Building a home on a sloped lot has its share of challenges and potential added costs. However, it also offers the ability to implement beautiful and practical architectural features that wouldn’t be possible on a regular site. In this article, we’ll outline some of the pros and cons of building on a sloped lot.
Walkout Basements and Drive-Under Garages
Building on a sloped site allows for all of the spaces at the bottom of the slope to remain above ground. This is one of the most appealing aspects of building on a slope as it allows the entrance of the home and all of the principal rooms to be upstairs, while the basement and garage can be tucked away at the exterior, bottom end of the slope. Not only does this enhance curb appeal, it effectively means that your basement isn’t a basement at all. By being on the bottom end of the slope, the walkout basement remains above ground and still enjoys all of the natural light of the rest of the home.
As for garages, being on the bottom of the slope means they don’t take up valuable square footage from the top portion of the lot, and can serve double duty by adding some support to the upper floor.
The added views and natural light of a sloped site go hand in hand with having the lower floors remain above ground. Even if your sloped site doesn’t offer panoramic vistas, being at the top of a hill does offer more privacy and better natural light. To this point, homes on sloped lots benefit from having numerous large that windows allow for a brighter, more expansive feeling. And in winter, all of that natural light can actually help with the home’s energy efficiency.
While you may think that a sloped site would present landscaping challenges, it can actually make overall landscape maintenance easier over time. The biggest outdoor advantage of a sloped site is lots of vertical space, and, often, no lawn to worry about. After a strong foundation and retaining walls have been put in place, you are left to enjoy the natural beauty surrounding - but not impeding - your site. What’s more, decks on sloped sites can be built out to be quite spacious, whether they cantilever out from the hill, or are supported by stilts and beams.
A retaining wall is not so much a con on a sloping site, as it is an absolute necessity, and one that needs to be executed correctly. Because part of the home will be on the lower end of the slope, the force from the surrounding hillside is great, and structural engineers as well as contractors with experience building on slopes will need to be consulted.
According to British architectural technologist Emma Walshaw, another wise option for sloped sites is the ‘cut-and-fill’ method. As Walshaw states, “This describes the process of carving out a level plinth on a sloping site, in order to build a home that is essentially designed for use on a level site. Any spoil that is cut from the bank is reserved in order for it to be brought back to make up the levels on the lower edge. Depending on the type of slope you are working with, this can be a more cost effective solution as you don’t have to cart spoil away from site.”
Drainage issues are one of the biggest concerns of building on a slope. To avoid flooding and water build up, gutters must be checked and maintained routinely, and proper pathways for water run off must be created. There also may be added costs depending on where the sewer system is located. For example, if the sewer connection is uphill from the lot, a pump system may be required to control the rate of flow.
Building on a hillside does mean being at the mercy of nature to some extent. Knowing what type of soil sits beneath the lot is crucial in knowing the site’s vulnerabilities. Furthermore, consider the climate of the area. An area with a lot of rainfall or snow can potentially cause a higher risk of erosion to the site. And if earthquakes are a possibility, the home may require special structural engineering to safeguard against erosion caused by quakes.
Building on a sloped lot may not be fore everyone. It has its pros and its cons during the building process, but if you can get through it, you end up with an aesthetically pleasing, energy efficient home. An added bonus is the view that comes with it!