Building a House on a Hill: An Overview

You've probably seen pictures of homes nestled into hillsides, with beautiful landscapes stretching up the hills behind them. There's something comforting and serene about homes that are built into hills, so it's only natural to want one for yourself. However, the process of building a home into a hill is pretty involved, and the expenses can quickly add up. Before you commit to this process, it's important to have at least a basic understanding of what's involved.

Surveying the Land

Not every hill is suitable for building. Some are rather sound and secure, but others may be prone to landslides if they are excavated to even a small degree. Once you have chosen a hill upon which you'd like to place your home, the first thing you'll need to do is have the land surveyed. A professional surveyor, such as Community Sciences Corporation, will map out the land, taking measurements of the height, slope, and widths of your hill. The locations of major objects like large trees and rocks will also be noted. This information, along with information about soil quality and composition, can be given to your structural engineer, who will use it to determine whether the chosen hill is suitable for building, and also what the best way to go about building on the hill will be.

Choosing a Location

When choosing the exact location for a home on a hill, several things have to be considered. Your structural engineer will likely start by giving you a list of structurally viable options. Then, it will be up to you and your architect to choose the location that's most appealing. Often, this is done based on the view from the various locations. Most homeowners prefer the house to be placed where they can look out from the home and see attractive surroundings -- not just the side of another hill or the nearest street. If there's not a structurally sound location with a good view, you might end up having to choose another hill or compromise when it comes to the view.

Building Into the Hill

If you look closely at most homes on hills, you'll notice that instead of sitting on the hill, they are actually built into the side of the hill. This is achieved by excavating a portion of the hill. A piece of the hill is cut out, and a retaining wall is built to prevent the soil from sliding into the cut-out portion. Then, the home's foundation is poured into this empty space. This process is the main reason why building a home into a hillside is more expensive than building one on flat land. Not only does excavating the hillside require a lot of heavy equipment, but the excavation must be very carefully planned by your engineering and architecture team to ensure it's done in a way that does not lead to landslides or instability.

The costs of building on various locations on the same hill can vary. Generally, the greater the slope of the area you're building on, the greater the cost. This is not only because there will be more extensive excavation involved, but also because more reinforcement materials, like steel bars and concrete, must be used to stabilize the hillside once it is cut. When your structural engineer presents you with various viable options for building on your chosen hill, you should make sure you discuss the relative cost of each option with your architect before committing to one.

Amending the Landscape

Most owners of homes on hills want the surrounding landscape to look as natural as possible. However, after the site has been excavated and a home has been built, the landscaping often looks disheveled and damaged. One of the final tasks your building and design team will tackle is amending the landscape to make it blend in with your home and your surroundings. As with any home, you have a lot of options to consider. But, making sure the landscaping "blends in with the hill" can be a challenge, and it's important to choose a landscaping team that has experience in this regard.

If you're thinking of building a house on a hill, understand that the process can be time consuming and requires the input of a lot of professionals, including surveyors, engineers, architects, and landscapers. Your best bet is likely to work with a company that handles the entire project so that you're not left shuffling paperwork and information between workers.