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Floor Plans: How to Read and Build

Now that people can purchase house plans online, they have taken more interest in learning about home building. The Plan Collection often gets this question, as do many architects and contractors – How do I read the blueprints? When people begin thinking about building a new home, the first thing everyone envisions is the architectural style or design of the house.  Will it be modern, country, colonial, or arts and crafts style?  But at some point in time, after they have decided on the style, their thoughts start to focus on the floor plans for space, and most people have a lot of questions.  What makes a livable floor plan? How does this translate to the home’s blueprints? How do you read the blueprints? It is essential to buy a plan drawn by an architect or a home design professional.


Most people know how to figure out a floor plan acceptable for their own personal lifestyles as to traffic flow, the number of bedrooms, stairs, basements, patio space, etc. That is the fun part that is also easy to figure out. But perhaps one of the most important things to understand when building a new home is being able actually to read the plans or blueprints. This involves steps concerning the construction of the house. There are some basic chronological steps involved in turning a blueprint into a house.


Architects and designers use blueprints to communicate with the builder who is constructing the house, so once you understand all the steps involved, it will become that much easier to read the blueprints.


At The Plan Collection, we have boiled it down to the following steps.


1.  Clear the land on your lot.

2.  Dig the foundation of the house, making sure it is consistent with the location on the site plan for the lot.

3.  Pour the concrete for the foundation.

4.  The framing is laid so the houses wood frames can be attached to the foundation.

5.  Frame the first floor and attach the plywood sheathing.

6.  Construct the first floor walls with openings framed for windows.

7.  Construct the second floor.

8.  Frame the roof and attach the plywood sheathing.

9.  The exterior materials and windows are applied.

10.  Place the electrical wiring, plumbing, and ductwork in the walls.

11.  Install the heating and cooling systems.

12.  Install the cabinets, fixtures, and interior appointments.

13.  Tie-in the electrical, water, and sewer to your house.


When you are looking at the blueprint drawings, remember that the reason they are drawn to scale is that if any specific dimension is needed missing, the contractor can scale the drawing to determine the correct measurement. The main floor plan is usually drawn to a 1/4" scale – this means that every 1/4" on the plan equals 1 in actual length. You will see that some of the other details like the framing layouts or built-in details may be drawn at a different scale, such as 1/8”. Look for the scale of each drawing detailed just beneath the drawing on the page, usually next to the title.


The house plan blueprints are usually ordered by the way the house will be constructed. The foundation plan will depend upon your building site and the design selected varies – it could be a crawlspace, full basement, a walk-out basement, or just a slab.


Typical example of floor plans



Typically, floor plans (above) on blueprint construction drawings are an overhead view of each floor of the completed house, like the lower-level plan shown above. Note parallel lines that scale at whatever width the walls are required to be. The dimensions are drawn between the walls to specify wall lengths and room sizes. Note the locations for fixtures such as water heaters, sinks, or furnaces. There are often notes that specify the construction method or finish and symbols along the walls and dimensions to reference cross-sections and electrical.


Another view of the blueprints includes the elevations -- front, rear, and both side elevations -- which are a non-perspective view of the home. They are drawn to scale so that measurements can be taken for any aspect. Elevations specify things such as positioning the final grade of the lot, ridge heights, roof pitches, and exterior finishes. All details necessary to give the home are exterior architectural styling. Elevations are drawn at 1/4” and 1/8” scale. There will also be bathroom and kitchen elevations that specify cabinet sizes or significant fixtures. This information is used to create customized layouts with a cabinet maker.


Blueprints may also include electrical layouts on a separate page for light fixtures, outlets, light switches, fans, etc. There is usually a legend on the page that explains what each symbol represents. Plus, framing drawings are also drawn to scale and outline items layouts, including beam locations or floor joists and trusses.


Cross-sections or details are basically a view of the home as if it were to be sliced down the middle, allowing viewing of the home from the side. These are the basics of reading a house plan.


Always remember that what is included with your house plans will depend upon the architect or house designer who drew them. Floor plans and blueprints are an important part of the building process, which all prospective homeowners should enjoy.



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