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Site plans and what is required to develop a good one. Building department and Home Owner Association requirements. Grading and topographical plans reviewed. All interesting details to understand if you have a more sophisticated building department or complex building site.
Interviewer: Hey everybody. Welcome to another episode of the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. With me, as he is for every episode, is the President and Founder of Landmark Home and Land Company, a company which has been helping people build their new houses where they want exactly as they want across the nation and worldwide since 1993, Mr. Steve Tuma. Steve, how are you doing my friend?
Steve Landmark: It’s another great day, another fun day helping customers design houses, build them and work with different details and today we were working on a project and where the customer wanted to know, “How does my house fit on the lot?”
Steve Landmark: It sounds kind of simple. But when you think about it, it’s like who has ever thought about that?
Interviewer: And that falls under what? Site planning would you say?
Steve Landmark: Yeah, I would say site planning. It’s an important thing and sometimes there’s technical details. You know, and generally smaller than the lot, a little more complex because it’s just harder to fit a lot more in a little space. But some nice big lots and mountain area, slopes and stuff. There’s a lot of details. But it’s important not just for the building department but also for your enjoyment of the home and the site.
Interviewer: Well, just give me the basics. Talk to me like I’m a third grader. I mean how do I go about developing a site plan?
Steve Landmark: Well, it’s kind of interesting because a lot of customers will know where they want to put a house or what the house looks like or if they own a land, they will be like, “Well, this is our spot and we’ve got a view of the sunrise or the sunset,” or “Hey, this is easy access to get out of the kitchen, run into the garage and go off to work.”
Steve Landmark: So whatever someone’s priority is, they generally have some general concepts. So the idea of setting it up for someone’s lifestyle is important. But it’s also good to make sure it fits the regulations and other things that are important for draining, accessing your garage, being able to make sure you can get on the porch roof. If you’re going to put a patio on the back, make sure that the ground is there.
So it’s important stuff to review and understand because different houses fit on land different ways. Sometimes people send us a plan for a house with a big walkout basement and they’re telling us that they want to build it on a slab in Iowa.
So we’ve got to make adjustments to the design to make sure that it will fit the land. But there’s – it’s kind of interesting. I’m initially talking about how do you fit it on the land. You know, does it flow? Does it work good? But some of these regulations that the building departments have, there will be different setbacks. So some areas you got to have a 10-foot front yard or 20 or 30-foot front yard. Some will say you have to have 10 on side yards. Some will say you have to have 20 total with the minimum of 8 on one side.
So sometimes the interpretation is relatively simple. You just need to understand and then there’s also rear lot setbacks. So those are details that we can work with with customers to find out the building area, to make sure that the footprint of the house fits in there.
So – and we can work with the finer technical details. Most building departments say the setbacks will go up to the side of the house, the wall of the house. We’ve had others say no, it goes to the overhang. Others say no, it’s to the farthest projection. So if you’re putting gutters on the house, you have to go to the setback up to the gutter.
So there’s a variety of situations that we can help a customer work through and that’s a very important part. You don’t want to design and have a house ready and then find out that you can’t put it on the lot.
Within that, some of these building departments have lot coverage setback or lot coverage restrictions. So you can’t have over 40 percent of the ground covered.
Interviewer: Ah, OK.
Steve Landmark: Right? So they basically don’t want people just covering their lot with cement. They want some green areas or to have side yards and have a certain feel in the neighborhood. So sometimes those coverages are by roof area. Sometimes it’s roof area and sidewalks and garage area and overhangs.
So it’s – we can work with the situation there to make sure it complies. Then there’s also height restrictions. Some areas, they don’t want you putting five-story buildings.
Interviewer: I guess you could make some pretty angry neighbors if you build too high.
Steve Landmark: Yeah. You put your tower over there, the big, evil tower in the middle of town or something, but no. So there are height restrictions and then what a couple of communities have is they have different restrictions to make sure sunlight gets in your yard, so that you don’t have to push shadows all over.
So there are different calculations sometimes on how to calculate these different details and that’s what we can help. It’s not hard for us to do. It’s just a matter of finding out what your building department wants and we can go through. So we don’t expect every customer to know every detail on site planning. But that’s what it is.
