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How to Draft a Simple, Usable Plan for Your Home Improvement Project

image1You’ve decided to renovate the kitchen. Or add on that third bedroom you’ve been talking about for years. Or tear out that bathroom with the hideous pink tile.

You’ve got a big project, and you need a plan – because anything you do to one portion of your house affects the whole. That’s why it’s essential to develop some simple drafting techniques; you’ll learn to make a usable blueprint that tells you what’s possible as you plan your project.
First Things First

Before you start drafting, look up your area’s zoning laws and find out about other limitations. These factors will dictate exactly what you’re capable of doing. Your local city hall or regional office should have a building inspector with whom you can consult on your area’s zoning laws, or you can check online. However, be warned: sometimes online versions are out of date or incomplete.

Your zoning laws will tell you how far from the street the edges of your building need to be, any height restrictions you may face, regulations about building multi-family homes, and other restrictions. Other limitations might address the location of your electrical wiring, plumbing hook-ups, or the structural integrity of the house.

Write down all these limiting factors in one place so you can reference them easily.

Start Dreaming

The simplest way to start drafting a plan is with a bubble plan – a simple sketch that shows big circles where each of the rooms in your house are, where you’d like to add additional rooms, and what basic features these rooms will have. If you’re just renovating one room in your house, you can use the bubble plan to mark out where the major appliances and built-ins will be.

The bubble plan gives you a basic idea of what you’d like your finished project to look like. It’s also a good place to draft any external features that might affect your project. You can use the bubble plan to mark where the sunlight comes in during the day (which might affect where you want to place that extra bedroom), any big trees, bushes, or water sources that might interfere with expansions, and the views you want your new room to face.

image3Make Measurements

Now that you have a basic plan and you like the orientation, it’s time to whip out a tape measure and start plotting more precisely.

The easiest way to make an at-home blueprint is with quad-ruled paper. Consider each little square to be one square foot, making conversions super-easy. (If you’re planning a smaller area, you can decide that each square equals 6 inches, 3 inches, or whatever works for you.)

For all objects in your plan, be sure to mark the actual dimensions next to each straight line so that you can reference them quickly. If you’re trying to figure out whether you can fit the refrigerator between the door and the cabinets, you want to be able to determine it with a quick glance, rather than having to count the squares and convert it to real size.

Get accurate measurements for each room and map them to the blueprint accordingly. Be sure to mark doorways, windows, and stairs, too – doorways are usually marked with an open space and a strong, short line on either side perpendicular to the wall, while windows are marked with a very narrow rectangle overlapping the appropriate portion of the wall. Stairs are marked with a series of rectangular boxes in the dimensions of the stair-steps.

As you make your draft, consider where you’ll need electrical outlets, light switches, and the like. For example, if you’re finishing your basement and adding new appliances, like a battery backup sump pump or dehumidifier, you may need to add dedicated outlets for them. Map out the location of new or existing utility items, like pipes, drains, and electric components.

Your first draft will probably be quite messy as you adjust or make errors. That’s no problem – you’re going to whip up a cleaner, easier-to-read draft in the next step.

Make a Hard-Line Plan
Using a straight-edge, a fine pencil, and a steady hand, lay drafting paper over your quad-ruled paper and trace all of your lines carefully. Then transfer each of the measurements to the new draft, writing neatly and carefully to make sure there’s no confusion. If you can’t read a measurement or find you’ve missed a few on your first draft, go double-check them now.

It’s tempting to skip over tiny dimensions like closets or shower stalls, but they’re really important to your plan. Be sure you’ve accurately measured every portion of your house and added it to your plan. You’ll be glad you did.

Bring It to a Professional

Once you have your plan, you should double-check it with a contracting professional if at all possible. Your blueprint is a good outline to help you see what is and isn’t possible in your space, but you may be unaware of structural elements that would get in the way of executing your design properly. Checking with a professional will provide you with confidence that you’ll be able to follow your plan to the letter.