From Bubble Plans to Master Plan

A bubble plan is simply a site plan with circles containing notes on it. It sounds simple, almost silly. But the bubble plan is the most useful planning tool you'll use.

Bubble diagrams let you play with your plans. They are designed to let your imagination run free so you can look at different ideas and situations to come up with the best deck plan. The site analysis you prepared (previous page) is a snapshot of your landscape as it exists now; the bubble plan helps you imagine how things could be.

Making a bubble plan

Tape a sheet of tracing paper over your site analysis and retrace the house and major features of the landscape. You should be able to read your site analysis notes through the top sheet, but if you can't, pull the site analysis to the side and use it as a guide.

Now look at the various areas in the yard and brainstorm how you could use them. Draw circles on the paper, identifying the purpose of each area -- don't consider budget limitations or time constraints now.

Use abstract terms at this stage. For example, label an area close to the house as "entertainment," if you wish, but don't identify it specifically as "deck." You may discover other areas with the same purpose and find in later planning stages that a deck doesn't belong there at all. Similarly, "privacy" or "increase privacy" is a better label than "fence," "wall," or "trees." Indicate various needs in a general way and move them around to make the best use of your landscape.

If you want a place for entertaining large groups and a smaller space for family dining, move the bubbles around to see where they might fit. One solution might be to place them on different sides of the house. They might work with one area attached to the other. Or you might see a way to have one area completely removed from the house and the two connected by a path, or not connected at all.

With the bubble plan, you can look at all the options.

When you make a bubble diagram, think about the purpose or function of an area first. Consider the kind of structure you need later. If you decide to finalize your design after you've drawn your first bubble plan, beware -- there's a good chance you've forgotten something.

The final touches

Once you have found the best solution for your property, sketch in the structures that meet the purposes you have defined. Get as close to scale in this version as you can. It will be the launching pad for the plan views and elevations you'll need to take to your building department.

Put in the main structures first -- the deck, landings, and pathways, and modify them if necessary. For example, if a rectangular deck doesn't look quite right or if a large oak interferes with one of its corners, don't reduce the size of the deck. Round the corner or cut it at 45 degrees. If the walk from the deck to the garden bed looks straight and boring, put curves in the path.

Trees and plants come next. Add planting areas with contoured bed lines, and use circles to designate new trees and shrubs. Then label the rooms in your house and make one last check to see that the uses of exterior space are compatible with the space inside.

Finally, make notes of the tasks you need to accomplish: "remove this tree," "build fence here," "replant this garden," and so forth.

Pro Tip

Dealing with inspectors
Building inspectors have an important job: They assure that structures built in their jurisdictions are strong and safe. To accomplish this goal, they have the authority to stop construction on any job they believe is being built incorrectly.

Work with an inspector in a respectful, businesslike manner. Present clean and complete drawings and materials lists. Find out how many inspections you will need and be ready for each. Do not cover up anything an inspector wants to look at, or you may have to dismantle your work. It's seldom a good idea to argue with an inspector. He or she knows more than you do, and getting on the bad side of an inspector can make a job miserable. Comply exactly with all of the inspector's directions.


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