Landscape Design Blog

Articles by John D. Longhill

Site Planning

The Benefits of doing it right

Your home should reflect the dynamics of the site that you chose, and the site should be amenable to the type of home you decide to build. What does this really mean? It means that ideally a site should be chosen first, and then a house plan should be developed, considering all of the special nuances of the site. If you already have a house plan, a site should be selected that will complement and enhance it. The house should be a perfect “fit” for the site.

If the site plan is done properly, valuable native vegetation can be preserved thus decreasing landscape costs. Foundation walls and grading costs can be minimized and the end result is a home that is functional both inside and out.

Too often, the house plan is chosen first and made to fit a site. This might work with a platted subdivision in Denver, where all the lots are essentially the same. However, on the western slopes, with its unique and varied topography, site planning must be done with a lot of thought, to assure the most effective design. A successful plan will age like fine wine - adding value with age. The initial thought and effort expended for a good site plan will pay off handsomely with resale value and aesthetic enjoyment. Poor planning can cause headaches and regrets for years to come, and could possibly cost thousands in additional dollars.

Site plans for homes are typically done as small scale drawings, in surveying or engineering office’s, because of setback and property line concerns. The primary emphasis for these plans is to make sure there are no encroachments and to meet county requirements. In the process, essential ingredients that make a good site plan are often overlooked. The scale of a good site plan should be large enough to allow accurate layout of driveways, walks and retaining walls. It should also show topography, tree locations, first floor elevations and an accurate footprint for the house at 1/16th or 1/10th scale.

Site planning is often underemphasized when building a new home, and a new homeowner should be aware of the pitfalls of neglecting this important part of designing a home. The review process in any subdivision or Metro District is heavily weighted toward architectural and landscape guidelines, which is important, since these elements are the most visible and have the greatest effect on the overall character of a development. But, It is the responsibility of the homeowner to invest in a good site plan to insure that their home is safe to access, cost efficient, and aesthetically pleasing. Time and time again, I have been called in after a house is built to solve problems that could easily have been corrected, by moving the foundation of a house a few feet this way or that, or by changing the finish floor elevation by a foot or two.

If you are building a home, the process of site planning begins before you purchase a property, because it is important to make sure your needs can be met by the site you are looking at. It is helpful to have at least a rough idea of house size (square footage), along with a general idea of its layout. Once you have narrowed your choices, walk each one, take the time to sit down and imagine living there. How does it make you feel? Always try to strike a balance between what feels right and meeting the necessary requirements for the type of home you are choosing to build.

Once you have decided on a particular property and building plan, you may want to hire a qualified landscape architect to assist you. He/She can help by collecting as much information about the site as possible, including; an accurate topographic and tree survey; important plant material locations, like native shrubs and trees; and marking the required setbacks. Armed with this information, the landscape architect can tell if your chosen property and house is a match.

A landscape architect will site the house so that the best views are taken advantage of from bedrooms and livings spaces. A comfortable driveway will be designed while still preserving important native stands and the approach to the front door will be beautiful and make sense to everyone approaching your home.

The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” can be adapted slightly when it comes to site planning. An ounce of planning is worth years of enjoyment and savings when building a new home.


Company Info

By Design
P.O. Box 25689
Silverhorne, Colorado 80497
Office: 970-389-8496

About Us

By Design, Landscape Architecture, founded in 1999 by John Longhill.....