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What is a Floor Plan? A Complete Floor Plans Guide

What Are Floor Plans?

Understanding floor plans is an essential part of owning a home. Whether you are building a home, deciding on the best layout for your home renovations, or purchasing a house outright, you need to know how to read a floor plan. 

To understand a floor plan, we'll discuss its different parts, what to look for in a good one, and how to design a floor plan.


What is a floor plan?

A floor plan is a detailed and scaled visual representation of the layout and arrangement of interior spaces, walls, doors, windows, and other architectural features within a single level of a building, such as a house, apartment, office, or commercial space. Architects, builders, interior designers, and real estate professionals use floor plans to convey the spatial relationships and dimensions of various rooms and spaces within a structure. They may serve as a guide for construction, renovation, or interior design projects and aid in understanding how different areas are utilized and flow together.

  • When looking at a floor plan, you see it from above. This approach gives you a quick bird’s eye view of the space or property.

  • A floor plan is like a map in pictures of a floor in a building. It helps architects and designers understand how the space inside a house or office looks and how everything is arranged and flows.

  • It is a to-scale drawing of a single room, one floor, or an entire building. Each wall, ceiling, and hallway is measured and then drawn to scale. 

  • If there are multiple stories, each floor will be side by side on the floor plan, with stairwells, elevator shafts, and voided space clearly noted. 

  • Sometimes, furniture and appliances may be present on the floor plan. 


SmartTip. What is the difference between a “floor plan” and “floor plans?” In almost all cases, the only difference is one is singular, and the other is plural. However, in the construction industry, it is not uncommon for builders and contractors to use the term “floor plans” and refer to construction plans/drawings or building plans. These would include not just the typical floor plan but also more detailed supporting plans such as electrical plans, elevations, cross-sections, and more. Jump to our section below on “How are floor plans different from other types of plans?” to learn more.


Image of modern farmhouse with board and batten and stone front, open floor plan, 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths over 1700 square feet

The wonderful open floor plan of this gorgeous modern farmhouse offers three bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a 2-car garage, and over 1700 square feet of living space. You can see from the floor plan image below that the bedrooms are all on one side, and the family room has French doors to a spacious lanai. Plan #117-1141

Floor plan of plan #117-1141 from The Plan Collection.

How to read floor plans?

Reading a floor plan can be a bit tricky. Here are a few tips to get you started: 

Floor plan symbols

The main symbols you will see on floor plans are arrows. These arrows indicate direction through the home, like the way that a door opens or the main entrances/exits of the home. On some plans, a small arc in each doorway indicates how it opens instead of an arrow.  

In addition, the inside walls on the floor plan are shown with arrows. These arrows help you see the distance between different points inside the building, like how far one wall is from another. It's like a map that tells you how much space there is between things.

If you are looking at the plan of a built home, the floor plan will also likely have small icons for appliances like the oven, washing machine, toilet, etc. Even if there isn’t one (and you must provide your own to the house), there is a definite space for that item. 

How to Read Floor Plans - Image Guide to Common Floor Plan Symbols - using Plan #106-1138 from The Plan Collection

Here is an example of some of the floor plan symbols on a set of drawings. This is the floor plan of a fabulous modern farmhouse with four bedrooms, 3.5 baths, and over 3600 square feet of living space. Plan #106-1338

Floor plan measurements

When reading a floor plan, a room’s dimensions will be displayed in two main ways. Sometimes, the numbers are up against each wall, but sometimes, they are in the middle. 

For example:

 Primary bedroom

13”0’ x 12”0’

Numbers can be written with an “x” to indicate “by” or sometimes even a “-.” 

In addition, before proceeding, be clear with your designer and builder whether the numbers are inches, feet, meters, etc., to avoid mistakes and confusion down the road. 

How to Read Measurements on a Floor Plan from The Plan Collection (using Plan #216-1002)

This floor plan shows one way that a designer may indicate the sizes of the rooms for the home. This stylish small house plan with modern influences offers one bedroom, one bath, tons of loft space on the second floor, and 665 square feet of living space. Plan #216-1002


Floor plan of plan #142-1475 from The Plan Collection showing the measurements of the rooms and how to read them

Here is another example of how a designer indicates the size of the rooms. Notice that this designer does not add the foot and inch symbol to the room sizes - they just list the size and the ceiling heights. This stunning four-bedroom ranch offers 1800 square feet of living space, 2 baths, and a 2-car garage. Plan #142-1475

Floor plan scale

Understanding floor plan scales is an important skill to have when remodeling your house or creating a new building. Suppose you're in the United States or have hired an American building company. In that case, you will use the imperial system, which is feet, inches, etc. Using the metric system (meters, centimeters, etc.)  is rare in the U.S., but if your builder is European, it might pop up. Once you have decided on a system, it’s time to scale. 

