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  • PJ Burns Builder

Understanding House Plans: A Simple Guide!

Updated: Jan 19

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the complex symbols and layouts of house plans? You're not alone! Understanding the design of your future home can be daunting, but it's nothing to be ashamed of, in fact, it's completely normal to be confused by all the lines, shapes, and notations on a house plan especially if you are new to building. But don't worry, we're here to help. This guide is designed to walk you through the most important aspects of understanding house plans, and by the time you're finished reading, you'll have a much better grasp of what goes into designing a home. From deciphering symbols to important considerations, we'll cover everything you need to know to feel confident and excited about discussing your new home. So, let's dive in and demystify house plans together!

Understanding your Preliminary House Plans

For some context we try to keep the initial "preliminary" design really simple and easy to understand. In later design stages there is more complexity and added 'sheets' (pages) that show specific detail that needs which is for our tradies to know exactly how your home is put together (we will not worry about those more complicated drawings in this guide, it is not essential that you understand it in detail). You can expect your first 'preliminary' plans to look a bit like this:

Aerial photo of Hervey Bay: House & Land Hervey Bay
6 Sheets of a typical Preliminary Design: PJ Burns Builder

These plans are usually all that is required to describe the concept of the home, the different spaces and where things will be. There is usually:

  • Title Page - (This shows what the home will look like, a table of contents, and any information about the project)

  • Site Plan - (This shows a birds-eye view of how the 'footprint' of the home sits on the block as well as any site information)

  • Floor Plan - (This shows a birds-eye view showing the walls, doors, windows, fixtures, and any information about how the inside of the home will be put together)

  • Elevations - (These are side-views showing the outside of the home from all sides and how it is put together)

  • Perspectives - (These are simple images showing 'perspective', how the home will look from different angles.


Understanding the Site

The Site Plan is a birds-eye-view that shows the 'footprint' (the shape) of the house, and also shows the position and orientation of the house in relation to the site boundaries, the street, contour lines (lines that show the slope), point-to-point dimensions (distances), and any features that exist on the site or that are proposed on the site. There are only a few important lines and symbols that are important to recognize and understand:

The House Footprint on the site (an outline of the home). The hatching indicates the building area, and the dotted lines around the edge indicates the edge of the roof-line.


The Boundary Line (the outside edge of the site). The dashed line is the surveyed site boundary, the first number represents the length of the boundary in millimeters. (e.g. 26,100mm)

The Scale Bar is located in the corner of drawings and is an easy way to quickly understand the scale of distances. each segment corresponds to a the named length and can be overlaid using a ruler, onto the drawing.

The Compass Symbol is located in the corner of the sheet and (remembering that the drawing is birds-eye-view) shows which direction that North ("N") is, a bit like an actual compass. You should always try to remember that in Australia, the sun rises in the East (right side of North), and sets in the West (left of North).

(eg. This symbol shows North to be at the top of the sheet).


Understanding the Floor Plan

The Floor Plan is a birds-eye-view drawing that shows the layout of the home and everything inside. The plan will show prominent, bold lines which are the walls, and on the wall lines there are window symbols and door symbols that have some text to describe the size and type of the window or the door. The floor plan will also show a top-down view of all the cabinetry, fixtures etc. that are inside the home. On the floor plan you will also see dimensions to show distances in millimeters, an outline of the roof, and notations with text with arrows pointing to areas of the plan that give more information on parts of the plan.


Below are some important symbols that are important to recognize and understand:

The Wall Symbol is the most prominent line of a floor plan. If you can make see and understand the different spaces made by walls, all the other symbols start to make more sense.

The Door Symbol can vary a lot. A hinged door will be drawn with a curved 'swing' line and also a number (e.g. 820) which is the width of the opening in millimeters. A sliding door will will be drawn with an arrow showing how the door panels move, and then numbers and letters which describe the height and width of the door. See below about windows with regards to understanding the numbered sizes.

The Window Symbol can vary a lot. Shown in this wall is a 15-09dh (1500mm high, 900 wide Double Hung Window), and a 12-15sw (1200mm high, 1500mm wide Sliding Window. The first 2 numbers are notation of the height, the second 2 numbers are notation of the width, and the 2 letters abbreviate the type of opening.

Cabinetry Symbols in our plans are colour-coded. It helps our clients differentiate different cabinets from all the confusing line-work of the floor plan. On the Title Page will also a detailed legend to understand what the abbreviations all mean. (e.g. in this group of symbols, in the middle there is an Island bench with an overhang, and when standing in the kitchen, from left to right; 4 drawers with cutlery, a dishwasher, sink with doors under). Wardrobes are detailed in a similar way.


Wet Room Fixtures in our plans are coloured in blue to help them stand out from the line-work to be easily understood.

(e.g. In this group of symbols, from left to right, a 900x900 semi-frameless glass shower with a swing door, a towel rail on the wall, a toilet on the wall and a toilet roll holder on the wall).



Flooring Symbols are patterns which describe the type of flooring in a space. There is a simple legend on the sheet which describes all of the different patterns. (e.g. in this image there is a tiled floor, and then on the other side of the wall there is a vinyl-plank floor).


Callout Notations are annotations is important to understand the design or how something is to be built. when you see this text just follow the arrow to the indicated item. Often these notations can help describe a line or symbol too.

Dimensions are used to describe the distance from a point to another point. The smaller lines indicate the point the measurement is taken from. All dimensions are in millimeters and can be compounded into a longer chain as shown.


Dotted Lines indicate something that is either above the ground, hidden under something else, or something that is implied. It is helpful when reading plans to have an understanding of what dotted lines are trying to describe. They will often mark the outline of something and usually from the shape you can tell what it may be if it is not annotated.


Elevations or Perspectives?

It is helpful to understand how elevations are projected. Elevations are not drawn to the eyes 'perspective'. They are drawn on a flat plane that is parallel to a wall as so there is no distortion in the length of the lines. This is so a scale or a ruler can be used to accurately get the sizes and distances of windows, doors, gutters, posts, anything that is wall hung etc. Where a perspective view shows details to be smaller the further away they are, an elevation view does not make far away details any smaller (a wall that is far away will appear to be the same height as a wall that is up close).


Our consultants are always happy to help!

And that's it! Understanding the symbols and drawings in floor plans is an important aspect of 'reading' your dream home. While this guide provides a thorough understanding of most of the basics, we understand that there may still be questions and concerns. We encourage open communication with our experienced and skilled consultants throughout the process, as it is essential for ensuring that your home is tailored to your unique needs and lifestyle. This journey will be a learning experience, and by the end, you will be an expert in home design and will have the perfect home to call your own.

Book an appointment with us in Hervey Bay and start your journey!

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