Q&A / 

House Plan

A house plan is the foundation of a home-building project. Over the years, I've looked at thousands of house plans, so I have a good feel for what makes a good one and what plans doom a project to failure. Never forget the purpose of the house plan: it's a communication tool that tells the builder, sub-contractors and material suppliers exactly what you want. If your plan is incomplete, it creates confusion, frustration and possibly arguments. I've yet to meet a builder or a sub-contractor that has extrasensory perception!

The biggest problem with house floor plans is that you may start your project with a set that has a tremendous amount of missing information. Great house plans are often 15 or 20 pages long and are accompanied by a set of written specifications that could be 50 typewritten pages! My guess is the average house plan you've seen before consists of maybe 8 to 10 pages and that's it.

Imagine yourself, for a moment, as one of the subcontractors. Let's say you're building your dream home and you know exactly where you want the towel bars in your master bathroom, and more importantly, you know how high you want them. Three subcontractors might want to know this: the plumber, the heating and cooling contractor, and for sure the finish carpenter.

A great set of plans will have interior elevations drawn of each room that has cabinetry or fixtures on the wall. In this case, an interior elevation of your master bathroom would show a two-dimensional drawing of each wall showing what that room will look like the day you move in. It would show cabinets, plumbing fixtures, the actual towel bars, the tile base, any in-the-wall heat registers and any wall outlets or switches.

House plans that have these handy interior elevations allow each subcontractor to make sure his items don't conflict with those of another. What's more, in the framing stages of the job, the rough carpenter would know where to put blocking for the towel bars. This blocking allows the bars to be attached to the wall solidly, not using anchors.

In my opinion, a house plan has to have these things on it to meet my minimum requirements:

  • Site plan
  • Foundation plan
  • Floor plan of each level, including an unfinished basement
  • Exterior elevations of each face of the house
  • Interior elevations of each room that has cabinets, fixtures or anything other than a plain wall
  • Structural sections showing cutaways of the primary structural components
  • Typical wall detail
  • Numerous detail drawings in large scale showing how things are to be constructed
  • Separate electrical plan for each level NOT drawn on regular floor plan
  • HVAC plan showing all ducts, radiant tubing runs, all equipment, etc.
  • Plumbing plan showing all drain lines and water supply lines as well as sizes
  • All schedules in table form: Room Finish, Electrical Fixtures, Plumbing Fixtures, Cabinet Finish
  • Written specifications

You can see how all of the things in the above list would allow you to have a complete house plan that would minimize confusion and questions. Your house plans need to speak clearly in your absence or that of the on-site builder.

Here's are a few examples that illustrate how a great house plan can save time and money. Imagine the plumber is on the job and no one is around. If your plan shows a great interior elevation as well as a Plumbing-Fixture schedule, he'll know to rough in the drain line at the correct height for the pedestal sink in your powder room. Those sinks tend to rough in a little higher so the p-trap is tucked up under the sink.

Let's imagine that you know exactly where you want electrical outlets in a home office so they are very convenient and not down behind a desk. You actually planned for some outlets to be high on the wall so they are directly adjacent to printers or fax machines that may be up on shelves. I have this setup in my own office. Interior elevations of your home office showing the exact height of the outlets allow the electrician to do this without you being there to tell him. There is no confusion.

To create a fantastic house plan, you can see it takes lots of thought and preplanning. This effort pays off in the long run if you decide to do it. Building your new home is supposed to be full of happiness, not stress, arguments and countless change orders correcting things that have to be moved later as mistakes are uncovered.

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