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Wisconsin Log Homes Founder
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Dave Janczak
Founder of Wisconsin Log Homes, Inc.

Selecting A Site For Your Log or Timber Frame Home  

SELECTING A SITE FOR YOUR LOG OR TIMBER FRAME HOME

Most everyone has an image of the setting they want for their dream log or timber frame home.  Before you start searching, it's important to consider the impact that site selection can have on your budget and home design.  Making the right choice takes planning, research and answers to a lot of questions. 

The Site

When building a new house, it is crucial to consider the site as an essential part of the design.  A house designed for a hillside with a walkout basement cannot be built on a flat site. The home and site must compliment one another.  It is wiser (and less costly) to choose a home plan that fits the site than to adjust the site to fit the house.

When you compare land prices, be sure to include all the development costs, including clearing the site, building a road, grading the drainage, connecting to gas, phone, electrical, sewer and water, etc. 

Is the area susceptible to earthquakes, landslides or flooding?  If the local government has identified an area as being subject to flooding, it may be impossible to obtain building or septic tank permits.  Low-lying or marshy areas also may be considered "wetlands" with special regulatory protection.  Exemptions, additional permits, fees, environmental impact studies and special engineering may be required to obtain a building permit.

The Soil

Look at the condition of the soil.  Is it loose or compacted?  Clay and silt retain water and may be difficult to compact.  Is there subsurface rock or solid rock?  Blasting solid rock can be expensive.  How high is the water table and will this create problems with a basement?  Is the soil sandy in a region prone to erosion?  Is there sufficient topsoil to grow lawn, garden, trees and shrubs? 

The National Resource Conservation Service publishes a soil survey that maps each area and evaluates how specific soil types will perform under various building conditions.  The categories most important to you as a potential land owner are the building, sanitary facilities (septic tanks and absorption fields), and water management tables.

In most areas, the local conservation officer will visit the site and interpret the charts for free.  But since their maps only evaluate the soil to about 60 inches deep, you may have to contact a geotechnical (soil) engineer for a soil test.  During the test, the engineer extracts a sample that runs at least 5 - 20 feet below the house footings. 

Basic Soil Types: Each type of soil has some flaws, but some have fewer than others.  Be aware of the basic soil types and how they can affect your foundation.

Sand: This is often considered the most desirable soil type, but you should avoid it if the survey indicates dune sand.  This type of sand is softer than most and can compact, allowing the house to settle.

Silt: Finer than sand, silt is very susceptible to frost heave.  Wet silt loses its structure and compresses.  So as the soil becomes more compact, the foundation begins to sink. 

Clay: Many clay soils soak up moisture and expand, causing the home foundation to rise unevenly.

Shale: Shale can be susceptible to landslide problems when horizontal slabs separate and slide off one another.

Limestone: Sink holes are part of limestone formations.  The problem is not in the holes you see, but in those that have not settled yet.

Bedrock: An excellent base, but excavation costs can run about 10 times more than soil if the bedrock interferes with your basement.

Fill Soil: There may be a problem buried under the fill.  For some reason, someone trucked in extra dirt to either level off or cover up the existing terrain.  Beware if it is not an "engineered fill" - one that recently passed completion tests.  Have a soil specialist analyze the condition of the fill soil and determine what is hidden beneath it. 

Wells and Septic Permits

A country home site will likely require a well and septic system, and each will require a permit.  Ask the neighbors or local officials about quality, depth and reliability of underground water.  Get estimates from well drillers.  If your site is within reach of a municipal water line, find out what it will cost to connect to it.  If you are building on the edge of a city, find out if a sewer system is planned for your neighborhood in the next five years.  Talk to the engineers for the sanitary sewer system; they know where the sewer mains will go.  If your land is targeted to eventually become part of the city sewer system, the county health department may allow you to use a holding tank until the main line comes through. 

If sewer lines aren't expected, you'll need your own system.  A percolation test will show you how well the soil absorbs moisture and where the drainage field should be.  This system needs space - typically an eighth of an acre for the tank and drainage field.

When you choose your building site, make certain your contract to purchase is contingent upon your ability to get building and sanitary permits. 

Roads

What type of access exists to the property?  Is it by public highway, private road or an access easement?  To avoid problems if a disagreement ever develops between you and other nearby land owners, you need a written agreement in advance on how the road will be maintained and a record of your legal access.  Before you purchase land that does not have public access, have your attorney obtain an easement and maintenance agreement signed by all parties. 

You'll also want to check for obstacles on the way to the site that could cause access problems for construction equipment and delivery trucks.  Look for steep, winding roads with hairpin curves, weak bridges, roads in poor condition, low branches and wires. 

Legalities

Know the real boundaries of the property.  Lots are divided by specific measurements as well as natural barriers.  Don't assume you own any part of a row of trees between your lot and the next one.  Get an instrument survey by a registered land surveyor.  Make sure you and your builder know from what points the measurements were made. 

Check the zoning for your lot and surrounding property.  How close is your site to the nearest commercial, industrial or multiple family zone?  Are zoning changes planned?  What building codes are in effect?  Are there land use restrictions such as minimal parcel size, limits on accessory buildings, height limitations or setback requirements?

Even though many homes have been built with little more than a handshake, it is extremely important to get everything in writing. Request precise documentation throughout the planning and construction of your home.  It's your best defense against misunderstandings, mistakes and misfortunes. 

Download our Design Build Solution Workbook for more information about planning, designing and building your log or timber frame home at http://www.wisconsinloghomes.com/log-homes/contact.php

 

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