Buying Land: What to Consider for a New Sustainable Home

By: Kate HambletNovember 28, 2023

Are you dreaming of building your ideal healthy and sustainable home from the ground up? If so, the first step is finding the best piece of land that fits your vision for your future home life. Let’s dive into what to consider when you’re buying land.

There’s a lot to think about when choosing the right piece of land, especially land that will enhance your health and happiness and protect the planet. But don’t fret, I’ve got you covered with this handy guide. This was the list of criteria I recently used when searching for my own piece of land for our future home.

Remember, it’s important to keep in mind that you should choose your land BEFORE you design your home. The features of the land are what develop the design of the house. If you try to plop an already-designed building onto a site, it might have costly and uncomfortable repercussions.

Factors to consider when searching for your right piece of land:

Zoning & Local Building Codes

Before you start envisioning your dream home, it’s essential to get familiar with the local zoning and building regulations.

  • HOA Influence: Check to see if there are any homeowners’ association (HOA) rules as these can impact your home’s appearance and maintenance.
  • Adjacent Land Development: Investigate the surrounding area as potential upcoming developments could change your lot’s character. It’s important to know if that view you love so much might disappear due to new buildings.
  • Setbacks and Height Restrictions: Learn about any restrictions on how close you can build to the property lines and the maximum building height allowed as this could impact your home’s design and size, along with any future building plans.

 

Neighbors and Neighborhood

The neighborhood and neighbors can greatly impact your living experience.

  • Environmental Impact: Be aware of nearby farms, orchards, gas stations, factories, or other businesses as these can impact the environment and your quality of life.
  • Noise and Pollution: Consider potential noise and air pollution from neighboring roads.

 

Topography & Site Challenges

Understanding the lay of the land is crucial. The topography and site challenges can significantly influence your budget.

  • Cost to Develop the Land: Assess the land’s condition as the cost of preparing the land for building can vary greatly. Steep slopes, rocky terrain, or unsuitable soil can impact construction leading to higher expenses. Be sure to budget for these potential challenges.
  • Impact on Wildlife: Building on tough terrain can also have a negative impact on the land, affecting the wildlife that currently inhabits the land.
  • Accessibility: If you want yourself and anyone else to be able to easily maneuver around your property and your house, then that should be a consideration when choosing land.  A steep slope that will require lots of steps to your front door, and or a steep driveway that is hard to walk on will limit who can use the property and your house.

Location & Site Considerations

Location and site considerations can affect the long-term satisfaction and functionality of your future home and have a major impact (for good or bad) on the environment.

  • Previously Developed Land: The most environmentally friendly type of land to build on is previously developed land.  These are called brownfield sites.  Something man-made has existed on the site before which already deteriorated the natural habitat.  Selecting a brownfield site allows you to restore the natural habitat and bring new life to the outdoor areas of the property.
  • Soil Quality: Invest in a soil test to understand its quality as some soil types are better for building foundations than others. A poor choice can lead to costly foundation issues down the line. A soil test will provide insights into the quality of the land and if it’s suitable for construction.  You’ll also need to understand your soil quality and type if you will be installing a septic system.
  • Environmental Zones: If your land is in a flood or hurricane zone be sure to consider insurance costs and the potential risks associated with your property’s location.   Your home will need to be designed in a resilient way to withstand future natural disasters.  This will cost more money up front, but it will protect your house in the future.
  • Drainage and Land Stability: Ensure the land allows for proper drainage and check if the land is stable to avoid issues such as erosion or flooding. Consult with experts to verify that your property is safe and well-drained.
  • Wetlands: Does the plot include areas considered to be wetlands? Wetlands often have restrictions on development.  You never want to disturb wetlands, but your site design can help to improve wetlands and other natural habitats.  So you don’t necessarily need to avoid sites with wetlands as long as there is plenty of space to build without affecting the wetlands, and while regenerating more areas of the land to encourage natural habitat growth.
  • Microclimate: Every site can have its own little microclimate going on.  Research wind direction and speed, precipitation, and cloudiness levels so make sure you’re prepared to address those conditions in your design.

Orientation and Views

The orientation of your land can affect your daily life and energy costs.

  • Maximize southern orientation: Make sure the building location on the land will receive plenty of southern light for passive winter heating and for solar panel energy production.
  • Quality of Life: Consider how the property’s orientation affects your lifestyle. Gain an understanding of which rooms may have sunny mornings or evenings and that aligns with your daily routines or needs.
  • Heating and Cooling: Proper orientation can save you money on heating and cooling. South-facing orientation will provide winter warmth.  In hot climates, assess shady areas for summer cooling.
  • Times of Day: Take note of how the property looks at different times of the day as it might change drastically from morning to night. If you’re able do so, view the property in different seasons (should you live in a region with distinct seasons).
  • Views: Views are great to have, but sometimes they’re facing ‘the wrong way’.  Since you want to capitalize on southern orientation for comfort and energy savings, having the view to the north can be challenging.

Woman lounging on porch

Road & Utility Access

Accessibility and utilities are vital for comfortable living.

  • Municipal Water/Sewer: Find out if you have access to municipal water and sewer systems or if you’ll need a well and septic system. The availability of these services can affect your living experience and costs.
  • Driveway Length/Grade: Ensure that the driveway’s length and grade meet your needs (will you need space for guest parking, ability to turn vehicles around?) and will it be easy to maintain? If you live where it snows, is the driveway easily plowable?
  • Road access: Check that the property is on a public road and is maintained year round.  If it’s not, find out your responsibilities for maintaining the road.
  • Electrical and Cable Access: Check that electrical and cable services can be brought to your property without significant obstacles.
  • Access via Easement: Some properties require access via an easement, so make sure this is well-defined. Should this be the case for your lot.

Permitting

Navigating the permitting process can be a lengthy and complex affair.

  • Permits: Be sure to understand the permitting process in your area. As not only can be it complex, but also time-consuming, and potentially costly. So definitely be prepared.

Financial Considerations

Financing and negotiations are key aspects of purchasing land.

  • Types of Loans: Explore your financing options. Are you able to secure a mortgage or are you paying cash?
  • Negotiate Price: Don’t hesitate to negotiate the land’s price as the practice of negotiating the sale price for land is fairly common. This practice can potentially save you money or improve your overall terms. A professional appraisal can help determine its fair value.

Final Thoughts:

Building your dream home is an exciting journey, and finding the right land is the crucial first step.  There’s a bit more to think about when buying land for a healthy and sustainable home, but it’s 100% worth it.  You’ll be living a comfortable, healthy life while helping to regenerate the planet. Happy land hunting!

To learn more about the steps of the design process, grab my free start-to-finish guide that walks you through each step of the journey.

***Looking for more guidance?***

Introducing the Healthy Home Design Toolkit.

The healthy home design toolkit is an online program filled with video lessons, spreadsheets, checklists, and guides designed to take you from feeling overwhelmed, unprepared, and lost…

to empowered, educated, excited, and prepared so you can create the perfect healthy home that meets your family’s goals and values.

With the Toolkit, You’ll Have The Tools You Need To…

  • Make educated decisions about the home planning process
  • Create a functional and comfortable home layout
  • Select healthy and sustainable material options
  • Decide what building methods to choose
  • Confidently share your decisions with your contractor and/or design team!

Learn more here.

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Understanding the Design Process

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