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Understanding Your House Plans

A lot has changed in our industry, but The House Designers has always strived to provide the best house plans you can find. Here is a quick history of plans, and how to read the ones you get!

In the past, house plans would come as a set of blueprints—pages with white lines and lettering on dark blue paper. This was due to the printing process of the time. Then, 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 ammonia smell, especially when freshly printed, so everybody's glad that technology has moved beyond this stage.

Understanding your house plansWe still call them blueprints, but today's house plans are printed on large format, digital printers—usually on bond paper, but also on erasable vellums if a customer plans to make major modifications. Several different printed bond plan packages are available, typically providing five or eight sets.

Five sets will suffice in many cases, but an eight set package is often recommended because you need to provide copies to a lot of people. The city or county will often require at least two sets of plans, one for their files and one to keep on the jobsite. If you'll have a mortgage, the bank will require a set of plans. You need 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 see that eight sets, and often more, will be required. Additional sets are available from The House Designers at the same time as the original purchase and for up to four months post plan purchase.

In the fast-paced world we now live in, people are used to the convenience of digital formats. You will find that we have many plans available in PDF and CAD formats, allowing them to be quickly delivered by email. The biggest advantage of choosing a PDF package is that you can email your plans to builders and sub-contractors, thereby avoiding having to print extra sets and driving all over town to distribute the plans for bids, etc. The CAD format, while more expensive, is essential if you want major changes made to your house plan by a local professional. It's getting harder to find designers who still draw by hand, and these files should work for any designer or architect.

Our home building plans come in several standard sizes. Your plans might come on 18" x 24", 24" x 36", 30" x 42", or 36" x 48" sheets. The most common size is 24" x 36", and the larger sizes are necessary for very large, expansive homes. Our plans are called “Builder Plans,” meaning that they are designed to show a competent builder exactly how to construct the home and are suitable for obtaining a building permit in most jurisdictions. These plans concentrate on the architecture and the building itself, and do not usually specify interior finishes. Most of the fun of building a new home is choosing those finishes, hardware, and appliances—we want you to enjoy that part of the process to make your home your own!

It's important to remember that our stock house plans are designed to meet the current IRC building code but, due to regional differences in codes, building practices, and snow loads, minor adjustments to the plans may be necessary. Your builder might be able to make those changes or may know a local designer or engineer who can handle it.

What Will Your Home Plans Include?

  1. Exterior Elevations — These are the drawings of the exterior of the home that are usually drawn at ¼" = 1'-0" scale. The sides and rear are sometimes at 1/8" = 1'-0" scale. This is where the windows, doors, and exterior trim details are illustrated along with the wall heights, roof pitches, and ridge heights.
  2. Floor Plans — These drawings are usually one sheet per floor unless it's a very small home. They are the most important drawings in your set of plans. They are drawn to ¼" = 1'-0" scale and include critical dimensions and specs needed to build the home. Many plans will include electrical elements like lights, plugs, and switches, but these are sometimes found on a separate sheet. Similarly, structural details (floor joists, etc.) may also be included on these floor plans if there is room, but sometimes they 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 details and illustrates 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 location of the stairs, bearing walls, and basement windows, if any. Each plan page indicates which foundations are 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 (888) 795-6803 to see what we can do.
  4. Building Sections and Details — This is the drawing that shows 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 included here, or sometimes it's on the foundation plan. Other details necessary for constructing the home are here as well.
  5. Roof Plan — This drawing, usually at ¼" = 1'-0" scale, is like a bird's eye view of the home. It shows the ridges, hips, and valleys of the roof from above, 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 plans will include an electrical layout showing suggested locations for fixtures, outlets, etc. Keep in mind that this is primarily used as a reference, and that it is useful for bidding and obtaining quantities. It's common to meet with your builder and/or their electrician before work starts to go over the plan, sometimes with a walk-through where you are able to fine tune the fixture and switch locations. You need to provide the cables and outlets required for Internet access (sometimes referred to as a CAT5 cable) during the rough-in construction process. Careful planning early on goes a long way toward a better, more convenient home!

Cabinet elevations are usually provided with your plans and, like the electrical plan, they are mainly a guide for estimation purposes. Cabinets are easy to customize and your builder or a specialized cabinet maker will work with you early on to ensure that the correct cabinets are specified. Don't rely solely on the cabinet elevations provided!

Where Do You Go from Here?

Assuming that you have a building site and have your plans in hand, you are ready to find your builder and begin to assemble the elements you 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, building setbacks, utilities, etc. If you are building on an acreage, a septic plan and permit will be required, too.

If you are interested in browsing different architectural styles, see our information on How to Choose 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 at (888) 795-6803 and they will be happy to help!

© 2019 The House Designers®, LLC. All rights reserved. All house plans and images on The House Designers® websites are protected under Federal and International Copyright Law. Reproductions of the illustrations or working drawings by any means is strictly prohibited. No part of this electronic publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form by any means without prior written permission of The House Designers®, LLC.