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Home Plans & Specifications

General preparations | Building lot/property | >>Home plans/Specifications | Engineering | Building permit | Subcontractors and bidding | Lien Waiver | Contracts and scheduling | Financing

The Basics

The blueprints or plans are scaled drawings of the structure. The most common scale for residential plans is 1/4"=1'. Plans or prints as they are often called are drawn by hand or with a CAD program. Contractors and sub-contractors must know how to read plans.
The Specifications describe things that can't be seen on the plans such as the description of materials and engineering calculations. They also specify such things as the type of equipment used and installed, and techniques & methods for construction. Here are a couple of examples of information that is contained in the specs but not in the blueprints.

EX 1- The plans show the direction the floor trusses are laid out and that they are set 16" O.C. (on center). The specifications state that: "Floor joists are "I" beam joists (type of joist) TJI (brand) 12/25 (model and size)."

EX 2- The Blueprints call for a Header beam over the garage door opening. The plans don't specify the size of the beam. The beam size will depend on factors such as wind load, snow load, and exterior finish material. In the engineering calculations, the engineer has specified a 5 1/8" x 18" Glulam beam.

Purchase a Description of materials form for your building project.

House plans

After you have secured a lot or know the type of lot you will purchase, it is time to start looking at home plans. Some people decide on a particular plan and then find a lot to suit. It is important to match the plan with the lot configuration. For example, if your lot is a narrow one, (less than 50' wide) you will need to look at narrow lot plans. There are several places you can look to get home plans.

Plan books: This is an inexpensive option to get a really nice designed home plan. The plans generally range between $400-$700. For most applications stock plans are fine. However, some of the disadvantages of stock plans are that they may have to be redrawn to meet local building requirements in your area and they may require engineering. Also stock plans are not exclusive.

Home designer: Home designers have largely overtaken the residential design market from architects. The reason is that they are generally less expensive, and residential design doesn't take the knowledge and experience that commercial and institutional design does (Where most architects make their living). If you have a unique lot configuration and most stock plans won't work, hiring a home designer is a good option.  Home designers charge by the square foot for custom designs or a fixed price for their stock plans. They generally cost less than an architect. Using a home designer is a cost effective way to get an semi-exclusive design well-suited to your building site.

Architect: Architects can give you an exclusive plan that is more unique than a typical plan from a design or plan book. However, architects are not cheap. A typical fee is 8-10% of the building cost. As a rule if the house budget is less than $250,000 architects are not used in residential construction.

Specifications: For almost every task in construction there are options. By choosing a particular option, you are creating specifications. For example, The plumber will install water supply pipe as part of his task. Whether he uses copper, PEX or CPVC pipe depends on the written specifications. Of course, you could always verbally tell your subs and suppliers what you want done, but that is risky as details are forgotten. Put as much as possible in writing to avoid confusion and disagreements.

Purchase a Description of materials form for your building project.


The contract with your subcontractors will refer to the Construction Documents which includes the Plans and Written Specifications that you create for the project. Make sure that all the details for each trade are covered in the plans and specs.

Money saving ideas

  • Complicated designs cost more to build although you probably don't want a typical box design. Here are some thing which may increase the cost of your home:
  • Steep sloped roofs add to the cost. Generally framers and roofer charge the same price for a 3/12- 7/12 sloped roof. Roofs that are 8/12- 12/12 (45 deg) cost more, and roofs over 12/12 are very expensive.
  • Houses with lots of corners. A box shaped house has 4 corners. Foundations with more than 8-10 corners start to get expensive fast. The foundation take more time to form and it costs more money to frame and side.
  • Houses that have a lot of brick and stone exterior.
  • Tile, wood shingles or shakes or slate roofs are several times more expensive than typical asphalt composition shingles. However, the long term cost of a slate or tile roof is actually low because it will last 50+ years.
  • Wood windows are several times more expensive than vinyl windows.
  • Open or vaulted ceilings.
  • Stick framed roof cost more than trussed roofs.
  • Floor coverings vary greatly in price. Tile, marble and real wood floors are expensive.

Notes to the owner-builder

Start by looking at design books. If you find a plan that you like you can order a Study set. The study set is a non-working set of plans that gives you more detail than the picture in the plan book. If you can't find your ideal plan or you find a plan that will work with some modification, talk to a designer or architect to see if they can create or modify an existing design to work for you.

Purchase a Description of materials form for your building project.

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