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Floor Plans and Blueprints

By Kerri Lawrence

Nowadays, new homebuyers have to become instant experts in a vast array of fields - anywhere from interior design, community planning, and finance up to the very art and science of construction itself. Don't just assume you'll be blessed with the perfect abode. Learn as much as you can and be as involved as possible - whether you're buying a home in a suburban subdivision or a downtown condo.

Your new home was once just a twinkle in an architect's eye - how it transforms into the final structure has everything to do with the blueprints he or she creates. Blueprints are also tools for interior and landscape designers. Essentially, they are the key to ensuring that you get the home you desire, from the foundation on up. If technical blueprints form the language someone will need to learn in order to communicate effectively with the builder, subcontractors, designers, and even the bank, then floor plans are how a developer will relay their vision to a prospective new homeowner.

A working knowledge of the floor plans for your new home will also help you to avoid misunderstandings. Many new homebuyers choose a home design from a stock selection provided by the builder, but then want to modify it slightly to meet their particular needs. This is how you might be able to ask for a more complex change such as adding a hall closet or moving the washer and dryer hook-ups from the basement to the main level. Look carefully at your floor plans to determine your exact needs and wants while your home is still in this development stage rather than after construction has started.

What you see:

Elevations: Elevations are two-dimensional views of the house. Again, they are drawn to scale so that measurements can easily be taken. Elevations specify ridge heights, the positioning of the final grade of the lot, exterior finishes, roof pitches, and other details that give the home its exterior styling.

Scale: Main floor plans are usually drawn to quarter inch scale which means that one quarter of an inch on the plan corresponds to one foot in actual length. However, some other details like framing or built in fixtures may be drawn in another scale like an eighth or three-quarter inch. The scale of each drawing should be stated on the page - usually next to the title.

Floor Plan: A floor plan layout is simply the overhead view of each level of the completed house. You'll see parallel lines that mark the widths of the walls, dimensions drawn between walls to show room sizes, and locations of fixtures like sinks, washers, and dryers. The location of windows, doors, and closets will also be marked. Often, notes on the floor plans will specify finishes and construction methods. Most buyers will have the most fun with the floor plans - this is where you can start really envisioning the final result. A great idea is to get crafty - measure your furniture and make scale cut outs of it that correspond to the scale of the floor plan - will it fit? Is there an electrical outlet or phone jack where you plan to put your computer desk? Is there space for an end table next to your sofa?

Most plans will also have a symbol legend like on road maps. If you have any questions about what a particular symbol or line means, do not hesitate to ask your builder.

Knowing how to decipher floor plans requires some skill, but more importantly it requires you be fearless when you walk into a sales centre. Ask as many questions as you can to get the answers you need. It will be useful five years down the road when you decide to tear that wall down, add a nursery, nanny, or in-law suit. The sky's the limit, but these are the launching pad to the continuous journey of home ownership.

Other elements to consider:

Thick solid lines-full height walls
Thin solid lines-built in structures like cabinets and shelves
Thin dotted lines-overhead features and ceiling details

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