9 Tips for Building on a Slope

Building on a slope offers a myriad of opportunities and challenges that flat-land construction simply doesn’t face. From the complexity of the terrain to the potential for stunning views, sloped sites require a nuanced approach to architecture and landscaping. This article delves into nine essential tips for making the most of a sloped lot, blending practical advice with innovative design strategies to help you realize your vision for a unique hillside home.

Why Opt for Sloped Sites?

house building on a slope

Opting for a sloped site promises distinctive architectural features and unparalleled vistas, including the unique opportunity to embrace ranch architecture. These lots enable homeowners to explore designs that merge seamlessly with the natural landscape, offering levels of privacy and exclusivity that are hard to replicate on level ground. 

The allure of crafting a living space that capitalizes on panoramic views and the land’s natural contours is compelling. In many mountainous regions, most sites include a noticeable slope, which adds a unique dimension to the design and construction process. 

The beauty of living in the mountains transcends the aesthetic appeal and captivates residents in a refreshing and serene environment. Authentic mountain living offers an unparalleled connection to nature, with the changing seasons painting a dynamic backdrop to daily life. The crisp mountain air, forested landscapes, and the opportunity to engage with wildlife are just a few of the perks. Additionally, the elevated position of a mountainside home provides a strategic vantage point, offering breathtaking views that flat landscapes simply cannot. It’s this combination of natural beauty, privacy, and the unique challenge of integrating a home into such an environment that makes building on a slope not just a construction project, but a creation of a personal retreat.

Sloped Terrain: Benefits and Drawbacks

The charm of building on a sloped lot is irresistible, promising dynamic home designs with expansive windows and unique layouts that follow the natural incline of the land. These homes capitalize on their elevated positions to offer enhanced light, scenery, and aesthetic appeal, embodying the beauty of mountain living where slopes are a standard feature. This connection to nature provides an unparalleled perspective, turning every look outside into a celebration of the landscape.

view from a house on a slope

However, the appeal of such terrains comes with its challenges. Beyond stability, drainage, and accessibility, sloped and mountainous areas are prone to specific environmental hazards. This includes risks of avalanches and floods and the likelihood of encountering rockfalls, mudflows, and unstable geological conditions. Successfully overcoming these challenges requires careful planning and innovative design, transforming potential hazards into unique elements of your home. By proactively addressing these risks, homeowners can safely enjoy the distinctive lifestyle of slope-side living, fully embracing the advantages of their chosen setting.

9 Tips for Building on a Slope

Choosing the Perfect Spot: Siting Homes for Optimal Slope Integration

The initial step towards a successful slope construction project involves the strategic selection of the building site. This crucial decision affects not only the construction logistics but also how well the final structure harmonizes with its environment. Optimal site selection minimizes the need for extensive earthworks, preserving the natural character of the slope. It involves a delicate balance of maximizing views and sunlight exposure while protecting the home from adverse weather conditions and ensuring privacy.

Integrating Your Home into the Landscape: Making the Most of Your View

Designing a home on a slope offers the unique opportunity to integrate your living space with the surrounding landscape. This integration involves more than just positioning the home for the best views; it’s about creating a symbiotic relationship between the structure and the land. Large windows, outdoor living spaces, and thoughtful orientation not only enhance the visual appeal but also promote energy efficiency and indoor comfort. This approach allows homeowners to live “with” the land, rather than imposing upon it.

Blending Function and Form in Sloped Landscape Design

sustainable house on a slope

Effective landscape design on a slope blends aesthetic appeal with practicality, addressing potential erosion and accessibility issues while creating beautiful, usable outdoor spaces. Techniques like terracing can transform steep grades into a series of level areas for gardens, patios, and play areas, integrating the home into the landscape more organically. The use of native plants and sustainable materials further enhances this integration, offering a low-maintenance and environmentally friendly solution to landscaping challenges.

Reimagining Home Layouts: The Benefits of Driveway Access from Above

Accessing a home from the higher part of a slope can significantly simplify construction and future accessibility. This approach minimizes the need for extensive excavation and retaining walls, potentially reducing costs and the project’s environmental impact. Moreover, it provides a practical and aesthetically pleasing entry point to the home, enhancing both its curb appeal and functionality. Driveway access from above can also facilitate better snow and water drainage, reducing maintenance and safety concerns.

