Designing a Home from Scratch


Growing up, lots of people have grand plans about their one-day dream homes, which they will build from scratch. It’s a popular fantasy because everybody has their own idea of what the perfect house will look like, and what features it has to have. Unfortunately, knowing the basics of designing a safe, practical house is a bit less common. Thus, when somebody finally has a chance to design their own home, things can get out of hand quickly. What things are essential to keep in mind when designing a house from scratch?

Why We’re Asking

While there are lots of architects and home professionals who design and build their own homes, the majority of people who are having homes built from scratch are idealistic homeowners who have never designed one before. Given how many pitfalls there are when it comes to home design, whether in roofing, electrical work, plumbing, layout, or crawl-spaces susceptible to pests among other things, it’s no surprise that first-time house designers often end up in over their heads. Our experts have seen what can happen when a design goes poorly, and they know what to avoid. With their advice, we hope to create a guide to what not to do when designing a house from scratch.

So tell us, experts:

What things are essential to keep in mind when building a house from scratch?

What mistakes do first-time home designers make most often?

If you could give every home designer a checklist of things to consider first, what would be on it?

Have you ever come across a particularly successful home design that surprised you? What was good about it?

How about a bad one? Any disaster stories?

Building a house from scratch is a daunting task, even for a professional. With your advice, we hope to eliminate at least a little bit of the confusion, and prevent house-building mistakes before they happen!

Experts, post your answers in the comment field below!


  1. The most overlooked aspect of home building is rodent proofing. When contractors develop the foundation and install vents and drains they need to have pests like mice and rats in mind. Installing screens and sealing all cracks when building the home will work wonders for pest control. Doing things the right way could save you tens of thousands of dollars over your lifetime in a house if this is considered during construction or renovations of a home!

  2. Why? That is my first question – why. There are more than ample houses that are in desperate need of TLC and can be easily modernized or as I say “greensized” to fit the needs of the occupants.

    The second question: How long do you plan on living here? If this is a long term family home then it must be built to last and built with the idea that as families changes so do the needs and in turn the design and purpose of the home. So looking to the long term means seeing that that box can be a mobile box and will stand the test of time and design.

    Times change.People Change. Needs change and so does economies.

    Build and live in an economy of scale and that is not just about square footage.

  3. I think it’s critical to have your furniture needs worked out, and discuss them with your architect or interior designer. Even if you don’t need an interior designer to help you with colors, it’s very beneficial to have someone review your plans to make sure the room spaces fit your family’s needs. It is common to sacrifice square footage in some ares to enhance others, and I have seen so many homes with huge master suites and children’s bedrooms that are half the size they should be! Guest rooms don’t need to be large, unless you have a long-term guest who needs more furniture. Also, a combined kitchen/family room can seem quite big, but once you mark in traffic paths, bar seating, media center, etc. it limits the placement of furniture. Make sure you can fit a full-length sofa, end tables and lamps where you need them – and if you have small kids, you’ll need floor space beyond the coffee table. With this in mind, a family room seating area should be at least 12 x 16. Think about whether you’ll actually use bar seating; if you have an open floor plan, dining and kitchen nook are probably plenty. Or, if you like the bar, maybe you don’t need a kitchen dining area a few feet away – a small loveseat and desk can be handy instead, or a pair of club chairs and small table for snacks and coffee.
    Remember, the larger the room, the more it takes to fill it – be careful not to overbuild and end up with a home it takes years to furnish.
    Production builders will usually spray on interior paint, and it can be very thin and watered down. They may charge more to roll on your final coat, but that’s the only way to get a quality finish that will stand up to scrubbing, so we usually advise our clients to have this done.
    Spend a lot of time on your decisions for kitchen and bath, and start way ahead collecting photos of features you like. It is smart to buy the best quality faucets and fixtures you can, because they’ll last so much longer. There is also a big difference in quality of tile and carpet, and it can’t be seen on the surface, so visit a flooring store and find out exactly what you’re getting. Every cent spent on quality at the beginning translates into years more wear.
    Green design is a growing trend nationally, and it is well worth it to make a home as green as possible – there are excellent energy cost savings, and you’ll create a healthier living environment. Ask your builder or design center expert to direct you to the certified Green choices when you make your selections – they are available in most showrooms.
    Above all, listen to your builder – if they need you to select appliances or lighting by a certain date, focus on getting those things done so the project isn’t delayed. If your designer, architect or builder has an idea, be sure to listen – they usually know what they’re talking about!

