How to start designing your new panelized home

Episode 3 - How to start designing your new panelized home

Show notes:

Planning and designing your new home is the most important step.  Where to start.  Are standard plans or online plans usable?  Can my friend design the plans?  Fitting the home to your building site.  Taking our conceptual ideas and getting them into usable plans.  Benefits of a one stop shop for plans, engineering, energy codes, and site plans. How proper plans help your project, permitting and budgeting.



Interviewer: Hey everyone. Welcome to the Landmark Home and Land Company’s Panelized Home Show. With us as always is the President and Founder of the Landmark Home and Land Company, Steve Tuma. Steve, how are you doing?

Steve Landmark: Excellent. It’s a nice day. It’s a busy day today. We had a lot of people calling in, asking how to design their homes and get projects going. The season is coming up and I guess people are excited.

Interviewer: I wanted to ask today about plans for a new panelized home. Let’s just start with this. How does one go about drawing up plans for a new panelized home project? Do I just get out a pencil and a napkin and start designing plans myself? What’s the best way to get started?

Steve Landmark: Well, there’s a variety of ways to start. But generally it all starts with a concept. Someone may not have thought their whole plan process through. But they know what they want. They know that they want a ranch home with a two-car garage and three bedrooms, two baths, a big great room for the family to get together or maybe if they’re in a – building in a mountain area. They need something to take advantage of a view or if they’re building a lakeside, they want another place that has access to bring their toys, kayaks, canoes in and out of the house and have the home properly designed for it.

So generally it starts with a concept and people will have a rough idea of what they need. I think what we’re talking about is how do you take that idea from someone’s mind and get it on a piece of paper. Stephen, it has been pretty interesting. We’ve had people that just call us up and say, “Hey, I want a house about 40 feet wide, 2 bedrooms, 3 baths.” We draw a sketch-up and get it to them. Some people have literally been out to dinner, draw it on a napkin. They take a picture of it and text it to us or they fax it or email it some other way.

So there’s a whole variety of different ways. The key to it is that we have the capability of listening and looking at what you want and then drawing it into a set of preliminary plans. So everything is sized properly because you can have walls that are a certain thickness. Windows have to be certain sizes. There are just certain code details that when you draw it on a sketch or with a pencil, the dimensions and things don’t work out.

But our people will draw it up to make sure that it works with the codes. It works within the setbacks. It works within the ceiling that you want, the window locations, how you want a kitchen laid out, where you want your garage, how you want your basement crawl space, whatever it is, what type of roof lines if you want a porch.

So I think the best thing to do is get in touch with us and let us know what you’re thinking and then you can email us the details on the plans and we would take it from there and we do have the capability of getting preliminary plans going and even out for preliminary concepts, developing budget ideas so that people know that they’re working towards a project that makes sense for what they intend to do and the budget that they want to stay within.

Interviewer: Now, what if I already have a set of plans from my own designer or say from like an online plan service? Then what?

Steve Landmark: Well, that’s an interesting concept because codes are getting tighter. Building departments are getting stricter. So it all depends on the quality of plans. We get a lot of plans from different – where customers get them from their local designer friend or they draw them themselves or even an online service and although they might be good-looking plans, they don’t always have the details.

So we would have to go look to see how it is. If you go online and generally purchase a set of plans from a service, they generally have the disclaimers on there that you need to bring in a local engineer or local design person that knows to apply for it because they can’t possibly design the home to fit every single building department or every type of terrain in the land.

So you’ve got to check the quality of those and I know a lot of people will have the opinion. Hey, my friend is a good guy. He won an award and that’s excellent. But we need to know how the house fits on your land for your property within your building department’s guidelines and there are a lot of people that understand how to draw. But they don’t understand structure to make sure the house is significant. They don’t always understand the codes and they don’t always understand just architectural details and how they’re put together.

So the bottom line is if you have a quality set of plans with the proper details, we can help with that or fill in the gaps to get it put together. Fundamentally, with our process, because we like to give a guaranteed price, have control of the engineering, the energy calculations, the electrical layouts and all these things, if you work within our system, we can develop and control the changes on your plans. So we can get this taken care of quickly.

