Stock Plans: The Good, the Bad and the Impossible, Part 1

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If you’ve started searching the Internet for ideas for your custom home, you’ve seen stock plans. There are hundreds of web sites offering thousands of plans “complete and ready to build.” Some of these plans sell for as low as $100, others for as much as $6,000 but I guarantee 99 percent of them will cost you more than you will save.

You’ve worked long and hard for this moment – let’s get it right and not cut corners. A custom home is supposed to be custom to YOU. Not weighed out to fit 90 percent of the people in your age bracket. Don’t accept that. In all those thousands of plans, none will be exactly right. One might be close, but the laundry room is in the wrong place. Another has a cramped kitchen. A third has an almost perfect layout but a horrible front elevation.

Unfortunately these are the least of stock plans real problems. Here are the details of things I have personally experienced in my architecture practice working with stock plans. This is true for EVERY set of stock plans I have ever worked with, regardless of price or design merit.

The square footage numbers are NEVER accurate. This is particularly frustrating to people that are working within a budget (which I have found is everyone). If you have done your homework, you know what size house you can afford given the going construction rate in your geographical area. Falling in love with a plan you find out is 20 percent larger than you were calculating sucks!

Structure and building practices are local. The structural system they include may be perfectly suitable somewhere. It’s not likely to be useful where you are. Here in Southwest Ohio we use different building technologies than they do in Northeast Ohio. You can imagine how different the building practices are across the country. This is something that can be corrected, but you will spend money to get it there.

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I am a registered architect and I hold an NCARB certification which means I can get simple reciprocity to practice in most states around the country. I have built all over Ohio and designed beautiful projects in Florida and South Carolina. When I design outside of my home area with which I am intimately familiar, I always coordinate with local professionals who know standard building practices for their region.

Code issues are also local. With the more standardized International Residential Code, things are getting more uniform around the country, which is a very good thing. However, there are still local amendments and conditions that need to be addressed. The other obstacle you will face is getting a building permit with generic drawings. The way stock plan producers have tried to bridge these gaps is to make their drawings as generic as possible. This is also something that can certainly be addressed, again, with time and money.

Lastly, styles are specific to certain regions of the country. Exterior building materials vary greatly by climate for good reason! Certain roofing materials, installation details, and roof slopes are different in temperate vs. northern climates: stucco vs. E.I.F.S.; brick, tile, stone, faux stone; basement vs. raised on stilts. Local styles evolved over the years by natural selection. Those that survived carried on. I’ve heard the argument that with today’s building technologies you can build anything anywhere. This is actually true, but it better be detailed according to where you are building it or you are going to have trouble.

Believe it or not, I do think there is a place for stock plans. In Part Two, I will tell you exactly how to get what you want out of them. Stay tuned…

 

-Sheri


As Founder and Principal Architect of Springhouse Architects, Sheri’s mission is to lead Clients through the building process with the Clients in control and Springhouse as their guide, advocate and ally.  With over twenty years experience in Residential Architecture, Sheri brings knowledge and confidence to your custom home project.

Lisa Saldivar