How to choose a floor plan for your home

how to choose a floor plan for your home

Choosing a floor plan is obviously a crucial decision. My advice for this topic: really think about your lifestyle and how you want to live in your new home. One of my biggest pet peeves in any home is wasted space (formal living room with plastic seat covers, anyone?). It also helps to consider how long you plan to be in this home and what your lifestyle will be like over those years. Case in point: we’re considering this the “teen years” home. We have at least 10 more years of kids in the house, and we really want our kids and their friends to feel comfortable hanging out in our home during the high school years. We wanted lots of open space, but a defined kid hang-out area and an area the adults could use for relaxing, entertaining, and watching tv at the same time.

choosing a floor plan

We ended up using an existing Pepper Viner floor plan, which saved us thousands of dollars that we would have had to pay an architect to design a home from scratch. Pepper Viner had built this home as a model a few years ago, so we were lucky enough to have been able to walk through it in real life, which was a huge benefit in getting a feel for the layout. Unfortunately that’s not always possible, but you can always spend some time touring model homes to get a feel for the size of rooms and layouts you like so that when you’re viewing floor plans, you have an idea of what you’re looking at.

The floor plan we chose has a large open living/dining space, which we will use as the kid area and for extra dining space when we entertain – but our approach to this space will be casual, not formal. Formal spaces just aren’t necessary for the way we live and entertain in our family. The kitchen is open to the family room, and I love being able to cook and work in the kitchen and still be with my family. There are doors from all of these living spaces onto the back patio, which is perfect for Arizona since we spend a lot of time outside.

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We did want to make a few changes to the plan, so we went to the architect who designed the original plan to make those modifications. We added a walk-in pantry – it’s more spacious than the cabinetry that had been designated as pantry space in the original plan. Again, this is an example of thinking about how you like to function in a home. In my case, I like deep, open shelves where I can see everything all at once. I not only store a lot of food (I like to stock up at Costco) but I also store big appliances like my crock pot and blender and large serving dishes in my pantry. We like to entertain and I like to make it easy on myself. To eek out the space for the pantry, we had to lose some cabinet space, but it was worth it to me. Another change we made was eliminating a small door and window along the back of the open living/dining area, and instead installing a large 18-foot sliding door. This required some engineering on that load-bearing wall, so again, we need the expertise of the architect to map that out. In making that change, we realized one of the patio columns would be right smack in the middle of the view from the door, so we had him reconfigure the column placement as well.

Overall, choose a floorplan that suits the way your family lives instead of trying to force yourselves to function in a space that doesn’t make sense. Consider whether you entertain, host houseguests, how much storage you need, and how much maintenance you're willing to deal with. Once you have that basic layout in place, that’s when you can have some fun choosing finishes and touches to really make it your own. More on that soon!

The lot we chose for our new house

the lot we chose for our new house

I told you I’d fill you in on the lot we ended up with – here goes! After months of searching, then having not one, but two lots under contract and then fall through for various reasons, we ended up putting in an offer on a lot we had previously disregarded. It was in a great location, but on a busy road, and it looked like it might be a tough build with some hills and lots of rocks – not to mention that we couldn’t see it that well from the road and there wasn’t a real access to it to check it out in more detail. As our frustration grew with the lack of options in our price range, we decided to take a closer look. Chad called me over to his computer one day to look at the Google aerial view of the land, and he showed me where he thought there was a ridge set far back from the road that was flat enough to build on. We went out there and walked the lot (well, hiked the lot), one thing led to another, and we decided to place an offer.

Doing our homework

We asked for a 90-day closing – I wasn’t happy about that because we had waited for so long and was growing impatient – but Chad insisted we needed plenty of time to do our due diligence and make sure we could build the way we wanted to and that there wouldn’t be any huge surprise costs associated with that piece of land. He was right. It took just about the whole 90 days to do the research. He had his land development guy go out there and consult with him, and they agreed they would need to “move some dirt” (read: bulldoze literally tons of dirt) to flatten the build area, but that it could be done. The soil had to be tested to make sure a septic tank would work. The architectural review committee of the homeowners’ association had to approve our plans. The municipality zoning had to approve our site and house plan within their requirements. Fun fact, for example: our roof was NINE inches too tall - so we had to redesign the roof trusses to get under the 18-foot zoning requirement. They also inspected the lot to see how many trees we would need to move to build – and the city requires us to plant new trees to replace them.

Saving as much time as possible

Because it would take us a few months to close on the lot, we did as much as we could prior to closing so that we would be able to hit the ground running and start construction as soon as possible. While we were still in escrow, we finalized the house plans. We’re using one of Pepper Viner’s existing plans, but a few adjustments we wanted required architectural review and sign-off, so we went ahead and took care of that. We also submitted our site plan to the town so that we would have a permit to begin clearing the lot as soon as we closed – there is a fee associated with that, so we were taking a gamble that everything would go fine and we would, indeed, ultimately close on this lot. If the deal had fallen through, we would have been out that money. Chad also got the various subcontractors tentatively scheduled. Despite all of our well-intentioned planning, we did encounter a few delays out of the gate: it took more time than expected to clear the lot, so we lost a few days, but after waiting for years, I could handle a few days’ delay.

The benefit to the hilly, not flat lot? We loved the beautiful views! Unfortunately we are located on the west side of the road, but we wanted our backyard to face east. Enter some creative site planning. We consulted with a draftsman and he worked on a grading plan that would include a long driveway up the hill, and an unusual but smart turn of the house – so our front yard won’t face the road like a typical house, but because of the way we’re turning it, our backyard will face east and we’ll be able to enjoy mountain views and afternoon shade – a big benefit in hot, hot Tucson.

While the lot was in our budget, we’re pushing it a bit with the cost of land development. Now for the fun part – trying to recoup some of those costs in other parts of the house. Next up we’ll talk about some of the ways we’re saving money on construction of this house.

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the kids on the lot we chose for our new house - land development

refinished kids' art table

The makeovers continue.....Chad refinished the kids' art table, which they use all the time. They draw, paint, and craft there, and they love to sit there with their snacks when they watch a movie. We took it from a light maple, which really didn't match anything in the house, to a dark wood. Now it looks like it belongs here!