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A "Twist" to Make Your New Home More Valuable

Updated: Mar 29

The single biggest decision in building a new home is how it’s placed on the site. Careful site placement can create a better living experience and make a significant difference in the value of your home.


Yet, owners, architects, and contractors commonly overlook this critical step in Redhill Forest. Why? The simple answer is habit.


Many homes in Redhill are placed parallel to the road. From old European villages to American sub-divisions, homes have been built in parallel for hundreds of years, aligned to the roads and streets in front of them. Of course, density, uniformity, and efficiency are a big reason for this. The average single-family home density in the US is 4-5 houses per acre. But in Redhill, our lot sizes range from 1 to 9 acres, so there is much more elbow room between homes and less constraint in site placement.


As chair of the Architectural Committee for the past year, I’ve observed existing homes and proposed ones are plopped down with little consideration for taking better advantage of the site. It’s a failure of imagination by builders who default to “road parallel” thinking and architects who never visit the site.


Though not an architect, I’ve been aware of designed spaces and light changes since childhood. I grew up in a 1,200-square-foot post-war tract home in East Denver. Owning 14 different properties over the years prepared me to tackle the design of our Redhill house.


We originally purchased our lot to park our motorhome. But within 30 days of closing, I wanted bigger views than we had through the windows of our rig. The solution? Build a house!


I started by following the process of a Vail architect who has designed multi-million dollar homes. Before sketching plans, he takes a camp chair and sits on the site for hours, usually over different weeks and times of day. I chose a spot between two bristlecones, folded out the chair, and spent hours observing over a period of weeks.


As my thinking started to marinate, I purchased a drone and shot a series of lower-level views of the lot (more detailed than satellite). I bought a handful of wire flags and stakes and started playing with staking the corners of the house, envisioning what views might be seen out of what rooms. I was inspired by the Italian architect Gio Ponti, who designed the Denver Art Museum tower building. The museum windows are strategically placed to frame views of the city. The fact that the Buffalo Peaks and Mt. Sherman are perfectly centered in our various windows reflects a great deal of front-end planning and reference photographs.


I had several long talks with our builder, and we both spent time standing on and discussing the site. Building and living in Redhill, he made some specific observations about seasonal changes. It was local knowledge that out-of-county builders probably wouldn’t know, and front-range architects would have to do some serious site studies.


Using a satellite photo for a site overlay was more helpful than an engineering line drawing to understand the reality of the site and house placement. The best orientation was to angle the home from the road.


Every Redhill lot is unique and will have different challenges and priorities depending on your home plans. Here are four considerations with a more detailed description of each.


  • View

  • Sun angle

  • Wind

  • Accessibility


View. We bought our lot because it had a killer view with four ranges and 14 fourteeners in the panorama. Early on, I realized that if we rotated the house about 20 degrees from parallel to the road, it opened up sensational views. Had I not done so, the north side of the house would have been looking into trees. This “twist” would maximize views and improve privacy if homes were ever built on adjacent lots.


The “OMG” spot walking into the home was carefully planned to center the Buffalo Peaks.

14,000 foot Mt. Sherman was the bullseye in the target for planning one of the bedroom suite views.


Sun angle. The twist also better aligned the house to the south, bringing us closer to our solar panels' optimal efficiency angle. Beyond field observation, I bought a very inexpensive app for my phone that showed sun angles throughout the year. This affected other decisions: designing a southern-facing driveway and garage for quicker snow melt, taking advantage of passive solar gain in our bedroom suite in the middle of winter, reducing the days and times of lowering blinds to block the intensity of western sunsets in the summer, and extending soffits to provide natural shade reducing both temperature and UV fading inside the house.


Deep 3’ soffits offer shade during the height of summer. Notice that the gutter drains run into the interior walls and then out from the foundation to improve aesthetics.


Wind. When we interviewed our builder, we asked him to tour other homes he’d built in Redhill. Early on, I learned that the prevailing winds come from the west-northwest. Placing our expanded deck on the southeast side of the house proved to make a huge difference in blocking the wind for the grill and dining. A common Redhill design mistake is building western decks that aren’t particularly useable because they are too sunny and too breezy.


Grilling and outdoor dining are sheltered from the prevailing winds from the northwest.


Accessibility. Our lot has a 10-degree slope until it more dramatically drops off. We used the existing drive and parking area for the front of the house and then built a second driveway, with a more moderate slope, to access the lower-level garage (south facing). To make this work, we brought in 100 truckloads of fill. Pushing the house down on the lot opened up views and presented a different challenge for designing an entry. The problem was solved with an ADA-acceptable zero-step entry bridge.


While not required, considering ADA guidelines helped inspire a simple grade from the parking area to a no-step bridge to the front door.


You can always move around walls and change exterior paint colors, but once that foundation is poured and framing begins, a site decision cannot be changed. Whether it’s you or a paid consultant, just a few hours of time to deeply consider these four factors can add thousands of dollars of value to a home and make it a far more enjoyable place to live.


Don Cohen is a Denver native who has built several successful companies. He has worked on major economic development projects on the Front Range and Western slope and has forty years of experience investing in residential and commercial real estate. Don is an owner and former HOA board member at Redhill Forest. The Dreamhouse Book chronicles his experience building his home.

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3 Comments


Great article and some great insights! Thanks!

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Guillermo Lambarri
Guillermo Lambarri
Dec 15, 2023

Great article and beautiful home! Congratulation.

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Nilson goes
Nilson goes
Dec 15, 2023

Great article, Don. Thanks for taking the time to share this.

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