A Guide To Finding the Right Building Site

A Guide To Finding the Right Building Site

How to find the right building site for your new home project following zoning by-laws

As architects, we are able to help you with finding the right building site as part of our pre-design services. When a client approaches us with ambitions to build, but an otherwise blank slate, we work closely with a realtor to help them find the perfect property. Once we’ve established the ideal region or neighbourhood, we evaluate available sites with consideration for regulatory, environmental, and cultural conditions. We also work to ensure that the chosen building site will be suitable for the desired program, budget, and construction schedule.

Woodland Ridge / FrankFranco Architects

Among the first considerations will be evaluating the zoning and allowable land use on the selected lot. If you are planning on building a home, you want to ensure that the lot is zoned residential – and that the adjacent lots are zoned for desirable uses. Building a beautiful home on a unique building lot, only to have the property next door become a strip mall, would be rather disappointing.

Every municipality has by-laws regarding what is allowable on a building site. These may include:

  • Buildable lot area
  • Height restrictions
  • Setbacks
  • Easements
  • Lot coverage
  • Floor area ratio
  • Percentage of coverage
  • Open space requirements
  • Parking requirements
  • Landscaping requirements
  • Other factors to consider may include:
  • Vehicular and pedestrian access
  • Utilities and services available to the site
  • – Potable water
  • – Electricity
  • – Gas
  • – Sanitary sewer service
  • – Storm drainage (surface, sub-surface)
  • – Fire protection
  • – Trash/refuse removal services

An architect will be able to determine how the regulatory requirements will impact the project, where the challenges and opportunities are, and whether there will be a requirement to request a by-law variance.


Once regulatory conditions have been determined, environmental conditions will further inform the placement of the project on the site. Here are some factors that an architect will consider:

  • Climate (winds, solar orientation, etc)
  • Topography (site contours, drainage, vegetation, water bodies)
  • Geotechnical or soil conditions
  • Environmental hazards
  • Immediate surroundings
  • – Neighbouring structures
  • – Shading and solar access
  • – Noise, views, and vistas

If the factors listed above are considered early on in a project, the building location (on the site) and architectural form, can be adapted accordingly. In doing so, the building can enhance user comfort, and conserve energy and resources; this is at the core of sustainable design.

Villa Överby / John Robert Nilsson Arkitektkontor

Sun is often the most highly considered as building orientation can significantly impact heating and cooling. Planning windows strategically is necessary. For example, a mass of windows at the south-facing façade will generate a significant amount of heat. Eastern exposure will generate the best morning sun, while western exposure will generate afternoon sun. Each project and climate has a unique set of requirements that must be closely considered with sun and wind patterns.

Woodland Ridge by FrankFranco Architects

Vegetation, trees and topography can be viewed as a challenge or opportunity, depending on the project. Physical site features, such as a densely vegetated site or a steep slope, can influence the shape of the building and be viewed as an opportunity to create a unique solution. These sites must be carefully considered, however, as the costs associated with construction can be significant.  Have a look at one of our featured projects based on a beautiful landscape – Sinatra Cabana.

Go Home Bay Cabin / Ian Macdonald Architect
Woodland Ridge / FrankFranco Architects

Finally, a number of “intangible” factors can have a significant impact on the site selection and architecture. If the property has historical or cultural significance, there may a desire (or obligation) to respect what was once there. Additionally, these sites are often protected by historical preservation authorities and/or architectural design controls. Cultural factors include:

  • Historic preservation
  • Architectural (design) controls
  • Site History
  • Former Site Uses
  • History of existing structures
  • Economic Value
  • – Political jurisdictions and land costs
  • – Future potential
  • – Size and surrounding lots and approximate price ranges
Valley Edge House / Drew Mandel Architects
The Bunkers / Architectuurbureau Govaert & Vanhoutte

If you’re working with the right architect, any of the factors listed above will be viewed as opportunities, rather than limitations, to produce unique and thoughtful design solutions. If you’re embarking on a renovation or new build, or just starting keeping an eye out for the right property, contact us for a consultation – we’d be happy to discuss your project with you.



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