Invisible Cobweb of Site Constraints

Invisible Cobweb of Site Constraints

Invisible Cobweb of Site Constraints for house architecture design is this Architect firm’s commentary on the very real issues on your land around which your Architect must plan.

invisible cobweb of site constraints
Image courtesy of Nikola Bacanek from Unsplash

Many land owners and homeowners planning either a new house or addition look at their land and think to themselves: “Look at all this open land!  I can do anything I want and build wherever I want.”

Is that a factual statement?  Unfortunately, NO.

Why?  Because there is an INVISIBLE COBWEB OF SITE CONSTRAINTS blocking your ability to build in multiple locations.  What sort of constraints?


1.  HOA/COUNTY/CITY BUILDING SETBACKS (from property lines).  You are not allowed to build your house or other structures directly up to your property line.  Why?  Several reasons: one is fire code.  You can’t have different owners building different structures too close together, which can allow the spread of fire.  Both the Residential and Commercial Codes cover this.  And County, State and Municipal governments demand typically at least a 10′ building setback, resulting in at least 20′ between structures (10′ on each side of the property line).  HOAs (Home Owner Associations) often echo this 10′ minimum distance, however, many HOAs can and do require greater distances (25′, 50′, 75′ or more) to suit the aesthetics and lifestyle desired by a given neighborhood.  All of these building setback distances are enforceable and if you build into them, you can end up having to tear down encroaching structures (the worst case result) and/or pay fines for violating the requirements.

2.  EASEMENTS (utilities, access and other requirements):  There are often legal easements wandering through your land.  Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.  Surveyors are typically the professionals who need to identify those and plot them onto the Survey of the land.  Some owners might say something like: “Easements?  We don’t need no stinking easements!  We will build on our land wherever we want!”

Well, let’s look at just one real life example: This Architectural firm had a client from another southern state who directed them to design his garage and house in a particular location on his land.  The Architect insisted on a survey first.  After the survey was obtained and the Architect began designing, the first thing he noticed was a 100 foot wide electrical power company easement stomping directly across the client’s land, including through the area where the client demanding that his house be built.  Oops.  If the client would have built his home there, no doubt he would have flailed about, looking for someone else to blame when he would have been compelled to tear it down for violating that power easement.  That didn’t happen due to the Architect’s diligence.

3.  UTILITIES: there may be septic tanks and fields either already underground or planned, by an AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction).  They will typically have critical distances as minimums between your house and such utilities. For instance, in this area of WNC, we sometimes see 5 feet as a County Health Department minimum distance between a septic tank/field and the nearest foundations.  Personally, we’d like to see more distance.  We really would prefer more space between a moisture saturated ground plane and what’s holding up the building.  Once again: the fact that you don’t have x-ray vision and can’t see that future (or existing) septic system does not mean it’s not there (or won’t be in the future).


And there can and will be other invisible constraints blocking development.  WHY ALL THIS FOCUS ON WHAT MIGHT APPEAR AS SOMETHING NEGATIVE IN THE FORM OF “CONSTRAINTS?”
Well: you can’t really get creative with buildable features, forms and shapes, until you understand where you CANNOT build.  Otherwise, you are being capricious and foolish.  You must know what you cannot do to fully understand what you CAN do.  Where the new house cannot set foot.

Hence this online article by the HOME ARCHITECTS ®: Invisible Cobweb of Site Constraints