Skip to main content

Acreage Design Starts with a Good Plan

screen shot of google earth

Planning an acreage helps avoid costly mistakes and aids in achieving your goals when purchasing the property.

Aerial photographs may be available from the Farm Service Agency, county engineers, county planning offices, Google Maps or Google Earth. Assuming the photographs are relatively current, they can provide accurate planning information. Use the photo information (or if no image is available), draw the property to scale on gridded paper using measurements taken directly from the property.

Using an engineering scale of 1" = 10' or 20', or an architect's scale of 1/8" or 1/16" = 1'.0", most properties can be drawn at a size that will be easy to use and verify design details.

Inventory all the existing features on the property and place them on a copy of the map at appropriate locations. Be sure to look for features such as:

  • Drainages or waterways including floodplains and wetlands
  • Slopes, including relative steepness and aspect (direction the slope faces)
  • Soil types, especially where septic systems are proposed
  • Roads
  • Fences
  • Aboveground wires
  • Wells
  • Vegetation features such as forests, tree lines, prairies, grasslands, and croplands
  • Buried pipelines, power cables, telephone lines, cable television conductors and easements
  • Winter and summer wind directions
  • Existing structures, septic systems, walls, built features, etc.
  • Desirable and undesirable views and potential noise sources

Once features are inventoried and drawn on a map copy, analyze their ultimate impacts, benefits and limitations. For example, areas within floodplains or wetlands should be marked off-limits to development. Winter winds may shift a prime building location off of the high point on a site to a south-facing slope below the ridge line that reduces wind exposure while taking advantage of winter solar heating. Native prairie remnents may be conserved to become the focal point of an entire property.

Place Major Structures and Site Improvements

  1. Locate the driveway considering the safest point of entrance and exit from the county or local road; follow the lay of the land to reduce land grading while not exceeding maximum road slopes (generally less than 12%-15%, especially on a north-facing slope where snow and ice may be long-lived or where county or development restrictions are established)
  2. Place the house to provide desired views and other structures to enhance functional uses; consider locations for patios, decks, etc. and walking paths between landscape elements to enhance outdoor livability and lessen maintenance of "leftover" landscape areas
  3. Predominate winter winds are from the west, northwest and north. Allow 100-150 feet between windbreaks and driveways or houses to avoid snow deposits that will create maintenance problems
  4. Sewage systems should go downhill from the house
  5.  Wells should be upslope from the sewage system and a safe distance from sources of contamination

Other Considerations

Decide how much lawn you want around the home. Be sure to consider time, money and the resources required (water, fertilizer, etc) to maintain turf to an acceptable quality, as well as how much play space, game area, party area, etc. is actually required for personal/family activities. Typically, many areas of an acreage do not need to be high maintenance turfgrass. Use of native materials can lower maintenance while enhancing aesthetics and habitat value.

Review your original reasons for purchasing the land and incorporate areas of land use consistent with your original goals. Some possibilities include:

  • Aesthetics
  • Garden spaces (flower, vegetable, etc.)
  • Tree and landscape plantings for visual screening, sound barriers, microclimate enhancement, outdoor family living space definition, and environmental benefits
  • Pasture or hay fields for livestock
  • Wildlife habitat
  • Prairie grasses and wildflowers
  • Cropland (including areas for alternative food and ornamental plant crops)