But then some building departments will ask things like, “Where’s your septic? Where’s your reserved area for the septic? Where’s the driveway? What is it made of? Where does your gas come in, your power, your electric come in, and any other utilities? Where are there power poles? Are there any other buildings?” In areas – you know, the fires in California. They want to know are they restricted areas where someone can’t travel through? Are there cliffs or different stuff? Because if there’s a fire, the fire department might look at it and say, hey, these are the conditions at the house. Then they’re prepared to fight the fire.
So there could be different situations. Again, it’s details that we deal with. I’m just kind of reviewing them, so people could get an understanding of what’s involved. Generally, the less sophisticated building departments, they just want to know, “Hey, how big is your lot? Where’s your house going? Does it fit within the setbacks?”
Other building departments want details but that’s part of our service. If someone wants the site plan to help get that all put together and go from there. We always say that someone should understand their lot. If they own it, they should have a survey of it or a legal description, so that we could develop this plan and so that they know what they own.
Rarely but occasionally, someone will say, “Hey, I own a 100 by 100 lot.” Well, you get the legal description as 97 feet, 6 inches by 102 feet and 4 inches. So more and more building departments are making sure that the site plan is actually drawn to what their recorded piece of land is to make sure that everything is consistent.
Interviewer: You’re talking about building departments a lot. We do discuss that a lot in this podcast, dealing with building departments and how much Landmark – you know, stuff like lot coverage, height restrictions that we mentioned and Landmark Home and Land Company, your company does help the customer deal with those and deal with the different departments. But what about homeowner’s associations? How much control are they going to have over my site design and how much of that to you does Landmark need to know before they can help a customer?
Steve Landmark: Right. Homeowner’s associations are interesting because the general concept is they will go through to keep the uniformity or to keep a certain community to a certain standard. So generally if they have recorded covenants and restrictions, they might name them something else. But covenants and restrictions, they might be as simple as you can’t park two cars in your driveway or they might say, hey, the house has to be over 1000 square feet. If it’s two levels, it has got to be over 1600 square feet and then other homeowners’ associations can be extremely restrictive. They can say you’ve got to have these colors. You got to come by a board. You got to do this, this, this and this and they can really, really dictate what it is.
Most of them are pretty easygoing. They’ve got a clear and written set of guidelines. As long as you fit them, you should be ready to go and get them. So we can work with it. You know, read them, work with the plans, make sure it’s all put together and we can also get the plans. So in some cases if they’re simpler, saying, hey, the house needs to be 1000 square feet. We just draw the plan. So it’s 1000 square feet or larger according to what the customer wants.
If it’s something more specific, we’ve actually had some building departments say you have to specify the exact manufacturer and color of the roof, the siding, the fascias, soffits windows and they want samples of them at the meeting. So they can be restrictive but generally people know about that before they purchase the land. So it makes sense for them to have a more restrictive neighborhood. They can buy there. If they want something less restrictive, they can go somewhere else. But overall it’s just another – they just want to make sure that the community is uniform. You wouldn’t want to go in and build a nice home and then find out the guy next to you is building something less than nice. So we can be supportive and help the process.
The important thing is to get those approvals before you get too deep in the final designs and stuff because if they do come back and say, “Hey, you got a nice home. But we need you to do this and that,” we can make those revisions.
But most homeowner’s associations are pretty easygoing. Every once in a while, they get interesting. But they’re pretty easygoing and straightforward. So – and sometimes the important thing is that sometimes they are more restrictive than the city.
Steve Landmark: So I’m working on a project right now where the city setbacks are 25 feet in the front. Ten on each side and 20 in the back. But the homeowner’s association restricts the front setback at 30 feet.
Interviewer: Oh, I see what you’re saying. Yeah.
Steve Landmark: So that’s why you’ve got to look at what the city or the county wants along with what the homeowner’s association wants. We can look at some of those things and interpret some of them and get you to set a plan so that they can be submitted properly.
Interviewer: Let’s talk about the actual lay of the land as they say. How does the topography affect the use of my site?
Steve Landmark: Well, topography basically just kind of get – tells you is the land flat. Is there a hill? Is there a steep hill? Is there a cliff? If you’ve ever looked at a site plan, there might be lines there. There might be a number there. Like it will say 100 and it might say each line is a one-foot increment or two-foot increments or ten-foot increments.
Interviewer: Yeah, I’ve seen that.
