How to Build Your Own Virtual House Online

By Michelle Radcliff

Every dream home starts with a plan. Using a computer and an Internet connection, you can design and build your dream home virtually. Try out a few different free online design programs to see how they work and what features they provide. In some cases, you can furnish your virtual home with brand-name products and furnishings, and the program even creates a shopping list to take to your local home furnishings stores or to estimate costs. The real value of building a virtual home online is the visualization of your design ideas and the ability to communicate your ideas to the professionals who can make it a reality.

Couple with baby girl (6-9 months), looking at laptop
credit: Marili Forastieri/Photodisc/Getty Images
Couple designing on laptop together

User-Friendly Floorplans

The majority of free online design programs are designed to be user-friendly. Autodesk, a manufacturer of professional 3D architecture and interior design software, offers a consumer–level online program called Homestyler. Here you can drag and drop rooms and then modify their shape and size. You can insert doors, wall openings and windows, and can add interior walls. Decorate and furnish your virtual home with brand names such as Sherwin-Williams, Flor, Kohler, Ethan Allen and Kitchenaid. As with most online programs, switch between 2-D and 3-D viewpoints. You can also take high-resolution snapshots and create 360 degree panorama views, which you can save and share via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter.

Advanced Options

For those who have slightly more advanced experience with computer programs and with computer assisted designing, Sweet Home 3D is a free online open source program. Open source refers to software that is continuously modified and updated by a community of users with additional features and solutions to fix common problems. With Sweet Home 3D, you can draw straight, round or sloping walls and insert doors and windows by dragging and dropping them in place. Once you have a ground-level floor plan created, you can begin to furnish and decorate rooms with flooring, wall color, furniture and accessories. The program allows you to import textures to customize surfaces and import 3-D furniture models you can build off-site, or you can browse through hundreds of models created by other contributors. The site provides a developer's guide for those who want to program plug-ins for the software, and a user's guide for designers wanting to explore the many advanced features.

Finishing Your Home

When you're ready to focus on the exterior of your dream home, Dream Designer is the program to try next. Choose from a gallery of exterior home designs or upload a photo of your own. Experiment with colors and textures for siding and trim, doors, shutters, and roofing materials. After you make changes to the original design, the program allows you to view before-and-after photos. When you are finished with your design, you can purchase a custom Dream Designer display board showing before-and-after photos and presenting product samples in your chosen colors.

Young Designers

Middle school and high school students interested in learning how to design homes for a living have access to a wonderful free online virtual homebuilding program called Architect Studio 3-D. This interactive design tool is based on the work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. As the designing architect, you must first choose a client. After an update on the client's needs, you must next choose a location, such as a mountainous area, the desert, a forested area, or a waterfront. The house you design should be well suited for the environment that it's built in while also meeting the lifestyle needs of the people living in it. When the design is finished, it can be submitted to the design gallery, where the public can tour it and provide feedback.