How to choose a site for your high-performance home: 101
Welcome to your first day at BrightBuilt Academy! We’re so glad you are here learning with us. Today’s lesson is going to be about how to choose a new site for your BrightBuilt home.
We’ll begin with the basics. You have already decided that you want a new high-performance home, but where exactly are you going to put it?
Anyone? Anyone? ....Bueller? (We know...We're the worst.)
When looking for a place to site your new build, there are a few factors to consider to help you make the best choice. First, ask yourself some questions about location.
What kind of setting are you seeking? Rural or urban? Is knowing about the school district relevant to your family? How close would you like to be to a grocery store? The ocean? Ok, everyone pull out a map (old-school) or visit Google Maps (new-school) and start assessing distances between your work, friends and family, and access to supplies. Once you have those distances defined, pick a radius on the map to start searching.
Once you have determined an ideal geographic location, you should begin looking for available lots in the area. Ready for another round of questions? Here goes. What is the actual make-up of the lot? Is it wooded and dense or open? Is the land very sloped? What is just beneath the surface? The material that makes up the under-carpet of your lot can affect how easy it is to build a foundation or install a septic system.
Oh, a raised hand. Aha - great question! Will you even be allowed to build on this lot? To figure that out, you should look for the zoning regulations attached both to the lot you are interested in, and the surrounding area. It’s possible your lot is approved for a residential build, but the next lot could have the potential for a large commercial property. Don’t assume that what is empty around you will be empty forever. If you are looking for land in a subdivision, be sure to learn about their rules regarding construction, which may be more extensive than the town’s requirements.
On the lot itself, be sure to learn about easements, setbacks, and access to public utilities. Easements mean that either someone has the right to drive on a road through your land to access their own, or perhaps you need an easement through a neighbor’s property to access your own. Maybe the town’s public works department has an easement on your land to access power lines and noisy utility trucks will pass through as you sit on your deck, not-so-peacefully drinking your morning coffee.
How about setbacks? Does anyone know the ins and outs of setbacks? You are smart cookies, but we will explain anyway!
Setbacks are restrictions about how close to the edge of your property lines building is allowed. Be especially cautious on lots that have natural features such as wetlands. The views might be beautiful, but in order to protect fragile ecosystems, municipalities often have extensive setbacks in place. This can severely limit the size and placement of the house you are dreaming of if the footprint is constrained.
And then there are utilities. Do a quick check – What kind of utilities are already easy to access on the land? You should be aware of septic, electric, and water. A septic system will be an added cost to the sitework, and they are also subject to setback regulations. As will hooking up to an existing public waste system depending on how far away you are from the street. If electric and water are not already accessible, you will have to pay (often per distance) for the site to be connected to the public system.
Now we'll address some of the science and math that affect BrightBuilt homes specifically. You might wonder, why are these subjects relevant to BrightBuilt homes? Well, because our houses are designed to be net zero, an essential piece of the puzzle is harnessing the power of the sun. Even if you are not initially planning to install photovoltaic panels, the orientation of the house affects the home’s ability to properly utilize its passive heating and cooling properties. In this part of the world, because we have cold winters and mild-warm summers, the most ideal placement of a home is to have prime southern exposure. This allows for maximum absorption of sun through the windows during the winter. In the summer, the overhangs help shade the windows, letting in light but keeping your house cool. Does the lot you are looking at allow for the house to be placed with a southern (or near-southern) orientation?
Furthermore, if you're looking at a wooded lot or in a dense urban area, often the distance and height of the surrounding trees and buildings have a large effect on how much sun can reach your house site. While you cannot do much about surrounding buildings, you can ask yourself a few questions about trees: How tall are they? Will they lose their leaves in the winter? Or, are you seeking to live on a holiday tree farm for giants? There are resources that can further teach you about using sun angles, distances, and heights of surrounding foliage to help you calculate an ideal clearing radius. We can also assist! If there are protected forests or subdivision ordinances dictating percent clearings, you'll need to know that too. These are a good tasks to take home to study.
Well, there’s the bell! Now that you have the tools you need to make a good decision when purchasing a lot for your new home, your homework is to put it into practise. And if you have more questions, just raise your hand. We’re here for you.