Flat Land Designs
As we have said we aren't much in favor of building on flat land. The land is usually more costly than hilly acreage, there is no warm-southern-slope effect for cold climes nor cool-northern-slope for hot regions. Then flat land is usually prime agricultural land much too much of which is being paved over or built upon in America.
Flat land also presents the designer with two special problems: drainage and view. Obviously, you cannot expect the precipitation landing on the roof to run off down the hill if there is no hill for it to run down. Just as obvious there is not going to be that fine downhill view. However, if flat land is all you have to build in we have designs for you there too.
Consider drainage first. You must make certain that you aren't building in a swampy or marshy area. A test hole dug to several feet below the proposed depth of your house, covered and let stand for some months prior to construction is a fine idea, particularly if you can monitor it frequently during the rainy season or during the spring runoff. This will reassure you that you aren't building below the water table, and give you some idea of the permeability of the soil. (Another way to get an idea of how well your soil will drain is to go to your District Soil Conservation office and request assistance. These federal agents, long ignored by society as a whole, will usually be delighted to help and frequently will come out to your property to give you an on-site appraisal—for free.)
If you discover that your land has a high water table we suggest strongly that you do not try to build below that level. There are those who advocate building below water-table and waterproofing the structure, using pumps, etc. We feel that this is just asking for trouble. Our advice is to design several feet above water table even if this means coming above ground and berming earth over the structure. True, you will not technically have an underground house. You will lose much of the root cellar effect, the place will be more subject to weather conditions and it will be visible to your neighbors, but at least it will still be earth covered and you will not be locking horns with your most troublesome problem, drainage.
In any event, on flat land you will probably want to put in French drains. If you are building in the desert or your soil is sandy or otherwise extremely well drained you can probably eliminate this feature, but in most other cases plan on putting in this sort of drainage.
No land is completely flat. It all drains in some direction or other. Your job is to find that direction. If you have a professional survey crew on your land at any time to, say, find your property boundaries, ask them to find the drainage on your building site, too. It should take them just a few minutes. Otherwise, if you can't get a hold of a transit and do the job yourself, buy a line level, some sturdy nylon string and try to find it by the following method: in the center of your building site rake smooth an area of several square feet to eliminate surface irregularities. Drive a stake there deep enough to withstand the pull of the taut string. Repeat the process driving four more stakes some thirty or fort} feet away at the four corners of the compass. Stretch the string between the center stake and one of the four outward stakes and tie it so that the string is as tight as possible. You don't want any sag. Be sure to measure so that the string is exactly the same height from the ground on each stake. Now hang the line level in the center of the string and take a reading. By raising the string on the low stake until the bubble reads level you can compute the rate of fall per fookXSheck to see that the fall is area wide—not just a local irregularity—by repeating the process up from the highest stake and down from the lowest stake.
Once you've ascertained which way the land falls, design your house so that the rain landing on top of the house flows either (1) directly off a shed roof in the direction of the fall of the land or (2) flows off a peaked or bowed roof to the sides and then is led away and down slope by means of a French drain. Obviously you don't want to drain your roof up-slope.
If you are building in an area of high density of housing—the city or subdivision—we suggest you keep your house below surface as much as possible and let your windows and glass doors face out onto sunken patios and greenhouses. This gives you some degree of controlled view just as does the Uphill Patio on the Basic Design for hillsides. Again, we contend that the view of a greenhouse or Landscaped sunken patio is far better than the view of the house next door.
If, however, you are building in the country where there are some fine sweeping views you might want to bring your house, or part of it, slightly above ground. This may be done by elevating the shed roof above ground, by gabling, or by the clerestory effect. You will, of course, cover the roof with earth and mulch and encourage vegetation. The vegetation not only looks nice, purifies the air, and encourages wildlife, but it also helps cool the house in the summer by transpiration.
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