It doesn't take much in the way of resources to draw up your own house plans -- just access to the Internet, a computer and a free architectural software program. If you prefer the old-school method, you'll need a drafting table, drafting tools and large sheets of 24-by-36-inch paper to draft the plans by hand.
House Plans vs. Blueprints
While you can use free planning programs available online, this free software typically doesn't include all the plan elements that are commonly required to meet the local building department's standards for project review and approval.
Along with the floor plan drawings, completed blueprints usually have:
- Exterior elevation views of the home
- Grading and foundation plans
- Electrical and plumbing plans
- Cutaways of framing
- Details and callouts for some the home's features, such as staircases and foundation footings
Still, before you get involved in the different blueprints required by your local building authority, free architectural software available online can help you generate the floor plans and dimensions of your house, which you can later use when working with a professional drafter, architect or engineer to create final plan drawings for the building department. Software options include:
- FloorPlanner helps you decide on the layout of rooms, windows, doors, the dining area, kitchens, living or great rooms, bathrooms, laundry, closets and more. Use this program online after creating a Pro user account with a Mac or Windows-based PC and export to multiple formats: PDF, PNG, JPEG and SVG
- SmartDraw, a Windows-based downloadable program, offers multiple templates to help you get started. You can create PDFs, import and print from multiple Windows programs or share floor plans from your online account with a viewer application.
- AutoDesk offers its downloadable AutoCAD Architecture software to students and educators who own Macs or Windows-based computers. You can send drawings to printers or plotters or output to a PDF file.
- HomeDesign 3D includes versions you can download and use on your iPad, Mac or Windows-based PC, Android tablets or iPhone. Print or export 2-D renderings.
While these companies offer free versions, you have to pay for the deluxe versions that include more software elements. For example, Chief Architect, a software company that sells multiple design software programs, offers a free 30-day trial of two of its premiere software packages: Chief Architect Premiere and Chief Architect Interiors.
Review the system requirements for the chosen software, as each software lists the operating system needed, CPU, memory, display, disk space, resolution and other requirements to use the software.
Practice Makes Perfect
Don't expect to download the software and create a house plan in an hour. Depending on the software downloaded, you'll need to experiment with it until you understand how its tools function. Once you have an idea of how the specific software works, choose a template or a sample plan, or select a blank page to start from scratch.
Create the exterior walls to the home, remembering that a floor plan offers a bird's eye view of the layout. Include interior walls to create rooms, bathrooms, hallways, closets, doors and windows. When developing your house plans, create dimensions in 4-foot increments to save on lumber, and use standard window sizes and doors to save money. Every custom feature you add costs more to make or build.
Once you've created the basic layout, the next step is to design the components in each individual room. Think about window placement, built-in bookcases or entertainment centers, fireplaces, wood stoves, closets and more. A nice feature of working with software is that most of these programs come with a resizing tool that allows you readjust the room size as needed, which also affects the overall footprint and dimensions of the home.
Fixtures and Furniture
One of the problems that happens is the tendency to make rooms too big or too small when using floor plan software. Most software programs come with a feature that allows you to add fixtures and furniture, which can help you wrap your head around the traffic flow, room layout and overall design.
Building codes vary by jurisdiction, but most follow some standard, such as the International Residential Code or Uniform Plumbing Code. Building codes require minimum dimensions for access around fixtures, such as toilets, sinks and more. These dimensions must be included in your house plans.
Note door and built-in-cabinetry openings to ensure you provide enough room. Add couches, chairs, tables, beds, dressers, laundry components and more to floor plan designs.
Some software has a feature that creates a 3-D rendering – after you have developed your house plans – that allows you to virtually walk through the space to get an idea of how the floor plan flows.
Finalizing Your Plans
Once you've completed your initial plans, print them to share with other members in the family and to review your work. After making any necessary adjustments, print out the final plans and take them to a professional to have blueprints drawn. Submit the blueprints to the local building department to get started on the permit process for building your new home.
As a native Californian, artist, journalist and published author, Laurie Brenner began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. Brenner graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.