Which Home Design Software is Best?

How to Pick a Home Design Software Program

Interior dollhouse view of The Jackie Cottage
nterior dollhouse view of The Jackie Cottage. Illustration ©Jackie Craven using Home Designer Suite 2015 Chief Architect Software

For anyone who plans to build a new house, home design software can seem like a dream come true. But with so many programs to choose between, how does the Do-it-Yourselfer (DIYer) decide? Start by answering these questions:

1. What device will you be using?

These days the consumer is in the driver's seat of availability. Digital products have made easy reconfiguration and repackaging to any "now" device—software on a PC, app for a mobile device, or  "the Cloud" for sharing between devices.

Home design software used to be problematic because highly graphical software needs a lot of memory and power. These days most everything is visual, so DIY 2-D and 3-D rendering software is less of an issue. The device you choose, however, may affect the overall experience you have, so consider this:

  • Before you buy home design software for your PC, make sure your computer system meets the requirements to run the program. Products can often be downloaded from a company website, so the speed of your Internet connection is a factor. Frankly, I like the hands-on DVD you can readily buy on Amazon.com. Then I look for free online support from the company.
  • Before you buy an app for your phone or mobile device, get a free version—for example, you can try out Room Planner by Chief Architect, but you can't save what you create. You want to be able to easily move objects around on the screen space you have.
  • I keep telling people "there's no such thing as a Cloud," but nobody listens. Cloud Computing is not an atmospheric trick. Computer servers and drives are all involved—they're just not in your own home. So, if you don't mind whether or not your designs and visions are located on various equipment owned by companies around the world, the Cloud is very handy if you want to share your work. Depending on security, you could be sharing your work with anybody. Or everybody.

    2. What's your learning curve?

    Some home design programs can be challenging. Computer novices will need to spend time reading the manual and working through online tutorials. For out-of-the-box simplicity, opt for a basic program with a minimum of special features.

    3. What do you want to do?

    • Dabble, play, and create.
      A simple program with basic features is all you need to try out your creative ideas. Before you splurge, experiment with a free drawing program like Google SketchUp or bargain-priced software like IMSI TurboFLOORPLAN Instant Architect. Then again, I had a lot of fun Using Home Designer Suite to create what I called The Jackie Cottage. It took a couple of days to get used to how the software operated—home design software seems to have its own language—but once I did the options were engaging.
    • Draw simple floor plans.
      If all you want to do is draw simple floor plans, you might not need a high powered graphics program or software for drawing 3D images. Instead, try an easy, free online drawing tool.
    • Prepare to build.
      Most home design software for DIYers isn't as powerful as the CAD programs used by architects and engineers. You won't be able to draft blueprints or construction-ready drawings. With some programs, however, you can create designs with enough detail to give your pro a jump start. Chief Architect Home Designer Suite will let you select from a huge library of cabinets, colors, and other features. Choose the entire suite of Chief Architect software and you can also plan complex electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems.
    • Add curb appeal to an existing home.
      Programs like IMSI TurboFLOORPLAN Home & Landscape Pro will let you import a photo and add new landscape features. However, you really don't need home design software if your goal is to view paint colors or make other cosmetic changes to your house. Instead, choose a paint color software program or a photo-editing program.
    • Create a presentation.
      Some home design software have features that teachers and sales representatives find especially helpful. For example, many programs will let users record voice narratives and create animated views of home designs by taking a virtual "walk-through" of the interior.
    • Work on a school project.
      If you're facing a tight deadline, pick software that's quick and easy to use. Most school projects don't require enormous libraries of colors and details. Opt for simplicity over bells and whistles. Students who enter the Solar Decathlon every other year have varying degrees of success in their digital presentations. Check out these renderings from 2013.

      4. What if you hate digital devices?

      Not to worry. People were building houses long before the Digital Age. Remember when Colorforms were high-tech? Well, plastic-on-plastic is still well-suited for virtually moving furniture around a room. Check out some of these products:

      • Home Quick Planner: Reusable, Peel & Stick Furniture & Architectural Symbols
        Buy on Amazon
      • Room and Furniture Layout Kit
        Buy on Amazon
      • Compare with Amazon.com's Best Sellers in Home Design
        Buy on Amazon

      What's Your View?

      Have you ever used a home design program? What's your favorite and why? Tell us your experiences!