  4. I’m rather surprised that a small percentage of new homes think about termites and the damage they do, especially when 2 out of 3 homes have termites. Pre-treating soil before the foundation is poured, or built can protect your structure form subterranean termites for years to come. The use of Borates is ideal to apply to all wood members before stucco or some other siding material. Consulting with a pest control expert during the planning stage can assist greatly in mitigating pest issues down the road, but the sad truth is not many even consider this service. There are two types of homes…Ones that have termites and ones that will. Consider pre-treats before you do anything else in your planning stage.

  5. I built a house from scratch. One of the smartest things we did was ask our interior designer to create furniture layout drawings in conjunction with our architecturals. Right away we knew if windows weren’t place well, where plugs and lights outlets should go, and lights. I wish we would have done elevation drawings without designer since we would have know that the cabinetry was too close to the window to install drapes.

    We also toured a house that our architect had already designed so we could see how to modify it. It is really hard to look at architectural plans and see that a certain size room is going to fit your needs. I would definitely advise a homeowner to tour an existing home designed by your architect and tweak that plan.

    Lastly, don’t skimp moneywise on what you install in the walls. It is a lot harder to upgrade or fix repairs once you close up those walls. You can always add more molding later.

  6. When building a home from scratch, the most important thing I would think is to take your time in picking the correct GC (General Contractor). This is a daunting task!!!! Some people think that they can act as their own GC and save themselves thousands of dollars. This is true, acting as your own GC does save you that added expense. But most GC’s have good working relationships with all of the trades necessary to build your home on time and on budget. That a typical homeowner does not. A GC that has work with trades on multiple projects will get better pricing, less supplement invoices, etc..

    The next biggest thing is warranties. Most people don’t even think about this. They think that I will have a brand new home, which will last forever. They don’t think about warranties until something goes wrong. I have run into many brand new built from scratch homes that have nails popping in drywall, roof leaking or inadequate insulation. Most home warranties from builders are 1-3 years.

    My recommendation is if you decide to build a home from scratch is to do research, research, research.

  7. 1. Build good infrastructure. Its easy to ignore the basics when building your home but while the walls are open go ahead and put in the extra wires, insulation, ducting, etc. Many homeowners sacrifice on major infrastructure issues like a larger electrical panel or more efficient HVAC unit for items that can always be added later like upgraded light fixtures, appliances, and upgraded counter tops. We regular help customers in beautiful homes with woefully inadequate electrical panels, circuits, and lighting. The customers end up spending a small fortune to correct issues that could have been address originally at minimal cost. Focus on building a home with good bones. Ask your trades people what items typically get overlooked or skimped on and ask them what it will cost to make you home the exception. You will be glad you did.

    2. Build for everyday use, not once a year else. Formal dinning rooms, giant soaking tubs, large foyers are great, but only if you covered the basics first. I rather have a walk in pantry that I use everyday than a formal dinning room that I use twice a year. Think about how often you will really use the features in your home before you allocate money and space to a particular feature. Think about how often you use your master bathroom toilet versus your master bathroom tub. Doesn’t it make sense to spend more time and money on nicer washroom than tub?

    3. Don’t sweat the the small stuff. Building a house requires thousands of decisions and you are bound to get a few wrong. Make the best choices you have with the information you have available at the time and move on. Its impossible to build the perfect house because your idea of a perfect house changes…sometimes daily. So you didn’t get squeeze every inch of storage space out of the house or you had to compromise aesthetics for function in a few areas…big deal. You have bigger fish to fry.

  8. First-time home builders should take the time to carefully plan out all aspects of their home’s design and ensure that qualified professionals are completing the work that needs done. Small things like the location of outlets are important to consider before it’s time to move in and set up furniture, electronics, and appliances, for example. Having all electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems and equipment installed correctly from the beginning will also help to avoid bigger problems and costs down the road while ensuring the home’s safety and proper function.

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