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Buying House Plans – What Do I Need to Know?


We are Fry Design Company. This is what we're all about: inspiring future owners of custom-designed and built homes to understand and appreciate the value of luxury home design.

Is It Time to Design Your Dream Home?

Answer this question — have you have finally decided to design and build your first custom home? With all that excitement flowing through your veins, ask yourself "should the plans or blueprints that I purchase to build my house be just the bare minimum, or should they be complete and comprehensive?" I’ve never come across anyone who has answered this question with “just the bare minimum please!” Why is that? Well, of course it's because most people think "This is My house! I expect my plans are complete, comprehensive, and free of errors." We're right, right?

Maybe you are saying to yourself "wait a minute, aren’t ALL blueprints complete and comprehensive?" Not necessarily.

Sadly, the answer is no. In fact, most house plans that you buy off the internet, order from a designer’s plan book, or get from your home builder are woefully incomplete and, quite frankly, just the bare minimum. In fact, if you read all the disclaimers on house plan websites, they will tell you that these plans are the minimum required to obtain a building permit and may in fact need supplemental information just to get a building permit! Yikes.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many wonderfully designed houses and good sets of blueprints available on the internet and from your local designer — but the fact is, the overwhelming majority are nothing more than the absolute bare minimum. Is that good enough for your dream house?

What Constitutes a Comprehensive Home Plan?

So how do you know whether you are getting a complete set of plans? It can be very hard to tell as most people don’t know what all information is required to successfully build a home. Moreover, many builders who receive a complete and comprehensive set of plans will immediately push back, stating that this much detail is either overkill, will cost you more money to build, or both! Excuse me, what did you say? Giving the builder more information on what to build is going to cost more? Does it cost more money to get instructions on how to assemble your child’s Christmas bike?

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a builder actually say that gibberish.

There are a few issues to unpack as it relates to a bare minimum set of plans versus a robust, complete, and comprehensive set of house plans. So let’s start pulling the wool off our eyes, shall we?

First, let’s look at what you get when you purchase a set of plans off the internet. I’ll go to a popular website to use as an example — I’m going to search for a 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom home around 2,500 square feet. OK, I’ve got it. It’s plan number 17-2682. A nice traditional brick home that I could see in almost any neighborhood across the country. The website says I can buy this plan “starting at $1,100.00” Right off the bat, if you’re going to purchase plans you have some options:

1. Select Your Plan Set Options

2. Select Foundation Options

3. Select Framing Options

Wait a minute. I just want to buy some house plans! Aren’t the plans “complete and comprehensive” for the $1,100.00?

Nope. Not even a little bit.

In the fine print, you'll see "what’s included”, and you think, Ah-ha! This will clear things up! So you click on it and you see a full page describing what you get (and I'm paraphrasing for the sake of brevity):

  • Foundation plan: Most plans are available with a slab or crawlspace foundation.
  • Floor plans: Each home plan includes the floor plan showing dimensional locations of walls, doors, and windows as well as a schematic electrical layout.
  • Elevations that describe finished materials of the house.
  • Cross-section views are available for an additional fee.
  • Kitchen and bath elevations.
  • Miscellaneous details.
  • Roof overview plan.

This might sound like an impressive set of documents, but in all honesty, rarely have we seen kitchen and bath elevations, and additional details whatsoever, nor any useful cross-sections. Also, you are probably not very familiar with what exactly these different plans actually are and if they are important!

Hidden Costs of Stock Internet Home Plans

So you decide to trust the internet, trust your builder, and you make the best guesses you can on the options you need to select, and you buy your plans. Just to cut to the chase here, at a minimum you’ll need 5 sets of the plans with the non-editable PDF file, so there’s $1,450, but if you wanted 2x6 exterior walls, add $300, flip the drawing so the garage is on the right side, add $200, add a lighting layout for $100, add roof framing details for $150, add wind bracing design $250, add RES Check Energy Certificate (required at most building departments) for $200, etc. So if you needed any of these options, your $1,100 house plan just jumped to well over $2,000.00. Wait, you want to “tweak” a couple of things? Let's say you don’t really like the master bathroom layout and the kitchen is way too small. Can you make changes? Yes, you can, but of course, that will cost more.

And so it goes, and to be honest, this is still the fun part of the process! Remember, you’re excited to get started! Yet, you’re all alone in this making these decisions and feeling like you should know more than you do, but not wanting anyone to know how overwhelmed you are. Listen to me — you are not alone.

The saddest thing to this whole scenario folks is that even going through this and arriving at a set of plans to build your house, the plans are still not complete and comprehensive. Yes, there is certainly more information, more detail, and more instructions, but there’s really nothing within those documents that is “custom” to you, the owner. This is supposed to be your dream house, right?

There's a Better Way to Design Your Dream House

I’m going to leave you hanging a bit and show you a better way in my next blog post, so if you’re in the midst of this very situation and can’t wait until next week, please contact us right away for a personal consultation to show you how you can be certain that your dream home is designed and documented fully, completely, comprehensively, and accurately! #designmatters