How the building site affects a Kit Home’s design

How the building site affects a Kit Home's design

Show Notes:

How the building site affects a home’s design.   Foundation types and how they benefit a home.  Details to properly develop your site plan for your enjoyment and building permits.   What is a grading and drainage plan?


Interviewer: Hello everyone and welcome to the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. With me today as he is always is the President and Founder of Landmark Home and Land Company, the company which has been helping people build their new homes where they want exactly as they want across the nation and worldwide since 1993 and that would be Steve Tuma. Steve, how are you doing today?

Steve Landmark: It’s another great day.

Interviewer: Good.

Steve Landmark: We have more projects and it’s kind of fun talking about these different details. You know, taking our experience from 25 years or more and trying to help people out, to give them ideas so that they can sort out planning their home.

Interviewer: Right. You guys seem pretty busy. I mean it just seems like your building schedule is helping people design and build their homes. It takes up a lot of your time. So we’re glad you found time to be here.

Steve Landmark: Well, we have fun doing it and I think that’s the key point is actually enjoying what you do and taking pride and helping our customers because it’s a – it’s kind of fun. You know, everyone’s project is different. Someone might say, well, it’s a 1500-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath home. But where it is or how it is or the type of people that are building it, it really makes it completely different. That’s what we’re able to do is take the time to make sure the house makes sense for the customer.

Interviewer: Yeah. I thought today we might talk about something we’ve touched on in the past but we haven’t really gotten heavy into and that’s foundation type, the actual foundation of your new home and fitting it to the land, you go and buy a piece of land and not every bit of land is going to fit every house design.

So if you don’t mind, let’s touch on that a little bit. Why is knowing the site important to home design? You know, sloped lands, city lots, big acreage. How well should you know your site before you design?

Steve Landmark: Well, it’s kind of important because say if you’re on the side of the hill. That could affect your driveway. It could give you the ability to have a walk-out basement. It might give you a better view. It might restrict septic if you’re in a rural area.

If you’re in a city lot, generally they’re limited in size. Sometimes 30 feet by 100, sometimes 50 by 100, sometimes 100 by 100. So the house you could fit on there within setbacks and how do you get everything on there.

So just the slope of the land. It’s something to consider. Is it flat? Is it on the side of the hill? Is it off a cliff? How big of a space do you have to build on? Sometimes – you brought up acreage. Someone could have 20 acres but there are two or three better spots to build. You don’t want to build in drainage ditches. You want to build in places where the septic or water and sewer connections make sense and utility connections can make sense and sometimes it’s just something where people enjoy the view and they want to take advantage of a certain situation that the land offers naturally.

So the reason it’s important is you want it to work properly. You don’t want to put a type of home into a piece of land that’s going to cost you more to build or just doesn’t make sense. Sometimes people don’t realize that there are restrictions on the slopes of dry waste to make sure it’s comfortable to drive in. Cars need a certain turn radius in order to be able to access driveways. Then there’s a lot of just regulatory things which we can help with. Like I mentioned the setbacks. Where are the utilities coming in? Are they at the front or the back? And just a little bit of stuff to think about. Our customers generally will go through and say, “Hey, I found this lot. I want to put this house there.” But we will work with them to fine-tune the other issues to make sure that it flows properly.

Sometimes people come to us and say, “Hey, I want a walk-out basement,” but they’ve got a flat piece of land. So there are ways to make it happen but sometimes it opens up an opportunity or sometimes it’s a little more restrictive. So that’s the key thing and by the way, these different types of land can dictate different types of foundations.

Generally, people will build on basements, crawlspaces, cement slabs and we’re seeing more and more piers because of flood situations or hurricane situations.

You know, so sometimes people just want to raise it because there’s a little flood in an area. Other people want to raise the home and build on piers because of the environmental impact. It’s less impact. You’re not digging a whole area. So in some parts of the country, there are foundations that are more typical. Generally, in the southwest and California, people are more accustomed to slabs. You get in the Midwest, plain states up north, more crawlspaces and basements.

So then you get into Florida. Generally, it’s slabs. We have done some crawlspaces in order to take care of the slopes. So sometimes it takes a little bit of thinking, which we can help with to sort out the best way to take care of this.

