Planning Your Project


Programming is a term that architects use to assess the needs, budget and space requirements of a building. This early planning lays out a road map that defines the design objectives of the project. Proper programming helps avoid cost over-runs by planning for just the space needed. A good way to start planning is with a simple bubble diagram and spreadsheet of spaces (like the one above). This is a great start for an efficient footprint that minimizes wasted space in the lower level.

Needs Assessment

Start with a needs assessment. In residential design this generally means looking at the family and determining the number of beds and bathrooms. Most families will want a bed and bath for each family member. Also determine what your needs are for overnight guests. Do you have family members that stay overnight? What are your needs for entertaining? Do you host large groups, or entertain small groups informally? More and more people have the opportunity to work at home at least part of the time. If so, what kind of work environment would you like… ranging from working on the laptop on the kitchen table to a full office suite with separate entry for visitors?

Plan For The Future

Planning and building a house can take up to two years. Plan for the way your family will be in two years, five years, ten years. It’s cliche, but true that kids grow up fast. If you have small children, consider what your lifestyle will be like when they’re young adults. The room for the small child right next to the parents bedroom might not be so great when she’s 16. If your kids are teenagers, plan for when they’re off to college, or married bringing their own kids home to visit.

Site Considerations

Your site will play an important role in programming your home. The size of the lot and city or county regulations may determine how much house you can have. Topography may determine a particular type of design. A gently sloping lot may make for an ideal walk out basement, ideal space for teenagers.

Minimize Footprint

Save money by programming to minimize the footprint of the house. The footprint of the house is one of the most important cost factors in construction. Look at it as a sunk cost. This is especially important with walk-out ranch plans because every square foot on the upper level creates a corresponding square foot in the lower level. Since it costs less half as much to finish basement space than to build new space, the lower level should be mostly finished. Choose carefully what rooms should go in the lower level. For example if put a home office on the main level, it requires 400 s.f. overall. Placing the office in the lower level will cost less than 1/4 of the cost of putting it on the main level.


Good design separates the home into various zones, the most basic of which are private sleeping and bathing spaces and public entertaining and cooking spaces. Consider the lifestyle of the family when planning the house.

What You Need To Know

You’ll need to know appropriate sizes for the rooms you’ll be building. Room sizes (except for kitchens) are driven by the furniture that’s in them so it helps to have a familiarity with furniture sizes.

How To Program

After doing the site analysis, needs assesment and planning for the future, you’re ready to put together a program. The core of the program is a spreadsheet divided by level of the home. Include the room, width and length and the area for each room. Be sure to include closets, linen cabinets and other small spaces. This will give you a subtotal by level. The most efficient program will be one where the space on each level is balanced minimizing the footprint. After you have a subtotal, apply a circulation and wall thickness factor of about 10% to 15%. Use the program to keep the design on track.

Tips for an efficient plan

Here are some ideas that work well for an efficient plan and some other tips for making the home less expensive:

Remember, it all adds up. To further reduce costs pay especially close attention to materials and appliance selections.

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