Reading Blueprints – 15 Tips to Help You Understand Drawings, Elevations and Floor Plans

Blueprints are nothing more than copies of the final plans drawn up for the home owners’ approval. Highly detailed, these documents contain a wealth of information. Typically, a blueprint package includes a set of drawings called elevations, illustrating exterior and interior walls. But that’s not all. The package contains other drawings. One is of your building site, and another drawing illustrates the foundation of the house. The reflected ceiling plan reveals where light fixtures are to be placed.

In addition, each blueprint incorporates a materials list with sizes and quantities of all necessary components required to construct the building features. This information enables the contractor to compile building costs. There is one additional category of blueprints-the floorplans-with which people are probably the most familiar. Here’s an insider’s guide to reading the plans to your dream home.

1. Scale and dimensions are clearly indicated.

The scale of blueprints may be 1/4-inch or 1/2-inch to the foot. Whatever the scale, it will be noted in one of the lower corners of the blueprint. All blueprints to the house are drawn to the same scale. Dimensions are noted in feet and inches. In most cases, the length and width of all the exterior walls are shown in addition to dimensions of each room. With this information in hand, you can easily determine which rooms are best sized for various family activities. You can also plan for the arrangement of furnishings.

2. Exterior walls are represented by thick parallel lines, and interior walls are represented by thinner lines.

The placement of the walls, particularly the decisions you make regarding the interior partition walls, greatly affect the layout of your home. And, if you can understand the exact placement when you first receive the blueprints, you’ll likely make fewer changes as the process evolves, cutting down on unnecessary and unforeseen expenses to your project.

3. Rooms are clearly labeled by function- kitchen, living, dining, etc.

Built-in items within rooms also are presented in a logical fashion. For example, as you study the documents, fireplaces, closets and built-ins become obvious. Also apparent are the placement of kitchen and bathroom fixtures, counters, sinks, cabinetry and kitchen appliances.

4. It’s easy to determine ceiling configurations and two-story rooms.

A series of parallel dashes across a room denotes a ceiling beam; an arrow accompanied by the word “sloped” marks a cathedral ceiling. A double-height room is easy to spot. The blueprint of the lower level bears the notation “open to above” and the upper level “open to below.”

5. Doors are represented by a straight line.

When you study the blueprint of the floorplan, pretend that you are walking through the actual house. Visualize the two-dimensional blueprints in a three-dimensional form. This technique helps you transform the data and symbols into something more real. A good place to start is at the entryway. From there, you can clearly see the overall organization of the home’s interior. In houses designed today, rooms are placed into one of three zones dedicated to living (family room, dining room and living room), work (kitchen, laundry and utility rooms) or sleeping (bedrooms and corresponding bathrooms). They appear as if open with a thinner, curving line showing the space required for them to close.

French doors have two straight and two curved lines. Two overlapping sets of straight lines is the symbol for sliding glass doors. Parallel solid lines within walls are windows. Like doors, overlapping lines indicate sliding window units. As you study the placement of windows and doors, you can determine if they will permit good ventilation and natural lighting of the interior, as well as make the most of exterior views and provide sufficient access to the outdoors.

6. On the blueprints of a two-story house, you will encounter a staircase, revealed by a group of parallel lines.

The number of lines is equal to the number of steps. The lines are accompanied by arrows. Those labeled “up” mean that the staircase leads to a higher level; conversely, those labeled “down” lead to a lower level.

7. Letters on the drawings serve as keys to the information listed in the margins.

For example, on the blueprint of the floorplan, a series of circled letters beginning with “A” refer to the types of doors selected. This “door schedule,” as it is called, coordinates the location of each door, as well as the style and size. A closet door, for example, has a circled letter at the proper place on the blueprint. In reading the blueprint, the corresponding margin notation may read something like “2′-0″ solid core flush door, paint-grade veneer.”

8. Openings on the blueprint for windows bear a number within a circle.

This marking refers to the list of window styles and sizes cited in the window schedule in the blueprint margin. As an example, a bathroom window may bear the designation of “1” in a circle. Looking at the window schedule, the circled 1 may be listed as a “3’0″ x 2’10” awning window.”

9. The same approach applies to electrical symbols.

Here are some common examples: A capital “S” stands for a wall switch that controls an overhead light fixture. A capital “S” with a subscript “3” refers to a three-way wall switch. A capital “J” in a box marks the location of a junction box. A capital “L” in a circle is the site of an exterior light fixture. A triangle indicates the location of a telephone receptacle.

10. Large letters accompanied by carets (>) pointing toward each wall refer to an elevation, or drawing, of the wall as it will appear when built.

An exterior elevation is illustrated by a large letter and a 90-degree, angled line to the side.

11. The placement of appliances and fixtures is easy to determine.

The symbol for a kitchen range or cooktop is four circles within a square. Bird’s-eye drawings are used to represent the refrigerator, kitchen sink, bath sinks, toilets and showers. In the kitchen, a series of dashes accompanied by the notation “DW” mark the location of an undercounter dishwasher. Look carefully to see that the appliances have been placed where you want them. Again, visualize yourself inside of the home, preparing meals (or doing the dishes).

12. Tile flooring also is easy to spot.

It is illustrated by an expanse of small squares in the bathroom or in front of a fireplace drawing.