Interviewer: Now you were mentioning the different foundation types. Now somebody like me and I just don’t have a clue walks or calls you guys up and says, “Hey, I want to build my own house. I want to design a house. But I don’t even know what – I don’t know – I kind of know what a basement is. But what’s the difference between a basement and a crawlspace?” and you’re talking about slabs and piers. Those are very different things. Yet in my mind as the customer who – first-time builder, those things can be a little daunting. How much customer service can they expect – the customer expect from Landmark just deciding those basic things based on where the land is?

Steve Landmark: Well, we will help them through the process. We will need to know some details on the land. So generally if you’re in Florida on flat land, you would build a slab. But people have done slabs in Minnesota as well.

So sometimes it’s a personal preference. Sometimes it’s driven by cost. But to go through and determine that, yes, we can help someone sort it out. I’m working with someone out in central lower Michigan where they’re trying to decide, “Hey, should they go with a slab or a crawlspace?” and it’s becoming an economics situation with them where they’re going to go for their building site and their conditions and it doesn’t apply to everyone but in theirs. They found that going with a crawlspace is better.

So basically, a crawlspace, depending upon where you’re at – and, you know, in the south it might be a little shorter. It might be a two or three-foot stem wall basically where the concrete wall will hold the wood floor up. In other places, it could be four, five feet or even more depending on the grade or the frost lines.

But we can help determine those. A basement is generally something that you would use as living space. Say seven, seven and a half feet or taller where you could go out there and put a little workshop down there or home office, additional bedroom. Generally, basements are about eight feet or more.

So – and then piers would be more the flood situation where there’s a storm. It creates a surge where the water needs to run underneath the house. So you’re not generally going to put a house in a basement, crawlspace or slab in the coast in Florida. It’s generally going to be in piers because of the storm surges. So there’s a lot of situations where codes will dictate it. Sometimes common sense, sometimes people’s budget, sometimes just personal preference.

That’s what we’re able to do is walk through the process to determine what makes sense because sometimes people have a nice rolling piece of land and not realize that there’s enough space there to put a walk-out basement.

So a basement is fine. You can have – you know, let’s just say for simplicity you can have a 26 by 40 house. You know, with just a basement, just a room down there. You can have a workshop, whatever, put some windows in or egress windows for future bedrooms. But let’s just say part of that wall was exposed where you could walk out into the lower part of the yard. That then makes it more usable. It kind of becomes more living space. There’s more light coming in, more access to outside. So basements are very affordable ways to get additional square footage.

Interviewer: Now that’s an interesting point you bring up because a lot of – for many, many years in this country, I mean that was kind of a regional thing. People in certain areas have basements but people – where I was born and raised, California, I never knew anybody growing up with a basement. Crawlspaces, yes, but not basements. But now with people moving around all over the country, very few people stick to where they were brought up. Everybody just kind of ups and moves. Do you see people from one region calling you up saying, “Well, like I’m in Florida right near a swamp. Can I have a basement?” and how do you deal with those situations?

Steve Landmark: I’m actually working with a family in that exact situation. But they actually have some land that actually has little hills in it that are actually big enough to put that walkout basement.

Interviewer: Oh, wow. And like you said in California, people are used to crawlspaces or slabs. Well, as they move into the mountains with houses that crawl down the sides of hills, suddenly that lower level, which might originally be a basement, becomes a walkout basement. They may not see it at that. But that’s the way it is.

So there are different conditions in different parts of the country where what’s normal might need to deviate because of the ground conditions. But yes, we do end up with different people that are accustomed to one thing where they came from and then they go somewhere else and it’s limiting. Sometimes there are people that have grown up in two and three-story houses back in the east, big, tall, old farmhouses and then you go to other communities where they want to take advantage of the views and make sure that your house doesn’t block someone else’s. They will limit the height of the house.

So those are little things that we can work with. It’s all easy for us to work with. It’s all very interesting and the people that sometimes see these differences, they actually see the benefit of it. You might not take a New England farmhouse and put it on the side of a hill in Colorado in a ski area.

You might have a different design. So sometimes people will say, “Hey, I originally thought I wanted this. But this is really what I want,” after they think it through or just – you know, we have a couple of conversations to help them develop the house that made sense for them.

We’re not going to tell someone what house they should live in. We’re going to make suggestions and they might happen to agree and if that’s the case, we can move forward with it or we can work with them on the design that they want.

