so, be sure to select an architect who is capable of creating a safe, workable design for any existing site difficulties. 

Interview, interview, interview! We have found communication to be one of the most important players in a successful client-architect relationship. Before signing on the dotted line with an architect, take the time to sit down with a member or two of the design team to make sure that your personalities and communication styles are well-matched. Many firms offer free initial consultations for new clients. When considering a new project, reach out to a few architects in the area to request a meet and greet. 

Here are some great questions to ask before hiring an architect:

  • What are your standard project deliverables? Ask to see an example.
  • What does your design process and timeline look like? 
  • Talk about your residential design project experience - number of years, number of total projects, and number of projects currently in design and construction?
  • What is your fee structure?
  • Ask if you can tour or drive by any of their completed projects.  

We suggest that you keep a digital or physical folder for your “What, Where, and Who” research to save images, blog posts, and meeting notes.

We look forward to sharing with you! Please follow us to get design Tips, Trends, and Technology updates, and feel free to send in ideas or ask questions. Best wishes on your design journey!

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