What Is a Floor Plan?

Answers the Question: Where Are the rooms?

Hand drawn floor plan of a house
Hand drawn floor plan of a house. Illustration by Kat Chadwick/Imagezoo/Getty Images (cropped)

A floor plan is a simple two-dimensional line drawing showing a structure's walls and rooms as though seen from above. Walls, doorways, and windows are often drawn to scale, meaning proportions are somewhat accurate even if a scale designation (e.g., 1 inch = 1 foot) is not indicated. Built-in equipment, such as bathtubs, sinks, and closets are often drawn. Built-in furniture is often showcased, like Gustav Stickley did in his 1916 Craftsman house with seating and bookcases in the inglenook. In a floor plan, what you see is the PLAN of the FLOOR. Smart, eh?

A floor plan is very much like a map—with length and width and scale (e.g., 1 inch = 20 miles).

What can you do with a floor plan?

When shopping for house plans or building plans, you may study the floor plans to see how space is arranged, especially the rooms and how "traffic" may flow. However, a floor plan is not a blueprint or a construction plan. To build a house, you need a complete set of construction plans that will include floor plans, cross-section drawings, electrical plans, elevation drawings, and many other types of diagrams. Floor plans give the big picture of living spaces.

If you have an older home, it may have been purchased in the early 20th century equivalent to online shopping—the mail order catalog. Companies such as Sears, Roebuck and Company and Montgomery Ward advertised free floor plans and instructions, if only the supplies were bought from the companies. Browse any Index to Selected Floor Plans from these catalogs, and you may find your home. For newer homes, explore the internet for companies that offer stock plans—by looking at floor plans, you may find your home has been a popular design. With simple floor plans, homeowners can conduct a type of architectural investigation.

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Although usually drawn to scale, a floor plan can be a simple diagram showing the layout of the rooms. Floor plans are often included in Pattern Books and developer's catalogs in order to better sell the presented real estate.

Can you build a house using just a floor plan and a picture?

Sorry, no. Floor plans do not usually have enough information for builders to actually construct the home. Your builder will need complete blueprints, or construction-ready drawings, with technical information that you will not find on most floor plans.

On the other hand, if you provide your architect or professional home designer a floor plan and a photo, he or she may be able to create construction-ready drawings for you. Your pro would need to make decisions about many details that are not ordinarily included on simple floor plans.

Better yet, get your hands on some DIY software, like the Home Designer® line of products published by Chief Architect. You can experiment with design and make some of the difficult decisions and choices always involved in new projects. Sometimes you can export digital files in a comparable format to give your building professional a head start in completing the necessary blueprint specifications. Here's my review of Home Design Suite. And, by the way, the software is quite fun!

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