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Basic Principles for Designing your Dream House

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 neighbouring houses.

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 that time.

  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.



  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 vehicles.



  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 paper:


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, furniture etc.

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 – 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 waterproofing issues.

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 ‘style’

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 cladded etc.

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 maintenance.

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 style.

Factors that may influence your decision:

  • Colours
  • Heat absorption
  • Costs
  • Maintenance
  • Ageing
  • Availability in your area
  • Labour intensiveness
  • Practicality


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 regulations.