Hi, I'm Dave Osborne. With over 50 years experience as a journeyman carpenter, foreman and contractor in heavy construction I enjoyed working with apprentices and sharing the tricks of the trade that others shared with me. Now I get emails from Members all over the world and we include many of my answers in our Free Monthly Newsletters. Some of my answers include drawings and instructions specific to a project, but may also answer your questions. I use correct construction terminology, so you can confidently inform your building supply dealers or contractors exactly what you need.
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The house lot and house plan is like a horse and carriage, you need both parts for it to work properly and one comes before the other. It would be silly to have the carriage pulling the horse. Just as it would be to buy a set of house plans for your new dream home before buying a lot. As some houses are suited for a level lot others are suited for a steep lot. Which way is the view, toward the front or back of the lot? Is the house layout compatible with the lot layout? Are the windows looking out in the direction of the view?
You and your spouse have finally come to the conclusion you want to build your own house. This may include physically driving every nail or acting as the General Contractor and hiring sub-trades to do the work. First thing to do is go and look around for a nice house lot. Consider the area in which you want to purchase, the price of a lot or acreage and the amount of view or privacy provided.
Finally the day has come to walk the lot you have chosen. Now you can research the type of house to build to fit that lot. I live on a sloped lot to the front. My house is a two story with full basement. I have basement entry on the front side and second floor entry on the back of the house. Looking at the front we have a three story house, from the back a two story house. Our view is in the front, our back is bordered by a green belt of trees. Our entrance is through the garage at the front or up the front stairs to the main floor. I bought a catalogue of house plans and my wife and I picked three possible plans that would fit our lot. We came to an agreement on which house we wanted to build and sent off for the house plans. The only variation I did to the stock house plans was to add two feet to the ceiling height of the garage. I ran into rock which needed to be blasted. To save two feet of blasting by raising the ceiling height in the garage from 8' to 10'. This was a good decision on my part since I use the double garage as a workshop, as well. It's nice to have a couple of feet of extra height when swinging around a sheet of plywood.
Most house plans can be chosen from a catalog of stock house plans. If unable to satisfy your options for a house to build an architect would be more than happy to design you a house plan from scratch or alter a stock house plan to suit your individual needs.
Before delving into the realm of building codes and permits, you should understand how to read a set of house plans, also called blueprints. The Building or Engineering Department in your municipality, regional district, city or county has requirements on the drawings that they expect to see from you in the process of issuing you a permit.
A set of house plans consists of drawings showing different views of the house from different perspectives. The term "plan" is used to designate a bird's eye view. The viewer is above the house looking down at it. Plan views include the Plot Plan (each type of plan is defined below), the Foundation Plan, the Floor Plan, and the Roof Plan. In some sets of house plans we can come across a Reflected Ceiling Plan, which shows the ceiling as if laying on your back looking up, rather than flying above it and looking down. A set of house plans usually is not limited to plan views. It should include Elevations and Sections. An Elevation is the view of the side of the house or a wall in a room as if the viewer is standing back and looking straight at the house. A Section is a drawing of the internal aspects of a wall or floor, etc. as if the viewer cut the wall or floor of the house in two with a knife to see what it is made of. Common to each drawing in a set of house plans is the Scale. To fit the size of the house you want to build on a sheet of paper the drawing is reduced in size. This reduction is known as the scale of the drawing. Most drawings in a set of house plans show - Scale: 1/4" = 1'-0". This means that every 1/4" on the drawing represents 1 foot on the house or 1/48th scale.
A set of house plans does not give instructions on how to build a house. It only draws the shape of the house to scale and specifies certain sizes of lumber and building materials to use. A good set of house plans will show the building code requirements as needed in its general area. The house builder is responsible for knowing the code for headers over openings and good framing practices. The building inspector is the final authority. He will inspect the house plans and will mark all over them in red ink anything he wants to draw to your attention.
These are the common drawings in a set of house plans:
Plot Plan or Site Plan: This is a plan view showing the building envelope (the perimeter of the house) in relation to the lot's boundaries. It should have the shape and outside dimensions of the house and lot, the location of the driveway, and the set backs of the house to the lot lines. The Plot Plan may have height elevations at the corners of the house and lot, as well as a geographic direction indicator: north, south-west, etc. The scale may be a bit smaller (Scale: 1/8" = 1'-0").
Floor Plan: This drawing shows each floor of the house (main, second, etc.) and indicates the floor or ceiling joists above it or the recommended roof truss layout. It should show the layout of the kitchen along with the appliances and kitchen cabinets. It will show the exterior wall and interior partitions and any stair layout. It also may show the layout of the switches and lights and plugs, as well as hose bibs, plumbing fixtures and heating ducts. This drawing may refer you to a Section or Cross Section it wants to detail and the direction it is looking at in the section. This is shown on the floor plan in a circle with a point on it. Inside the circle is the letter of the section and the page on which to find it. The point or arrow on the circle refers to the direction the viewer is looking from. The circle is attached to a line which cuts the drawing along a certain part to depict the internal section of that part of the house.
The drawing may show a Detail, which is a larger scale drawing of a certain area to more clearly display it. Details are usually on the same page.
Elevation: This drawing shows each side of the house including the foundation and roof, as though you took a picture of the side of the house. This view shows the configuration of the windows (sliding, casement, awning windows, etc.), the outside doors, handrails, gutters, the pitch and overhang of the roof, the siding, roofing, and any chimneys. Usually the dimensions are left off, but the drawing is to the scale noted. This drawing is used to determine the shape and openings of windows, with bathroom windows noted as obscure, the look of the exterior doors, and the shape of the roof. The height of the house can easily be determined, as well.
When you purchase the house plans, go over them very carefully and determine if the dimensions add up, if the layouts make sense and are according to the building code. At this point in the process you should be familiar with the building inspector who services your area. Probably you will need to phone him and ask questions about building code requirements, such as how deep do the footings have to be to get below the frost line. Once you are happy with the house plans and no further changes must be made, submit them to the local authority having jurisdiction in your area. He'll take a minimum of two weeks or longer, depending on how busy he is. Don't be surprised if the house plans come back with red ink all over them. This is normal. The building inspector just wants to draw your attention to certain details which he finds necessary. After all, he is working for your best interests: the safety and durability of your house.
One question to ask the building inspector is if you need a survey of your house lot. It may be an old lot and the iron pins are no longer available. A survey may be in your own best interest. Get that neighbour back to his own side of the property line.
When hiring sub-trades, the homeowner is responsible for Workers Compensation if anything happens to a worker. Check to see if the sub-trades have their own coverage. In my locality we are required to cover our own employees but not ourselves if working alone. As a homeowner employing a sub-trade or worker you may be responsible for any injury. Better to check it out before hand for your own assurance.
It is also smart to consider a construction insurance that protects you from liability, fire and theft. Before long you will have a good sum invested in your new house that should be insured.
Don't be overwhelmed when looking at your house plans. Get good advice if you have any questions before you start. Take one step at a time. Nobody builds a house all at once; we start with the footings and build from there. The next in this How to Build a House series will discuss the foundation of your new house.
Dave(Ask Dave) (About Dave)
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