The first step in designing a house is learning about the site. This step is so important that it needs to be done, even if you are building a plan book house or remodeling an existing house. We study the site with two purposes in mind; one oriented to our particular use of the land and the other as the site as a micro culture of plants and animals. The site should be studies both analytically and emotionally.
There is a lot of data to be gathered. Hire a licensed surveyor for the tree and topographical survey. If your property is in a flood plain, ask for a bench mark. The surveyor will identify an elevation with a nail in a tree or post as a bench mark; this gives you a visual reference when you are picturing how high the first floor needs to be above grade. It also is used by the contractor in setting the first floor elevation.
You will also need to hire a geotechnical engineer to test the soil and prepare a Geotechnical Report, also called a soils report. This report provides vital information needed in designing and constructing your house. The engineer will conduct a series of borings to determine the type of soils, the bearing capacity of the soils, the location of the water table, the potential of soil liquefaction during an earthquake, locations of voids or other unstable soils, and any hazardous wastes. The information will be used by the structural engineer to design the foundation, by the contractor in determining excavation costs, and by the architect in selecting the building site.
The most critical subsurface problems are; a high or fluctuating water table, peat or other organic soils, soft plastic clay soil, rock close to the surface, unconsolidated fill or land previously used as a dump, or any evidence of slides or floods. In coastal plain regions, typical in this hot humid climate, we often find extremely high water tables, organic or clay soils, and unconsolidated fill.
Gather general climatic data for the area. The website Sustainable by Design http://susdesign.com/usa_climate/index.php has climate data on cloud cover, high and low temperatures, precipitation, humidity, sunshine, and wind speed. It is supported by voluntary donations so please donate.