Tips on designing personal home


Hello all,

I'm not professional architect not am I an architecture major so please feel free to tell me to "fig off". I am actually a physicist, and I've always like to sit arond and design my ideal house. I don't work on anything else , and I'm not trying to transtion into architecture.

My main question is about the building material used when designing a house. I would like my house to feel strong and open (light?) at the same time. I've seen plenty of brick houses with fanatastic designs, but I don't really want to use bricks, although this would provide me with a strong house. 

I imagine a wood house can be made to be open and light, but it almost seems too flimsy. 

Is there a any material, that can achieve both ideas? Is is better to just delegate certain parts of the house carry out specific functions. Like have a brick fireplace, which is strong and sturdy, and then wood all around that area to provide that idea of light and openess. 

Any comments and suggestions are very welcome. 


Jun 25, 14 1:51 pm


Jun 25, 14 2:02 pm
Non Sequitur

it's a 4-year old thread... stick to making terrible and sexist comments involving chess.


Sounds as if you need to do some reading on domestic architecture. I would recommend Witold Rybczynski, who has written lots of good stuff that's aimed at the layperson.  The Most Beautiful House in the World, his story about building a home for himself, would probably be of interest. The more you know about things like construction, materials, and the history of housing, the more fun it will be to sit around doodling. You'll just get smart-assery here.

Jun 25, 14 2:23 pm

I would suggest you hire an Architect. 


Would you trust the results of a thermodynamics experiment conducted by a chef? No? Then why do you think a physicist can build a quality home?

Jun 25, 14 3:12 pm

You can if you wanted... but you can do it yourself if you have the know how and determination / desire to learn. It’s not excately brain surgery. For larger buildings I would recommend an architect obviously.


To Matt Simon: I would recommend a design professional for design. Why? It is because they will know how to navigate you through the regulatory issues, how to prepare plans with the information required for permit as well as contain the information required to efficient build the home with the information in the plans and specifications with minimal change order issues.


I think that a physicist, or any other thinking person has a pretty good chance of designing a quality home, as long as he understands that it is a large undertaking requiring research, thought, and experimentation. Can't do any worse than the Toll Bros., or a lot of hack architects. It could end up being really awful, but, so what, as long as it doesn't fuck with his neighbor's quality of life or the character of the neighborhood. 

Jun 25, 14 4:39 pm

Toll Brothers doesn’t design a bad house. They are good at what people want. I know that’s cringe worthy for many architects here but it’s the truth.


A physicist may know the math but that doesn't mean he or she has the rest of the body of knowledge that design professionals will know. They might have the theory of physics down but they may not have the applied knowledge. Does the OP know the span of a 12 x16 douglas fir #SS grade beam? Does he or she know the span of a 3x14 joist @ 16" o.c. at 40 psf L.L. + 20 psf DL. ? This is stuff we may know how to solve and the steps of calculations. Does he or she know what to look for, what equations? Does he/she know what the modulus of elasticity of the wood species to be used or the Fiber bending. Does he or she know where to get that information? There are these little pockets of our vast body of knowledge we know that the original poster may not know. 

I recommend he or she find of design professional willing to work with him/her and the ideas in broad terms. Open interior spaces typically involves substantial spans without bearing support requiring special design requirements. If we are talking about open interiors spaces of a large entertainment room, you might need spans in excess of 25-ft. At which point you typically need to use engineered wood solutions such as glulam, trusses, or use of steel beams because normal 2x lumber won't span beyond 20 ft. to 28ft. You have to look at available maximum length lumber in your local area's lumber yards because anything not readily available is going to typically require specialized sourcing and often comes at a premium for the part. If done right, it can cost less overall because you are spending as much money on framing as much interior walls. Another thing that I suggest is a competent construction contractor (as they often have a crew of construction workers) to use because construction involves being physically fit because if you haven't lifted beams and other building materials, you might be in for a surprise on the amount of heavy lifting and physical work involved. You also would need to know how to use tools of the trade. You need to know how to use tools like hammers, saws, etc. You'll need to know to use proper personal protection equipment. You'll also need to understand things like sequence of construction so you don't do them out of sequence because it can result in a disaster and more expense. 

Like people said, you can do it yourself but only if you know what you are doing. This means you need to have a comprehensive knowledge and skill in designing/engineering to do the design side of the work and the construction skills to do the construction work. I would never do a construction project by myself. At the least, two people. Many cases, more than two. At no point, less than two when it comes to framing horizontal members. Framing vertical members like studs... maybe one but joists and rafters, at least two. Sill plate can be done by one but two would be better and more efficient.

Non Sequitur

Ricky, what's with the necro-threads?


