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Understanding Your House Plans

Understanding Your House Plans

Many years ago house plans would come to you as a set of Blueprints, pages with white lines and lettering on a dark blue background. This was due to the printing process of that era. More recently, up to about 15 years ago, most home plans were printed on chemically treated paper and developed with liquid or anhydrous ammonia. In those days your floor plans would have had a strong smell of ammonia, especially when freshly printed.

Understanding Your House PlansToday, house plans are often still referred to as Blueprints but are printed out on large format, digital printers, usually on bond paper but also on erasable vellums when major changes are expected to be made. Several different bond home plan packages are available, often providing five or eight sets. Sometimes five sets will suffice but more commonly, an eight set package will be needed. The city or county often will require at least two sets of plans, one for their files and one to keep on the jobsite. If you will have a mortgage, the bank will require a set of plans. You will require several sets for the builder to use to build the home and you should keep a set of plans for your own reference, so you can easily see that eight sets, and often more, will be required. Additional sets are also available at the same time as the original purchase and up to for months post plan purchase.

Now, with the fast-paced world we live in, people are getting used to the convenience of digital formats, with many plans now available in PDF and CAD, allowing them to be quickly delivered by email. An important advantage to choosing a PDF package is the ability to email your plans to builders and sub-trades and avoid printing up extra sets and driving all over town distributing the plans for bids, etc. The CAD formats, while more expensive, are essential for having major changes to your house plan made locally — it's getting harder and harder to find designers who still draw by hand.

Our home building plans will come in several standard sizes — 18" x 24", 24" x 36" (most common), 30" x 42" and 36" x 48". The larger sizes become necessary on very large, expansive homes. The plans that we sell are typically called “Builder Plans”, meaning that they are designed to show a competent builder how to construct that particular home design and are suitable for obtaining a building permit in most jurisdictions. These house plans will usually concentrate on the architecture and the building itself and will not usually specify interior finishes. Part of the fun of building a new home is choosing those finishes, hardware and appliances — we don't want to take that enjoyment from you!

It's important to remember that stock house plans are designed to meet the current IRC building code but, due to regional differences in local codes, building practices and snow loads, minor adjustments may need to be made to the plans. Sometimes your builder is able to make those changes or may know of a local designer or engineer to handle that.

What Will Your Home Plans Include?
  1. Exterior Elevations — These are the drawings of the exterior of the home and will mostly be drawn at ¼" = 1'-0" scale. Sometimes the sides and rear are at 1/8" = 1'-0" scale. This is where the windows, doors and exterior trim details are illustrated as well as the wall heights, roof pitches and ridge heights are usually dimensioned.
  2. Floor Plans — These drawings, usually one sheet for each floor, unless it's a small home, are really the most important drawings in your set of plans. They are drawn to ¼" = 1'-0" scale and include most of the critical dimensions and specs needed to build the home. They act as a kind of road map of your home, showing how the different spaces relate to each other. Many plans will include the electrical elements -- lights, plugs and often switches but sometimes these will be on a separate sheet. Similarly, the structural details (floor joists, etc.) may also be included on these floor plans if there is room but sometimes will need to be on separate framing plans. An aerial view of cabinets, plumbing and appliances will be shown here.
  3. Foundation/Basement Plans — This drawing will detail and illustrate the foundation of the home including all the structural beams and footings required to support the floors above. If a basement is purchased, it will also show the stairs and bearing walls and basement windows, if any. Each plan page indicated which foundation is available for that particular plan. If a particular foundation you are looking for isn't listed, email or call our house plan search specialists at 866-214-2242 and they will inquire to the availability.
  4. Building Sections and Details — This is the drawing that illustrates how the different levels and areas of a home relate to each other. A Large scale wall section that details the construction of the home is sometimes located here or sometimes on the foundation plan if there was room. Included here will be other details necessary for the construction of the home.
  5. Roof Plan — This drawing, usually at ¼" = 1'-0" scale, will be like a bird's eye view of the home from above. It will show the ridges, hips and valleys and sometimes may show each rafter or truss.
  6. General Notes — Usually a separate sheet is provided with standard notes and details that are required to comply with the IRC building code.

Your home plans will include an electrical layout showing a suggested location for fixtures and outlets, etc. Keep in mind that this is primarily used as a reference only, useful for bidding and obtaining quantities. Its common practice to meet with your builder and/or their electrician before the work starts to go over the plan, sometimes with a walk-through where you are able to fine tune the fixture and switch locations. During the rough-in construction process is when you need to provide the cables and outlets required for your internet uses, sometimes referred to as CAT5 cable. Some careful planning now will go a long way toward making your home special and convenient for you and your family.

Cabinet elevations are generally provided with your plans and, like the electrical plan, this is mainly a guide for estimating purposes. Cabinets are an area that is easy to customize and your builder, or his cabinet maker, will work with you early on in the process to ensure that the correct cabinets are specified. Do not rely solely on the cabinet elevations that are provided!

Where do you go from here?

Assuming that you have your building site and you now have your plans in hand, you will be ready to find your builder and begin to assemble the additional elements you'll need to get your building permit. Your builder may be able to help you with your site plan, a drawing that shows your building site and locates your home plan, building setbacks, utilities, etc. If you are building on acreage, a septic plan and permit will be required.

To help you understand the different architectural styles, see our information on How to Chose the Right House Plan and Architectural Floor Plan Styles.

For any questions or help in your home plan search, please email or call our experienced team of home plan search specialists who will be happy to help you at 866-214-2242.
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