Anatomy of a house

Homebuyers willing to work out the lines, codes and symbols of a blueprint will be rewarded with a picture of what they'll have when the job is finished.

June 20, 1999|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A blueprint may seem like a jumble of lines and indecipherable codes to a homebuyer unaccustomed to reading the plans for a house.

But consumers who can make their way through the maze of information in a blueprint will find a clear picture of exactly what the house will look like and how it will be built.

"An educated consumer is a smart consumer," said Paul Lichter, president of J Paul Builders Ltd., an Owings Mills custom builder of luxury homes.

"The investment is huge when you're building a house, so you'd better know exactly what you're getting."

Blueprints are architectural design drawings that tell the contractors exactly how to build a house -- how high the basement ceiling should be, what the walls should be made of, how to frame the roof and where to put the windows and doors.

The drawings -- typically a scale of a quarter-inch equaling 1 foot -- include separate views with construction plans for each floor, all four elevations (exterior sides), a vertical section down the middle of the house, and sometimes an aerial view of the roofing plan or blow-ups of features such as fireplaces, niches and built-ins.

"Blueprints give lots of different kinds of information," said Mark Beck, president of Beck, Powell & Parsons, a local architectural firm.

"One of the biggest things is the sizes of the rooms and also the layout of the rooms in relation to one another."

Some blueprints will also provide more details, such as the size and type of doors and windows, he said.

By reading blueprints, the homebuyer can make certain that what is going to be built is what was expected, said Janice Strauss, a partner and the director of sales and marketing for Ashley Custom Homes in Pikesville.

A review of the floor plan, the dimensions of the rooms, ceiling heights, exterior dimensions and materials such as siding and flooring will help buyers make certain that the house meets their criteria, she said.

Also, it's a good idea to study the exterior drawings for any special features you requested, such as circle-top windows, a three-car garage with three single doors or a hip roof with gable.

"And if you made any modifications to the plans, you need to locate them on the blueprints and make sure they're what you wanted," Strauss said.

Blueprints, especially those for a complicated house, may be difficult for many homebuyers to understand, she said. But reading architect's drawings can be simplified if you slow down, focus on one room at a time and look for the features of the house that are most important to you.

Identify each room by locating the two parallel lines that define walls.

Next, find the single lines with a diagonal slash mark at each end that indicate dimensions.

The room dimensions may be in segments that have to be added together to determine room size.

Perpendicular lines within the wall lines indicate the location of windows and doors. A quarter-circle shows how the doors will swing.

Pay particular attention to room sizes, as well as the exterior appearance of the house shown in the elevations, Lichter said.

"I suggest that people take the dimensions of the rooms from the blueprint, buy a tape measure, go into a room in their existing house and compare the dimensions in the drawing to what they have now," Lichter said.

Codes dictate outlets

Electrical plans may be included but typically are not, since placement of outlets is dictated by code, Lichter said.

Check with your builder if you have specific needs for outlet placement.

(Scan your blueprint for a small circle with two parallel lines passing through it. If you find one, it is marking the location of an electrical outlet.)

Blueprints contain a great deal of technical construction information needed by those who are building the house, said Bob Coursey, director of sales and marketing for Ryan Homes.

But consumers who have visited a model and selected a home should also review blueprints and ask the salesperson lots of questions about the drawings to make certain they are happy with the way options fit into the house.

"In reviewing blueprints, consumers should look at how their selections change the interior and exterior components of the house," Coursey said.

Custom features

"Any time a custom feature is selected, there's a good possibility that feature changes something else in the house," he said.

Potential Ryan Homes customers tour a model home and look at simple floor plans, used for marketing a model, that show room sizes and available custom features. Once they've decided to buy a home and selected the options they want, a salesperson reviews the actual blueprint with them.

"In the vast majority of cases, a customer purchases a home that is at least somewhat different from the model," Coursey said.

"The salesperson explains how the various options affect elevations, window configurations and room dimensions."

Configurations affected

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