Floor plan scales are shown in two ways:

  • Equivalent measurements, like 2cm on paper representing 100cm (or 1m) in real size (1:50 scale).

  • Ratios, like 1/8 inch on paper representing 96 inches in real size (1:96 scale) for imperial plans.

Knowing the correct scale helps you understand the real-world size of objects and spaces on the floor plan.

Floor Plan Scale Explained using House Elevation Diagraham - Plan #141-1140 from The Plan Collection

This is an example of a scale on a set of blueprints. This home’s elevation is drawn at a scale of ¼ inch = 1 foot. So for every 1 inch of length on the drawing, it equals 4 feet in real life on the home. This lovely country-style vacation house plan offers one bedroom, one bath, and 600 square feet of living space. Plan #141-1140


What to look for in a floor plan?

Since a floor plan is a drawing that helps architects and designers understand a building's layout, it must include important structural elements like walls, doors, windows, and stairs. But it's not necessarily just that. When it comes to floor plans for construction purposes (also referred to by builders and contractors as building plans or blueprints), they should also indicate other vital features like plumbing, heating, and electrical systems – although you would typically contract those out to a local professional due to the differences in municipal codes and regulations.

Here are some key elements in a well-designed floor plan, so watch for them. 

It consists of the whole space

Imagine purchasing a single-family home and looking at it from the air. The floor plans show each level of the house and all the spaces on each level from an aerial view. These floor plans include the placement of the living room, dining area, kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, garage, and more. See the definition of site plans below for plan layouts that include the entire property, such as front, side, and back yards. 

It has each room’s layout

To understand each room better, the floor plan indicates their size and where they are on each floor. It shows how spaces are connected, where the stairs lead, and how hallways connect to individual rooms.

You can see the doors and windows

The floor plan displays where the doors and windows are. It shows their sizes and which way they open. This level of detail helps you plan how to arrange your furniture and where you will get natural light. Plus, while floor plans do not illustrate ceilings, presenting them using a dashed line is always an excellent technique.

It has all the desired additional features

If you want built-in appliances like a refrigerator, oven, sink, washer, or dryer, the floor plan makes space for them. It includes anything else you want to add to your interior layout, sometimes even down to the light switches and plugs. 


How to tell if a floor plan is good? 

Choosing a floor plan is much more than just ticking the measurement boxes. While a floor plan might seem well drawn, when you are choosing one, whether online or from an architect, there are certain things you should consider before finalizing your choice.

Is this floor plan adaptable to my needs and future?

A good floor plan should handle any changes that might happen in the future. You never know what life may bring — you might need to make your home accessible for a wheelchair or add a new bedroom for a baby. So, thinking about how the design can adapt to different situations is essential. 

Look for a floor plan that can adapt to changes in your lifestyle. It should allow you to transform a room into an office or an entertainment area based on your needs. Flexibility is essential to make your home suit your changing requirements.

Are there rooms included that suit everyone?

Even if the primary suite is enormous, it might be too noisy to enjoy if it’s right above the attached garage. Instead, make sure the floor plan you choose considers the needs and preferences of all family members. 

You should evaluate workflow and traffic flow in finding a good floor plan. Putting working areas next to relaxation spaces might cause conflict. Do you want your kids playing loud video games in the rec room while you try to take an important meeting in the home office?

Make sure you have enough rooms and different spaces to avoid feeling crowded. Consider the number of people who will live in the house to ensure everyone has enough room.

Does this floor plan fit my lifestyle?

Remember, you and your family will be living in this house. So, the floor plan should match your lifestyle and activities. If you love outdoor activities, having a backyard would be great, as would having a mudroom to separate the outside from the inside, reducing cleaning. 

If you have pets, consider creating a suitable space for them or even installing a dog wash in the laundry room. Your home should reflect the way you like to live. 

Does this floor plan suit my lot’s location? 

Pay attention to your building lot's size and shape, as this will determine the available space for your house and yard. Consider the lot's orientation concerning the sun's path to optimize natural light and energy efficiency. In addition, evaluate the terrain and any potential challenges it may present for construction or landscaping. 

You can do this by taking note of any existing trees, slopes, or drainage patterns that could impact the design and layout of your home. Do you need to look for floor plans that work on a slope? Or maybe a home with many windows to take in the nearby views?