So like if their building department has a question and they say, “Hey, is this window big enough to be egress?” in our system, we would note it on there. But if it was a follow-up question, I could get the answer right away and do it. If you work with a plan service or an outside designer, we’re at the mercy of when they choose to respond.

Interviewer: Oh, got it.

Steve Landmark: And in many of those places, they could be a little delayed or just not have the detail themselves. So sometimes those methods of developing plans are good to get the concept going and then we would have to work through it to make sure it fits the land.

For example, the plans from plan services, they generally are drawn on a flat piece of land. So, if you decided to say, “Hey, I found this beautiful piece of land in Vail, Colorado,” that probably isn’t a flat piece of land up there. You’re building on the side of the hill. So how do you adjust it?

Someone has got to do the foundation design, change the elevations. I think that that’s where we can come in to take the idea from the concept of if you bought plans, had your designer friend or if you just sketched it up yourself with your family. I think that’s a key element is we’re very flexible in doing it since 1993 to go through and take your idea, put it on paper, make sure it complies with the details and move forward.

Interviewer: Yeah. It sounds like Landmark is pretty much, as we’ve said in the past, a one-stop shop. But –

Steve Landmark: That’s a key element. You brought something up there because if you have one designer, one structural engineer, one energy code person, a green code person, a foundation designer, a site plan person and you need to get a question, sometimes you end up in a finger point situation.

With us, you say, “Hey Steve, I need an adjustment here,” and I could carry it through every single one of those phases. So it’s a lot easier for you. You’re not trying to juggle five people.

Interviewer: Right.

Steve Landmark: You just call us, email us, let us know what you need and we will get it taken care of and push it through, so that your plans are uniform. That’s extremely important during the permitting phases and the building phases.

Interviewer: And how does Landmark’s planning process actually help me stay within my budget?

Steve Landmark: Well, that gets into the preliminary plan phase and that’s why it’s good to work with us on the preliminary plans because let’s just say you had a house and your target budget was $300,000. So we can go through and do some general ball parking of a design to say, “Hey, you can do this type of design and size,” based off of the ideas you tell us. We could do a preliminary set of plans and that preliminary set, which we can still make adjustments to, you can then take to your contractors or your material supplier.

So you can take it to your window guy, get the cost for windows. You know, take it to your cabinet people, your carpeting people, your tile people, et cetera, through the whole budget and then add those numbers up to see if it works.

If for some reason you can spend a little more money or you need to cut back, we’re still doing it on paper, so you can make those adjustments to target your budget properly, to make sure that you’re proceeding. You want to do all your changes upfront while it’s on paper. Then when you’re actually digging, excavating, pouring the foundation, framing the house, you want to continue on with the plan. You don’t want to do changes. That will kill the budget and also just the nature of our designing, engineering and panelization process is – we will give you a guaranteed cost for what we’re supplying upfront.

So it’s not a situation where one person is drawing plans and then you’re talking to someone else on wood and someone is drawing a plan, not even knowing the cost of the materials.

Interviewer: Right.

Steve Landmark: So it’s kind of built-in. It’s kind of a little bit of a check. We’re not going to intentionally draw a set of plans that doesn’t work with your budget. So that’s the good part of it, one of the biggest components of your house project. We can control the cost when we develop the plans and we do the engineering and we supply the panelized home package. That’s extremely important.

Interviewer: Well, OK. Let’s say I put my budget together and I’m ready to design a house. Do I need an architect?

Steve Landmark: You don’t necessarily need an architect. It’s not a law that you need an architect to get a building permit and also the word “architect,” it kind of varies. Sometimes people with a pencil and a piece of paper consider them an architect.

An architect is more – you know, design professionals. In a lot of places, they’re licensed. But what we’re able to do beyond what an architect typically does is actually work with you on those revisions in a process. We have the structural engineers, the energy code people, all the people together to develop the final set of plans, to make sure that we’re drawing in the architectural phases a house that can be structurally significant and yet is not expensive to build.

So if you run into a situation – sometimes people will go online or just see houses. You know, they will see a $5 million home and then they will want to put it in their $500,000 home. Well, sometimes those features don’t match up with budgets. We’re able to go through to work it out. So that if we have a question about the structure, I can find out from the structural engineer right away.