Oh... right... didn't check the date. I didn't revive the necro-thread. I thought it was a new thread. Sorry about it.



that is the problem with our profession, people think (including those within our field) that anybody can design a building.  People that try to do it on their own usually end up with a total turd of a project, neglecting basic principles of appropriate site layout and fundamentals of design/space planning.

Pimp our profession.

matt.simon:  hire an architect

Jun 25, 14 4:57 pm

Hire a competent design professional be it a competent architect, building/residential/home designer.

As a physicist you should know that different materials have different properties, and that buildings typically combine a wide range of materials in their construction.

A good architect considers a multitude of factors beyond materials in the design of a building.

Jun 25, 14 5:59 pm

Exactly. There is a whole body of knowledge that is being material properties. To add: Other factors like spatial relation ship. For example: In the kitchen, where the sink, prep, refrigerator/freezer, oven/stove, and cabinets are located in relation to each other is important for efficiency of space. Other factors about the kitchen would be where you locate the oven for efficient exhaust of the oven when you need a ventilation hood. As you further factor in to residential design including sprinklers as is used in new residential construction. All this has to be thought out. Other factors in the floor plan is the spatial-function relationship between areas of function. I'm purposefully not referring to them as rooms because rooms denote a walled in interior space. Not all the spatial areas in the interior necessarily need to be walled in (enclosed with interior walls) such as the kitchen area flowing into the "great room" with a little demarcation of spatial areas with short stem walls or island instead of a full-height wall to visually connect the space. Private spaces like bedrooms and bathrooms would be traditional "rooms". Depending on design, these spaces could be arranged to be more secluded (as private spaces) from that of the "public" spaces of a home often experienced by family, friends, and guests. All these are things design professionals competent with designing houses understands but sometimes the DIY'ers neglect to think about this kind of stuff. They are often too emotionally close to the project and overwhelmed by the shear magnitude of stuff they have to learn in the midst of a project that they just fail to think about the experience of the spaces and the relationship between spaces, how it would be experienced and so forth. It typically takes 4 to 5 FULL TIME YEARS in college/university and additional years of experience to really get it understood. It's really close to impossible to do that in 3-9 months of designing a project. If you launch construction before design is complete, it turns into hell in hand basket in no time because you are no longer in control of the project and the project is kicking your butt. (metaphorically speaking)


chigurh- We're not talking about a major construction project (which, in fact, architects can't design by ourselves because we have surrendered structural expertise to the engineers). It's a house. People have been building their own houses without paying professionals to design them for most of human history. Sure, modern construction is a little more complicated than archaic, what with plumbing and heating, but the challenge certainly isn't insurmountable.

I'm not sure that I'm willing to "pimp our profession" when so much of what we do is as bad as it is.

Matt.Simon- you should build it with your own hands, too. (Or hire a contractor- don't try to be your own general contractor or you will get truly fucked.)

Jun 25, 14 6:30 pm

anonitect, people may have done that by themselves but those vernacular one-room cabins made of plank frame construction isn't what we are talking about. Back then, people learned how to build because a man only had two or three occupations available to them... logging, construction, or fishing/hunting unless you are rich and go to college to become a lawyer. There wasn't a real medical profession back then. Almost young male child learned to build because generally, you worked all three of those "occupations" throughout the year or throughout one's life. A lot of time, fishing/hunting was seasonal. Logging was somewhat seasonal and so was construction. People commonly did all three. Eventually they went into specific trades within construction like blacksmithing, masonry, etc. Some chose to be loggers but over time, that can take a toll. Today, most people never used a hammer or a saw, or done any construction work. Most vernacular structures were basically constructing with methods they had already learned. No thoughts were typically made regarding wind or seismic or anything. They were usually just framed the way they were taught and often with rule of thumb and tradition. They weren't necessarily taking a conscious thought about how a building will resist wind or an earthquake. Some... yeah but most of them.... it wasn't even a thought. If it stood up, great. If not, we'll build another one and maybe some more thought would be taken. Today, you have to show you thought about these kinds of issues in your design by designing in a manner with drawings depicting a design that meets the building codes. 

It's not insurmountable to learn what is needed to be done but houses aren't 1 room huts and most of the grand elaborate homes we have are built by craftsmen and were taken from plan book designs with maybe some craftsman's deviation. My house for example, would have been a craftsman's (not talking about the architectural style) variant of a plan book Victorian with a front-facing gable with Italiante-style chamfered porch posts. It wasn't a DIY build. It was built by a skilled builder and the builder had some plan book for a layout plan but there isn't an actual set of plans that we have from back then. It wasn't built by some person with no construction experience. It wasn't necessarily an "architect" designed house, either. It was an owner who was a builder who built it. 


Never mind..... old thread that someone necro'd back to life. CAN PEOPLE STOP REVIVING THREADS OVER 1 YEARS OLD ????


