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How to read a building plan like a PRO!!

Posted by DanbelProInv on June 2, 2021

Today, we will be launching a new blog series called “Construction Series” where we will teach you the fundamentals of building construction. Please keep in mind that this guide isn’t meant to replace the services of a professional architect or quantity surveyor; rather, it’s meant to help you avoid being taken advantage of while speaking with professionals about your construction project. To begin this series, we will show you how to read a building plan like a pro.

You were probably puzzled and perplexed the first time you opened a set of architectural plans. If you’re in charge of a building project for yourself or your firm but don’t have any formal architectural experience, interpreting these blueprints can be challenging. We’ve put together a guide on how to interpret architectural drawings to save you time and effort.


First of all take a step back and understand what a plan is. A building plan is a drawing put together by an architect able to express exactly what needs to be built, in a way that ensures the builder knows what’s required.

The building plan must effectively communicate some specific things which include:

  • Specific material choices
  • Exact product models and sizes (e.g. for windows, kitchen appliances)
  • Where different plumbing systems need to go
  • How electrical systems will be incorporated
  • How the roof will be constructed
  • The layout of frames and structural elements
  • Exact dimensions and orientation for every single part of the house
  • etc.

When it comes to building or simply extending a home, even the tiniest misinterpretation of what is intended might have disastrous effects. If a window isn’t the proper size, for example, it won’t fit into the (already built) wall, requiring either the replacement of your incredibly expensive windows or the alteration of the wall to suit them. Of course, that’s only one of many examples…


Depending on the type of house being built, the architect or building designer will create various schematics. Here are a few examples of the types of plans you’ll see:

Site plans – A Site plan depicts the construction site, including slopes and gradients, as well as trees and rocks, as well as the local environment surrounding the site. Site plans are typically provided in pairs, with a ‘before’ plan depicting the current site and an ‘after’ plan depicting the exact placement of the proposed structure.


Floor plans – These are a detailed top-down view of the layout of the house. Floor plans give a good idea of where everything will go, and include information about the sorts of materials and products that will be used. The number of floor plans is dependent on the numbers of storeys.

Elevations – Elevations are diagrams of the house showing how it will look from one particular side. Interior elevations may also be used to give a better idea of how a particular part of the interior should look.

Roof plans A roof plan is a scaled drawing or diagram of a proposed roof development containing dimensions of the entire roof structure, including shape, size, design and placement of all materials, ventilation, drainage, slopes, valleys and more.

Other plans include Schedule (doors, windows, finishing, etc.), Sanitary Details, Section(s) etc.


This is the most important and easiest plan to read. If the roof your property could be lifted off and bird flew over it, a floor plan is the birds-eye-view of your property without its roof. A floor plan is a 2D scale drawing that indicates the room layout, location of walls, doors, and windows. A floor plan often indicates built-in features such as wardrobes, kitchen units, and bathroom fittings. Floor plans allow you to understand the essence of the property, the spaces, how the spaces interact, outlooks, and flow.

Compass mark

The compass mark shows which direction is north.  This is important to know how the sun moves around your home. If there isn’t a compass mark on the floor plan, you might find it on the site plan.

Walls, Windows, and Doors – Plan Symbols and Features

The walls are the strongest visual elements in a floor plan. Walls are represented by parallel lines and may be solid or filled with a pattern. Breaks in walls indicate doors, windows and openings between rooms.

You can see in the diagram above that door floor plans are drawn as thin rectangles and may include an arc to indicate the swing direction. Pocket door floor plans are drawn as thin rectangles that disappear into walls. Windows are breaks in walls crossed by thin lines showing the glass and the frame. Swinging windows (casements) may show a line or an arc to indicate the direction that the window opens.


Stairs are drawn as a series of rectangles (usually with a direction arrow indicating whether the stairs travel up to the next higher floor or down). Where the stair rises three feet above the floor it is cut with a diagonal line. Stairs above the “cut line” are shown with dashed lines.

Can you spot the stairs?

Furniture, Fixtures, Fittings, and Finishes

Most floor plans show the location of sinks, toilets, and other critical fixtures. Skilled designers focus intently on locating kitchen and bath fixtures because they know that precise layout matters. The placement of a refrigerator in relation to the sink, oven and range can determine if a kitchen is comfortable or awkward. Similarly, a toilet placed too close to a vanity makes a bathroom difficult to use comfortably.

Key fixtures and appliances are pretty easy to spot.

Designers may include flooring materials in their floor plans to provide scale and help the viewer imagine how a room will feel.

Kitchen Layout

You can see the basic layout of the kitchen including the location of appliances. The kitchen is circled below

kitchen-building plan

bathroom-building plan

Bathroom Layout

You can see the layout of the bathroom and toilet circled below

bathroom-building plan

bathroom-building plan


In addition to closets in bedrooms is there any other storage on the floor plan? Take a look at the storage included in the home. Look for built in closets and book shelves and other closets and presses. Check to see how the space under the stairs is being used. If there is a lack of built in storage space is there room to add furniture for storage? The importance of storage can’t be understated – an organized home is a happy home!

storage-building plan

storage-building plan


Measurements – Size and Width, Furniture and Use

“Dimension strings” are used to find windows, doors, walls, and other architectural elements in more complex floor plans with dimensions. The dimension threads are drawn parallel to the element, with 45º “hash marks” at either end showing where the measurement begins and finishes. Individual room dimensions and, on rare occasions, measures for the length and width of the entire house are included in design drawings.

The experience of the plan is enriched by imagining yourself in the house, lying in bed and looking out your new French doors or sitting on a comfortable sofa sharing a drink with friends. Picturing yourself in the plan makes evaluating a design less abstract and can help you avoid creating rooms and spaces that do not work. Be careful to ensure that any existing furniture that you plan to re-use has similar dimensions to the models in the design. The success of a room can be determined by just a few inches.

When reading a floor plan, ensure to be organized and diligent. Start in upper left corner and work way across page so as not to miss any details


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