So sometimes when you separate it and have an architect draw it up, they will do the plans. It later goes to the structural engineer. Well, you’ve already paid the architect. If the structural engineer comes back and things are expensive and you’re over budget, you then have to pay to redo the plans where with us, we can work together as a unit to get all of these details put together, the structural engineering and all the details. So if you ask a question, we can get you a comprehensive answer towards your project instead of a, “Oh, I’m just the architect. You will have to talk to someone else.”

Somehow, you don’t need an architect. You can be the architect on the concept and then we, with our knowledge of the codes, the structural details, the energy calculations, we can go through and take your ideas and put them on paper, so they make sense for your project budget and also the building department.

Interviewer: Right. Let me ask you. Can Landmark like fit my house to my property? Let’s say like what if I’m building on the side of a mountain or even just a narrow plot of land. Can Landmark work around my unique building situations?

Steve Landmark: And that’s one of the most important things about doing the proper set of plans because we will get into what your lot looks like. You know, sometimes there are restrictions. Stephen, if you were building in a city lot, say a 50 by 100 lot, there might be a ten-foot setback on each side. So 50 less 10 on each side, 50 less 20 is 30. You can only build a 30-foot wide house in that area.

Interviewer: Right.

Steve Landmark: So sometimes people come in with a 40-foot wide house. We got to redo the design. Let’s just say you took that same house and you put it on the front of a lake and you had 100 feet of lake front. You might be like, “Hey, I want to make the house wider, to put more windows to take advantage of the view.”

Now let’s just say you end up on a mountain. Suddenly you have a sloped lot and you want a walk-out basement or we need to crawl the foundation down the side of the hill. That’s the key element is that we can fit your house to the lot, so it makes sense, getting how the driveway comes in, how the house is going to fit, where your views are, where the access is. That’s the key thing. It’s not just the design of the house. It’s the design of the environment that the house is going to be within.

That’s why we don’t always like to work with standardized plans because they’re generally set for flat land and not everyone is building on flat land. So we can help you through the process with that to make sure that it’s all set for your building site, which then allows us to do the final set of plans for permitting that are accurate to your site.

Then the building department will understand your project more and therefore make it easier to get through the building department, obtain the proper permits and then also it’s easier for inspections because everything has been approved. You’re not doing changes on site.

Interviewer: You’re right, which can get kind of sticky. How do I know my new plans will be in compliance with like the different requirements of local building codes, et cetera?

Steve Landmark: Well, that’s the interesting thing because every building department is different. Different plan checkers in the same building department will be different. What we do is we get the information from the building department as far as what is required. So they will generally have details on whatever structural details, architectural details, site plans and this and that.

Now not all plans are the same. Not all site plans are – that are requested are the same. So for example, you can go to some areas and in their site plan, they just want to know where the house is fitting on the lot. So if you have a 50 by 100 lot and you have a 30-foot house, so you just want to know how far it is from the front, sides, rear, everything, where your sidewalk is, where your driveways is going to be.

Interviewer: Right.

Steve Landmark: Then there are other building departments. They want to know how close it is to any drainage, ditches, where the utilities come in, where the sewer, the septic, where your neighbor’s well and septic are at, where your neighbor’s electrical connections are, where your neighbor’s houses are, any outbuildings. They can get pretty detailed. They can get in the topographical details and just endless details.

That’s the important part because when we check with your building department to see what’s required, we can then fill in all the details, which makes it easier for you to get permits and then it also allows you to understand your building – the building site better, so you could plan your project and therefore properly budgeted.

So we work with the building department to get the information that you need, so that it’s properly put on to plans. Now in some cases, you may have to go get some details. You would have to work with our septic designer or if they request a grading plan or a drainage plan, you might have to get a local licensed civil engineer for that. But we can interface with them to get the details together, to move it forward. That is a key element.

That’s a great question because a lot of people think, “Well, I bought these plans online. They said I could just turn them in to the building department.” I’m like, “Well, you could probably turn them in. But their desire to accept them and give you a permit is the situation.”

Interviewer: Right.

Steve Landmark: That’s what we do because there’s a lot of different codes. There’s selective enforcement, meaning some building departments want this, other don’t, irrespective of what the code requests. By the way, it’s a national code. It’s the application to your particular building site that’s different.