Anonitect - If I'm in the market for a new car, would you tell me to go research and build my own? Heck, it can't be that hard. It's a couple of wheels and an engine right?

Jun 25, 14 6:48 pm

what sort of physics?

all you need to know is that for us, it has to equal 0.  if not, stuff that ought not move starts to move.

Jun 25, 14 6:48 pm

"People have been building their own houses without paying professionals to design them for most of human history"


People have been living in buildings made of mud and cow shit for most of human history. Humans have been wallowing in their own filth and disease for most of human history. Humans have been living without electric lights, running water, or adequate personal space for most of human history. 


Does that mean we should keep doing it?

Jun 25, 14 7:04 pm

No but I do believe most architects are egomaniacs. If it’s a small house and local juradisction allows it.. he can do it himself if he so desires.


Go for it Matt!

Guys, some of us are missing the point. Matt.simon didn't come to ask whether or not he's qualified to build or design his own house. He came to ask advice on something so he CAN design his own house. Just for the record, I'm living in a log cabin built by my great grandfather (who is still alive) and designed by his wife, my great grandmother (also still alive). It is great here, it's a little small, but it was made to accommodate 2 people. Not our family of four. We plan to add on as well. So, Matt.simon if it's in your interest to design your dream house, do it. It sounds great.
Jun 25, 14 7:40 pm

One major misconception among most people who aren't educated in architecture is that brick houses are stronger than wooden houses.  I will admit.  I was also under that impression before I studied architecture.  Unless we're talking about stone, reinforced concrete houses clad in brick, brick isn't really doing any structural work and holding up the house.  It is only a cladding material, like a jacket you put on your body to protect it from rain or wind. 

Jun 25, 14 8:56 pm

somebody who was not an architect put an addition on my house (long ago) and i'm paying to replace the roof they did wrong...

Jun 25, 14 9:20 pm

accesskb- Your post is unclear - certainly you understand the concept of load bearing masonry walls. What are you talking about?

Benjamin - Houses aren't cars. The materials used in home construction (outside of parts/systems that come as a complete assembly) are easily available and don't require industrial processes to form. I'm guessing,  but I think that I could purchase or rent all of the tools and equipment (NOT materials)I would need to build an average sized stick frame home for less than a few thousand dollars. The machines used to make automobiles cost millions.

archynomous- There are still people living in squalor without plumbing or electricity, and there have been people living in well made, sanitary dwellings  (albeit without modern technology) at many times during human history. Many of those homes were built by laymen, and a lot of them are still standing. 

Jun 25, 14 9:26 pm

@curtkram, Thanks for the SIPs tip. I'm a theoretical physicist who does research in gravity. And indeed, I just need to worry about what to set equal to zero. lol. I did teach a class on statics and dynamics class so I have a basic (very basic) idea of how all that goes. 

@anonitect, Thanks for the book reference, just bought it on amazon. :-) And thanks very much for the encouragement. My wife does actually want to build the house with her own hands. I can't say I'm that enthused by the idea, but I'm willing to try. 

@CD.Arch, Thanks. 

Before I address other comments I wanted to just apologize for starting a debtate, this wasn't my intetion. I was hoping to learn something and possibly meet people who would be interested in sharing their professional hard-earned knowldege. 

First, let me say that I understand this is a huge undertaking. I've been sketcthing out floor plans for the past five years, and only now that I've found someone who is interested in building their own house am I finally brave enough to call what I'm doing desinging a house. We don't think this will happen overnight. This is a five to ten year plan, kinda thing for us. 

Second, I never meant to imply that I would not seek professional help. My best friend is a contractor and my father-in-law a drafter. I always thought about engaging them in this project. 

Jun 25, 14 9:44 pm

But, I need to recognize that there are skilled architects out there who make really beautiful homes consistently, and that the likelihood of a layperson creating something really first rate on their first attempt at home design is pretty slim. I do think that  a motivated individual of above average competence would be capable of designing something that works, is comfortable, and that people will be happy living in for a long time to come.

Good luck, Mr. Simon. Some of it should be really fun. 

Jun 25, 14 9:55 pm

i believe that if you look around online you can find some blogs that people have started to document their own home construction projects.  They might be interesting if not informative for you and your family.

Jun 26, 14 8:29 am

for the record, my dad, an accountant at the time, built the house i grew up in 30 years ago and still loves it.  Its a heavy timber framed passive solar house which apparently caused quite a stir in the area when it was built.

there's no shortage of books, the only problem you may find is that more knowledge makes the decision making process harder.

Jun 26, 14 8:38 am

@anonitect - Houses aren't cars? What's a trailer park then?

