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Navigating Steep Slope Construction with Experienced Mountain Home Builders

Picking the Perfect Lot

When building a custom home, most people have an idea about the location and the type of setting they want. Here in the mountains, most people want a view. They may also have secondary preferences for their home, such as powered by solar energy or one-level living. They may have a vision for the style of home they want to build, so it’s important to find a lot that makes sense from a construction perspective to fulfill the vision.

Your realtor will help you find the perfect location and setting. Your builder and architect will help you determine what is possible to build at that location. As Frank Lloyd Wright said, when building a home, the home and the land become one. For the best possible outcome, it’s important for the land and the home to integrate and work in harmony.

Slope of the Land

The slope of the property will impact the decisions you make about the home’s design and foundation. If you want a walk-out basement, then you’ll want to choose a lot with a reasonable slope to it. A flat lot or a gently sloping lot may be more conducive to a concrete slab foundation.

Slope also affects water drainage. Natural drainage is ideal, which means rain and runoff from neighboring properties drain sufficiently. Yet it’s normal to find some low spots or areas where water may collect. When looking for the ideal building envelope, note where any drainage may need to be addressed or redirected when preparing the land to prevent future erosion or structural issues at the foundation.

Shape of the Lot

In most instances, the shape of the lot will be irregular, meaning a lot is rarely square or rectangular. What matters is the width, depth, and road frontage. A sprawling modern ranch style home is better suited for a wider lot when the wide side of the lot is facing the road. A stacked home with a small footprint is better suited for a narrow lot when the narrow side of the lot is facing the road.

The shape of the lot impacts the building envelope as well as the size of the front, rear, and side yards. Homes often require set-backs, which means how far back or set back away from the property lines or road the home has to sit. Having an idea about the style of home you want to build will help the builder determine what is possible within the set-backs based on the shape of the lot. The shape of the lot, and therefore the building envelope, also influences things like the access point and driveway length.

House Orientation

Most people who build a custom home want to leverage natural light for performance (think energy efficiency), frame a view, or both. The orientation of the home – the direction the home faces or how it sits on the lot – must be considered if a performance goal is to capture solar gain to off-set heating costs in the winter. A south or southwest facing home is ideal if solar gain or solar power is an objective. A north facing home may have incredible views, yet the house will block the sun and create shadows that prohibit solar gain. Snow lingers longer on the north side of a home than it does on the south side.

View Corridor

What are you going to see out your windows? For a lot of people building a custom home, a goal will be to frame a gorgeous mountain view. Therefore, the house design will be influenced strongly by how to best capture the view or avoid what may not be so pretty to look at based on how you want your home to function. The view may well come down to what’s possible within the building envelop.

Zoning, Building Codes, and Restrictive Covenants

Nearly every parcel of land is subject to some sort of constraint such as a municipality’s zoning and planning laws and building codes. Depending upon the slope of the land, steep slope building regulations may apply to the lot, too.

Lots located within a community or subdivision often have additional regulations called restrictive covenants (aka CC&Rs) to follow when building a home. The regulations can govern anything from a pre-determined building envelope and a designated palate of color choices for your home’s exterior to the style of home you can build and the minimum size of the home.

What may seem like a perfect lot on the ground may be far from perfect on paper if you have your heart set on a modern style home with a purple door if the CC&Rs only permit lodge style homes. It’s important to investigate this aspect of picking the perfect lot during the purchase process. Your realtor can help you navigate this task.

Utility Access

An important aspect to consider when looking for a piece of land is its access to utilities. In most situations, the power company will need to run power to the lot, which will need to be included in the building cost. This cost can vary substantially by location. If gas is desired, a propane tank may be necessary if a natural gas line isn’t possible.

The building envelope will also need to account for the water well and septic if the lot is in an area where it doesn’t access the municipal water supply. Always check on cable and internet access. Satellite internet and television may be the only option.

Make sure you understand what utilities are available and what needs to happen to obtain access before you purchase the land. It may not be the perfect lot if the cost to run electricity negatively impacts your construction budget.

Soil and Trees

Unless you’re building a home in what was once a pasture, you’re inevitably going to have to remove some trees to build the home. The tree canopy can help keep your home cooler in the summer. Trees can add privacy, yet they can block your views. Selective pruning can open views while maintaining privacy. The prefect lot will likely involve taking down trees to clear enough land to build the home.

Some soils can expand and move depending upon heat and cooling cycles and dampness. Expansion and movement can compromise the structural integrity of a home, especially if building on a steep slope in a wetlands area. Soil testing by a knowledgeable soils engineer is the way to go to get an understanding of what is possible on the piece of land you’re considering.

Getting Our Perspective

As a builder who has been building homes in these mountains for three generations, we have a deep understanding of slope and the challenges of building in mountain terrain. Some of our clients come to us knowing the style of home they want but aren’t sure what’s possible on a piece of land they’re considering buying.

We encourage clients to engage with us early in the process so that we can walk the land to help you see what’s possible so that you can pick the perfect lot to fulfill your vision and goals.

If you’ve narrowed your choices to a few lots and don’t yet have a builder, we may be able to guide you. Click the “Schedule A Free Consultation” button below to get started.