If you're building a new home you're going to need plans. Searching for and buying them isn't necessarily complicated but it helps if you know something about what's involved. There's more to it than just choosing a plan and clicking the "buy" button. You'll also want to determine whether to buy a stock plan or a custom-designed plan.
This article is primarily aimed at getting you familiar with buying "stock" plans that you can buy from both online and hardcopy catalogs. But to start off let's take a closer look at the difference between custom and stock home plans.
Custom plans are made-to-order. They reflect the input and choices you've made for the type of house you want built. They're the product of close collaboration between you and an architect or residential home designer and reflects a unique, not-to-be reproduced design.
In contrast stock home plans are "off-the-shelf" products, reflecting pre-conceived designs. Many of these homes have already been built. But just because they're "stock" doesn't mean that there isn't a wide selection. On the contrary, there are tens of thousands of different stock plans available from a variety of sources.
In general custom plans are more expensive than stock plans. That's because each one is a unique product that reflects the time and effort required to develop it. They might also include additional costs like designer's fees based on the size of the home or the total construction cost.
On the other hand stock plans are designed once but sold multiple times. In a sense the development costs are spread out over numerous buyers.
Stock plans also benefit from any lessons learned from having been designed and built previously. There's also the probability that you'll get a more accurate picture of material costs for that reason.
Stock home designs can be modified so if you're concerned that you won't have the flexibility that you might with a custom design, fear not. All of the major suppliers of stock designs offer services that allow you to tweak and change them to accommodate your desires. Keep in mind however that these changes will cost you extra.
Finally, stock plans are available right away, here and now. You don't have to wait several months for a custom plan to be developed. An off-the-shelf design cuts down the time it takes to go from your initial concepts to actually living in your house.
The bottom line is this: if you have unique design criteria or want something out of the mainstream then a custom plan might be the best route for you. However if you're like most, there's probably a stock design amongst the tens of thousands that are available that will suit your needs as is, or with some modifications.
With that said, let's move on to taking a closer look at stock plans.
Here's how you can whittle down the options to a manageable few:
There's no denying we all want an attractive home. It's naturally the first characteristic that we gravitate toward when choosing one. The above point about finding a livable floor plan simply means not forgetting the importance that it plays in the ultimate satisfaction and enjoyment you get out of your home.
If there's a particular style of home you want, go ahead and search through the designs in that category. Just don't forget to give sufficient thought to the layout and how it will meet your needs.
The first is that you actually don't "own" the plans, or more specifically, you don't own the copyright to them. What you're actually buying is a license to use the plans for the construction of your home, one time. You can keep the physical blueprints but if you ever decide you want to build another home using those same documents, you'll have to buy another license.
There are also restrictions on making copies of these documents. Plans are available in a variety of formats. The only way you're able to make copies is if you buy plans in the proper format.That's why you'll need to purchase sufficient blueprint "sets" for everybody that's involved in the construction of your house, like the builder, your local building department and so on. How many you should buy is explained a little more in the "What You Get.." section below. The only way to avoid this is to buy a "reproducible" or CAD (computer aided design) set that specifically releases you from copyright restrictions.
Finally, before you actually make a purchase you should check with your local building department for any restrictions or requirements that govern building a new home and the associated plans.
For example, some U.S. states and municipalities require that construction blueprints be reviewed and approved by a licensed architect or engineer. If that's needed be sure the plans you buy are legally stamped by the appropriate disciplines. If they're not you'll have to find a way to satisfy this requirement either by purchasing plans that are or by using plans developed in accordance with your local building laws.
Also, don't expect to take a set of plans to a local architect or engineer and have them review and "stamp" them as okay. If they've had no involvement in the development of the design they're prevented by the legalities of their license from just looking at them and "rubber stamping" them as okay.
There might also be restrictions on who can actually develop the design for your home. If you live in Nevada for example you're limited to using a professional that's licensed in Nevada to develop your house plans. You can still buy plans from an outside source but they'll have to be redrawn by a professional licensed in Nevada.
Check with your local building department to find out what's required.
Plans range anywhere from the high hundreds of dollars to several thousand dollars. The cost is dependent on several factors including the complexity of the house and who designs it. Designs by more prominent architects and designers in the industry command higher prices than the bulk of stock plans.
The size and complexity of the design obviously plays a big role in the total construction cost of your home too. That doesn't mean you have to settle for the smallest, most mundane styles either. Here are some design suggestions that help curtail a home's cost:
When you buy a set of house plans you have several options about the format you want, the quantity you can buy and the extra options that are available. Exactly what you get will vary slightly, depending on where you buy them. However most if not all sources for home plans are pretty consistent in what they offer.
The reason they're offered in multiple sets is because you'll need more than one set to build your home. In fact, you might need five or more copies. You'll want one set for your own reference files and the builder will need two or three to use and provide copies to the subcontractors. Your building department will also need one or two and your mortgage company may need one as well.Here are the usual formats that are available:
As far as what's included in a set of plans, expect to find a series of drawings that include a detailed floor plan, cross-sections, floor framing details, exterior and some interior elevations and foundation plans. The quantity of drawings will vary depending on the plan you choose. In short, what you get is a complete set of constructions drawings sufficient to build your new home.
An alternative is to upgrade to a "right-reverse" drawing. It's a mirrored plan except with all of the corresponding written information corrected so that it can be read and understood.
There are plenty of sources for buying a set of stock home designs. You can still find some physical catalogs in the magazine section of bookstores though most sellers offer their products online. Buying them through these internet dealers is easy and you have the option of purchasing in electronic or hard-copy format. You can also order from these places by mail, phone, fax or directly from the website.
I personally like and recommend ArchitecturalDesigns.com and here's why. They have very good search capabilities, with a large "category" listing (small homes, Victorian, Ranch, Affordable, Premium, etc.) as well as a "characteristics" search engine (search by number of floors, rooms, size, dimensions, etc.).
They also have a photo category that includes a broad selection of homes showcased by actual photos. Some even include interior photos of the finished home.
Modification services and cost estimates using their QuikQuote service are also available.
Overall however, the site provides plenty of good information and lays it out in an easy-to-navigate format. You can quickly hone down your search to a specific set of criteria or, just browse the big selection to get ideas. Whether you're looking for net-zero, energy efficient homes or small affordable homes this site allows you to quickly get to what you want to see.
There are lots of home plan sites out there but for my time, I like this one for the breadth of content, help and services.
And in full disclosure, if you purchase a plan from ArchitecturalDesigns.com I receive a small commission. It's what helps me continue to bring you the free content that's available at this website, HomeStyleChoices.com.