Once you get land, you can start deciding where your home will be situated on it. It's a good idea to allow lots of time for this important step. Observing the land in all the seasons can be extremely helpful! Spend as much time as possible on the land. To make it easy for you to hang out there, set up a little camp kitchen, shelter, hammock, etc.
Read the design section of this handbook while you're considering your site options. Also read the section on drainage to help you choose a spot that will minimize your drainage work. It may be helpful to read up on permaculture, which is a design system that considers the multi-facets of life in the planning process.
A home that suits its environment is a joy to the heart Choosing a site and designing your home are intricately interwoven. Becoming familiar with the land will inspire your design. Forget what conventional houses look like and let your creative imagination run free. Let the design grow out of the place as much as possible.
Pretend you're an animal living outdoors. Find the coziest spots on your land. Where does the sun shine? Notice the winds. Cold sinks to the lowest places and flows over the ground much like water. Where will the cold air sit? Where will it flow? Observe the land carefully in all the seasons. Go there in the biggest storms and on the hottest days. Consider any natural disaster potential like fire or flood and avoid high risk places. Remember that if you put your house on your favorite spot, your favorite spot will be gone.
It is important to keep any home as dry as possible. Choose an already naturally dry spot such as a rocky outcrop, or a little rise or ridge. Avoid low areas that will hold the damp. Avoid places where water-loving plants grow, eg. ferns or horsetails. Observe the land carefully during heavy rains. Talk to the former owners and/or neighbors about what happens during high water or flooding. In the wet season, dig some two foot deep test holes on your proposed sites to see how well those areas drain. If the holes fill with water, you'll either want to choose a drier site or create a dry island for your home. (Read the Drainage chapter for how to do this.)
Carefully read the sections on passive solar design in the Windows and Doors chapter (pages 114-117).
If you live in a tropical climate, choose a shady, breezy place for your house. If you live in a temperate place where the sun shines during the cold months, catch the sun to heat your home.
To find the approximate direction from which the sun will shine, stand on your possible homesite, face the sun at noon, and hold out your arms at right angles to each other.
That's roughly it! The area you're looking at between your hands is where the strongest sunshine will be coming from. Does anything obstruct the useful sun? If there are substantial things in the way like hills or mountains you will probably want to move the home site.
The sun travels high in the sky in the summer and lower in the sky in the winter. The further from the equator you live, the lower the path of the sun will be in the winter. You can find out the exact angle of the sun in different seasons from charts in passive solar books.
You may want to position your home so that deciduous trees can shade it in the summer, or plant some so they'll grow as soon as possible to keep you cool in the hot season. When they lose their leaves in the winter, sunlight can pass through them to light and heat your house. It's wonderful to see the fruit forming and ripening right outside your window.
Where the land is protected from grazing animals, the forest will grow back. Think ahead. What used to be a clearing can turn into a dark, damp site. If this is the case where you live, you may need to cut down the baby trees and the undergrowth to keep your site drier and more open, and to keep roots from weakening your foundations. Think ahead about any evergreens on the sunny side of your home site. They will grow and block your precious sunshine. Either move the home site or consider cutting down the trees. Are these the trees that will provide your lumber/firewood needs?
Trees can be used for beautiful, round rafters, poles or posts. If you want poles for building, thin the forest intentionally or clear trees from the site. Skin them as soon as they are cut. The fresher the tree, the easier it is to peel the bark off.. You can get a special tool for this job called a draw knife, but a hatchet and/or sharpened shovel work fine. Dry the wood in the shade up on blocks to keep it off the ground. The bigger trees can be sawed into boards for roof sheathing, ceiling, and whatever else you want milled timber for. If you don't have a mill, you can get someone with a portable one to come out to your land and do the job. If you want to have the wood cut up at the mill, they will be able to advise you on how to transport and dry the boards.
When choosing a site, consider the trees in the area carefully. Tree roots will grow and can weaken or even destroy a foundation. Any roots below the foundation will have to be removed.
Do you want the wind blowing on your house? Find a spot that suits you. If it's a cold place, you'll probably want a wind-protected spot behind trees or natural terrain. If you want to plant a windbreak, the sooner you do it, the sooner it will grow. If you live where it gets hot, breezes are an asset for ventilation. (See the section on ventilation, page 118.)
When choosing your site consider the noise levels in different areas of your land. Night is the best time to really hear noise.
Before you look for a home site it is very important to find out how close to the neighbors' boundaries you are legally allowed to build. In some places it can be as far as 200 feet!