Featured Articles

Postings by Stillwater Dwellings about home planning and building.

Site Restrictions That May Affect Your New Home Design

Most building sites have restrictions that dictate where, and even what you can build. Commonly, people who sell land are not familiar with all of these restrictions, which leaves you with some homework. We suggest you tackle this, if at all possible, before you purchase a building site.

Once you’re ready to put an offer on a property, contact us at info@stillwaterdwellings.com and we’ll be happy to provide initial site feasibility feedback. If available, please provide us with the address of the potential site, a site survey, and topographical map. Since each site has its own set of opportunities and challenges, it is impossible to provide a simple checklist to what makes a “good” site overall. That’s why we like to be involved early in the process to help you evaluate all of the criteria, and either recommend or steer you away from the property as a suitable setting for a Stillwater home.

Here are some common types of regulatory restrictions to research:

Zoning Restrictions:
A trip to your local zoning department will enable you to get a copy of the zoning bylaws that affect your site. Those that you should look for are:

  • Setback requirements: how far from the front, side and rear lots lines the structure can be built. Will the remaining building envelope be large enough for what you want to build?
  • Lot coverage restrictions: How much of the site area can be covered with the structure and with impervious (e.g. asphalt drive, tennis courts) surfaces.
  • House size limitations: sometimes local zoning restrictions limit the size or height of houses

Utility Restrictions and Easements:
If your site is serviced by water and sewer services, you simply need to find out where they come on to the site. If, on the other hand, your site will require a septic system or a well, many restrictions may apply. The best thing to do here is to engage the serves of a local site engineer who can walk you through the requirements and handle the administrative work of getting permits and designing your septic system. Here are some considerations that will affect your house design:

  • How far away from each other do the septic system and the well have to be? (this also applies to the distance from neighboring septic systems and wells).
  • Has a percolation test been completed? Is the septic system already designed?
  • For how many bedrooms has the septic system been designed or is there a limitation on bedrooms?

ARB Restrictions:
If you are building within a subdivision, the developer may have published Architectural Review Board (ARB) restrictions that may impose design restrictions on your house. A few items to take into consideration:

  • Is there an approval process for plans? Who is involved in decision-making?
  • How often does the architectural review board meet? This is one process that you and your design professional need to be aware of from the start. Stillwater will present to your design review board.
  • What are the specific restrictions? Common elements include house size, paint color, siding material, roofline, landscaping, fencing, and garage placement.

Other Special Restrictions:
Some communities impose these restrictions, for which your local building department can provide documentation. These may include:

  • Historic district restrictions that affect the architecture that is allowed; the types and shapes of windows that can be used; even the color of the house. It _s best to verify with your local building department that no such restrictions apply to your site.
  • Seismic, special wind load and other special restrictions. Your site may be affected by certain seismic restrictions, or, if it is near the ocean, certain wind loading requirements.
  • Sloped properties. We have experience building on sloped properties, but it’s important to understand the degree of slope and the soil condition before purchasing property.

For more information on this topic or any other aspect of our custom designs, please contact us. We look forward to learning about your home project!

How Large a Home do You Really Need?

Everyone contemplating a custom home asks “How big a house do I need?” There are multiple considerations that go into answering this question, besides the most obvious — the budget.

Important elements to consider:

  • The physical limitations of the building site
  • Family members living in the home (small children, teenagers, extended family, etc.)
  • Long term use of the home (family events, aging in place & accessibility)
  • Alternative uses for the space
  • The cost of energy in your area
  • Your personal philosophy

At Stillwater we believe your home should compliment your lifestyle–now and in the future. Too large a space wastes materials, resources and money. Too small and reduced scale increases costs.
According to architect Matthew Stannard, Stillwater’s CEO:

All of our 20+ plans are designed to maximize livability and efficiency without adding expensive extra square footage. Many homes feature 12 foot high ceilings and floor to ceiling glass. Innovative and efficient design can make even smaller spaces feel spacious.

We love to talk about home planning. Call or email us today.

800-691-7302 kaveh@stillwaterdwellings.com

Want to read more about how big is big enough? Below are some helpful links.
How Much Home Do You Really Need?
10 Tips for Smart Home Design

Designing for Natural Light and Lower Energy Costs

What Makes Sense Today?

Some very basic low tech/no tech solutions can make your new home less expensive to heat and cool. But just as importantly, energy wise design can make your home a more comfortable living space. Today’s solutions combine state of the art energy conserving details and joinery; high levels of insulation; advanced heating technology, and a host of basic design principles that work. The best solutions are cost effective and provide major benefits.

