Tag Archives: set-backs

Small Yards, Big Building Design

As new homes have shrunk in size, so have the lots the homes are constructed on. With this the space available for detached accessory buildings (primarily garages and workshops) has shrunk with them.  When you have a 40-foot wide lot, there’s only so much room for another building. But this doesn’t mean homeowners are willing to settle for plain vanilla building design, or worse yet, no building at all. A tremendous amount of style and function can be packed into a small space.

People also are buying old houses, which were built on small lots. A well planned backyard pole building can provide an escape from the confines of small rooms and smaller spaces. The demand for unique building design is on the rise.

My oldest son lives in Maryville (a suburb of Knoxville, TN). He and his wife purchased a home of about 1200 square feet with an unfinished basement. The “daylight basement” included a single car garage door, with the idea for a vehicle to be parked downstairs…underneath the main floor.

With a growing family, finishing the basement to make space for more bedrooms and a family room meant the loss of this space, as well as the downstairs workshop.

While a 24’ x 30’ footprint would avoid his backyard drain field and fit within the property line setbacks, just a plain box would not have satisfied the needs of his mother.  The vast amount of options and flexibility with pole building design came to the rescue!

A 20’ x 24’ second floor “mother-in-law” apartment was added above the rear 2/3 of the garage. With the peak of the roofs running at 90 degree angles to each other, it ended up being aesthetically pleasing in a residential neighborhood. Inside the apartment, scissor trusses created a vaulted ceiling, with the added height making the room feel more spacious. Cantilevered decks (4’ in front and 6’ in the rear) allow for outdoor living, especially with the sliding glass patio door to the large rear deck.

Now our son has a place to park two vehicles inside, along with his own shop area. His wife loves the large storage shelves lining the downstairs garage/shop for those seasonal items and Christmas decorations. The mini apartment upstairs hosts visiting guests in a private space all of their own.  Not to mention “Mama” is happy with the large air conditioned space with a deck to relax on when she comes to visit.  And footprint wise, it didn’t take up anymore space than a two car garage, but allowed for a lot of expansion to their daily living.

Recent research into post frame fire walls, allow pole buildings to be built close to, or right up to property lines. This allows for buildings to be placed in spaces they would not have fit into in the past.

A wood stove or fireplace can make a man cave, or hobby space a delightful area, and are easily added.  Heating and A/C are affordable for small spaces, for maximum climate control.

Looking for the ideal building design to add to the livability of your home? Pole buildings do not have to be “plain Jane” and the variables for design are virtually limitless.

Why Won’t You Check Design Criteria for Me?

If you had a chance to think over the weekend of why we don’t check Design Criteria for you (see Friday’s Blog), the obvious reason would be “we just don’t know where your building site is”.  This is the “down and dirty” answer.

Ultimately the more specific question clients ask me is, “will you pull my building permit for me?” The easy answer is: No.  Not today and not ever.  Why not?  When I was a building contractor, I didn’t pull permits for folks.  So let me tell you why.  When I say we “don’t know where your site is”, I mean, we don’t know anything about it.

Let’s pretend for a moment I am going to go ahead and get your design criteria along with whatever else is needed to pull a building permit for you. I’ll need to ask a few questions.  Choosing all the “right” questions to ask, of you and your Building Department, could mean the one important question I should have asked, didn’t get asked.  Don’t just assume your Building Department will hand over brochures and a list of helpful information outlining every possibility. Some jurisdictions have great websites, and some I wonder why they even bothered to put one up. And when was it last updated?  I can’t assume anything on a website is 100% up to snuff.  The person behind the county doesn’t memorize all the information specific to your building site.  And while most Planning/Building Departments are great at helping clients, there are a few who leave too much to the imagination.  They expect you (or me) to ask questions before supplying important information.  Some of them just plain don’t understand the building code.  Most Building Departments do not have a registered professional engineer behind the desk.

A few questions for you and eventually your jurisdiction’s planning department.  What are the “set-backs” from streets, alleys, other structures or anything else?  Are there restrictions as to what can be built due to zoning? How about underground septic and sewage systems or other underground utilities? Do you have watershed or wetlands issues?

If a separate department, the Building Department will have more information. Will an engineered soils test be required?  What is your wind exposure?  If you don’t know wind exposure, stand in the center of your property and extend your arms and then turn to all directions.  Is there any direction the wind can blow from where it is not stopped by hills, trees, other buildings? (This is an overly simple explanation of wind exposure by the way). Have you ever had a fire on your property, or near to your property?  Are you in a hurricane zone?  What is your elevation above sea level?

One of the most important considerations to you may be where on the property you are placing your building.  You may be able to deal with your Planning Department on exactly where your building “sits”. You intimately know your own property and the tree your great grandfather planted is just not going to be moved.  I am constantly amazed at pictures of buildings which are emailed to me, and they have a huge tree (or several) very close to the building they just put up.  I am thinking, “It must have been a bear to construct a building with a big ol’ tree right next to the site. Why didn’t they just take the tree down?”  But if the “big ol’ tree” Great Grampa planted is “not going anywhere”, you need to be the one to take this issue up with your local planning department to come up with an agreeable solution.

Why won’t I verify your design criteria or pull your permit?  Because I want to meet you on the street someday and have you smile at me, shake my hand, and we will still be friends.  Your building ended up being what you needed, and better yet, it ended up exactly where you wanted it.  Life comes in a rainbow of colors, not just shades of black and white.