How to Read Blueprints

Written by  //  August 30, 2012  //  Home Construction  //  Comments Off on How to Read Blueprints

If you haven’t handled blueprints lately–say, the last 40 years–it might be a surprise to learn that they are not actually blue. The name comes from the 1800s when the blue color was due to an elaborate process that included chemicals, light and lots of time. Computers and printers do most of the dirty work these days, which have greatly simplified things, allowing architects to spend less time in the lab and more time at the drawing table.

But just because it’s easier to draft blueprints, doesn’t mean it’s easier to read them.

Reading blueprints is still complicated for customers because most people that handle them have an advanced degree or decades of experience. This article provides some tips and tricks that home owners can use to read blueprints

Pieces of the Architecture Puzzle

Blueprints are a series of construction drawings that contractors use to construct a house. In one sense, blueprints are outlines of your future home. They show what goes where, how big the bedrooms are, and how it loos from the street. But they are also a contract. Blueprints represent the deal between home buyer and home builder. The home buyer promises to pay a fixed price for the house on paper and the home builder guarantees delivery.

Three sets of documents are included in most cases: architectural sheets, site plans and structural plans. Let’s have a look at each one and what it illustrates.

  • Architecture Sheets are everything that you expect to find. They include an aerial view of the floor plan, a view of the exterior, and how the house sits on the lot. But contractors need more than that to build it. Cross-section plans show cut-aways of the house’s structure. Building sections demonstrate how pieces of the house fit together, for example where the second story connects to the first. Interior and exterior elevations illustrate where (and how high) frames and fixtures are placed. That includes everything cabinet to window height. Roof plans show the house from above. All architectural sheets start with A.
  • Site plans focus more on the land than the proposed house. Expect to find a topography view of the lot, detailing elevation changes and superficial qualities. A separate sheet utility lines and things of concern below the surface. If there is an existing house or lots of trees or rock structures, a demolition plan might show how the construction crew plans to clear the lot. All of the site plans begin with C.
  • Structural plans present everything between the previous two. Foundation plans show where, how big and how thick the home’s foundation is. There is a lot more than simply concrete, and this plan includes all of the details. Look for footings, reinforcing steel bars and windows or doors. Framing plans outline the core structure that stands on top of the foundation. It includes all of the nitty gritty details that are required to frame a home, like materials, products and spacing. All structural plans begin with S.

That covers the standard collection of pages that you can expect from your architect. Don’t be surprised if other more specific information is included on separate sheets. Many home builders require plumbing and electrical plans as well, especially for homes with unique or complicated designs. The last thing a contractor wants is a fundamental design flaw to surface at the end of the project so they might take a better safe than sorry approach. But, then again, you’re doing the same thing right now. Good luck with those blueprints!

Heartland Homes is a custom home builder in western Pennsylvania and the Triangle in North Carolina. Interested in learning more? Visit the website to find a new home in Pittsburgh.

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