Interviewer: But that brings up another good point. I’ve never asked you this before. But what kind of research on your end goes into it? Just knowing what that plot of land that somebody is building on is all about. How much do you have to dive into that to know all these answers?

Steve Landmark: Well, we generally request details on site plans if it’s available, topographical information. There is a lot of information available online through the GIS and also Google Earth. So we’re able to get ideas and then a lot of customers will send us pictures just to say, “Hey, here I am on flat farmland in Iowa,” or “Here I am, an oceanfront in Florida,” or in the gulf somewhere or “Here I am in a mountain range in Colorado,” or California or in Washington State.

Wherever it may be, to get ideas. So what we will do is we will work to get direction, to clarify those points. So a picture can say a thousand words but it can also leave a few things unclear. So if we see something – sometimes we get scale off of pictures. But a lot of times, we will just ask them to have a survey or a foundation guy go out there and look at it and say, “Hey, how big is that drop? Can we put a walkout basement there?” and amazingly, most customers are pretty up to speed. They understand this. They have the vision. They might just need a little help tweaking it so it really comes together right. But they understand that you need a certain amount of space for a walkout basement or a lookout basement or there are certain places you want to put your driveway or angle your porch.

So we’re able to take the ideas that a customer has, whether they’re basic ideas or more developed to put it into a finalized situation because Steve, we’re all able to go through and develop this concept of the house that we want. We have this picture in our mind. But getting that picture on a piece of paper or getting it permitted or getting it built, it takes a little bit of work and that’s what we’re able to do is take the vision and bring it to life.

Interviewer: Well, it sounds like site planning is really important. So let’s talk about that a little bit and also I would like to talk about – I know building department requirements. They vary a lot from location to location. Tell us about how Landmark digs into that and helps the customer get through those situations where maybe they’re not expecting the building department to be quite as stringent as they are or whatever.

Steve Landmark: Well, that’s the interesting thing. You can go from building department to building department in towns right next to each other and they could be completely different and you can go within inspectors or plan reviewers within the building department and have totally different feedback. Overall, building restrictions are getting a little bit tighter. You know, in the East Coast you see the hurricanes. In the West Coast, you see fires and there’s just a lot of different things that are happening.

So the building departments want to enforce codes that add to the safety and enjoyment of the home. So the key thing is we’ve worked all over the country in over 25 years developing different methods of answering the questions. First of all, we review the project with the building department. Find out exactly what it is that they request and supply the information.

A lot of building departments will issue permits the first time. Others in California, West Coast, Colorado, they might develop a checklist of items that they need clarification or even items which they didn’t originally request.

Then we supply it and that’s something which I think is very nice and the support that we provide to a customer is they’re not working on this on their own, trying to figure out what this means. We’re here to help them. So we just get the plans. We get it to them. The customer turns the plans in, fills out whatever paperwork the building department may request and then they get us the – let us know when a permit is issued or let us know if there are checklist items.

So we’ve got all the engineers, energy code people, site plan people, professional designers, engineers for plumbing, electric and heating systems. So the chance of a building department stumping us are probably pretty low. They do ask some interesting questions. Just today I got some questions on things that I never thought would be asked. But they ask for whatever reason and we have no problem justifying and that’s part of our service.

We don’t come back and say, “Oh, your building department is a hassle. We’re going to charge you more.” It’s just part of what we take care of. We understand it.

Interviewer: Right.

Steve Landmark: I work with the customers and the building department to go through that and make sure that the details are addressed properly to make permitting easy. By the way, most building departments aren’t out to get you or make it hurt. They just want to know that it’s built right. There’s a lot of places where there isn’t enforcement, where if people can do something wrong, they will do something wrong to save money. But it affects the safety of a home. That’s generally what the codes are about. So it’s not a big deal for us to move along and help a customer through the situations with any building department.

Interviewer: Well, you were talking about strange and unusual requirements. How often do you run into a building department that’s looking for grading and drainage? Is it a good thing to have a grading and drainage plan?

Steve Landmark: Yeah, it’s pretty interesting. Generally the places with floods, they ask for it. Everyone has the situation or they’ve had a relative or friend in a situation where a neighbor does something to their land and suddenly there’s more water in your land. They move a gutter. They do this. They add on to the house so that addition creates a lot more rain that doesn’t dissipate into the ground. It goes down a gutter and maybe they angle the gutter into your lot and suddenly your backyard is flooding.

