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The Art and Science of Site Evaluation for Custom Homes

Building a custom home is possibly your dream and turning that dream into reality begins with a crucial step - the site evaluation. The process of assessing land where a custom home will be built is a comprehensive and intricate endeavor that combines both art and science. In this article, I’ll get into what happens during a site evaluation for a custom home, explore the many benefits that come from this crucial phase, and discuss how the information that is obtained from the custom home site evaluation is utilized in the home design itself.

Importance of Site Evaluation

New home site evaluation is the foundation for the entire custom home design and construction process. It involves detailed examination of the chosen property to understand its characteristics, constraints, and potential. The goal is to gather valuable information that will guide the design and construction phases, ensuring that the final product not only meets your needs, but also works with the site and its environment.

  • Preliminary Research: The site evaluation process begins with comprehensive research. Gathering existing data about the property, including zoning regulations, topography, soil conditions, and climate considerations, sets the stage for informed decision-making. Zoning regulations dictate what can and cannot be built on a property, ensuring compliance with local laws. Topography influences the layout and design of the home, while soil conditions impact the foundation and overall stability of the structure. Understanding the climate is crucial for factors like energy efficiency, material selection, water/flood requirements, and landscaping.

  • Physical Site Inspection: Once the preliminary work is done, the next step is a physical site inspection. This on-site evaluation involves a thorough examination of the land itself. Architects, engineers and other professionals visit the property to observe its unique features, including slope, vegetation, existing utilities, existing structures, trees, and any potential hazards. This hands-on approach allows experts to gain a firsthand understanding of the site’s characteristics and identify opportunities and challenges.

  • Surveying: This is a requirement for any custom home. A comprehensive survey that captures the property boundaries, trees, topography, utilities, existing structures, and any zoning requirements (e.g., setbacks) and easements. This is key information that will be needed for the home design.

  • Soil Analysis: One of the next critical items is a soil test. Soil conditions play a pivotal role in determining the foundation type, which is crucial for the stability and longevity of the custom home. Geotechnical engineers conduct soil tests to assess factors such as soil composition, density, and load-bearing capacity. This information helps in designing a foundation that is tailored to the specific needs of the site, preventing issues like settling or shifting over time.

  • Environmental Analysis: A comprehensive site evaluation considers environmental considerations. This includes an analysis of existing vegetation and trees, as well as water features. Architects work to develop strategies that minimize the impact of construction on the natural surroundings. Preserving mature trees, protecting water sources and creating sustainable landscaping are all part of the process.

site evaluation

Benefits of Site Evaluation

Now that we have explored the steps involved in conducting the site evaluation, lets spend some time reviewing the benefits that come from this meticulous process.

  • Optimal Design: Site evaluation serves as a blueprint for designing a custom home that seamlessly integrates with its surroundings. By understanding the topography, orientation and environmental factors, architects and designers can optimize the layout to maximize natural light, ventilation, and energy efficiency. The result is a home that feels connected to the property, enhancing both its aesthetic appeal and functionality. The information gathered during the site evaluation informs key design decisions, such as placement of windows to capture scenic views. For example, if a property boasts breathtaking mountain vistas, the design may prioritize expansive windows in the living areas to frame and celebrate these views. On the other hand, a site with a significant coverage may inspire a design that incorporates outdoor living spaces or large, strategically placed windows to invite nature inside.

  • Mitigation of Potential Issues: Identifying potential issues early in the process allows for proactive mitigation strategies. Whether it’s addressing soil instability, managing water drainage, or navigating zoning restrictions, site evaluation helps anticipate challenges and develop solutions. This proactive approach minimizes the risk of costly surprises during construction and ensures a smoother overall process. For instance, if a site evaluation reveals that the soil has a high-water table, the design team can incorporate waterproofing measures into the foundation design to prevent water damage. Similarly, knowledge of local zoning restrictions, like setbacks, allows the design team to create plans that adhere to the correct distances the structure must be away from the property boundary, thus avoiding failed permitting or worse. work stoppages, both resulting in expensive redesign.

  • Environmental Stewardship: At a time where sustainability is a key consideration, site evaluation plays a crucial role in environmental stewardship. By assessing the natural features of the property, professionals can implement eco-friendly design practices, such as rainwater harvesting, native landscaping, and energy efficient construction. This not only reduces the environmental impact of the new home, but also positions it as a model of responsible building practices. The data collected during site evaluation informs decisions regarding sustainable design elements. For instance, knowledge of prevailing winds can influence the position of the home to maximize natural ventilation, reducing the need for mechanical cooling. Additionally, understanding local flora and fauna allows for landscaping choices that support biodiversity and minimize the need for excessive water consumption or chemicals.

  • Improved Construction Efficiency: Understanding the nuances of the site enables builders to streamline the construction process. With a clear understanding of the soil conditions and topography, construction crews can work efficiently, avoiding unnecessary delays or complications. This efficiency not only saves time, but also reduces costs, contributing to the overall success of the project. Efficient construction is a direct result of informed design decisions based on the site evaluation. For example, if the site evaluation identifies a need for additional structural support due to soil conditions, the design team can incorporate these requirements into the plans, avoiding delays for on-site adjustments. Additionally, a well-designed home that takes full advantage of the site’s attributes can often be constructed more efficiently than a design that ignores or works against the natural features of the land.

energy efficient custom home

Incorporating Site Evaluation into Home Design

The information gathered during the site evaluation becomes the cornerstone of the home design process. Here are some ways.

  • Orientation and Layout: Understanding the path of the sun throughout the day allows window and outdoor spaces to be optimized. A site that has a stunning western view may prioritize living areas and bedrooms on the western side of the home, allowing you to enjoy picturesque sunsets. Conversely, a site with good morning light may design focus on creating inviting breakfast nooks and outdoor spaces on the eastern side.

  • Energy Efficiency: Briefly stated above, but understanding prevailing winds, solar exposure, and temperature patterns will allow for window placement that is optimal. Other energy-efficient technologies, such as solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling, may also be influenced by the site evaluation. A site with good sun exposure may be an ideal candidate for roof solar panels, which may influence the roof design on the sun exposed areas. While a property with access to geothermal resources may benefit from a geothermal HVAC system.

  • Water Management: Knowing drainage patterns will allow for proper grading and drainage solutions to prevent erosion, flooding, or water accumulation. Some solutions that might be used during design include catchment systems, permeable pavements, and rainwater harvesting.


When it comes to custom home design and construction, site evaluation stands as the cornerstone of the effort to shape the rest of the project. From initial research and physical inspection to soil analysis and environmental considerations, each step contributes to a comprehensive understanding of the property. Investing the time and resources in a thorough site evaluation is not just a prudent choice, it’s a strategic one. The marriage of site evaluation and home design is where the vision takes shape, creating not just a structure, but a harmonious living space that resonates with the natural beauty of its surroundings.

Additional Resources

  • Feasibility - Architects use the term Feasibility Studies as part of their site evaluation process. This link shares the process

  • Video - This builder shares a video of what to expect during a site inspection

  • Planning Guide - This will provide the full process for assessment, design and construction

  • Checklist - A site and building assessment checklist

  • Checklist #2 - This checklist template that can be modified


“I have known Jon for many years. He and his team at Owners’ Ace are an invaluable resource to anyone looking to design and build a custom home. Having their assistance makes a complex process so much easier and successful. I recommend Owners’ Ace to my clients and to anyone looking to build their dream home.”

BG Holmberg, Top Custom Home Realtor in Tampa Bay Area

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