Steve Landmark: And you could read that to show where hills are. Where that’s important is in making sure the house fits on the land, making sure the foundation fits properly. You might need to get someone in there to do a grading plan or a drainage plan. But it allows you to understand stuff. So if you’re in an area and designing it, you might not want to design your driveway so it’s on a steep upslope. It might not be safe.
So you can look at the terrain and see what is and sometimes it’s to take advantage of a view. But generally when we’re working on it, it’s to make sure that the house fits on the land, the foundation works right, to know that if you want a walkout basement, make sure there’s enough space or if it’s a lookout basement, to make sure there’s enough space or if someone wants a house on a slab, to make sure that you’re – you’ve got an area where the land is workable.
So topography is very important. Now what’s interesting is certain states, there’s less topographical challenges. Like Florida is a pretty flat state. You know, what they consider a hill down there, people don’t even notice in the Colorado Rockies.
Steve Landmark: So …
Interviewer: That’s good.
Steve Landmark: …you can end up in some pretty extreme situations when you get in the mountain areas. That’s where it’s important in positioning the house and sometimes it’s not just for the foundation. Sometimes it’s aesthetics. Sometimes people want to say, hey, there’s this beautiful mountain here, this knoll or this vista where the sun sets and we want to be able to take advantage of that or they might say, hey, we have horses. We want the horses to have this flat area. Let’s put the house in an area that’s higher in the hills to look over the pasture.
So it’s kind of an important detail. Now a lot of customers, when they buy the land, they will go through and say, “Hey, this is beautiful. I want the house here and the garage is here or the pole barn is there,” or whatever it is and go from there.
Generally city lots are relatively flat. But there have been conditions when you need topographical details in areas that are very sophisticated in their permit review.
Interviewer: Now you had mentioned grading plans just a second ago. It sounds like something that’s probably a good idea to get. Would you say in most situations?
Steve Landmark: In situations where you’re in a – an area where there’s a varied terrain, a lot of hills and valleys and stuff like that, it’s important. Like if you’re in a flat piece of land, generally isn’t important. There are some areas of California where they will ask you to get a topographical detail and a grading plan on a perfectly flat piece of land that’s going to stay perfectly flat because they want to know what’s there and what will be there. It’s just documentation. But like if you’re building on the side of a hill, it’s important to have the topographical details and a grading plan, so that you know you’ve got proper access for driveways, to get in your doors.
Some areas, this is kind of done to make sure that there’s enough turnaround for emergency vehicles. But the areas that want grading plans, your building department will request them. It’s pretty rare that someone does a grading plan just to do it. You know, so generally in mountain areas. You know, Colorado and California type projects and also in Oregon and Washington State. Every once in a while, you will run into that. But that’s something we can work with on the site plan. So basically I think the bottom line of site plans is some of them are very simple. If you’re building in an area, they may not even ask for one. They may just say, “Hey, sketch up your lot dimensions and where you’re putting the house,” and others, they can get very complex. The point is where they’re asking for more complex information, there’s probably little challenges to the lot and we need to have that information to properly design the home and supply the information the building department will require.
There are situations where grading plans get into the safety of a home. You know, making sure you can get out of a house properly and easily get in and out of a house for whatever reason. So it’s important stuff. But site plans, like I say, can be simple or they could be complex. Either way, we can work through the process to help it and sometimes customers just want a site plan so that they could visually look at it.
Interviewer: Right, I could see that.
Steve Landmark: And say, hey, you know, I want to sit out there with my family and say, hey, the pole barn is going here, the garage is here and some families will actually go out to their land and stake it and say here’s the garage, here’s the driveway, here’s the house, here’s the porch and they will sit there and go, “OK. Is this taking advantage of the view? Is this making it easy?” You know, if they’ve got multiple cars to make sure they can get in the driveway right.
Now we can plan that on paper. But some people actually like to kind of role play it out on the land.
Interviewer: Why not? Yeah, that’s great.
Steve Landmark: So that you can see it and within that site plan then, you can start seeing hey, wait. We’ve got a view of this hill or this big tree or the lake or the river. We should have a window here.
Steve Landmark: Or this is where we want the back porch. So it’s kind of important not just for regulations but also the enjoyment of the home. It’s a pretty key element.
Interviewer: So site plans can be pretty detailed but they can also be pretty simple I would think.
Steve Landmark: Right. Yeah, that’s the point and it really comes down to what the building department requests. But it’s something we can help with. We just work with the customer for them to provide the information. We get it drawn up. If they need help interpreting something or knowing how to obtain some information, we can help them through the process. We’ve been doing it a while. We can help.
