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Learning how to read floor plans is really rewarding whether you’re building a new home, remodeling, looking for a home to buy, or trying to figure out how the space in your home works.
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Perhaps equally important is what a map cannot tell you. You should also look at other drawings (such as elevations and cross-sections) to get a complete picture of the house.
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A floor plan is a two-dimensional drawing of a house to scale. It is a tool that allows you to analyze the layout of a home.
The floor plan is a representation of a house as if cut by a saw about four feet above floor level.
I’ve heard floor plans described as an x-ray of a house which I think is a great way to think about it.
Floor plans are great for describing the scale and size of the spaces in the house, how the rooms of the house fit together, and the flow between them.
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Since you can see the entire floor at once, it’s a valuable analysis tool because you can see things you might not necessarily notice, even if you’re wandering around a house in real life.
First of all, you need a floor plan for each floor of the house you are looking at. For our case study house, we only have one floor to keep it simple.
The compass mark indicates which direction is north. This is important for knowing how the sun moves around your home.
Read maps – find the compass marker to determine the orientation of the map
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If there is no compass mark on the map, you may find it on the map.
Look for the dimensions of the rooms on the floor plan. Sometimes there is a scale you can use to determine the dimensions that are not explicitly marked.
On the floor plan above, the dimensions are marked with black lines with a diagonal line to indicate the extent of each dimension.
Make sure there is a furniture layout on the floor plan. You’ll be amazed at how many problems can be discovered in a floor plan if you include furniture in the picture. The sofa and dining table, as well as the kitchen and bathroom layouts should be on the floor plan.
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Take a moment to check the size of the furniture. Sometimes the furniture used in a floor plan is small to make the floor plan appear larger. The furniture will use the same scale as the rest of the floor plan.
Is the sofa on the map really the size of a large comfortable sofa or is it heading towards a bus shelter? If there is no furniture on the plan, print it out and put some in approximately to scale.
All vertical elements that are cut by the floor plan cutout are represented by a solid line. The elements with a dotted line are just as important for the floor plan. Anything not intersected by the cutout in the map, or not below the cutout, is shown as a dotted line.
Things that often appear as dotted lines on a floor plan are wall cabinets in kitchens and wardrobe rails. Skylight windows are shown as a dotted line. Special ceiling elements such as a coffered ceiling are shown as a dotted line on the floor plan.
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The next thing to master is the symbols used in a floor plan. If you haven’t already done so, log in to HPH so you can download your floor plan symbols and blueprint symbols. These are the symbols used throughout the HPH site.
So to help you learn how to read floor plans, let’s go through our study house floor plan.
Exterior walls are represented by a thick solid line (they have the heaviest line weight). The interior walls are represented by a thinner solid line. Full height doors are represented by an even finer solid line.
Windows are represented by a single solid line. The floor plan tells you nothing about how a window opens, or the height of the window. For these details you need to look at heights.
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Doors are accompanied by a quarter circle to indicate the magnitude of the door swing. Showing the door swing helps show any conflicts with the door swing, such as swinging into another door, or swinging into a hallway where someone could open the door in the path of someone walking down the hallway – ouch.
Although our study house has only one floor, we do have stairs to the front door.
Stairs between each floor should indicate which way is up or down. There are different conventions for the way the arrow points, up or down, so I’d like to see a word to explain ‘up’ or ‘down’.
If the kitchen layout is not listed, think about how the kitchen layout could work.
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If the bathroom layout is not on the floor plan, place your own layout to ensure that the room will work as a bathroom.
Our example house has a stove instead of a fireplace. The circle with the solid line represents the size of the stove on the ground, the circle with the dotted line represents the chimney through the roof.
How to read floor plans – in addition to bedroom closets, you will find additional storage on the floor plan
Some floor plans use colors that can sometimes help to see the different types of spaces, but that is certainly not necessary. Some software can also produce floor plans in 3D – a kind of perspective view, which again can aid understanding, but the true scale of the rooms is lost, so a flat 2D floor plan will always be needed.
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The plans include a bill of materials, floor plans, foundation plan, elevations, section detail, roof framing plan, electrical plan, construction details and door/window diagram, fully dimensioned and annotated. The total heated interior is 2,400SF, with 10′ high ceiling and loft space. Due to variation in different states and local building departments, these plans are not for immediate permit, but can be modified by your builder or designer if needed.
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