Build Your Own House

How to Read House Plans

How to Read New Home Plans

Summary: When reading house plans it is easy to determine what the dimensions on paper really are and see how that a change in the size of the house will affect construction costs.

The first time I looked at a set of house plans I thought I was “in over my head." I had ordered them from a magazine and it was going to be our dream house. Well, they were “BLUE!” Yes, BLUE! I guess that’s why they still call them “Blueprints." I was terrified. It looked like hieroglyphics. It certainly was “Greek” to me. Well, to make a long story short, I got over my apprehension, realized that it was really very easy to figure out what the dimensions were for, and it was only the reversal of colors that threw me. Unfortunately, the architectural review board in the subdivision where we wanted to build turned the plan down. Yes, that can happen. But, all turned out well in the end and now let me share some “Blueprint” tips and info with you.

Rule of thumb: Size matters. The bigger the house, the more it costs. Here’s a tip: Two-story construction is cheaper than one-story. Two of the most expensive parts of a house are the roof and the foundation. A two-story home with the same square footage as a one-story has half the roofing costs and half the foundation costs. There are also economies in plumbing and heating in two stories.

There are many thousands of house plans available and several ways to find more than you could ever need. Some places to look are building or renovation magazines, books of plans, and the Internet. There are even computer programs that allow you to design your own house plans, although these are not always as easy to use as the creators would lead you to believe. Another, more expensive, possibility is to have a local architect or draftsman/designer draw your plans.

The least expensive way to obtain a new home plan is through the thousands of magazines, books, and of course, home plan or house plan web sites. Quite often you’ll find that one of the plans needs only minor modifications to make it suitable for your needs and your building site.

You either should stick with the plans as drawn or order the minimum number sold (sometimes this is only one set) and get advice from a home designer/draftsman or an architect on any changes, no matter how minor. This should be less expensive than having the entire plan drawn for you. An experienced draftsman can even make major changes in a set of plans and advise you on the practicality of changes you suggest and the additional cost, if any, of those changes.

Important Note: The following statement is provided by the Council of Publishing Home Designers, in affiliation of the American Institute of Building Design:

“Modified plans are considered “derivative works” of the original, and it is critical that you understand that these “derivative works,” as well as the original work, still retain copyright protection. Any “derivative work” or revised design, even if completely redrawn, may not be sold, duplicated, distributed or used to construct any units without the purchase of a license from the publisher, architect or designer.”

If you do hire a home designer/draftsman or an architect, obtain estimates from several before hiring one. Ask for examples of work done and get references.

You’ll need about six sets of plans: one for yourself, one for your Construction lender and one for each of the major subs. If they are inexpensive, it’s good to have as many as possible. If you’re going out for bids, for example, each of the bidders for the job should have a copy of the plans to study.

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