Interviewer: Right.

Steve Landmark: So what ends up happening – oh, and that’s more in a drainage situation. But then a grading plan is accessing the land, making sure that you can get in the land, get out. Like, say in a mountain area. In older areas, you might see driveways that are very steep or inaccessible or not accessible by fire departments or there isn’t enough space for a septic system or access to build a house properly.

So sometimes the grading and drainage plans are done together. Sometimes they’re individually. We’ve worked in parts of Texas where they don’t necessarily want a grading plan just because there’s so much flat land in general. But they want a drainage plan to know that hey, if you’re in certain areas, if water is going to run on to your party, whether it’s just running across land or it’s dropping out of this kind of roof, to make sure it’s taken care of properly so that you’re not flooding your neighbor out.

A lot of grading plans are happening in California, Colorado. You know, anywhere where there are mountains because there could be restrictions on how steep your driveway needs to be, how wide your driveway needs to be. Fire department access, emergency vehicle access, different situations to make sure that a house isn’t on a cliff for a landslide situation.

So those are situations that ultimately they do help because I don’t think anyone wants their house to flood. I don’t think anyone wants to push the water somewhere else that creates a problem for someone else in the community.

So some areas are asking for them. Others are not. Generally, if there isn’t a big flooding problem, they don’t ask for it. But planning the house, understanding the topography, this kind of ties into the basement. If you’ve got a sloped lot, you might be able to put a walkout basement and understanding how things need to drain so that your basements don’t flood or you just don’t end up with back-out issues or your driveway getting washed out.

So it can get a little complicated but we’re here to help and do it. Ultimately, you don’t want to save a dollar now and flood your basement next year.

Interviewer: Right.

Steve Landmark: So you want these things done. You do want the house to be built properly, so your car can get up safely, so if emergency vehicles had to get in safely. So that the land is used properly. And a lot of people don’t realize. They say, “Hey, why am I paying this engineer to do a grading plan?” A lot of times, they pay for themselves because they find out ways to build your house or how to build it or a location in there that’s more affordable.

So it’s just a little bit of planning. It could sound a little far out there for people. But in areas where they’re required, it’s a good plan and we’re able to tie the architectural plans in there to show that the grades are consistent with the architectural plans, the structural plans, and the grading plans and the drainage plans, so that everything is uniform and sending the same message to the building department and also the contractors or subcontractors that would build the house.

Interviewer: Yeah. It sounds to me like good grading and drainage makes for good neighbors.

Steve Landmark: That’s pretty right. An example is my parents. They have some people that live next door to them and he’s kind of a Rube Goldberg kind of designer, just kind of puts things together with whatever is there and he got this nice little gutter that goes right by their basement window. I mean it’s – anyone could walk by and see that. But sometimes people don’t understand or they don’t see the issue. So it’s kind of nice to preplan it as we always suggest on paper to make sure that it works and it doesn’t have to be a big complicated process. It’s just an understanding just to make sure it’s done right. Sometimes it’s just general details of sloping the land away from your house. So that once water comes off your roof, falls down onto the ground, it flows away instead of creating puddles around your house.

Interviewer: Right. Before we wrap it up for this episode of the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show, Steve tell potential customers and anyone else who might want to contact you guys over at Landmark Home and Land Company just how to do that.

Steve Landmark: Best way is just give a call. Mike will work with people initially and I jump in when they’re ready to move forward. But Mike, you can reach Mike at 800-830-9788. You can email him at and you could view our webpage at It’s just kind of the initials, Landmark Home Land Company, You can email me directly at and we will take care of you. We’ve also got Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter.

Interviewer: Nice.

Steve Landmark: YouTube. So people can kind of check things out and kind of see what we’re doing. But we’re more than available to review specific topics on anyone’s project.

Interviewer: And a lot of internet platforms you guys are on. You’re not trying to be invisible, that’s for sure.

Steve Landmark: Well, the people in the internet, it’s a big place.

Interviewer: Right.

Steve Landmark: So we’re trying to make it easy for people to understand how we can help them.

Interviewer: Well, for Steve Tuma and myself, thanks once again for joining us and have a great day wherever you are and we will see you next time.

Steve Landmark: Thank you.

About Landmark Design Team