Maximizing Daylight Basements for Downhill Slopes

A daylight basement is an excellent way to add functional, well-lit living space to a home on a downhill slope. Unlike traditional basements, daylight basements have one or more walls exposed to direct sunlight, making them bright and inviting. This space can serve various purposes, from additional bedrooms and living areas to home offices and entertainment rooms, adding significant value and comfort to the home.

Embracing Site-Specific Design: Tailoring Your Home to Weather and Terrain

house on a slope in winter

Customizing your home’s design to fit the specific conditions of your sloped site is crucial for long-term satisfaction and sustainability. This means considering factors like wind patterns, solar exposure, and soil stability in your design. Tailoring your home in this way not only enhances comfort and efficiency but also ensures that the structure is well-equipped to withstand the unique challenges posed by its environment.

Sustainable Slope Solutions: Incorporating Green Design in Hillside Homes

Sloped sites are uniquely suited to incorporating green design principles. Techniques such as rainwater harvesting and solar energy utilization can be more effective on slopes, where gravity and exposure play into their efficiency. Sustainable building materials and practices further minimize the environmental impact of construction, aligning the project with eco-friendly values while often providing operational cost savings.

Innovative Construction on Slopes: Exploring Modular and Terraced Options

Modular and terraced construction methods offer innovative solutions for building on slopes, allowing for a degree of prefabrication that can simplify the building process and reduce on-site work. These methods can be particularly effective in managing the unique challenges of sloped sites, from minimizing land disturbance to adapting to the terrain’s natural contours, providing both aesthetic and practical benefits.

Cost-Effective Construction on Challenging Terrain

While building on a slope can incur additional costs, strategic planning and design can keep these expenses in check. Prioritizing essential features and working closely with a team of experienced professionals can help you make informed decisions that balance your vision with your budget. Moreover, investing in quality design and construction upfront can prevent costly issues down the line, ensuring that your hillside home is both beautiful and durable.


Building on a slope presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities. By following these nine tips, homeowners can navigate the complexities of sloped construction, transforming potential obstacles into the foundation for a distinctive, harmonious home. 

To learn more about how to effectively build on a slope, feel free to contact SRI Architects. Our team excels in designing homes that seamlessly combine beauty, practicality, and eco-friendly principles, guiding you through the intricacies of constructing on sloped land to make your envisioned home a tangible reality.



Emily Warren, AIA, NCARB

Emily is celebrated for her insightful commentary and technical expertise. As a licensed architect with over a decade of professional experience, Emily boasts a rich background that spans high-end design, historic documentation, and sustainable development. She honed her skills with the National Park Service’s Historic Documentation Programs, mastering complex projects completed to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards.

Emily’s work is distinguished by meticulous attention to detail and a passion for advancing architectural knowledge. Her leadership and teaching capabilities, demonstrated by her guidance of interns and management of multimillion-dollar projects, underscore her commitment to fostering growth and excellence within the architectural community. Emily’s compelling narratives and technical prowess make her an invaluable voice in the field as she continues to inspire readers with her dedication and vision.

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Charlotte R. DeChant



As a young artist, Charlotte tailored her pre-architecture undergraduate degree at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs, and completed her Master of Architecture at the University of Colorado, Denver. With her fresh eyes, she is an observer, analyst and critic of our processes, and her imagination inspires and contributes to our creativity. Of the partners, Charlotte’s willingness to raise the children fostered Doug’s ability to focus upon the practice.

She is a lifelong resident of Colorado, skied Vail in the early years as a child and remains an excellent bump skier (if the sun is shining). She was an original teammate of the Vail Breakaways, Vail’s first women’s hockey team. Charlotte’s vision includes an amazing gift for seeing, rescuing, restoring and placing cast-off furniture and other elements, giving the pieces valuable, renewed lives.

Douglas M. DeChant

Founding Partner/Principal


Architecture is more than a profession for Doug, our principal designer; it is a calling, understood since childhood. While a modernist at heart, his work reflects the necessary context of each setting and the voice of each client. He trained in the program of modernist and former Bauhaus Director Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, at Illinois Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture in Chicago. After working throughout the nation and overseas, Doug settled in Vail in 1985, where he met his wife, Charlotte. Together they founded the practice in 1989 and have enjoyed raising four amazing children.

Doug’s service has included the Eagle County, Colorado, Planning Commission; the faculty of the Byron Fellowship, an annual sustainable communities conference; panelist at the Summit for Creativity in La Jolla sponsored by The Design Futures Council; participation in local design review boards; youth sports coaching; and various lay-leadership positions in his church. In 2004, he conceived ‘Benevolent Architecture’, a proprietary service offering low-cost or no-cost architecture and consulting to worthy ministries and non-profits.  In 2005, Doug began to develop an intimate, artistic retreat and conference venue, Wellspring Ranch, LLC, relocating and restoring several historic Colorado structures upon a remarkable property outside of Buena Vista, Colorado.

