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January 22, 2021

How to Read a Floor Plan

It may seem like a random collection of lines and boxes, but in reality, a floor plan is a treasure map. Remember stories you read as a child, with wild pirates searching for booty using a worn roll of tattered cloth covered with mysterious symbols and vague, scribbled words?  To us, the map looked like nothing special, but to the pirates, it was a blueprint for a dream. The floor plan for your new home, which some may still call a blueprint, helps you discover the joy in your house before you even see the completed structure. 

When we “read” a floor plan with dimensions, the simple lines and arcs become walls, doors and windows, and we can imagine ourselves in our “home”. We might wonder how the spaces will feel both empty and filled with furniture, people and pets. But reading a floor plan is a bit like learning a foreign language. You need to master the alphabet before you can become fluent. Once you’re able to “translate” the subtleties of “floor plan speak”, you’ll be able to convert the lines and boxes to visual images in your head.

Floor plans used to come in a roll. They contained all of the details required to build or change a home. Since computerized technology has become so advanced, most floor plans are now delivered as digital files. These files can be viewed on screens or printed as hard copies for review, to get bids, or to submit for permits.

If you hear the term “plan set”, it refers to a collection of all the individual pages describing the house. Plan sets typically include a site plan, building notes, floor plans for each level of the house, framing and roofing plans, electrical plans, plans for the mechanical systems, and construction details.

A “floor plan” maps out the details of an individual story of a home. The easiest way to translate a floor plan is to imagine looking down into a doll house without a roof.

Why is it important to know how to read a floor plan?

If you’re buying new construction, knowing how to convert a floor plan into an image in your head can help you:

  • Determine the quality of light in each room.
  • Imagine what it will be like to live (watch TV, make dinner, take a shower) in each of your spaces.
  • See how people can move about - entering, leaving and navigating your home.
  • You can see what the views will be through your windows and doors.
  • You can determine how each space relates to other spaces.

The first thing you’ll need to know is how to read the measurements included in a floor plan. The total size of a home is presented in square feet, while individual rooms are always presented in feet and inches. Room dimensions are presented in width by the length. For example, a room that has a dimension of 12' x 16' means it's 12 feet wide (from side to side) by 16 feet long (from top to bottom). 

There are six key elements in a typical floor plan.

Walls: Interior and exterior walls are represented by sets of parallel lines on either side of a space. These straight lines are usually solid, but some may be patterned.

Windows: Windows are usually shown by a break in a wall with a thin solid line indicating the width of the window.

Doors: Doorways are breaks in walls, with each door indicated by a short line at a right angle to the wall. Lightly sketched arcs show which way the doors will swing.

Stairs: Stairs are shown as a series of rectangles with arrows that indicate whether they go up or down.

Fixtures: Elements such as stoves, toilets, sinks, showers, bathtubs, and light fixtures are noted by small shapes that resemble their actual shapes. 

Ceiling Heights: A floor plan can’t tell you how high the ceiling is unless it’s specifically noted down on the floor plan.

Here’s a sample drawing you can use to test your new floor plan reading skills. This is our popular Whitemarsh home. See if you can identify all the elements we’ve talked about in this post. 

Floor plan

If you have any questions about reading a floor plan or would like to see some of our other floor plans in action by touring one of our available properties, call Ernest Homes today at 912-660-9673!


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