The Big Picture
10 Tips for Planning Your Dream Home Without Losing Sleep
by Janice Brewster

You doodle floor plan sketches during meetings. You study home and design magazines. You spend every weekend searching for land. You’ve got the "dream home" bug. Here are 10 tips to help you through the planning process:

1. Don’t rush.

Give yourself the gift of time: Time to get the lighting plan right. Time to think about storage. The design process requires hours spent mulling over drawings, discussing ideas and revising plans. Designer Andrea Warchaizer of Springpoint Inc. says the design process often takes six to nine months. Getting things right up front makes sound financial sense. Paying for a designer’s time is less expensive than making possibly far-reaching changes during construction.

2. Do yourself a favor financially.

Give yourself money for the construction process by watching what you spend right now. Don’t tie up all your savings by purchasing your land with cash. If you have months or years before you plan to build, start saving a little each week now. You’ll have more cash on hand when it’s time to build.

3. Know yourself.

Take note of how you like to live. Do you enjoy eating outdoors? What colors appeal to you? Do you often entertain large groups of people? Knowing the answers to these kinds of questions will help you explain your housing needs and desires to your designer. Architect Paul Meier thinks this kind of knowledge is so important that he assigns clients a 30-page questionnaire on their lifestyle. The answers guide his designs.

4. Keep things in perspective.

Thinking of your dream home as a once-in-a-lifetime project can up the pressure to make things perfect. Yes, Andrea Warchaizer says, you want to choose the best-quality items you can for the home’s envelope (walls, foundation, windows, doors and roof). But remember that finishes and fixtures can be upgraded later. So, if you can’t decide on the "perfect" sink for your guest bathroom, don’t sweat it. Just pick something and move on.

5. Don’t overcomplicate.

Designer John Nininger from the Wooden House Co. explains you can streamline your budget by keeping your house simple. Hips, valleys and dormers, for instance, add interest to a home’s roofline—at a price. The same holds true for corners: The more corners a home has, the more expensive its construction is likely to be. Unless money is no object, you need to strike a comfortable balance between the complexity of your design and your budget.

6. Do your homework.

here’s a reason why real estate agents recite the mantra "location, location, location." You can always change your home, but you can’t change its surroundings. Before you buy land, research it and the neighborhood thoroughly. Pay attention to both natural and manmade characteristics. Will the land accommodate a septic system? Is it flat enough to build on? Can you build the house you want without creating by far the most expensive home in the area?

7. Pick a good team.

You can search for a builder by talking to neighbors, your designer, real estate agents, area builder associations or your local lumberyard. When you find two or three candidates, research their reputations with the Better Business Bureau and state attorney general’s office. Ask potential builders if they’re interested in bidding on your project. Paul Meier advises his clients that it will take much longer to receive bids back from contractors than they might expect. When a builder gives you a list of referrals, call them. Talk to home owners who have been in their homes for several years. Visit a current job site. All of these disparate pieces of information will help you form an overall impression of a builder.

8. Do prioritize.

"Plan for one major ‘wow’ thing and two minor ‘wow’ things," Andrea Warchaizer tells her clients who want to stick to a budget. That might mean you won’t be able to have a soaring rock chimney, a gourmet kitchen and a wrap-around deck. Decide what’s really important to you, based on your lifestyle, and put your budget there. Keep in mind, Paul Meier says, that your home can be a hybrid: If you can’t afford for every room to be timber-framed or every wall to be made of logs, you can control costs by using these types of construction selectively.

9. Don’t overestimate your abilities.

If you’re considering acting as the general contractor for your home construction project, take a good long look at your level of competency and amount of spare time. Most people find that it makes more economic sense to work at their jobs to make money to pay a contractor, Andrea says, than do the work themselves.

10. Communicate.

As much as possible, everyone who will live in the home should have a say in its design. Building a dream home should be fun, but it could become a nightmare if some family members are not emotionally committed to the project or feel excluded. Communication among members of the home-building team is key, too. The home owners, builder and designer should be collaborative and trusting. Each should be appreciated for the resources they bring to the project.

Andrea Warchaizer, Springpoint Inc.

Paul A. Meier, Wilderness Architecture Inc.

John Nininger, The Wooden House Co.

Professional Associations:
International Log Builders’ Association

Log Homes Council
800-368-5242, ext. 8577

Timber Frame Business Council

Helpful web sites:


The Brand-New House Book: Everything You Need to Know About Planning, Designing and Building a Custom, Semi-custom or Production-built House by Katherine Salant.

Log Homes Made Easy: Contracting and Building Your Own Log Home by Jim Cooper

The Well-Built House by James Locke