He is a member of the American Institute of Architects, certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, and has been licensed in numerous states, including Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Indiana, Georgia and Pennsylvania. He finds balance in guitar, sculpture, hiking, snowshoeing, golf and crafting various elements of his retreat venue. 

Tom Bashford


Tom, one of our most valued, gifted leaders, passed away unexpectedly in March 2017. Together with his joyful spirit and hilarious dry wit, he enhanced our studio with a wealth of design and management experience. Tom will never be replaced. He was the type of person, father, leader, and mentor to which we all aspire, and the fruit of his efforts will live on, in his son, in us, and in our projects.

Pam, Peraya Mongkolwongrojn


Peraya, Pam, is originally from Bangkok, Thailand, where she first became interested in Architecture from the rich spatial environment.  She explored Canada before moving to the States to pursue her passion for architecture. Pam went to the University of Arizona to earn a Bachelor of Architecture professional degree. During school, she energized a passion for the arts and drawing. 

In her free time, Pam enjoys exploring the great outdoors, hiking through Colorado’s scenic landscapes, and finding inspiration for her designs in nature. With a keen eye for detail and a creative approach to problem-solving, Pam has been involved in many of our custom residential homes. Her passion for the arts and drawing has influenced her design style, which incorporates elements of beauty and functionality. Pam’s commitment to excellence and her love for architecture make her a dedicated professional who strives to make a difference through her work.

As she continues to grow and learn in her field, Pam remains devoted to creating innovative spaces that enrich people’s lives and leave a positive legacy for future generations.

Brett Lehr

Project Manager

Brett is a designer with a unique blend of expertise, holding an undergraduate degree in Media Arts from the University of Nebraska-Omaha and an M.Arch degree from the University of Nebraska. His diverse educational background has ignited a passion for utilizing realistic virtual environments to enhance the efficiency, enjoyment, and overall success of architectural design processes.

Beyond his professional pursuits, Brett finds joy in a variety of hobbies, including snow skiing, biking, fly fishing, golf, and hiking. Embracing the scenic wonders of the Vail Valley, he has found the perfect lifestyle fit, drawing creative inspiration from the surrounding natural beauty.

Laurie Baggott


Our studio is fortunate to have Laurie bring her considerable experience in business and finance to our daily operations. Among her many administrative responsibilities, she manages accounting, payroll and invoicing for us. When not busy here or as a private chef, she avidly hikes in our beautiful summers and snowshoes in the winter.

Patricia Marcine


Earning her Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Houston in 2016 was just the beginning. From there, Trish headed to Europe, to study at the Graz University of Technology in Austria and work at the Aedes Architekturforum. Then she determined it was time to return to the Rocky Mountains. We became beneficiaries of her delightful, collaborative spirit when she joined our studio in early 2018. Her savvy technical support and inspired design voice enhance each project, while her design comprehension and growth demonstrate that she has a future with much to offer the profession. As a lifelong artist, Trish’s search for a practical art form and meaningful profession has been fulfilled by custom residential architecture, where “…not a day truly feels like work.”

Trish grew up in Northern New Jersey, playing club and varsity soccer, enjoying ski club with friends, and learning to snowboard at a young age. As a teen, she competed in various equestrian events, highlighted by working for Frank and Mary Chapot to train Olympic-level show jumpers. Eventually, faster hobbies were necessary, and Trish became a driving instructor for the SCCA and track-day rider on her CBR600RR. She’s also been an enthusiastic racer on our company’s ‘ski team’. When a new project surfaces, she’s pleased to slow down enough to collaborate with the team.

Emily Warren


Emily joined us from the DC area, lured by the mountains, our core values and our creative environment. She earned a Master of Architecture and Bachelor of Science in Architecture degrees from SUNY Buffalo’s School of Architecture & Planning, with a minor in Earth System Science.

Through her wonderfully infectious spirit, Emily eagerly contributes diverse knowledge and experience, having worked on historic National Park Service documentation, and urban high-density residential projects facing strict constraints. She is a productive and dedicated team player who thrives through learning and contributing to the growth of others. Her detail, project management and organizational skills are exceptional. Emily is licensed in Maryland, and nationally accredited by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.

