When you first approach a piece of land there well be obvious factors that stand out in building suitability — or lack thereof. The slope of the land, existing trees and other vegetation, and surrounding homes and buildings are all immediately apparent. But, in evaluating new home building sites there’s more than meets the eye.
Ordinances, covenants, and building codes should also be researched so you know ahead of time what your building limitations and parameters are. Being blissfully ignorant of these laws will not give you a pass when the inspector comes to look at your structure. But, if there is a relatively minor issue that you’d like to “bend the rules” on (like going over your setback by a teeny bit), then you always have the option of applying for a variance.
Evaluating new home building sites can be a bit of an art as you take into considerations many factors. I bet you never realized it could be this complicated.
When considering the slope of a piece of land you should try and imagine how the water is going to flow on the surface. If it’s been raining recently you’ll have an advantage in trying to visualize this. Notice the low spots where rain water accumulates. Sometimes backfilling with something porous like gravel can alleviate a standing water problem (make sure to scrape the topsoil aside first).
If you end up with a building site that’s on a hill it might be a good idea to consult with a professional excavator in determining the best final grade. You want to make sure there’s no standing water pockets right next to the foundation– no matter what kind of foundation you have. And having even a gentle slope out and away from the house for a distance of at least 3 or 4 feet is best.
Having some trees on your lot, even if they’re 5 or 10 years old, can offer some significant ambiance to your finished home. But, are the best trees right on the spot of the best home placement? Even if the trees are right next to the future foundation and require some significant “root pruning” in excavating for footings, the damage to them might be significant enough to kill them.
It generally takes an equal number of years for a tree to recover from such damage that’s equal to its diameter in inches (my source is “This Old House” many years ago). So if your tree is 10 inches in diameter it’ll take about a decade to fully recover from having its roots cut and soil compacted.
Here’s a website by Kim Coder at the University of Georgia about Selecting Wooded Home Sites. She goes into a lot more depth on factors to consider in handling the trees on your building site. Very informative.
Future neighboring buildings can impact the usability of a potential building site. Even if they’re your buildings on your land. Are they high enough to block the winter sun? Do the people that live there appear to be messy or noisy?
If it’s an actively used barn or other outbuilding make sure you’re up hill from it. Even if there’s no direct run off of effluent, like during a downpour, the effluent may slowly creep underground to your water source.
Admittedly, there are other factors at work in determining sources of ground water contamination, but having your well water uphill may be a helpful factor to avoid coliform contamination.
Make sure to check with your local building municipality for setback laws. Setbacks are the distances you cannot build within from the perimeter of your property. For my little country acre the setbacks are 100 feet from the road, 25 feet from the side lots, and 50 feet from the back lot line (25 feet for a septic system).
In an urban setting the setbacks are generally a lot less. For many cities it’s 25 to 30 from the front lot line and 5-10 feet from the sides and back.
You also need to be absolutely certain where your lot lines are. The best way to do this is to find the 1- or 2-inch metal pipes that are used for survey stakes at the corners. I had tried to find those stakes at the corners of my land within a few days of purchasing, but found it was nearly impossible in the summer. After much poking and digging I found 2 of the four corners, and had to wait until the following Spring when the grass had died back to find the remaining 2.
Continue with our story of
evaluating the building site
for the new house.