Site Planning Essentials

by | Jul 9, 2021 | Building, How-To, Planning

 Planning the work and then working the plan is good advice in any situation, but during the construction of a log or timber home these are words to live by. Before the floorplan comes the site plan, which is the document from which everything else about the log or timber home and the surrounding property is shaped, even at times the square footage of the home itself. Understanding the priority of the site plan and the need for a thorough review of the plan can save homeowners time, money, and heartache.

“Before you purchase a building lot, it is important to do several things,” explains Brad Neu of Montana Log Homes. “We talk to clients about what the site looks like and what their expectations are. Everyone has a budget, whether it is $500,000 or $10 million, and the more work that is required to prepare the site, the less there is to spend on the home.”

Neu remembers a client who had bought a nice lake lot only to find that his septic system would require a pump with a line that traveled a considerable distance uphill to the nearest station. Another client had purchased a lot that was steeply sloped without giving much consideration to the expense associated with moving dirt. In both cases, the unexpected cost was substantial.

Jay Parmeter of Golden Eagle Log Homes advises clients to check whether the soil will “perk” for proper field line and septic tank function. “If it won’t perk, then you are probably going to have a holding tank that has to be pumped out every three months or so, or a mound system where the tank is half buried underground and there is a bump in the yard,” he says. “When the plumber comes out to do the perk test, there may be only certain areas of the lot where the home can actually be built. Also, walkout basements are really popular right now, and we tell the homeowners to go for it if the site works well. It’s a good idea to have an excavator take a look at the lot, and they can tell you whether you can have a walkout basement here or there.”

Before closing on the purchase of a lot, Neu strongly suggests verifying the local water source. If the property needs a well, then ask neighbors or professionals familiar with the area about the depth. “Check the well log reports,” he notes. “If you have to drill, the deeper the well goes the more expensive it is, and the larger the pump required. Ca-ching!”

Orienting the home to take advantage of the best available view is always front and center to the site plan. Consider a southern exposure to utilize the sun’s natural heating during the autumn and winter and minimize its impact during spring and summer. “There are lots of pros and cons to a southern exposure,” comments Neu. “In theory the sun is a natural heating source, but you can bake in the summer. We have a computer program that measures the angle of the sun at a given time and helps us to adjust the design of the home for the best results.”

During winter months, doors and entry areas oriented to the north may have large amounts of snow accumulate in front of them, making for a long day of shoveling. Depending on how the home is situated, the placement of windows is also a major factor in heating, cooling, and aesthetics—not to mention the view.

“It is best to find the view and make it fit the required setbacks based on the rules and codes at the local level,” Parmeter suggests. “There are often restrictions or setbacks related to the structure’s distance from a lake or other body of water and from the homeowner’s property lines. Sometimes the distance from water is 75 feet or so, and 10 feet from the side lines is pretty normal. So the house can’t be too big for these restrictions based on the size of the lot.”

Neu remarks, “Some sites may have rules in place for setbacks and even height restrictions. Visit with the local building department and find out about these concerns.”

The completed site plan usually reflects such important information as the distance to the nearest sources of electricity, natural gas, and other utilities. Easements should be identified so that the foundation of the log or timber home is not in conflict with their purpose. Another consideration is the placement of the building road, which often becomes the permanent driveway, and its distance to the actual homesite. The longer that road, the more expense involved in paving and maintenance.

“Cutting a road some distance up the side of a mountain is quite different from putting gravel down and taking trucks into an open field,” Brad notes, “and remember to talk to your builder about any digging that has to be done. The earlier you do that the better off you will be. If there is hard rock in a certain area of the lot, then the foundation of the home may need to be placed somewhere else.” Before the site plan is finalized and any digging is begun, it is a good idea to check on the possible presence of underground water, gas, and electrical lines. “Call the digger hotline,” suggests Jay. “They will come out and mark any underground utilities with flags and paint on the ground. Sometimes these lines can be moved, and it is nice to know what is there.”

Taking advantage of the natural beauty that surrounds a log or timber home is always a primary goal, and though some owners may decide to cut trees or trim back foliage before construction begins Parmeter tells them that the home will have a higher elevation than the surrounding ground. He takes a step ladder to the lot and asks his client to step up for a better idea of the view from the finished home. He also advises owners to leave a perimeter of roughly 30 feet around the home to preserve the natural setting, particularly if there are certain trees the owner wants to keep.

The site plan is the basic template for the finished log or timber home construction project. An accurate site plan facilitates every other aspect of the process. The energy and time spent on it are well worth the effort.