How to Understand House Plans

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Home Improvement

House plans consist of various sections that detail the construction of your home. View more images of home construction.
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If you’re not a builder or architect, comprehending house plans may seem like deciphering a code. The pages are filled with enigmatic symbols that are waiting to be “read.” However, if you’re unfamiliar with the language, you won’t understand what the drawings are conveying, which is crucial since the plans are for your home.

Architectural plans were once called “blueprints” (and are still called that by some people outside of the field) because they were originally printed on blue paper. In 1861, a French chemist named Alphonse Louis Poitevin discovered that a substance called iron gallate could be applied to paper and would turn blue when exposed to the sun. He also discovered that the parts of the paper that were shielded from the sun remained white. When architects drew black lines on an original document, clamped that doc to paper coated in iron gallate and set it out in the sun, the black lines would block the sunlight. Therefore, after the sun had done its work and the paper was dried, the black lines drawn by the architect on the first sheet of paper would appear white on the second sheet of paper, and the rest of that second sheet of paper would appear blue. Voila! The first real architectural photocopy machine was born [source: Boston Globe]. However, this method of creating copies of drawings was eventually replaced by other technology. Nowadays, house plans are printed and duplicated using computers.

What Does a House Plan Include?

Discover the symbols for windows, doors, and other features.
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The pages of a house plan, referred to as a “drawing set,” provide a contractor with all the relevant information required to build your dream home on a bare piece of land. These plans not only outline a home’s footprint and how it will look, but they also illustrate the home’s plumbing and electrical specifications, as well as the materials and finishes that will be used to complete your home.

A typical house plan contains the following parts (some are one page, while others are multiple pages of the plan):

The house plan consists of several sections, including a cover sheet, foundation plan, floor plans, interior elevations, roof plan, exterior elevations, wall details, and structural plan. Each section provides specific information regarding the construction of the house, such as the finished exterior, vertical wall plans, and insulation details.

To interpret the house plan, it’s important to understand the standardized symbols used to represent different parts of the house. Builders use these symbols to identify doors, windows, walls, and electrical outlets on the plan. Once you learn how to read the symbols, you’ll be able to visualize the house the way the builder does.

House plans are drawn to scale so that the length of lines in the plans can be multiplied by a predetermined number to get their real-life length. Different scales are used for different types of plans with the minimum scale for a site plan being 1 inch equals 20 feet. Symbols are standardized on plans to represent features commonly seen in homes such as doors, windows, and electrical outlets. Understanding these symbols is important when reviewing plans. Specifications are also included in the plans and describe how each part will be made and what materials should be used. It’s possible to make changes to these specifications even for premade house plans.

To understand house plans better, it’s helpful to know the different styles of homes and their features. For example, colonial homes have a central hallway with square rooms on either side and two larger rooms in the back. Ranch homes are one-story and “L”-shaped with the bedrooms grouped on one side of the house. Victorian homes are defined by features like fish-scale shingles and bay windows, while Cape Cod homes have two bedrooms upstairs with sloped ceilings. Knowing these styles and their features can help in identifying them on a house plan and picturing the house in your mind.

When evaluating a house layout, it’s important to also consider the materials and finishes used. While granite countertops and energy-efficient appliances may be desirable, they can quickly add up and exceed your budget. It’s also important to keep in mind that green design may not be suitable for all climates. It’s better to make changes to your house plans on paper rather than during the building process or after the house has been built. Working with your architect and/or builder can help ensure that your priorities are reflected in the plans. Understanding house plans can be difficult, so it’s helpful to compare them to houses you’re familiar with. The ideal home is one that fits your lifestyle and priorities.


1. What are house plans?

House plans are detailed drawings and blueprints that show the layout, dimensions, and specifications of a residential building. They provide a visual representation of how the house will look once it is constructed.

2. Why do I need to read house plans?

If you are planning to build a house or renovate an existing one, reading house plans is essential. They contain important information about the design, materials, and construction of the building, and can help you make informed decisions about the project.

3. What should I look for in a house plan?

When reading a house plan, pay attention to the overall layout and flow of the house, as well as the size and placement of rooms, windows, and doors. Look for details such as ceiling heights, plumbing and electrical systems, and exterior finishes.

4. How do I interpret the symbols and abbreviations on a house plan?

House plans use a variety of symbols and abbreviations to indicate different features and materials. A legend or key is usually provided to explain these symbols. If you are unsure about the meaning of a particular symbol, consult the legend or ask a professional.

5. Can I make changes to a house plan?

Most house plans can be customized to suit your specific needs and preferences. However, it is important to work with a qualified professional to ensure that any modifications are structurally sound and meet local building codes.

6. How do I choose the right house plan?

When selecting a house plan, consider factors such as your budget, lifestyle, and family size. Look for a design that meets your needs and reflects your personal style. You may also want to consult with a builder or architect for advice.

7. How can I ensure that the house plans are accurate?

Before beginning construction, it is important to review the house plans thoroughly and ensure that all measurements and specifications are accurate. You may also want to have a professional inspector or engineer review the plans to identify any potential issues.

8. What should I do if I have questions about the house plans?

If you have questions or concerns about the house plans, do not hesitate to ask the builder, architect, or designer. They can provide valuable guidance and ensure that you have a clear understanding of the project.

9. How long does it take to read house plans?

The amount of time it takes to read house plans depends on the complexity of the design and your level of experience. It is important to take your time and carefully review all aspects of the plans to ensure a successful construction project.

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