Finally, study the neighborhood and surroundings to ensure your floor plan aligns with the architectural style and zoning regulations. If you think about these lot-specific factors, you can make an informed decision and select a floor plan that perfectly complements the unique characteristics of your building site.

Is this floor plan in my budget to build? 

Different floor plans are priced differently due to factors influencing their overall costs. One significant factor is the size and complexity of the floor plan. Larger floor plans with more rooms and additional features generally require more materials and labor, resulting in higher costs. Plus, the level of customization and premium features, such as high-end fixtures or luxury finishes, can significantly impact the price. 

The location and type of construction materials used can also influence the pricing. For instance, building in a high-cost urban area might be more expensive compared to a suburban or rural setting. Energy-efficient and sustainable features, such as solar panels or advanced insulation, might add to the initial costs but could result in long-term savings. Ultimately, the price of building a floor plan depends on the design complexity, size, materials used, location, and additional amenities, ensuring that options are available to suit different budgets. 

When choosing a floor plan, you need to ensure that the plan is within your budget and the home you intend to build with it. 


Floor plan of plan #177-1054 from The Plan Collection with 1 bedroom and 1 bath

The floor plan of this stylish small house plan would be a good choice if you have a smaller budget. This lovely one-story home is almost a perfect square which helps make it more cost-effective to build. With one bedroom, one bath, an open floor plan, 624 square feet of space, and two porches for entertaining, you'll just love your new home! See the front of this beautiful home below. Plan #177-1054          

Front image of 1 bedroom, 1 bath, 624 sqare foot home with front porch and open floor plan


Why are floor plans important? 

Floor plans are essential tools in architecture and construction, as they provide a detailed visual representation of a building's interior layout and design. These are the top reasons why you can’t have a successful build without one. 

They help us finalize our plans 

The main benefit of a floor plan is understanding the flow of a home before you even break ground. You can begin making choices about the size of the shared living spaces, the height of the ceiling, and the number of bedrooms, all while the home is still in its conceptual phase. This method helps workers progress in the building process without second-guessing or last-minute changes. 

By providing numerically intricate floorplans, there is less room for mistakes, and you won’t end up with a door that won’t open or a window into another room. 

They help us understand our home’s purpose 

If you do a lot of entertaining, you might prefer an open floor plan, which is one without many walls between the main living and dining spaces. However, if you prefer lots of privacy, consider a floor plan with the primary suite set back significantly from the rest of the home. By viewing floor plans, you can decide if a particular home has the qualities you like before you build it or go to a showing if you purchase a pre-built home. 

They help us avoid renovation 

Sometimes, homes have strange qualities that would require extensive renovations to fix them to meet our standards. For example, a home with three bedrooms on the second floor, and only one bathroom on the ground floor, attached to the kitchen, might not be for you. You could simply save yourself the trip to a house showing by checking the floor plan to know if you like it before you go. Or you could view the floor plan and determine whether or not you want to take on that renovation project. 


How are floor plans different from other types of plans?

Those new to floor plans — and even those with experience — often get confused about the different types of plans. Sometimes, certain terms are used interchangeably within a specific industry. The list below defines and differentiates the different types of plans.

Floor plans vs. building plans

Building plans are broader in scope and encompass the overall design and construction of an entire building or structure, not just a single floor. 

  • They include multiple types of plans, such as floor plans, elevation plans, site plans, foundation plans, structural plans, electrical plans, plumbing plans, and more.

  • Building plans provide a comprehensive view of the entire structure, including its exterior and interior components, systems, and connections. 

  • These plans are used by architects, engineers, builders, and contractors to guide the construction process, ensure compliance with regulations and codes, and coordinate various aspects of the project. 

  • Building plans also consider factors like site orientation, structural integrity, utilities, and compliance with local building codes and regulations.

SmartTip. What can I expect to find in building plans from an architect or house designer? An architect or house designer’s building plans/construction drawings typically include detailed floor plans, elevation plans, foundation plans, electrical layouts, and roof plans. Depending on your municipality, site plans may be done by a civil engineer, land surveyor, or draftsman. Specialized contractors typically handle the electrical, plumbing, and HVAC plans.

Floor plans vs. site plans

A site plan is like a floor plan for the entire property or building site. 

  • They show the relationship between the building and its surroundings, including landscape features, roads, parking areas, neighboring structures, and more.

  • Site plans depict the location of the building on the property, as well as any outdoor elements like driveways, walkways, patios, and vegetation.

  • These plans also often include information about property boundaries, topography, utility connections, drainage, and other site-specific considerations.

  • Site plans are crucial for understanding how the building fits within its environment, complying with zoning regulations, planning for accessibility and parking, and assessing any potential impact on neighboring properties.

