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How to Read and Understand a Floor Plan or Architectural Blueprint

How to Read and Understand a Floor Plan or Architectural Blueprint

When you’re planning to build a new custom house, the floor plan or architectural blueprint is your map to a new life. Many people look at it and visualize the design home of their dreams stretching out before them. The truth is a floor plan can be complex and hard to understand, and new homeowners often react in surprise when they realize how different the finished project is from what they pictured. Here’s how to read and understand a floor plan so you avoid any surprises.

What’s Included in a Floor Plan

First off, floor plans no longer come in the form of a large document you unroll on a table. Those used to be called blueprints, and they contained a plethora of instructions that you needed prior training to understand. Fortunately, it’s simpler today with digital technology having the ability to provide non-industry people with a version of the floor plan that contains only what they need to know, in a digital file format you can view on screen or print out in sections at any size you want.

A set of plans usually includes:

– A site plan
– Building notes
– Diagram of each level of the house
– Framing and roofing specifications
– Plans for the electrical and mechanical systems

Plans are often divided into design drawings, which includes some information about fixtures and fittings for non-professionals, and architectural or construction drawings that contain more technical details and are used by the building team to erect the design home.

Plan Symbols and Features

Every aspect of the floor plan for a custom house is indicated by a symbol or feature well-known in the construction industry. Walls are indicated by parallel lines, which could either be solid or filled with a pattern. Gaps in the walls represent the location of doors, windows, and other openings.

Doors and Windows

The door symbols usually include an arc, which shows the direction in which the door opens. Sliding doors are shown without the arc, and you’ll typically see them drawn as partly open along the wall. Windows appear as a break in a wall, but with a thin line that indicates the glass and frame. The location and size of these features also give homeowners a sense of the amount of natural light they can expect to get, as well as the quantity of sun and warmth the design home will have.


Stairs appear on floor plans as a strip divided into rectangular blocks, and may have an arrow showing the direction of the staircase. If the stairs extend more than 3 feet above the floor, they are shown with a diagonal line cutting across them. Stairs above this mark are shown with dashed lines.

Fixtures and Fittings

Most floor plans show where primary fixtures are installed, such as toilets, sinks, and bathtubs. One reason for this is that bathrooms and kitchens need to follow fairly exact specifications to comply with safety and building codes. A refrigerator, for example, needs to be in a precise location compared with the sink, while a toilet that is installed too close to a vanity could be difficult to use comfortably. A design drawing usually also includes the overall dimensions of each room, although the construction drawings contain much more detailed measurements.


In some instances, floor plans also show the location of main pieces of furniture such as a bed or sofa, to enable the buyer to visualize what the most likely layout will look like. It’s important to check the dimensions of the furniture you plan to bring with you against any shown in the diagram, otherwise you could find yourself with a different mental image than the finished version.

A comprehensive floor plan enables you to visualize what your future design home will look like, and whether the furnishings you want will work in it or not.

If you need assistance understanding the various components of the plan, contact us to get input from our helpful team members.


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