Let the Sunshine In!

No house should be designed without serious consideration of passive solar design principles. The most basic principle of energy efficient design is to use the sun wisely. In climates where home heating is a primary concern, maximize your site’s southern exposure to take advantage of passive solar gain. With today’s high performance glass, south facing windows provide a net heat gain vs. lose through the glass area. If you are building in a more temperate climate you should take into account the heating effects of the sun on west facing rooms.
Not only will well-placed windows reduce your heating bills (by as much as 50%), but they will provide the benefit of making your home bright and welcoming. Add the practical consideration of not having to rely on artificial lighting during any daylight hours—and the subsequent reduction in energy costs.
The power of solar gain can be maximized with heat-absorbing masonry (fireplaces or tile floors) in rooms with southerly exposures. Southerly exposures can be shaded from summer sun with floor or roof overhangs, exterior pergolas planted with greenery, or with well-planned landscaping.

Design to Take Advantage of Your Setting and Local Environment

In northerly and temperate climates a simple rule of thumb is to orient your primary living spaces to the south. Devote the northern portion of the design to bathrooms, closets, garages, laundry, mud rooms and entries, to provide buffers against heat loss and northerly winds. A closet on the north wall can provide a two foot thick blanket of insulation. Important living spaces will be enhanced by southern sun and its potential for heat gain. Few sites and house plans can adhere to these principles 100% of the time, but partial benefits are measurable and worthwhile.

Take Advantage of Topography and Vegetation

The temperature of the earth at three feet below grade is roughly 55 degrees year round. That fact provides ample reason to build some of the living space in your home into south-facing slopes. The south side will enjoy the gain from the sun, and the north side will be “exposed” to a moderate temperature year round, the end result being reduce heating and cooling bills. If your site slopes, you should consider this design possibility.
Even in situations where it is impractical or undesirable to berm the foundation to the north, the use of landscaping berms and retaining walls can be an important element in deflecting northeast winds during winter.
Landscape vegitation can be a critical energy design element. Trees to the north side (particularly evergreens) will deflect winter winds (and drifting snow!). Trees to the south of the house- especially deciduous trees- will shade your south-facing glass in summer, but let the warming winter sun in.

Select Energy Conscious Products

When purchasing kitchen appliances pay close attention to the federally mandated energy consumption ratings. The same is true for furnaces, hot water heaters, clothes washers, and dryers. The highest rated appliances often come with an Energy Star (T) sticker that certifies their efficiency. Also be sure to use energy efficient lighting.

How Can We Help?

Principles of sustainability and efficiency are at the core of every Stillwater Dwellings design. Starting with the direction provided by the building site- its solar orientation, topography, and vegetation – our architects will design your home to reduce energy consumption and while maximizing the many benefits of a bright light filled living environment. All Stillwater homes are customized for your site to take advantage of the sun’s path and the benefits of passive solar applications.
For more information…
For more information on this topic or any other aspect of our custom design and building programs, please contact us.

Your Building Site Is Speaking To You. What is It Saying?

When you see a house that looks particularly “at home” in its setting, do you ever wonder why? Chances are the house was designed specifically for that site by an architect or designer who was sensitive to designing from the “ground up.” Surely you want your house to have all the features on your wish list; but first, every great design starts with its setting.
How can you understand what your site is saying to you?

Walk It!

Walk it with an expert in interpreting the site’s message. No building site can be understood from the road (many realtors’ preferred vantage point), from a site map, or topographic study. Every site has natural features that are only apparent when you spend time there walking, feeling the terrain, observing nature, and poking around. Taking full advantage of a site is a thought process, taking as many options and possibilities into consideration. It may take several visits for you to get the full message.
Sound mystical? Not at all! Here are a few of the types of clues that skilled designers and architects study before putting a pencil to paper.

Topographic Clues:

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Five Important Considerations when Customizing a Floor Plan

One the of the biggest decisions you’ll need to make when designing your prefab home will be deciding the perfect layout of your floor plan. There are more than twenty floor plans in the Stillwater Dwellings library to start from, but making sure the one you choose is right for you takes some thought and planning.

That’s why we’ve put together a list of some of the most important considerations to keep in mind when choosing and customizing a floor plan to fit your family. Read on to learn more!


