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No matter the size or scope of your project you have got to have a plan.  It can be a full set of blueprints with specifications or it can be on a cocktail napkin.  Plans are the beginning of the project.  The minute you put the idea on paper the project has started.  The journey of one thousand steps has just started with the pencil touching the paper.


Please use a pencil.  Start by doing a quick hand sketch.  There are all kinds of drafting programs from 3-d rendering to full cadd programs suitable for blueprints.  The learning curve on most of these is longer than it would take you to do the drawing the old fashioned way.  Hand drawings are easy to scale – use ¼” graph paper.  Easy to keep neat – use a ruler and a triangle. A scale ruler is helpful, but clear tools are easier to draw with as they do not block other portions of the drawing.   Easy to edit – the old standby eraser.  It is just to easy to get the basics on paper.  If you intend to permit the job or put it out to bid then a further level of detail is usually needed.  Although this can be done yourself, it is not one of those things you want to do for the first time.


Paying a draftsman to take your drawing and translate it into the working drawings needed for permit and construction will save you time and headache.  Draftsman know what the building department is looking for.  Yes, you can do this yourself, but it may not be worth the gas from the multiple trips to the building department to get it right.  Some projects are going to require an engineer to make structural calculations and other specialists to do energy calculations.  The draftsman usually will have a relationship with these people.  Architects are at your discretion.  They offer the creative side of the planning process and can be very useful in a creative pinch.  They are also a large cost in a straight forward project.  They can however justify themselves as a consultant. Paying for a couple of hours of time here is not a bad investment.  They can give your project the unique twist to make it right.  They are also skilled in working handicap access and other special needs into the project without compromising the look of the job.


A scale is how the drawing relates to the real world. The simplest and most common for most projects is the ¼” scale.  This Rough it out using each ¼” box to represent a real world foot.  This is called ¼” = 1’ scale.  It is simple and universal.  A larger project may require a smaller scale to fit on the paper.  You can use a box to represent two feet making the scale 1/8” = 1’. Many site plans are drawn at smaller increments such as 1” = 10’ or 1” = 20’.  These are better accomplished using an engineers scale ruler. Regardless of what scale is appropriate for your project note the scale on the drawing.  This will make it easier for anyone working with it to know where to start.


The plan view is the start of most projects.  It is a birds eye view.  From this perspective we can establish dimensions and how the project interacts with it’s surroundings.  It will show details such as walls, windows, doors, cabinets etc.  This is the view that has information about sizes of doors and windows as well as thicknesses of walls.  As the floor plan develops tables with symbols are often generated showing types, sizes and styles.

The elevation view is then created by transfering the baseline dimension of the floor plan to the bottom of the sheet.  This gives the dimension of the wall to be drawn.  Next draw perpendicular lines with the triangle to creat the height of the walls.  This is the first indication of vertical space in our project.  Once the walls are drawn detail can be added from the floor plan such as windows and doors.  Many elevations are finished using details to show siding and roofing materials, though it is not required.  The exterior trim is a good thing to show here.  The surrounds for the windows and doors both in size of materials (4”, 6” …) and style (square cut, mitred, sill …) .  Corner boards and any other trim should be shown here as well.

Roofs get tricky. There is some math involved.  The simplest way to draw a roof is as seperate triangles.  There are construction calculators online or as apps.  Roofs are expressed as pitches in inches of rise per foot of run.  The run is the horizontal line or top to the wall.  For most roofs the center point of this line is where the rise is drawn.  This should be a light line as it is only for reference.  The rise is dictated from the elevation of existing features or the desired pitch of the roof.  Common pitches are from 4:12 to 8:12.  Keep in mind there are local requirements for roofing materials.  We will get into this in more detail in the roofing section.  There are a couple of other considerations for the roof.  The roof will be drawn as two parellel lines.  This represents the thickness of the rafters and show as the fascia.  The distance between the lines is not critical yet as we don’t know how we are going to build the roof so lets go with a 6” space.  The other consideration is whether the edges of the roof (eaves) will be square or plumb.  If you are going to use gutters I would strongly recomend a plumb cut roof. This is shown as a vertical line perpendicular to the building.  The other option which is easier to build, but not effective with gutters is square cut.  This is shown as a perpendicular line to the roof itself.

If a draftsman is going to be involved this as far as you need to go.  If you want to continue yourself the next step wold be the section views. These are shown like a skeleton of the elevation showing one wall and the way it interacts with the foundation and roof.  It will show headers for openings and other structural features.  You will need at least two sections for a simple four sided building.  One from each view.  The details in these such as attachments and hardware can be added by the draftsman, engineer or contractor.

New construction and additions will also require a site plan.  These range from very simple showing the property boundaries and the existing and proposed structures.  They will always include the setbacks for building which can be obtained from the planning or zoning department.  Utilities are usually shown.  The building department will have a checklist for your area.  Many places require topographical lines and drainage calculations.  These are best left to an engineer.  This is usually a civil engineer as opposed to the structural engineer who does the calculations on the building itself.  Obtaining a survey is the first step in this process.  It will contain most of the data needed to get started.  In many cases the building or addition can be drawn directly onto the survey.

Put those together and you have working drawings.  These will contain enough information to get the process started.  Depending on the complexity of the job other details may be needed.  A foundation plan with details is often required as is a roofing and floor framing plan.

I want to emphasize the frivolous nature of building departments and codes.  Code changes are adopted or legislated every few years.  You and I will not agree with all of them (or most), but resistance is futile.  Variances can be obtained for things such as setbacks and heights, but fighting the other requirements is not going to be good for your blood pressure.  They need to be fought in legislature.  It takes someone that is familiar with the process and current codes to get your plans through permitting quickly.  This person is generally not you.  By all means do the footwork and submit them yourself, but let the experts handle the final preparation.



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