In this tutorial module you will begin to draw floor plans using the house planning you have already done in the past modules.
This online tutorial is best followed in order. If you are just starting out with your house design, see our tutorial site map.
Designing floor plans is an iterative process where you will go back and forth from your indoor bubble diagrams, your site map, your needs analysis, house exteriors and what we have learned about residential structure to create floor plan drawings.
Essentially, this design step is all about firming up the walls of your indoor bubble diagrams. But as you create your plans, you may find yourself modifying your bubble diagrams, trying out different house exteriors and occasionally crumpling up your design and starting all over. Don't be afraid to do this. It is a learning process and each redesign brings you one step closer to a final design that is right for the way you live.
Somewhere I have a file folder of all the weird and wonderful floor plans we fiddled around with. Some look like they belong on another planet. This fiddling stage really helped in letting the creativity flow but the other parts of the development process: our site plans, needs analysis, and structural design constraints would always bring the designs back to reality.
Whether you will end up drawing blueprints by hand or using home design software, I suggest that initially you draw floor plans as simple hand sketches. You don't have to be an artist for this stage. I certainly am not. By doing them as simple sketches you can sketch them wherever you are using a notepad (or a paper napkin), indoors or out. Do lots of these.
Below is the main floor bubble diagram for the 1 1/2 story house from our bubble diagram exercise. Next are two rough sketches, with the walls firmed up, for possible floor plans. The first plan is a rectangle with three bump outs. The second floor plan has a simple rectangle for its exterior shape. The second is a simpler and more economical option.
Below is my sketch that ended up forming the basis for our main floor house plan. (It is rotated to match the orientation of the bubble diagram above.)
This was one of many rough sketches during the draw floor plan stage of our home. We also had other bubble diagrams for which we did rough sketches. One of the big variants in our designs was the kitchen and the dining area. I'm a big fan of the farmhouse kitchen where the eating area is in the kitchen and there is no formal separate dining area. We went back and forth with many different designs where the eating area was right in the kitchen, across a peninsula or island or, as it turned out in the final design, adjacent and open to the kitchen.
I mentioned firming up the walls of your indoor bubble diagrams. For an open concept home these "walls" will be more figurative than real. Oftentimes other design features will take the places of walls. A change in flooring, ceiling height, paint color, a rug, partially open shelves or a half height wall may define one space or "room" from another.
The sanity check for your designs should always be, Can we build this? (Along with, Do we want to build this?) But don't let that question stifle your initial design efforts. Some great ideas will come up when you're not worrying too much about how to build it. Later some of these ideas can be adapted to fit into a more practical design.
Understanding basic residential structural design becomes very important at this point. There's no use spending hours drawing floor plans that will end up needing a post in the middle of the dining room to support the house. It is true that just about any floor plan can be built using engineered laminated beams and posts, but stretching the limit of standard framing techniques will add to your design cost.
Laminated beams are great, we have several in our home, but it was carefully planned as to where we could use standard lumber and where we would need engineered products. If you haven't already, read our basic primer on house structure.
Initially let's try an exercise. Look at your main floor bubble diagram. For main floor I mean the level of the house which situates the kitchen and living areas. If you already have an exterior house shape in mind, go with that one initially. If not, pick one based on the basic exterior shape of your bubble diagram. Start with a simple house shape. As we discussed in house exteriors, it's always easy to bump the design out here or there or add a dormer where needed. If your bubble diagram is more or less oval shaped, a basic rectangle will probably work for this draw floor plan stage. As you design, you can bump out walls where needed. An L-shaped bubble diagram is also easy to work with by combining one or two of the basic house shapes.
As you work, continually ask yourself how the house is going to be supported. Will you have structural walls? Posts and beams? A mix of both? If you are building a wood frame house, pick up a copy of lumber span tables for beams, joists, rafters and lintels. Most lumber supply stores will have a set of tables or book for you region.
Consider each space on your main floor bubble diagram and the functions (from your needs analysis) that it needs to fulfill. Think also of the furniture that may potentially be in this space. Make an estimate for the size of the room. You will be free to change this as you proceed but come up with a basic idea. Is it 12' X 12'? 18' X 16'?
Jot these dimensions down on each space on your bubble diagram. Add up the total length and width of your diagram. You may end up with anything ranging from 25' X 25' for a small house to 25' X 40' for an average house towell, anything you have space and money for.
