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Understanding Home-Building Plans: Your Guide to the First Step in Home Design

Creating a set of home-building plans is a crucial step towards designing a new home.


[Updated: Feb 04, 2021 ] Jun 01, 2020 by Tara Mastroeni
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If you're in the process of building a custom home, your architect may have mentioned their intent to create home-building plans for the project. Unless you've been in the construction business for a while, you may not know what exactly that means.

With that in mind, below is a guide to understanding home plans. Keep reading to learn more about what these plans are, how they work, and how to work with an architect to design one of your own.

What is a home-building plan?

Truth be told, a home-building plan is just another term for a blueprint. Many years ago, the term blueprint was more common because of the printing process behind creating these documents. In those days, home plans were printed on chemically-treated paper with liquid ammonia, which gave them their distinctive look of crisp white lines on a blue background.

However, like most things, home-design plans have gone digital. In fact, these days, most are delivered to the customer via email in either computer-aided design (CAD) or PDF format. While designing the home still requires a specific skill set and plenty of training, thanks to technology, the process of creating these plans is now much less labor intensive than it used to be.

What will your home plan include?

A detailed house plan includes several elements, all of which serve their own role in the construction process. With that in mind, when you receive a building plan, you can expect it to include the following:

Exterior elevation

The exterior elevation of your home is, as the name suggests, a detailed drawing of your home's exterior. The windows, doors, and exterior trim will all be illustrated on this drawing and it will also include to-scale specifications for the wall heights, ridge heights, and the pitch of the roof.

Floor plan

These documents could be considered the most important aspect of your entire home plan. Typically, you'll receive a separate page for each floor of your home. It can be helpful to think of these pages as the road map to your new house.

Each scaled drawing will show the relationship between rooms, traffic patterns, and other physical features that will eventually be placed in the space. These plans are usually shown in an aerial view and will include details about electrical elements, plumbing, and appliances. They also include dimensions, which will allow you to see the square footage of the home.

Foundation plan

As you may be able to guess, the foundation plan illustrates the foundation of the new house. It will include specifications about any structural beams or footings that are required to support the structure.

Additionally, if the home that is being built includes a basement, the foundation plan will also explain those details. For example, it should indicate the position of the stairs, any load bearing walls, and the placement of the basement windows.

Roof plan

The roof plan is essentially a bird's eye view of the home. It includes details about any necessary ridges, hips, or valleys. However, in some cases, it may also include information about any rafters or trusses that will eventually be put into place.

Building selection

Similarly to how each floor plan shows how the individual rooms of the home relate to one another, the building selection is meant to show how each of the floors in the house relate to each other. It will also include other details that are relevant to the construction of the home.

Additional notes

Every home plan is required to comply with International Residential Code (IRC) building codes in addition to the ones required by local municipalities. Typically, any notes or details that are required for compliance with these codes are included on a separate sheet.

How to read home-building plans

Unless you're an architect or a builder, reading home plans can sometimes feel like reading a different language. With that in mind, here are a few tips to make the process easier:

Understanding scale

At the bottom of the plan, you'll usually see a conversion scale. This will show you the scale to which the plan was drawn. For the most part, house plans are drawn to one-quarter scale, which means that every quarter-inch on the plan is equal to a foot once the plan is built. However, this is not a universal rule, so you'll want to make sure you understand the conversion scale before moving forward.

Symbols and abbreviations

One of the trickiest parts of reading a blueprint or home building plan is understanding all of the symbols and abbreviations that are used. Unfortunately, every architect may use a slightly different system for how to note important items like doors and stairs. Luckily, there is often a key to these abbreviations and symbols.

If you don't understand something, be sure to refer back to the key as you read through the plan.

How to work with an architect to design a custom home

If you're building a custom home, you'll likely need to hire an architect to handle the design. You'll want to keep in mind that every architect's design process may be a little bit different. However, in general, you can expect the creation of your building plan to consist of the following three stages:

1. Before meeting with the architect

Hiring an architect is not cheap, so it's in your best interest to take some time to prepare before meeting with them in person. That way, you'll get the most out of your time together.

In order to prepare, you should create a list of goals for the project. List out any must-have requirements you have for your dream home. For example, maybe you've always wanted an open floor plan or a big dining room that's perfect for entertaining.

It's also a good idea to get clear on your budget for the project. Once you have all of those details set in your mind, you'll be ready to move on to the next phase.

2. Information gathering

The first thing that will happen when you sit down with your architect is that they will ask you a lot of questions. A good architect will listen to your responses to get clear on your vision for the project. Your architect may also propose solutions to any potential problems that they foresee in your plan or offer you an array of options to help you stay on budget.

3. Schematic design phase

Once both of you are clear on your vision for the house, your architect can start creating your perfect house plan. The architect will likely create a few design options for you, which you can then go over together in person.

As the homeowner, you'll want to give your honest feedback during these sessions and let them know what you like and dislike. You'll go back and forth with them until you're satisfied with the design, at which point, you can hire a contractor and start moving forward with building your home.

The bottom line

Home-building plans are a key part of the design and construction process. To that end, if you're planning to build a new home, it's in your best interest to understand how they work. Use the information above to help you get started with your architectural design process and, before you know it, you'll be on your way to building your dream home.

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