13. Elevations represent how the walls of the house will appear when built.

Interior wall elevations include drawings of fireplaces, cabinets and shelving, windows, doors and other desired built-in elements. Exterior elevations note the location of windows, doors and other items such as roof eaves.

14. Accompanying the elevations may be some drawings which outline the construction details.

Frequently, you’ll find drawings outlining the configuration of exterior corners. Or, you may be given the foundation footings and column bases, indicating depths and widths.

15. Sections provide a see-through representation of the house.

You can visually see how various elements of the house will align when construction is completed. This is helpful in visualizing porticos and other details of the facade, as well as outdoor decks, arcades and any decorative aspects. If this seems too overwhelming, don’t try to absorb all of the information that blueprints provide at one sitting. Study them in a leisurely manner, allowing the house to reveal itself to you gradually over time. Then, when you have a firm idea of what your new log home will look like and how it will function, you’ll have much more confidence in your leap of faith to start building.

Choosing a Log Home Floor Plan That is Right For You

You made your decision; you are finally going to build that log home. Not just any log home, but that special creation you've held in your mind's eye for so many years. You have walked on those hardwood floors, gazed out from behind those oversized picture windows, cooked dinner, curled up by the fire, and even slept in that special home – using that vivid imagination of yours. Oh yeah, you've been dreaming about your log home for a long time, and you have finally decided to make your dream become your reality.

Got land? Before you spend too much time browsing floor plan possibilities, you need to know where that home will be built. Not all floor plan designs are suited for all building sites. For instance, a walk-out basement typically requires a home being built on a slope or recessed into a hillside. Additionally, some plans are designed to take advantage of the home's location relative to sunlight so even if you already own your land, you will want to know where and how your home will be positioned on your property. Once you have an idea of ​​where those logs will be stacked it's time to figure out what that stack needs to look like.

Now the fun begins, and the first order of business is to choose the right floor plan that is consistent with the home you have pictured in your mind's eye – and the property on which it will be built. Odds are you'll probably not open a magazine by chance and stumble upon a floor plan that has occupied your dreams all these years. Choosing a plan and refining the design to meet your needs will require some research, self-introspection and creative inspiration.

By and large, almost any residential floor plan can be adapted to a log home, but there are substantial differences and considerations that need to be addressed. One such example is that of room dimensions as they relate to the diameter of the logs you will be utilizing. A custom handcrafted home made from 20 "diameter logs will have a different footprint than one requiring 6" milled logs. If this is the first time you will be dealing with a log home manufacturer or architect, make sure you are comparing 'apples to apples' when discussing interior dimensions. If you want a room to be 14 'wide, make certain that your designer knows that you want the interior of the room to have 14' of open clearance and not measured from the center of the corresponding logs. Using the example above, your 14 'room could shrink to 12' if such presumptions are not understood.

A floor plan is about space deployment, or more specifically, the space you want (or need) for family members, guests, pets, entertaining and basic household operations (ie cooking, dining, laundry, storage, etc.). Furthermore, it is easy to overlook space requirements for many things we take for granted such as hobbies, displaying collections and other family activities. Try to anticipate as many of your family's needs as possible and expand your floor plan to accommodate your desires.

Once you have identified this all-encompassing 'wish list' you will almost certainly find yourself over budget. If money is no object – no problem, but if that Lotto jackpot has so far eluded you there are things you can do to bring that budget back in line. The most obvious and often least expensive way of doubling your floor space is to make use of the basement. A properly designed and finished basement is the perfect place to have a spare guest bedroom, home theater, hobby or play rooms, additional bathroom (s), laundry facilities or a home office.

One of the best tips about using a basement for additional living space is to raise the ceiling. Adding an extra foot (or more) in the height of your basement ceiling is much less expensive than adding an additional floor or expanding the overall floor plan, and the added height will eliminate that closed-in feeling you get with so many basements.

Adding or enlarging dormers is another way of capturing space from a second story or loft that is framed by a sloping roof line. You will be surprised how a well-positioned dormer can make a small loft appear much larger and provide vertical walls to accept seating, bookcases or tables that usually will not work with a conventional knee wall.

It is also a good idea to keep a list of things that you don't like; things you may have seen in a magazine or noted when visiting other log homes. Some of the most frequent complaints one hears about log homes, especially older models, is the lack of storage space and small closets or bathrooms. This is most often the result of poor planning or not taking into consideration the diameter of log walls and the lack of attics in most log homes. Refer to your list when discussing details with your designer and remember that in most cases you cannot build a closet or a bathroom that is too large.

These are just a few ideas that can help you choose and refine a floor plan to fit your lifestyle and accommodate your family's needs. Your log home company or architect will have many ideas that you may not have considered so encourage them to offer suggestions. Explain what you are trying to achieve and let their experience and knowledge guide you, but in the end, this is your floor plan.

Helping people design the log home of their dreams was the inspiration behind the Log Home Directory's "Floor Plan Showcase" . Visitors now have an opportunity to browse as many as ten floor plans form each featured log home manufacturer without visiting dozens of different websites. These leading manufacturers display their most popular floor plans with descriptions, photos or renderings and links to additional information on their individual websites.