How to Read House Plans


When you are building a home for yourself or someone else, you will be given a set of plans that detail the construction and layout of the house. These house plans are very detailed and provide information on every part of the house. Reading the house plans is easier than it sounds once you break the task down into simple steps, beginning with a general overview and then moving into more specific views from different angles and locations.

The Basics

  • Look over the entire house plan. Get a good feel of the overall layout of the house and where the rooms are in association with each other and with the whole house.

  • Find the entrances to the house. Often these are marked as "entry." The front door usually opens to the living room or dining area. It will be marked with a door in swinging motion along the outer wall of the house. Note which way the door swings, telling you if the door opens in or out of the house.

  • Place yourself inside the plans as you mentally walk through your house. Walk in the front door into the living room or kitchen as you would normally do. Note if the pathways between the inside doorways are cumbersome or are along an easy traffic flow. Think about how the rooms are connected and how traffic will move between the rooms.

  • Check the access from the garage or breezeway into the kitchen or utility room. Most often, this is the entrance used for bringing in groceries and packages. Make sure there are no tight spaces or awkward turns you might encounter as you are carrying things into the house.

  • Picture the house on the lot. Try to view the finished home from different angles Think of how the sun will hit both in morning and midday. Think of how the wind will affect the home during colder months. Think of how the outdoor spaces will be used and how the house placement will affect this.

The Interior

  • Take notice of the size of the rooms. Most often these are included in the house plans but can also be found on a "Plan Detail Page" along with the other miscellaneous information. Compare the room dimensions to what you know and feel comfortable with. Do this by measuring a current room's width, height, and length for comparison.

  • Locate the closets and storage spaces. Most often, these will be under stairways or in corners of rooms. Look to see if they are large enough for the room use. Think of your storage needs for each room to see if there is enough space.

  • Look at the stairs. Consider how they will be used and if there is enough open space around them for comfort. Also consider if they will be open stairs or closed in.

  • Look for the windows. These will be clearly marked on house plans. You will want windows on two sides of a room to bring a balance of light in. Look at the side view of the plans to get an idea of how big and how high the windows will be.

The Floor Plan and Utilities

  • Consider the floor plan as if you are looking down into your house with the roof removed. Floor plans are an overhead view of the completed structure. Look at the dimensions drawn between walls. This will tell you the room sizes and distance between corners and windows or doorways.

  • Look for locations of fixtures such as sinks, water heaters and furnaces, toilets or large appliances. Look for references to electrical outlets and plumbing. These markings will tell you where they will be located and where the wiring, water, and heating systems run through the house.Take notice of where the main connections are for both plumbing and electrical fixtures.

  • Look for the the legend that will show what the various symbols are. Often these are on separate pages for easier reading as well as allowing electrical contractors easier access to that information. This layout will show the placement of items such as light fixtures, fans, switches and access panels. This legend will help you understand all the markings on the house plan.

The Cross Sections

  • Look over the cross sections of the house. These are the drawings that show what the house looks like if you were to face the walls. Take note of the interior height to make sure it will not feel cramped. Look over the height and placement of the permanent fixtures such as sinks and built in cabinets. Make sure they are at a comfortable height and in a good location for their intended use.

  • Check the window and door placements. See if they fit the walls and are placed in balance to the wall. Consider the height of the room. See if the ceiling is high enough and if the entrances are wide enough for easy passage. Check to ensure that the windows or doorways are in a good location.

  • Take note of the exterior cross sections. These will tell you what the house will look like sitting on the property. Also make note of possible landscape placement at this point. This can help you begin planning for outdoor gardens and shrub. This is also a good time to look for possible drainage problems from leaves in fall or ice in winter.

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