Building plan tips

Considering designing your own home? Although only registered professionals may sign off on a building plan, nothing stops you from designing your own place before you contact somebody to draw the official plans. Here are some tips you should keep in mind.
  1. Remember to take wall thicknesses into account. As a general rule, outer (or load bearing) walls are 230 mm thick. Inner (non-load bearing) walls are 115 mm thick.
  2. In South Africa, place your living areas and bedrooms to the North, place the bathrooms, kitchen, scullery and other utility areas to the South.
  3. Be wary of copying designs off the Internet, because you will have to take into account the direction of the road access etc. If your road access is from the North, your garage will have to be on the northern side of the house. I've had many clients show me designs of what they want, copied from the Internet, only to point out to them that the garage on their design would end up in the back of their garden.
  4. Don't make the bathrooms so small that the doors cannot open without banging into a bath or a toilet or something.
  5. Take the size, shape and orientation of your site into account. Also note the position of existing trees and how they might impact on the building during or after the building process.
  6. Before you start, find out what the building lines in your area are, and what servitude(s) run through your site.
  7. Find out where the municipal sewer connection point is, and consider that your sewer system will have to connect to this connection. Also remember that your sewer system may not run within a servitude area.
  8. Consider the slope, if any, of your site. A drop of 1 meter might not be very obvious to the eye, but could have a huge impact on your completed building.
  9. Consider what future additions you might like to add and where you need to leave space for such future additions.
  10. If it is a new building, check the site to make sure there are no obstructions where you plan the vehicle entrance and/or exit points to be. Obstructions would be things like water drains, street lamp poles, big trees etc.
  11. Keep is simple. There is a reason why most houses conform to certain standards, and that is because those standards (such as bedrooms face north,) have been proven to work. Look at existing buildings, and keep your design simple.


Having said all of the above, I have to throw in a caution. Do not expect your architectural professional to give you any kind of discount because you designed your own building. Your professional will still have to check that your design is workable, and then spend his/her time turning it into a real building plan. Think of it this way you don't pay the professional for what he does, but for what he knows.

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