Within a typical set of building documents, the floorplan is the most concise, informative tool for conveying and understanding the design of a home. From this drawing, it’s possible to determine not only the size and scale of the spaces within the home but also the relationship and ability to move between them.
For this reason, the floorplan is the most prolific and conventional drawing used among the various professions within the building industry (architects, engineers, builders, real estate agents, appraisers, etc.). Each of these careers requires training in drawing and/or reading plans, but these are not common skills for most homeowners. There’s a great deal of information conveyed in these drawings and it can be challenging to comprehend what’s being communicated. When designing or purchasing a new home, you’ll most definitely use floorplans to develop or select a design — this can help you gain comfort and confidence in interpreting them.
How do floorplans relate to a house?
To conceptualize floorplans at a fundamental level, imagine taking a horizontal slice through the house. This type of drawing is a called an orthographic projection, meaning it’s two-dimensional and all elements appear at the same scale. This can be compared to a perspective drawing, which is three-dimensional and conveys things farther away as being smaller than things closer in view. What you see in a floorplan is essentially a flat, bird’s-eye view of the “slice” through the house.
What are the parts of the drawing?
The key elements portrayed in floorplans include walls, doors, windows, stairs, appliances, fixtures, cabinets and ceilings. In addition to shaping the way you interact with your home, the configuration of these components also suggests its style. Each prominent movement in architecture has a characteristic position of rooms, arrangement of windows and connectivity between spaces which may help you identify the best fit for your personal preferences. Here’s how these elements are represented in a floorplan drawing:
- Often the most distinguishable part of the drawing — drawn with the darkest/thickest lines.
- Represented as two parallel lines, spaced according to their depth/thickness in reality.
- Exterior walls will typically appear bigger than interior walls because they’re built with larger pieces of wood or include masonry, like brick or stone.
- Contain breaks for openings like windows and doors.
- Sometimes are colored in (or hatched/pochéd) to further distinguish them from the other elements in the drawing or to indicate new vs. existing in renovations and additions.
- Drawn as a break in the wall with at least three parallel lines to illustrate the separate parts of the window: sill, glazing, stool and jambs.
- If the windows are operable, such as casement windows, they will be drawn with a dotted line showing the direction in which they open.
- Illustrated with at least one line connected to the wall to designate the panel and an arc showing the swing/hinge direction.
- This will allow you to determine which side of the door the handle/knob is on as well as the path of travel past the opening.
- For sliding, pocket and barn doors, an arrow will typically be drawn adjacent to the door that indicates the direction it can open.
- Drawn as a series of parallel lines with an arrow/note indicating path of travel (up or down).
- Lines are spaced according to the depth of each stair tread, which is regulated by code and designed in proportion with the height of each riser.
- Typically detailed with both nosing and riser by showing solid (nosing) and dashed (riser) lines.
- A diagonal “cut” line is used when stairs stack vertically in the plan to show both floors simultaneously.
- Dotted lines illustrate a change in ceiling profile, shape or depth above.
- This convention of using dotted lines is consistent for most elements “hidden” from view, either above or below the “cut” line of the plan. Upper cabinets are represented in a similar way.
Fixtures & Appliances
- There is a common set of easily identifiable symbols used to represent basic fixtures and equipment. These typically include: bathtubs, toilets, sinks, showerheads, dishwashers, ovens, ranges/cooktops, and laundry appliances.
Now that you can read the drawing, you can interpret the design.
The best way to digest, critique and translate floorplans is to imagine yourself in the spaces. If given the opportunity, it’s a helpful exercise to walk through a home with its plans in hand. Chart your movement through the spaces by tracing your route in the drawings. Take moments to pause — look left, right, up, and down to identify each window, opening, adjacent room, and unique details based on your position in the house.
To determine how suitable it is to your habits and lifestyle, try mentally going through the sequence of a typical day as it relates to the design. Do you enter through the garage or front door? What are you typically carrying when you enter and where do you put those items after you go in? How long do you spend and how much space do you use when preparing meals? Where do you retreat to at the end of the day? How close and accessible is that space to the others in your home? Where do you go to get the best views of your lot? How often do you entertain and where do your family and friends congregate? When equipped with an ability to understand plans, these essential questions will help guide you towards the best home for you.
Guest blog courtesy of W.C. Ralston Architects, an architecture and planning firm that has built an enduring reputation for design excellence in homes, neighborhoods and communities across the Mid-Atlantic region. Learn more at www.wcralston.com.