Building A Home : How Your Site Will Influence Your House Design

The Plot Thickens

I’m about to become an expert in my field. The little piece of the field that we’re hoping to turn into a home. The site, or plot, has been bought and now it’s time to start the process of converting it into a house.  So what is it that we should be doing? What are the kind of things you need to keep in mind when you’re at this very early stage of your house build? How will your site influence the design of your home? Here are some of the things that may help you think about your house design from the ground up.

So we’re at ground zero right now. In our case, we don’t have planning permission yet – just a field of dreams. There are a lot of things you really should do, like get a site survey done, get advice from a structural engineer, secure the site, make sure your site is insured etc. We’ll come back to that down the road (Watch out for a checklist in a future post – I promise…) but for now, here are some of the other things that you need to do to turn your little patch of ground into a happy home.


It may seem blindingly obvious, but you need to get on your boots and walk around your patch. The site will be a huge influence on the design of the house so make sure you know every part of it. This is not just for things like views, sight lines and boundaries. By being “on the ground”, you get a feel for the place and will start to visualise different scenarios as you go through the design process. Try to do this at different times of the day and in different weather conditions. Where the sun rise and set? Where exactly? What if that tree wasn’t there? Will I be able to see that view from the upstairs only? Only by being there will you get a sense for all this. You have to be there, man.

Picture this

There’s a lot to do when you’re building a house. Give your brain a helping hand every now and then. Take pictures so your mind’s eye can take a break. Take lots of pictures. If you’re not living near the site, these photos will help you realise your visions a bit easier. The pictures will become part of the story as well as you progress through the process.  I know a lot of people like to do time-lapse photo stories where you take a picture every week/month and see the project come to life.


Top Tip: Take the picture(s) from the same spot(s) on the site if possible. So pick a tree, a pole, gate post or whatever. If you’re feeling adventurous, get your compass out and do a North/South/East/West photo shoot. You will then have a 360 view of your masterpiece through the phases!

Setting Sun

The way your house will be situated on your site will be dependent on a number of factors such as position in relation to a road, neighbouring properties, prevailing winds, ground slopes, soil condition and so on. It’s very important to get an understanding of the elements before you finalise the design. There may be many reasons why you orient the house in a particular way but where the sun rises and sets should be at the forefront of your mind when making these decisions. This will have an impact on your heating options, lighting (or lack of it), blinds and shading, drying your clothes, cooking on the barbecue and so on. Let the light in, it makes us all happier bunnies so remember Mr. Sun when you’re thinking of where to put your pad. Dermot Bannon would be proud of me.

Everybody Needs Good Neighbours

If you haven’t already done so, say hello to the neighbours. All going well, they will be living next to you for years to come, so it makes sense to get to know them as soon as you can. Depending on your setting, they may be right up against you, a stone’s throw away or a few fields or miles down the road. In any case, you will have plenty of dealings with them so start off on the right foot and introduce yourself. You will have lots to talk about so make sure to listen to the neighbours. In most cases, they will have been living there for a long time so they will know a lot more about the place than you. That can be a valuable resource to tap in to so be nice and say hi. For a more extreme approach to keeping in with the neighbours, have a listen to this podcast episode from House Planning Help where the whole community had an input!

Feed The Tree

The ultimate goal here is to build a home. The site is an integral part of that home. So try to keep the site ‘within the build’ by incorporating aspects of the site into your overall design. That might be an existing structure or maybe use some of the stones from a derelict house on site, it could even be as simple as a name of the field, if you’ve bought it from a farmer. In our case, there is a lovely whitethorn tree on the site which we’re hoping to retain.


It may not be possible (I think the kitchen sink might be going there), but we’re going to try. I may need some advice on transplanting mature trees in the future so if there are any tree surgeons or Eddie Lenihans (see link) reading this, please get in touch.

Going Underground

I’m no expert (yet!) on soil conditions and the like but what I do know that it can have a huge bearing on the cost and complexity of the build. So it pays to find out what lies beneath your green, green grass of home. A site survey or advice from a structural engineer will help here. Your new neighbours may also know something about the lay of the land. If you have to go digging or leveling as part of your site preparation, you need to know this before the machines roll in. Have a think about what to do with the soil you may have to extract. Is there somewhere else on your site that you could use that? (e.g. to level off a slope).  Make sure to talk to the experts here.

At last… a checklist

10 things to bring with you when visiting your site:

  1. Safety First – Depending on the build phase you may need to get your Bob the Builder look going on. Even before it’s a building site, it may be unsafe/unstable so be careful around the place.
  2. Boots/Wellies – Finally, those flowery Festival Wellies get some use. Embrace your inner farmer
  3. Brolly/Sunglasses/Scarf – It’s Ireland. Anything could happen.
  4. The Write Stuff – Pen/Paper/Phone/Tablet – take notes for later, your brain will thank you
  5. Camera – Snap, Snap, Snap. Try the time-lapse thing
  6. Compass – Mr. Sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Find out where it is. Most smartphones have built-in compass apps now
  7. Measuring tape – Don’t do what I do and march around like Basil Fawlty trying to figure out where the kitchen sink is going to be situated. Bring a tape.
  8. Time – All those photo shoots, goose stepping and neighbourly chats take time
  9. An Open Mind – You will see things differently each time you visit. If you want to.
  10. A second mind – No, not your imaginary friend, a real person. It’s good to talk.

Okay, thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more updates. If there’s some other topic you want to see covered, please let me know in the comments or say hello to me on twitter @olearydonal.

(Photo Credits  Featured Image Jason Long; Camera Jeff Sheldon; Whitethorn Author )


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