Narrow lots offer several advantages to both the developer and buyer. For the developer, a narrow lot increases the unit count for a project and can build in revenue to mitigate the burden of higher land costs. Savings in land development and site work fees are also possible. Narrow lots can also help meet a community’s density requirements.
On the buyer side, narrow lots can often (but not always) improve housing affordability and help keep home ownership within reach for more households. In addition to the affordability factor, narrow lot homes are typically more sustainable and earth friendly. They require fewer materials to build, are easier to heat and cool, and conserve water with smaller yards and exterior landscaping.
But home design on these types of lots can be tricky. Narrow lots are generally defined as under 20’ for townhomes and less than 45’ (35’ for the structure) for single-family detached homes. Whether you are building attached or detached housing, narrow lot home design must address aesthetics and curb appeal, livability, and how it fits in the fabric of the surrounding community. Careful consideration of exterior and interior architecture is essential for a slimmer lot profile. Let’s look at seven design considerations when building homes on narrow lots.
Table of Contents
- 1. Up and Down Floorplans
- 2. Thoughtful Articulation
- 3. Four-Sided Architecture
- 4. Alley-Loaded Garages
- 5. Natural Light
- 6. Clear Sightlines
- 7. Outdoor Living Features
- Narrow Lot Design Takeaways
Maximize each narrow lot and home’s square footage potential by building vertically instead of horizontally. Three-level plans are suitable for townhomes, duplexes, and single-family detached homes.
Raise the plan’s primary living areas like the living room, dining room, and kitchen to a second floor above the garage. For smaller, entry-level units, this may feature a single-car garage or a two-car tandem garage. Square footage on the lower level can take the form of a flex space, home office, or a secondary bed and bath. Bedrooms and full baths move up to the third floor, providing quiet and privacy.
Building down is another alternative to increase a plan’s living space. An included or optional finished basement can offer another bedroom suite, a multi-gen suite, rec room, home office or studio, or more depending on your targeted market. As long as it meets your municipality’s requirements and is zoned appropriately, a finished basement can act as an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), offering even more household flexibility and potential rental income.
When building up instead of out, it’s easy for the facade to look like a box instead of a home. Curb appeal is still important after all, and narrow plans must look good from the street and sidewalks. For these homes, creating character and visual appeal is essential.
Selecting the right siding materials and color palette complements the architectural style and creates character. Varying siding materials add dimension and visual interest, but too many can overwhelm the design. Articulation is especially important with a front-loading garage plan where the garage door can unbalance the elevation’s massing.
Roof lines, particularly in attached plans, should have some diversity to create upward movement and distinguish each unit. Gabled, hip, and shed roofs are a few examples that add thoughtful articulation and character.
Windows are also key elements in a well-articulated house plan. Varying window size and placement adds detail and definition to an elevation.
Articulation should not be restricted to a narrow lot’s facade. Break up side elevations with windows, different materials, and color to prevent a boxy profile. Playing with the vertical and horizontal orientation of materials creates visual interest, as well as roof style and pitch.
This also extends to the rear elevation where alley-loaded garages and motor courts are common. Most homeowners will enter in the back through the garage, and the rear elevation should also be aesthetically pleasing. Some examples include:
- Stone siding or trim along the garage
- Balcony railings and covers
- Varying window sizes and orientations
- Material and color variations
- Roof lines
Another way to enhance neighborhood curb appeal is to remove the garage from the facade entirely. Garages can easily overwhelm an elevation and tucking them in the back creates space for other appealing design features like a covered porch, a small yard, and larger or more windows on the front elevation. Moving garages to the back creates a more pedestrian-friendly feel to a neighborhood and encourages social interaction.
Garage placement should serve the home’s floorplan and layout. For example, circulation, owner’s entry, and water heater location are a few considerations when designing an alley-loaded garage.
Garage size will also impact plan design. Single-car garages are more common in narrow lot homes and are often an acceptable trade-off for homebuyers with smaller budgets. In some situations, a tandem two-car garage is possible.
Windows are both a design asset and a challenge when designing higher-density homes on narrow lots. They need to be placed in the best locations to bring in as much natural light as possible to create the impression of a wider plan. On the flip side, too many in the wrong location become privacy concerns.
Window location, size, and style require consideration. For primary living areas like the living and dining rooms, draw light into the darker interior by installing larger vertical windows at the front. A large sliding glass door or French doors can open to the back to draw the eye outward and create the illusion of more space.
Windows above eye level, clerestory windows, and skylights add volume to the interior by bringing in light toward the ceiling, all while maintaining privacy. To brighten the entry, install transom windows or windows at the entry door.
In a narrow lot house plan, the lighter and airier the interior the better. Windows harness natural light, but it needs to be able to move around the room. Reducing visual obstructions in the room layout is critical. An open concept layout for the living room, dining area, and kitchen keeps sightlines clear.
Use windows strategically so the eye travels outdoors. A sliding glass door, French doors, or large vertical windows can accomplish this. Define the kitchen while keeping it open with a half wall of lower cabinets. Create volume with 9’ minimum ceiling heights throughout.
It’s no secret outdoor spaces help sell homes. They are the top-selling feature in 2023, according to a recent Zillow study. An outdoor living area is a must-have feature to keep your new neighborhoods competitive with resale homes, no matter the lot size and housing type. Outdoor living and the ability to extend a home’s living area outdoors is an expectation.
When thinking about an outdoor space, a little goes a long way in a narrow lot house plan. Low-maintenance living is another draw to this housing type, so configure their outdoor living spaces accordingly. A small backyard, sideyard, or courtyard are a few ways to extend the home’s living area outdoors. Covered front porches with enough space for seating create a welcoming and neighborly look. For two or more levels, decks and balconies provide more intimate opportunities to enjoy the outdoors from upper-level living rooms, dining areas, and bedrooms. And don’t forget about the roof: for move-up or upscale developments, rooftop decks are another way to maximize a narrow lot’s living space and take advantage of sunset views.
Affordability, less resource consumption, and a lower-maintenance lifestyle are a few of the reasons why more developers are pivoting to narrow lot communities for select markets. A type of missing middle housing, narrow lots offer a medium-density option that can appeal to a broad spectrum of buyers while posing less risk to the developer compared to higher-density housing. For more information about narrow lot housing options for your development, please give us a call to schedule a consultation.
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