Interviewer: Just Steve, you’re – I have to tell you. Your knowledge on the subject of home building, it never ceases to amaze me. I just want to know a little bit about your day. I mean helping people just seems to be something that Landmark is – you guys are known for your great customer service. But how many hours of your day are spent on a telephone just helping people get through the little bumps of home building, you know, without scraping their knees too much?
Steve Landmark: That’s interesting because I think if I looked at how many hours it was, I would be like, “Wow, I work a lot.” It’s basically you get out of bed and you help people and you take calls. It’s emails, texts, phone calls, messages through social marketing, wherever it may come through. We communicate with the people on – and by telephone as well.
The interesting thing is we do like to support and help the customer. So some customers call. Some people email. Some people text, whatever it is. We’re very responsive and take care of it because we think it’s important that our customers understand what they’re doing. So if someone says, “Hey, should I do this or that?” we don’t just answer yes. We try to explain why it makes sense.
Interviewer: Right, right.
Steve Landmark: Because they’re owner builders. They’re doing this for a personal enjoyment, satisfaction, learning, control the quality, control the budget. There’s a lot of reasons why they do it and we want them to enjoy the process. It could be a lot of work. It is a lot of work. But when you understand it and realize, hey, I’m taking in extra time to do my site plan right, so we have the view of the pond, as long as they live at the house, they’re going to enjoy the view of the pond or the sunrise or sunset or whatever it is.
So that’s why we like to work with people in a supportive manner to help them through the process. I think in any professional business, there are people that just give you answers and push you out. We’re here to say, hey, let’s make sure you understand this, so that you could make good decisions and those good decisions leads to a better home and a more enjoyable building process.
A huge portion of our business is repeat and referral business. That’s a result of taking care of people.
Interviewer: I was told that you actually receive like Christmas cards and things from former customers. That’s pretty amazing. That says a lot.
Steve Landmark: Oh, it’s amazing. There’s one family, there – a retired couple in Arizona every year and I think we helped them five years ago. People will just call up and say, “Hey, what’s happening? We were just sitting here and talking about you. It’s like your ears must have been burning and I just wanted to tell you about this,” and there are people that will call 10, 15 years later to say, “Hey, remember me? I want to do another one.”
Steve Landmark: That is the ultimate pat on the back. You know, Landmark you did a great job. It’s just amazing when people come back and will go through and say, “You really helped me. Do you remember me?” I’m like, “Yeah! That was a cool house. It was a chalet in Colorado,” or the house in the Historic District in Pennsylvania and to go through and work that through.
What you’re hitting there is a passion. I think we totally enjoy this. We’re having fun.
Interviewer: Yeah, that’s a good one, passion.
Steve Landmark: We – this isn’t a nine-to-five. This is an all-day endeavor. We’ve been doing it since 1993. If someone calls us on a weekend, we answer or we will give them a callback right away. We’re supportive of the project because we realize it’s a very important project to them and it’s also very important to us. It’s cool. It’s a lot of fun. And you know what? The best thing is we’re lucky. We’ve got a lot of very good customers doing interesting projects that are just trying to do things to get a good home, whether it’s their first home, their fifth home, their retirement home, whatever it may be.
It’s interesting to see how our help affects them and their ability to live a better life. It’s very cool.
Interviewer: That’s awesome, yeah. Well, with that happy note, we’re going to wrap up this episode of the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. But before we go, Steve, tell our listeners how best to get in contact with you guys over at Landmark Home and Land Company.
Steve Landmark: The best way is to call 800-830-9788. You can also check out our website at www.lhlc.com. It’s the initials of Landmark Home and Land Company but it’s just www.lhlc.com. We’re on social platforms, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and then you can also email us. Mike will generally work with customers upfront. He’s at email@example.com and I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’re always wanting to help and help people sort projects out.
We realize some people are ready to go now and we realize other people might need a year or two or three or whatever time to get things in line, get the right land. You know, get everything in a row so that they can move forward. So we don’t look at this as a race to build a house. We look at it as a positive endeavor to go through and make sure the house is designed and built properly.
Interviewer: Fantastic. Well, that’s going to do it for us today on the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. So for Steve Tuma and myself, once again thanks for joining us and we will see you all next time.
Steve Landmark: Well, thank you.