Site Selection 101: How To Find The Perfect Location For Your Mountain Home

It’s exhilarating to dream about building your perfect mountain house with all the elements you’ve always wanted: a gourmet kitchen and seamless outdoor living spaces, sweeping mountain views and a master bath bigger than your first apartment. Building a house as beautiful as the scenery is why so many people choose to buy raw land and build from scratch.

If only it could be that simple.

“It’s always a good idea to get an architect on board from the start to help select the perfect site,” says Sarah Tiedeken O’Brien, Partner at Vertical Arts. “You want to be careful not to get your heart set on something or investing a bunch of money only to find out the house you want isn’t possible. On the other hand, an architect might see a lot of potential in a site that might not be so obvious at first glance.”


An equestrian estate first begins taking shape as a sketch.

Sun, wind and scenic views

Ideally, those looking to build a mountain home will bring on a professional architect before completing the purchase of a lot. This allows for the necessary research to be completed to provide a better picture of options and expectations.

“We’re able to show how the site will look year round,” says Landscape Architect Mitch Rewold. “Using historical data and aerial photography to conduct wind, solar, slope and vegetation studies, we thoroughly review the site to know what it will be like in every season.”

Early in the process it’s important to understand everything from cost to scope to ensure the feasibility of the project. From driveways to utilities, every part of pre-design and review of a site provides further insight into the property.

“We typically tell clients to plan for six to eight months to complete the entire planning and building process,” says Mitch. “Consulting with an experienced architect before the client purchases a pricey piece of land helps develop the vision for the lot. Plus, in a mountain town the expense of building during winter months can be daunting.”

Sarah adds, “It’s not like there’s one place for all the answers. There are several entities that need to be consulted, and it takes a lot of time, experience, and expertise to know what needs to be addressed. Do not assume these details will be addressed during the process of the sale. Sometimes this discovery doesn’t happen until it’s too late, but there are ways to make sure that doesn’t happen.”


A site analysis demonstrates how nature will interact with the home.

Don’t break the code

Another task to tackle when selecting a site is to understand what restrictions might be placed on your lot.

Buyers need to beware of subdivisions with Design Review Boards (DRB) or Home Owners Associations (HOA), regulations that can have rigid requirements regarding design. Even without an HOA or DRB, having an architect on hand can help make sure you understand land use codes and allowable uses.

“You might be in for an arduous process before you even begin construction, especially if you find out the design for your dream home isn’t allowable for DRB. It’s important to make sure you understand all that before you buy,” Sarah says. “Even without an HOA or DRB, make sure to understand land-use codes and allowable uses.”

For example, the historic neighborhoods of mountain downtown’s can have both height restrictions and style guidelines to follow. 

“We help our clients understand what they’re allowed to do and can even ask the city for a variance,” says Sarah. ““These are significant investments and doing a little research up front will pay off in dividends in the end.”


An aerial view of the home and surrounding landscape helps bring the site to life.

Local Expertise and Vision

In many mountain towns, good real estate is getting harder to find. As an invaluable team member, an architect can truly teach the client during the site selection process with preferable results.

“We’re trained to look at all of these pieces of the site,” says Mitch. “We’re informed on all elements of the project and can provide the best overall picture to the client.”

“We’ll tell you if you think you might lose your view from a neighboring lot, or if the driveway will change the home’s configuration in a way you don’t expect,” adds Sarah. “We encourage clients to think about how trees drop their leaves and how that might affect privacy. If you’re in love with a view, but it’s only visible in winter and not in summer, that’s something to consider.”

Finding an ideal building site is only part of the process when on your way to building a custom mountain home. Consulting with an architect early in the process can be invaluable for developing an understanding of building codes, envisioning beautiful and efficient design, and staying on budget. Our team often accompanies clients to prospective building lots to ensure that a person’s dream home can work on the lot they most desire. Not only does this greatly facilitate the design and building process, it also results in rich and creative collaboration from the very beginning.

This is the second article in our educational series designed to guide readers through the process of designing a mountain home. Stay tuned for more on this topic and be sure to follow the latest Vertical Arts updates on our website, Houzz, Pinterest, Facebook or Instagram. To learn more about how we can help you design your dream mountain home, contact us.