On a more serious note, I don't think anyone is saying that building your home can't be done. Matt Simon's questions relate to light, materials, structural systems and not "can I build a house on my own". Of course anyone can build a home for themselves. I applaud those that have built the place where they hang their hat. That said, I think it is an incredible risk. Matt Simon seems like he has a good idea of what he is looking for, and an architect would be able to help him realize this and give advice on construct-ability and the feasibility of doing so. I just think it is ill advised and short sighted to just say - go for it! Humans have been building them for thousands of years! 

@Matt Simon - I think it's great that you want to create your own home and I think you should be involved as much as possible but be realistic about it. It seems as though you have an ambitious vision for what the space should be. Hire an architect and go from there. 

Jun 26, 14 9:10 am

You should look into passive solar if you are in an area where it will work. I toured a passive solar house owned by a physicist, he and his architect friend designed it. The heating and cooling bills were almost nothing. 

Jun 26, 14 9:33 am

Agree with toaster!

also you should invest in some 3-d or physical models of the design.  Once you see the house you will likely want to change some things.  

Many people dabbled in architecture with some success  "arm chair architects" like Thomas Jefferson.   It's really a matter of your personal ability so no one here can make that judgement without seeing your drawings.  That said, for such a large investment you are likely better off hiring someone who does this for a profession.  There are many great residential designers and residential architects that can assist you.  You will still have control over your "vision" just hire someone to help you take it to that next level for at least the DD and CD stage.   

Jun 26, 14 12:18 pm

When you say "designing a house" to a bunch of architects it makes us think about waterproofing, air infiltration, insulation values, foundation design, site design, site drainage, wall assemblies, flashing, more waterproofing, finish materials, etc.

What it sounds like you mean by "designing a house" is deciding where the kitchen goes in relation to the bedrooms, what final finishes are used, and what the overall "style" or impression is like. Those things are best approached when working with a licensed residential architect with experience in the style of home you would like to build. 

I have no doubt that even the most uneducated person could build themselves a workable shelter under good conditions, but this is your house - it is a huge (the biggest, usually) investment you will make and you will live here for many years. It seems wise to invest in professional services to ensure the house is live-able, has good resale value, and lasts.

Jun 26, 14 2:45 pm
x intern

Apparently most of the guys on here design houses.  That's nice but architect designed houses are really a luxury item (shouldn't be but they are)  Most houses are built by people who are looking exclusively at budget. So they are built the cheapest way possible.   There are a lot of options for building a house from your typical stick frame to more exotic types of construction such as hay bail and rammed earth.  If your building it yourself though your skill set or that of your friend will probably set a lot of your decisions. Also check with your city/area building permit office.  They may have strict rules that will shoot down most of the more unique options.  

If your looking at a slow build the materials ability to withstand some time in the weather needs to be taken into account.  OSB and 2x4's don't like water. They can take a couple of rains but prolonged exposure will get you a mess. 

Material selection also has a lot to do with location and the climate you are dealing with. 

Take a look at aerated concrete.  For a DYI job this stuff has some strong possibilities.

You can put a lot of glazing in just about any type of construction but it will be expensive to build and also heat and cool.  

I would recommend having a pro get you to the dried in state and you finish the interior. You could spend forever messing around with studs and roof shingles that a pro crew would knock out in a couple of months.  

Remember your time is valuable, is it really in your best interest to be digging footings when its typically done by a machine and a guy that makes 12$ an hour? 

Jun 26, 14 3:15 pm

Can we lock this thread? We need to employ some mechanism where threads gets locked after no posts or replies more than 3 MONTHS OLD. In other words, if the thread doesn't get a comment/reply/post for 90 consecutive days that it gets locked so people stop reviving threads over three months. 

Jun 23, 18 9:25 pm

You want to lock it AFTER you added 8 posts to it? Just when I didn't think there were more heights of obnoxiousness for you to reach.


What's wrong with a bit of necroposting now and then?


Why are you reading my posts?


If people are going to complain at me abount necroposting when it was someone else (like Cowolter and meh2018) that actually did the act of necroposting a dead thread after it has been inactive for 2 YEARS. I suggest that it might be worth it to lock the threads. Sure, if it gets locked, it might be better to get a moderator to manually unlock the thread. There is other reasons it could be beneficial to lock threads after say... 90 consecutive days.


For example: Those spam bots can make a helluva mess b reviving old threads by their spam posts and the nuisance that does. If a thread is locked, they can't revive such old threads. Just some thoughts.


Are you asking why I read this post? You should be happy at least someone is :)


Alright. I already stated why I suggested locking threads after a period of time of a thread being inactive of any posts or comments.


In that case, practice what you preach and stop posting in this thread that should've been locked ;)

( o Y o )

You can get great deals on Reynobond PE now.

Jun 23, 18 9:29 pm

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