Most builders begin their project by planning the orientation of the home in relation to the lot it is to sit on. Because the environment surrounding the house, which includes the topography, views and climate, plays such a large role in the habitability of your home it is a vital consideration. This is where all the information you gathered on those visits to you site comes in handy.; Using everything you have learned about your site and the local climatic conditions, you can begin to consider how to orient the structure on the plot while taking advantage of the prevailing conditions.

By giving due consideration to the region's climatic concerns and keying your design around the conditions at the building site you can achieve several goals. One goal may be to create a microclimate around your structure by utilizing nature's elements to create pleasant interior conditions year-round, rather than creating a house dependent on mechanical systems and large fuel bills for heating and/or cooling. Also consider utility access and municipally mandated offsets from property lines.

At the beginning of the design stage you can just go with pencil and paper to sketch out various ideas and play with different options quickly and easily. It isn't unusual to try dozens of ideas before the right one starts to emerge. This first stage is really a playground, or sandbox if you will, where new and different ideas are tried and considered. Eventually you will be able to narrow down your options to 2 or 3 different designs that you are the most worthy of further development.

Since this first stage is about wedding the home design to the site, it is important to have a fairly accurate representation of your site to work with. If you already have a plot plan of your land you can make several copies of it to use in your design and development work. If you don't have a plot map a quick shortcut to getting your design going is to use Goggle Earth to generate a site photo. Goggle Earth is a free download available from that allows you to get an aerial view of almost anyplace on planet Earth.

Goggle Earth is especially useful when you are evaluating various parcels of land for sale. On Google Earth you can locate a site by its street address or GPS co-ordinates, Once you have located it, zoom in on it, to about 500 feet altitude. You will notice that Google Earth's map screen displays not only the longitude and latitude of the selected site in the lower left corner but also, at the lower right they show elevation of the view, or as they call it, the eye altitude. Eye altitude is useful to know when you need to keep everything in the same scale.

Make a note of the eye elevation for future use, in the case of the site photo on the next page the eye altitude was set at 300 feet. Once you have the correct elevation and have the site fully centered on you computer screen go to the tool bar at the top of the window go to the task bar and click on tools and then click to choose ruler. When the dialog box opens choose ruler and set the measurement to feet. Now draw a line measuring 40' in Google Earth's dialog window. Now draw a perpendicular 8' line and finally a 20' line. You will use these 40', 20', and 8' lines to make templates of each of the 40' and 20' ISBUs you plan to use. Using this method will allow you to maintain the proper scale between the ISBU templates you are making and the plot photo.

Now you can email this view to yourself, then download the site photo onto your computer as a jpg file. Once you have the Google Earth file on your computer print it out or open the file in Photoshop. In either case, on paper or on the computer, the next step is to draw in the property lines. The property lines don't have to be exact at this stage, just a fairly accurate representation of the property boundaries will be adequate. If you are working with a printed plot photo the biggest disadvantage is that it will most likely be on an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper. The scale will be something like 3/32 to the foot or possibly even smaller. While this size is too small to be useful for working drawings, it is adequate for planning work and especially for orientation of the structure on the site. Of course, if you have an actual plot plan available it will be 2 x 36 or larger and the boundaries will be marked on it, along with the elevation contours.

On your plot photo the next step is to make an arrow marking north (straight up is usually the case). Now add all the other information about your site that you have gathered on your visits and overnight stays there. Using arrows, indicate the direction of the prevailing winds. Also mark where the sun rises and the direction in which it sets. Finally mark the locations of any know utility connections, wells and/or septic tanks.

Now a picture of what you have to work with as you design your shipping container home will start to emerge. You can now start to place your ISBU templates in position over the plot map or site photograph to see how things will fit together. Each ISBU has 320 square feet of interior space, and each 20' ISBU has 160 square feet. If you want a home with say 2,500 square feet of living space 8 - 40 foot containers will give you 2,560 square feet so you would cut 8 paper templates based on the 40', 20' and 8' lines you measured and added earlier.

When you have finished your Google Earth plot photo of your site will have marked with the locations of the utilities that you plan to hook-up to, as well most of the necessary information to help you plan your passive warming and cooling systems.

If your site presently has no utilities but you are planning to bring them in, your choices in locating the containers will be more flexible because you can plan to bring all the new hookups to the structure once it decided where it will be located on the property.

If you have an existing sewer line, or other utilities your should get an idea whether you can locate your containers to accommodate the existing utility connections or if you will need to reroute, extend or shorten the existing routes.

In many cases it will be necessary to trench and relocate the utility hookups from their existing locations to a location near or under the future structure. Avoid trenching or running any utility or sewer lines under the proposed location of your foundation grade beams. Other things to consider;

The routing to your sewer hook-up

Routing of water supply hook-up

Routing of your access road path

Routing other utilities available on-site

Direct sun to your photovoltaic array

Shading for windows and doors

Keeping all of the above in mind, add your own personal knowledge of the site, and, start making a few sketches on paper to try out ideas for your project. Experiment with various orientations to take as much advantage of the views, climatic conditions and lighting as possible.

While you consider how to orient your home on the plot you should keep in mind the local climate conditions as they will be a factor in how you orient your home in relation to the sun and prevailing winds. If you live in a warm and arid climate you will want to capture and direct cool air to the inside of your home. If excess heat is your locations main problem, passive-cooling techniques should be among your primary design considerations. Think about how the breeze blows and when. If the climate is hot try to capture that cool air. If the climate is cold give thought to a solar sink that will collect heat for dispersal during the cooler periods. By placing windows on the north or south side you will provide idea light without too much sun entering during sunrise and sunset plus other factors to consider when building an eco-friendly home.

By starting with the site of the house you are resolving the bigger issues first. Put the effort in during this beginning stage of the design process and you will be able to develop your project smoothly knowing the basic site of your project is sound. Changes in how the home is situated on the plot later in the process will affect almost every other aspect of the design, so late changes are expensive, in both time and money.

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Chapter II