Basic principles for designing your
dream house (South Africa)
Before setting your mind on a particular
choice of plan or architectural design, take the time to
read through the following pointers as set out below,
subsequently you will be able to make a more knowledgeable
decision in plan design & style choice.
The size of the proposed house will often be
determined by budget for most 1st time builders
in South Africa but other factors will also play a big role.
Local municipalities will always stipulate a
certain coverage and height restriction for a site in a
particular area. Read through your title deed for possible
servitudes (areas as set out by the municipality for other
uses eg. Electrical or sewerage services) or other
restrictions before planning is started as these might also
greatly reduce buildable area on your erf.
Take a look at the following typical example:
You have just bought a lovely stand at the
coast with a great view towards the sea. The size of the
stand is 600sqm (20m X 30m) with a 3m building line all
around. You contact the local authority or estate architect
and find out that only a 40% coverage is allowed for this
stand and that the 1st floor may only be 30% of
the groudfloor area to not restrict sea views for the
You might be surprised how limited your
building area has become with the above parameters: The
stand’s building area is reduced to 336sqm by the building
line alone, furthermore the coverage only allows for a
240sqm max. building footprint with a 72sqm upper floor.
Therefore the building limit for this stand would be 312sqm.
The above example might seem irrelevant, but
often other factors eg. Orientation of the site might
further difficult the situation.
Are you planning to have more children? Do
you have ageing parents that might require a living unit on
your property? You might be retiring in a couple of years
and may feel the need to provide space for a hobby area /
workshop / library that you envisage for the future. You
could also be planning to start your own home based business
in the future and might need extension space to your home at
According to statistics, South Africans
typically stay in a house for apprx. 7 years and might move
around more that other established countries, but often
families become comfortable with their current accommodation
and find it less troublesome to extend to their existing
house than moving to a new bigger house. With the above in
mind, you might want to plan your new proposed house to be
able to accommodate possible future extension.
SIZE OF YOUR EXISTING FURNITURE
Make sure that the planned room sizes will be
able to accommodate your existing furniture. You might own
huge antiques or double beds for all the bedrooms. With the
always rising building costs secondary bedrooms are often
designed to only accommodate a single bed.
You might also want to take time to carefully
consider the size of the garage. A standard double garage is
considered to be 6x6m but doesn’t leave any space for
storage or perhaps a DIY-corner especially if you own large
Often the shape of the site and/or possible
views has a huge effect on the placement of the building,
but keep the following in mind before before putting pen to
Minimize west facing window openings as far
as possible , rooms facing west can really become
uninhabitable during the late afternoon until early evening.
Also western sun can be very destructive for curtains,
Try to minimize east facing bedrooms also
unless you are an early riser, as the sun can wake one up a
lot sooner than was planned. Often residences on the eastern
coast of the country have views toward the east thus too
many east facing bedrooms has to be considered carefully.
The perfect orientation in SA for all
habitable rooms in a house is 10 degrees east of north to
minimize the heat in summer and in the cold winter months
when the sun is lower creates less shadows and more heat
radiation in the habitable rooms.
When planning the positioning of your house
on the site, the position of sewer connection should be kept
in mind – Try to keep sewer line lengths to a minimum. The
garages should also be planned close to the site entrance to
keep the driveway area to a minimum to keep paving costs
down. (Most local authorities do however require a minimum
of 6m driveway for visitor vehicle stacking)
SHAPE OF HOUSE
Shape of house – Take into account that the
more complex (many corners) the plan the more the cost, also
a square shape is more cost effective than a long rectangle,
for example if you build a square house of 10x10m (100sqm)
the total brick perimeter would be 40m, however if you build
a 100sqm rectangular house of say 5x20m, the external
envelope will be 50m in perimeter. The above is exaggerated,
but illustrates the idea.
Try to keep away from excessive curves in the
design of the external envelope, in particular when building
a conventional roof and not a thatch or concrete roof, as
this might require building unnecessary extra roof ridges
and breaking up of roof tiles to accommodate this. It will
often be a nightmare to build you might have a lot of
If the plan of the design is very complex, it
might also require building unnecessary parapet walls to
accommodate the roof structure which leads to extra flashing
(more potential for leakage)
If you live in very windy conditions eg. The
False bay area in the Cape, you should consider building the
shape not to ‘catch’ the wind but with its back to it.
a Lot of themed estates have been rising up
all over the country for a number of reasons. If you have
bought into one of these estates, you should obtain a copy
of the Aesthetic committee’s rules and regulations regarding
the allowed architectural styles as they often have a strict
architectural theme that owners must adhere to.
The architectural style of a house often
bring about many variances of roof design. Concrete roofs
(Contemporary styles) typically has no eaves overhang and is
not optimal for our country’s generally sunny conditions and
rooms could often be very hot as the sun heats a larger
portion of a room’s floor area which is retained and make
the home’s ambient temperature a lot warmer.
The ‘Tuscan’ look as adopted by South
Africans around the country, also characteristically
features very small eaves roof overhangs, which again is not
favourable for sunny conditions for the same reason as
mentioned above, what makes it even worse than that of a
concrete roof is the weather proofing of this way of roof
design. Driving rain can cause moisture to easily, and do,
creep in below the eaves and create moisture leakage into
the building. You might have a lot of stained ceilings
within a years’ time.
If you are fond of this look, consider having
larger overhangs which can be done without compromising this
Thatch roofing can be quite a bit more
expensive that conventional roofing but allows for a great
cool atmosphere within such a building perfect for South
Africa’s sunny conditions.
Gable walled architecture where the gable
extends past the roof are often considered to be very
attractive, but keep in mind that the roofs will have to be
flashed at all the gables and if not done properly has an
increased chance of water leakage into the house.
Windows & Doors
Consider the size of the window openings.
Windows can be wood, steel, aluminium, top-hung, side-hung,
sliding etc. in the end the style of the house will mostly
influence the type of window but if unsure about sizing of
openings refer back to the orientation section earlier.
The NBR specifies a daylight opening of at
least 10% of the floor area of a room
Where possible always try to create as much
cross ventilation to habitable rooms as possible.
Where doors face towards the west, consider
the maintenance and material of these.
In windy conditions, try to keep doors
screened from the prevailing wind side especially large
leafed swing doors.
Folding & stacking doors are great to enhance
the living towards the outdoor feeling and for ventilation,
but keep the width of these to a minimum as problems with
the sliding gear often arise when the spans are too vast.
When using sliding doors or folding &
stacking doors in bedrooms, make sure to include a window in
the room no matter what the size of the door opening, as you
might want to lock these doors at night time for security or
other reasons and still have ventilation into the room.
Often designers create doors the whole length of the
exterior wall of a room and this gets overlooked.
Walls can be facebrick, plastered, stone
walls, stone cladded, wooden logs, tiled, aluminium panel
When considering the above always keep in
mind the time and costs of maintenance and the construction
cost. For example: Plastered walls might require painting
every 3-6 years but could cost significantly less to
construct that a facebrick wall which requires virtually no
Also keep in mind, that a plastered building
could be livened up after a couple of years by painting it
another colour to give the house a fresh look, with most
other wall finishes you will not have the opportunity to
provide the house with a fresh look at the same low cost.
When deciding upon a particular architectural
style, consider the materials that typically accompany that
Factors that may influence your decision:
Availability in your area
If designing your own house plan, make sure
to obtain a copy of the South African building regulations
(SABS) as many rules regarding typically: sizes, heights,
fire prevention, lighting, ventilation are required to be
incorporated into a design.
All our library designs were done by
Architects or professional house designers and all the plans
conform to all the codes as set out in the SA building