1. Consider your family size

An important thing to consider   when choosing your a plan is your family size. If your family is growing, be sure to include enough floor space to accommodate future family members. A den or office with an attached bath can be converted into a bedroom later.


2.  Working from home

If you often work from home, or may in the future,    remember to include space for a home office in your new layout.  The location of this room should be away from busy rooms where there might be a lot of activity such as the family room or kitchen.


3.  Entertaining

Do you love to entertain?  If so, a kitchen/great room combination can allow space to    comfortably accommodate a large group.  . If you don’t entertain much, a more intimate space might be right for you.


4. Open space or privacy

If you’d like having the family together in one room consider a floor plan with a great-room concept.  If you cherish privacy more, a smaller family room but separate media/game room, and formal den/office may provide more solitude when you need it.

Another thing to consider is the location of the master bedroom and how it relates to the kids rooms. Children’s rooms might be best close when they’re young and further away when older.  An important consideration to make early on.


5. The size of your lot

The size and shape of your lot has a big influence on your home’s design. If you have a large lot, a sprawling single floor might work well,    but if you want a large house on a small lot then you’ll need  multiple floors. Be sure to pay attention to any zoning restrictions or CC&R’s that may effect the size and height of home you can build.

Energy Efficiency & Sustainability in Prefab Homes

Prefab Home in Portland, OR

One of the primary advantages of purchasing a prefabricated home is that they are more eco-friendly, energy efficient, and sustainable than the majority of traditionally constructed homes. There are many reasons why prefab houses are better for both the environment and your energy bills. Here at Stillwater Dwellings, our commitment to helping the environment has a huge impact on the way we build our homes. Here are some of the ways that prefab homes are built to be better for the planet.


First of all, prefab homes are much better insulated than homes built with traditional on-site construction. Building some or all of a home within a factory means that insulation can be installed more easily and more efficiently. Better insulation goes a long way in improving energy usage. Joints are tighter and air infiltration and escape are both minimized. You’ll see the great insulation of a prefab home reflected in much lower energy bills.

Less Waste 

Prefabricated homes also generate less waste during construction, which is helpful for the environment. For homes built using traditional construction, having leftover materials is inevitable. In fact, from a contractor’s point of view this makes sense, because having to re-order a material holds up construction. However, this extra waste is bad for the environment.

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4 Benefits of Building a Prefab Home

4 Important Advantages of Building a Prefab Home

People sometimes have misconceptions when it comes to prefabricated homes. Opinions tend to take on one of two extremes – the low-end, mass produced “manufactured homes” or the impossibly expensive custom home. In reality, prefabricated homes are becoming more and more common, as well as more accessible to many different budget levels. There are several advantages to choosing a custom prefab home over one made with traditional construction processes.

Here are four of our big-ticket benefits of prefab homes:

  • Quality Control –  Because custom prefab homes are built in a controlled environment, according to specific standards, you can be confident that your home will be built with uniform quality.  Site built homes are subject to the schedules and often varied skill levels of independent contractors—not to mention the effects of inclement weather.     On the other hand, prefab homes are built by an experience crew in a protected factory   and the homes are inspected many times throughout the construction process.
  • Energy Efficient – Prefab homes are also applauded for their energy efficiency and sustainability. In traditional construction, extra materials often lead to extra waste. However, because prefab homes are made (at least partly) in a factory, any extra materials are recycled in-house. This is a huge improvement over the traditional construction strategy of sending the waste to a landfill. The controlled environment in which prefab homes are fabricated makes it easier to assure construction is accurate, joints are tight and that air infiltration and escape is minimized.  This allows prefabricated homes to be insulated to a higher level than site built homes, and subsequently, often more energy efficient.  Continue Reading →

Establishing a Successful Builder/Homeowner Partnership

How to select a builder who will build you a great house and not drive you crazy (and visa versa)

One of the most important decisions you will make in the home planning process is the selection of a builder, the individual who will be primarily responsible for transforming your house plans into a wonderful three-dimensional reality.  Building a custom house is a blend of craft and organization; having the proper people to do excellent work and orchestrating their activity so that the process moves along smoothly.
Look ahead….When your new home is completed and you move in, how would you like to describe the building process and the relationship you enjoyed with your builder?  Chances are it would sound something like this:  “Our building process was successful because the house was done on time, our builder was responsive to our needs; his billings and change orders were clear, fair, and timely; and the house is very well built.”
How do you go about selecting a builder to assure that kind of a positive review of your relationship?

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