Floor plans vs. elevation plans

While a floor plan is a two-dimensional look from above, an elevation plan is a two-dimensional look from the side. In other words, elevation plans, also known as exterior elevation drawings, provide vertical views of a building's exterior walls, showing how the building looks from different sides.

  • Elevation plans depict a building's height, shape, and architectural details, such as windows, doors, and exterior materials.

  • They communicate the building's overall appearance, style, and aesthetic design to architects, builders, and clients.

  • Elevation plans are crucial for understanding the building's visual impact and ensuring its design aligns with the intended architectural vision.

Floor plans vs. cross-sections

A cross-section, or section or sectional view, is a vertical slice through a building or structure. They show what the building would look like if it were cut vertically and then viewed from the side.

  • Cross-sections reveal the internal details of a building, including the arrangement of structural elements, such as walls, columns, beams, and floors, as well as the spatial relationships between different levels.

  • These drawings help architects, engineers, and builders understand how different components interact and connect within the building, including elements that might not be visible in exterior views.

  • If you work better with more realistic depictions, a cross-section might help you better understand the layout of a potential house than a traditional floor plan because you have another dimension to work with.

Floor plans vs. blueprints

Blueprints and floor plans are related terms in the context of architectural and construction documentation. It is not unusual to hear homeowners, builders, and contractors use these terms interchangeably. Still, they refer to different aspects of the design and representation of a building.

  • Historically, blueprints were produced using a specific process that involved exposing chemically treated paper to light, resulting in a blue background with white lines for the drawings. With today’s technology, this is no longer the case.

  • The term "blueprint" is often colloquially used to refer to architectural or construction drawings in general, regardless of the reproduction method.

  • Blueprints can include a variety of construction drawings, such as floor plans, elevations, sections, details, and more, providing a comprehensive representation of a building's design and construction.


How to find a floor plan of a house?

If you are interested in renting or purchasing a home, many real estate agents will include a floor plan in the listing for the property. If one is omitted, asking the agent to request a copy is reasonable, even if you haven’t seen the home in person yet. They will typically have one on hand and should be able to send it over quickly. 

If you are looking for a floor plan because you are interested in custom building a home, all you need to do to find the perfect floor plan is search our easy-to-use floor plan database. You can customize your search by the number of bedrooms, overall square feet, style of architecture, inclusion of special features (like a mud room!), and more. 


How to make a floor plan?

If you would like to custom design a floor plan, it’s best to partner with a company that sells floor plans (like The Plan Collection) or a licensed contractor. This way, even if you have a rough sketch of the layout of your dream home, they can help you mold your dreams into reality. 

Sometimes, it can be easier to look up the features you like in an existing floor plan database and customize a plan to fit your needs rather than starting entirely from scratch. We offer modification services for all of our plans with free quotes, so you’ll know how much the modification will cost before you purchase the house plans


Different Floor Plan Types
There are many kinds of floor plans that builders use depending on what they are building. Some examples are:

Building Plans

Building plans are used for large-scale projects such as office complexes or apartment buildings. They are drawn on a much larger scale but provide the same benefits as a house plan.

Office Plans or Layout

An office plan or layout is used when designing the inside space of the office. For instance, it will show where the desks will be located and whether or not they are in a cubicle, an actual office space within the office floor, or perhaps an open office area. 

An office layout may also include the location of different departments so that workflow is managed efficiently and concisely. It may also show where decorative items such as plants or extra furniture for clients will be located. 

You can use an office plan within your house plan to help lay out how you would like your office to flow. A comfortable workspace in your home can help you focus on the tasks. 

Landscape Plans

Landscape plans focus on the grounds and your yard. Remember, your friends and family will see the landscaping first. Having the right curb appeal also adds value to your home.

Not only is curb appeal essential but so is having the right design for you and your family’s lifestyle. A landscape plan could include an outdoor kitchen or space for a vegetable garden. Perhaps you’d like a Bocce Court in your yard. Whatever home style you build, have a landscape plan to achieve your vision.

House Plans

These are a set of construction drawings that show the layout of the home that you are going to build. From cross-sections to floor plans, house plans give the homeowner a peak as to what the house will look like when built and the home's layout. 

From bedrooms, baths, kitchens, and more, a designer and homeowner can work together to create the dream home that works for their family, whether they are just starting out, have kids, or are looking to downsize. The house plan helps visualize the space and the flow throughout the home, allowing the future homeowner to make changes or modifications before construction begins. 


If you have any questions about our house plans, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We have thousands of customizable plans available, and our customer service team can help answer any questions.

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