So, let’s just say you were a guy and you were getting transferred around the country and you first started building your house in South Florida. We could design the home for the hurricanes. OK? But let’s just say halfway through the project, you get transferred to Colorado and you’re going to be up in Leadville at 11,000 feet. Suddenly hurricanes aren’t the big issues. You still have high winds but you’re going to have high snow loads and maybe some expansive soil situations.

We would then contact that building department, find out what’s going on, make the adjustments and then let’s just say again you got transferred to Los Angeles where it’s earthquake country. We could then design for that particular building department.

So our understanding of the structural details, the requirements for a building department is extensive and we’ve been in situations where people transfer midway through a project and we just apply the building – the plans to their new site and the building department.

So it’s – to answer your question, it’s legwork that we do to make it easy for you to make sure that your plans are complete for this specific building department and this specific building site that you’re choosing to build on. That’s extremely important and people don’t always understand that the plans have to be done properly.

Interviewer: Let’s say – let’s get even more specific. Let’s say I’ve done my homework around the property I’m going to build on and people have told me that the building department in my area is pretty stringent. How can Landmark help me work around say a tough building inspector?

Steve Landmark: Well, that’s pretty interesting because I hear that a lot. A lot of customers will comment that they heard their building department is really tough and this and that. The reality of it is we found that they’re really tough because there’s a lot of people turning bad plans in.

Interviewer: Ah, right.

Steve Landmark: OK. So yes, if you turn in a bad set of plans, they’re going to tell you to do it right. If you turn in a good set of plans, it’s amazing of how they’re not that stringent because we did the plans right. So with our process, we’ve done work all over the country and internationally. We’ve got a strong understanding of what a building department needs and a complete and thorough set of plans. That’s for the purpose of permitting, for the purpose of us building the right panelized package after the plans are approved and then also for your contractor to know what’s going on.

Our plans are communication device among your customer, the building department, the contractor and us. So it’s clear. So the more complete and accurate set of plans, the easier it’s going to be. I generally say that 80 percent of building departments ask for the same stuff or I should say 80 percent of the information they ask for is the same. The 20 percent is the difference.

They usually outline that and listen, if it comes back in a checklist, we just supply the materials. We have had some extremely unique and sometimes just crazy requests by building departments. But we’ve taken care of all of them and all of our customers have gotten permits. So we’re capable of doing it. We have the knowledge base. We have the experience. We know how to do it. That’s the key element of taking care of a building inspector that you think is just picky. He’s probably picky because he has gotten bad sets of plans previously and you will probably appreciate it.

We’ve actually had building inspectors comment that we’ve got a complete set of plans and have been easy to get it taken care of. Some of the toughest areas, you know, South Florida, Hurricane Alley, Southern – well, anywhere in California with earthquakes, Colorado with the snow loads, New York, they can get interesting. Washington State, Illinois. You know, there’s – we’re able to do it. We actually find the “tougher” building inspectors are actually the better ones to work with because they’re more organized and they understand they want it done right, which is the same thing we want to do.

Interviewer: Well, once again, it sounds like Landmark Home and Land Company is a one-stop shop. You guys, you know what you’re doing and I think a lot of people are going to be looking out to see how Landmark can help them with their new projects. So what’s the best way to contact you? Give us some info on the website.

Steve Landmark: Well, our website is basically kind of the initials of our company. The company is Landmark Home and Land Company. So L as in landmark, H as in home, L as in land, C as in company dot com, We’re on Facebook. You can also give us a call at 800-830-9788 and Mike will answer the phone and take care of you.

You could also email at or you can email me at and we will do all we can to talk to you about your project and an understanding of what your needs are, what your goals are and kind of get the lay of the land as such to help you develop a plan for the actual house, but also a plan to move your project forward successfully. So you can move in to a very nice home.

Interviewer: And the website is full of information and even a lot of great videos I’ve seen. So it’s something to check out. So that’s going to do it today for the Landmark Home and Land Company’s Panelized Home Show for the President of Landmark Steve Tuma and myself. Thanks for joining us and we will see you again.

Steve Landmark: Thank you.


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