How to read building plans

Wiki Commons

Many people are intimidated by building plans, or blueprints. These documents, created by architects and engineers, show every detail as to how the building should be constructed.

They include floor plans, finish selections, electrical and mechanical layouts, and other details that lay out how each step of the building process should be completed. Blueprints are actually quite simple to read, understand and apply, even to those unfamiliar with the construction industry.

Start with the title page, or index. This sheet will tell you which drawings are included in the package and what order they can be found in. Often, there is also a list of symbols and abbreviations on this page. Get familiar with these to help you understand the plans as you go through.

Find out what scale the drawings are in. Often, building plans are shown so that 1/8 inch on paper is equivalent to 1 foot of constructed space. This is done to break large projects down to the size of the paper. Each page of the plans should show the scale, often shown as 1:8 or similar. Be aware of the scale when examining the drawings.

Examine the floor plans to get a feel for the building layout. The floor plans, often some of the first drawings in the architectural section, typically show the layout of each floor, including walls, doors and sometimes even furniture and finishes. Understanding layout can help you form a mental picture of what the building will look like when completed.

Look for details or blow-ups. Often, detailed or complicated areas will reference a blown-up picture on a separate page that will show more information on how this area should be built. Details are often shown as a page number enclosed in a circle, with an arrow pointing to the area in question.

Understand column lines. Nearly all commercial building plans are organised around a grid system similar to a map. The coordinates, shown as letters in one direction and numbers in the other, can help you locate a specific feature on the plans. They are also useful when comparing one drawing to another. For example, column line A4 will be in the same location of every drawing, and may give you different views or information about the exact same spot.

Check out the elevations. These are frontal view pictures of what the interior or exterior walls will look like. They are useful for helping you figure out what the building will look like and for figuring out the intent of more complicated designs.