Designing for a Sloped or Steep Site

Orientation to views & working with the slope

Sloped sites go hand-in-hand with scenic views. This is one of the primary reason people build houses on sloping terrain. Usually the steeper the site the more view that is available. Quite often there will be a choice of views and/or slopes on a site. In these cases the best view is the one to build toward and then deal with whatever the slope is in order to enjoy that particular view.

Grade contours at start of design

In order to place and design the house to fit the slope of the land grade contours must be provided to the Architect or Designer at the beginning of the process through a topographic survey. Without these contours the design process becomes guesswork which can lead to unnecessary added expense to the homeowner. . Rules on height limits from Development and Local Building Codes. Another design parameter that is necessary to know at the beginning of the process is what the height and setback limits of the Development and the Local Building Codes are. A working understanding of these parameters will lead to a successful project. Sloped sites can increase the complication of determining these height limits. Obtaining a written version of the authority’s definition helps the designer to understand what the limits are.

Slope dictates daylight basement for economic reasons

Quite often homeowners don’t comprehend the economic advantages of a daylight basement. They miss the point that if you’re building on a sloped site the foundation of the house will need to be much taller on the downhill side of the house. If the slope is steep enough (and more often than not it is) you’ll wind up with enough height inside the foundation walls to have livable space at the basement level (daylight basement). This is a low cost solution for additional livable space.

Drainage on uphill side must be addressed

As a house is placed on a slope the uphill side of the site will naturally drain down into the house. In order to prevent an ugly situation a continuous slope running away from the house must be designed in.

Use of retaining walls uphill and down

In some instances a retaining wall must be place on the uphill side to hold back the slope and create drainage for that side of the house. On the downhill side retaining walls are used to create larger flat areas for patios, etc.

Stepping of Floor Plan to work with the site

Single level ranch style houses don’t work very well on a steep slope. The best solution on a site of this type is to step the house down the slope. This fits the house in with its surroundings and helps solve the Height Limit issue. It also creates a more exciting design and eliminates extra tall foundations.

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