Emily is passionate about youth empowerment, with considerable experience teaching and mentoring in schools and camps. She’s an ardent weightlifter, hiker and nature enthusiast, embracing the Vail Valley’s active, outdoor lifestyle.

Cam Frey


Cam was introduced to Colorado’s rivers and mountains at an early age, returning annually from Michigan with his family to fly-fish and hike near the small mining town of Creede. His interest in design and architecture was ignited by his high school drafting teacher, who instilled a balanced approach to design through technology and craft. Cam received his BA from UNC, Chapel Hill, followed by a few years of medical research before heading West to earn his Master of Architecture from the University of Oregon. There he became interested in the interdisciplinary study of Biomimicry; an approach to solving design problems by looking to nature. Not coincidentally, this interest, the stunning landscapes, wildlife, and outdoor lifestyle led Cam back to Colorado in 2014. He joined us in 2017, quickly becoming a central piece of our culture and project management structure.

Cam serves on the Design Review Committee of the Arrowhead at Vail community, is a certified Biomimicry Specialist and licensed Architect in the state of Colorado.

His other pursuits include fly-fishing, skiing, hiking, and a good game of euchre…, and the list continues to grow. He is married to a wonderfully talented children’s book illustrator, and dotes on his young son.

Ben Marion


From an early age, Ben had a pen in hand and a curiosity for exploring both natural and built environments. Much of his adolescence was spent drawing what he observed, balanced with his passions for cross-country skiing the New England forests and playing soccer as far away as Europe. Like many of us, Ben arrived in Colorado as an adult, following a lifelong passion to further pursue the resort lifestyle. After graduating from the University of Colorado, he practiced with some of the finest architects and builders in the region, creating fine homes and other structures. His broad experience includes California mountain resort homes, as well as mixed-use and commercial structures, peppered with an interesting mix of furniture building and construction. In our studio, Ben is a strong design voice and outstanding project manager, leading by quiet example as he mentors our emerging leaders.

Ben remains passionate about skiing and soccer, coaching both youth sports locally. Travel remains in his blood as he and his family explore the west in their vintage 1967 camper.

Bert Willemse


Bert found a home away from home in the Vail Valley while exploring North America’s most beautiful landscapes on a post-graduation road trip…, from his hometown of Bellvale, New York to Wasilla, Alaska. He had completed his studies at SUNY Buffalo and apprenticed with two well-known firms in New York’s Hudson Valley area before joining our studio. As the son of a general contractor Bert gained practical construction knowledge with hands-on experience in the field. His many professional attributes are exceeded only by his wonderful, collaborative spirit.

Naturally, Bert is an active individual who embraces hiking, biking and skiing in our amazing Colorado mountains.

Adam H. Harrison

NCARB, LEED AP / Principal


After graduating from Illinois Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture in 1994 and working as an intern for three years at Fujikawa Johnson and Associates in Chicago, Adam packed his van and toured America to determine where he might settle; he found Vail and Shepherd Resources in September of 1997. After growing from intern to project manager to associate, Adam began transitioning into ownership in 2017 and became a principal owner in early 2020. As a dedicated designer, Adam loves collaborating with his fellow architects and interns while managing a busy studio.

His priorities are rooted in sustainability, strong leadership skills, and staff mentoring to uphold the core values of the practice. He is licensed in Colorado, Michigan, and North Carolina and serves as the chairman of the Red Sky Ranch Design Review Board. Adam enjoys golf, mountain biking, skiing, music, and any activity involving his daughter Bellalee. Adam has been practicing for a quarter century and looks forward to designing and collaborating for another quarter century; the opportunity to doodle a quick sketch, with the future opportunity of walking through such a doodle fuels his creativity and passion for design.

Adam H. Harrison

NCARB, LEED AP / Principle


As a young artist, Charlotte tailored her pre-architecture undergraduate degree at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs, and completed her Master of Architecture at the University of Colorado, Denver. With her fresh eyes, she is an observer, analyst and critic of our processes, and her imagination inspires and contributes to our creativity. Of the partners, Charlotte’s willingness to raise the children fostered Doug’s ability to focus upon the practice.

She is a lifelong resident of Colorado, skied Vail in the early years as a child and remains an excellent bump skier (if the sun is shining). She was an original teammate of the Vail Breakaways, Vail’s first women’s hockey team. Charlotte’s vision includes an amazing gift for seeing, rescuing, restoring and placing cast-off furniture and other elements, giving the pieces valuable, renewed lives.