Remember, however, that depending on where you live, every additional square foot could cost anywhere from an extra $70 to $250 (and way beyond that for a high-end home in an area where building costs are high). An extra 10' X 10' area for a two-story home with a basement results in an extra 300 square feet in your home (since usually this extra space is then built on each floor). Multiply this through by your local cost per square foot and you could easily be paying $30,000 for that extra space. Designing wisely can eliminate space being added on to your home simply because you couldn't quite get something in the design to fit.
On a piece of paper, draw your basic shape in plan view (looking down from above) and put your dimensions on it. I usually use graph paper for sketching with each square on the graph being one square foot. This way I only need to count off squares to make a rough drawing.
On a piece of graph paper, draw each space using the rough dimensions you just decided on. Cut these pieces of paper out, then lay them down on your draw floor plan basic shape. In this way, you can move these basic shapes to see how the interplay between the spaces could work and also how traffic could flow from one space to another. The shapes can overlap somewhat as required. Identify where traffic can move right through the rooms and where extra space will be required to allow movement between rooms or spaces.
If your house will have more than one level, make sure you create an adequate sized "room" for your stairwell. That is, block out the required space for the stairs through all the levels that they will traverse. This space cannot be used for anything else. It may sound obvious to some but think of the whole stairwell area as like an elevator shaft that traverses all the floors in a home. For a straight run of stairs, you'll need a minimum of 38 square feet blocked out on all levels that the stair lands on. As you draw floor plans for each level, you will need to draw this stairwell block in the same position on each floor.
On a separate piece of graph paper, make rough furniture outlines for the furniture you can envision in the home. Use the same scale as your floor plan drawings. That is, if you are using each square on the graph paper as one foot, do the same for your furniture. A six foot by three foot sofa would take six squares by three squares of graph paper. Below are examples of common household furniture and fixture symbols. (Note: The graph paper shown below is not using the one square per foot scale.)
Place the furniture pieces on your floor plan layouts. It will quickly become evident if you have adequate space for the furniture you are planning as well as for circulation. Here you may make modifications to the either the room size estimates or your planned furniture. Do not automatically assume that you need to add to your projected overall square footage if everything does not fit. Sometimes there is space wasted in other areas of the home plan that can be shifted to another room.
This phase of drawing floor plans is where you will spend a lot of time. Going back and forth from your needs analysis, site plans, bubble diagrams and drawing floor plans. Do not lose sight of your most important items in your needs analysis and use case scenarios from the bubble diagram module. Modify the needs analysis as required to make your dream a realistic one.
Now go back to considering the house structure and what will hold it up. Pencil in on your drawing which walls are structural or where structural posts will be located. Posts can be inside a wall cavity or they can be decorative and in the open.
If you will have more than one level in the house, pull out its bubble diagram now.
On a new piece of paper, copy the basic outline of the living level floor plan you have just designed (you may include or exclude any wall bump outs as you choose). Sketch the stairwell opening in exactly the same place and dimension as the lower stairwell. Pencil in any structural elements (walls or posts) immediately above or below the structural elements on the other level.
Now using your bubble diagram, start firming up the walls for the required rooms on the new level. Often at this stage in the design it becomes necessary to go back and forth between the different levels of the house to make everything work on all levels. Resist the urge to make the house larger anytime that something doesn't quite fit. Instead, think outside the box. How else or where else can that space be created? Or can it share space with another function?
Continue repeating through the above steps (don't be afraid to start all over!) until you have a set of floor plans that you feel happy with. Make sure you've penciled in all structural elements and checked your building tables to ensure that the spans between any posts or structural walls are reasonable.
Before your draw full blueprints from your floor plan designs it's a good idea to make a simple three-dimensional model of your house design.
Module 9: Build House Model
This is a good time to consider your house heat options. You will need to design in adequate space for the heating system of your choice which may or may not include duct work. For ducted heating systems you'll have to make sure you have adequate internal walls for running duct work.
Also consider your home lighting design at this point. Once you create your full construction drawings you will need to indicate lighting and electrical symbols for all lights and other electrical fixtures. Sometimes as you perform a lighting design, you will find the need to make subtle changes to your floor plan to accommodate more or less natural light.
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