When you think of a floor plan, the first word that probably comes to mind is “blueprint.” The two are related, but they’re not exactly the same thing.

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A floor plan is one of the construction drawings that you’ll find included in a set of blueprints. They appear alongside site plans, elevation plans, and other detailed working drawings that offer builders a road map for how to build a structure. They serve as the fundamental kind of house plan for general contractors and others working in the construction industry.

But just what is a floor plan? And what do we need to know about its symbols?

A floor plan is a two-dimensional architectural drawing that shows the design of a house or other construction project from above. It is drawn in what’s called a plan view, as if you’re looking down through an invisible roof into the building.

Symbols on floor plans

A floor plan typically shows structural elements such as walls, doors, windows, and stairs, as well as mechanical equipment for the plumbing, HVAC, and electrical systems.

Floor plans use stylized symbols that often look like the outlines of elements they represent. Tubs, stoves, sinks, and stairs are familiar examples. These can appear along with built-in elements of interior design, like appliances, islands, cabinets, and bookshelves.

Objects and dimensions are also represented on a floor plan by solid lines or dotted lines of different weights and styles. For examples of the types of lines used on construction drawings, visit How to Read Construction Blueprints.

Floor plan symbols make up their own language, just as construction workers have their own vocabulary that they use to communicate when working on projects. Because it’s essential for designers and builders to understand this language, a floor plan includes an important element called a legend, which acts as a key that helps viewers interpret the drawing.

The legend defines architectural symbols and notations on the plan. Many standard symbols appear there for specific projects. However, there can be variations in how symbols look and what they represent, which makes consulting the legend essential for each project.

For example, construction companies may use their own unique blueprint symbols in their set of drawings. Also, several different-looking symbols may represent the same item, depending on who you ask. Or one symbol may mean different things to workers with different specialties. Always search the legend on each unique plan to be clear about what the symbols mean.

Here are some common symbols you’re likely to encounter in a floor plan.

Door, window, and stairs symbols

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Blueprints for a new home are commonly shown on paper that measures 18×24 or 24×36 inches. Since floor plans need to fit on a sheet of paper, the drawings must naturally be much smaller than the completed project will be.

The scale of a project refers to how the measurements on the floor plans relate to the project’s measurements once it’s done. It is usually found in or near the title block, along with a compass showing the orientation of the home or structure on the building site. (Unlike on maps, the north arrow does not always point toward the top of the page, as the front of the structure may face in a different direction.)

Floor plans are most commonly (though not always) drawn on a 1/4” scale, which means a quarter-inch on the plan equals 1 foot of actual length on the completed structure. Some scales use metric instead of imperial measurements.

The scale ensures consistency and helps guarantee that the finished project will look the way it was intended — and that it will be structurally sound. The scale applies not just to the exterior walls, but to all elements of the floor plan.

Creating your own floor plans

Floor plans for a long time were drawn by hand, and some still are. If you’re interested in creating a floor plan this way, you’ll need the right equipment: drafting tools such as scales, compasses, drawing triangles, protractors, and templates.

But these days, home plans are most often produced digitally. You may need computer-assisted design (CAD) software and, to create prototypes, a 3-D printer.

Software programs such as Microsoft Visio and Floor Plan Creator have templates to get you started drafting your dream home. Some provide tutorials to help you learn home design and floor plan design, and some even offer options for free downloads.

Conclusion

Floor plans are like treasure maps drawn by architects and engineers to serve as guides for construction workers — only the landmarks are different. Instead of mountains and rivers, you see walls and doorways. Instead of cities and towns, you see stoves and tubs.

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There’s no single “X” that marks the spot where buried treasure lies in a floor plan. But if you follow the template, you’ll wind up where you want to be: with a completed building that’s not just structurally sound and functional but also comfortable and appealing.