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How to Read Construction Drawings for Your Remodel

You’re getting ready to begin construction on your home remodel project. Your team even provided you with a copy of the construction drawings to see how the project will take shape. The problem is, you’re having trouble making sense of the documents and drawings. What you need is a crash course on how to read construction drawings.

At Lamont Bros. Design & Construction, our team helps homeowners across the Portland area transform their homes. We’ve found that one of the most important elements of a successful remodel is a homeowner who understands the process of remodeling. Part of understanding that process is being able to read your construction drawings.

In this article, you’ll learn how to look at a set of design plans and understand what they mean. We’ll use samples of construction drawings from real projects to show you how to read and interpret the plans for your own remodel. After reading, you’ll understand the common elements of construction drawings, as well as some methodologies on how to read them.

Different Ways to Read Construction Drawings

Before jumping into the construction drawings themselves, its important to first address the different methods you might use to read them. You’ll want to ensure that any method you use, you read the plans thoroughly and systematically so as to not miss anything.

There tend to be two main ways a designer or architect will notate their design drawings. The way they do this will impact how you as the reader approach the process.

Reading Designs with Numbered Design Notes

Oftentimes, designers and architects will use a numbering system to notate their designs. This means that on the drawings themselves, you’ll find each element tagged with a number. This number correlates to a note in the margins.

When reading numbered design notes, it’s best to sit down with a pen or a PDF reader and check off each note as you read it. This ensures that you don’t miss any notes as you go along. Find note 1 and read the note, then find its correlating element on the design plans and make sure you understand the relationship between the two. Once you are sure you understand it, cross the note off in the list and move to the next one.

Reading Designs with Callouts

In other cases, the construction drawings will contain callouts directly on the page. This method can be easier to understand how the notes correlate to the design drawings because the notes sit on the drawings as labels. However, it comes with the disadvantage of having a less organized page layout.

If your design drawings have callouts instead of lists, the best methodology in this case is to go room by room. On the page for each room, look at the design callouts in a clockwise order, taking care to read and understand each callout and how it relates to the design. Then, before moving on, take one last look a the entire design drawing of the room to make sure you fully understand the changes to be made.

Project Overview

When you read your construction drawings for the first time, you’ll want to start with the project overview. This page provides general information about the project that you might need to access easily. This page will include:

1. Project Information

This section includes the address of your home, the year it was built, and a street map (Project Vicinity) showing its location.

2. Project Team

Here, you can find contact information for all the members of your team. If you need to get a hold of your design consultant, designer, project manager, or remodeling superintendent, this is where you can find their information.

3. Abbreviation Table

Throughout the design plans, you’ll find several abbreviations. This helpful table tells you what each abbreviation means so you can understand the labels in the design drawings.

4. Artistic Renderings

To help you visualize how the project will look when completed, your team may include some 3D renderings of the space.

General Construction Codes

The next section of the construction drawings includes a handbook on residential construction code regulations that may be helpful for your build team to read and reference during the project. It covers topics including foundation, framing, stairs, and job site hazards.

Site Plan

In the Portland Metro Area, any remodeling project that is over $25,000 in cost must include a site plan in the designs. The site plan describes the home in its original state and will include the following information:

1. Land Zoning

The zoning classification determines your property’s permitted land use, setbacks, and building codes.

2. Site Information

This section denotes important information about your land lot. It includes the size of your lot in square feet, the boundary lines of the property, and the location of any trees.

3. Home Square Footage & Lot Coverage

There are two important numbers relating to the size of your home in this section. The first is the square footage of the home. The second is the percentage of the land lot which the building’s footprint occupies.

Demolition Plan

In the demolition plan, you’ll find a detailed floor plan that shows any areas of the existing structure that need to be removed. The demolition plan includes many details and descriptions because it is important for your build team to know what needs to be demolished and what neds to be left intact.

Demolition Notes

This section of the demolition plan lists the components of the existing structure that will be demolished or preserved. Items that must be removed will be marked “TO BE DEMOLISHED” while items that must be kept are marked “TO REMAIN.”

Demolition Floor Plan

Also in the demolition plan is a floor plan of the structure. Typically, the components meant for demolition are marked in red.

New Floor Plan

The new floor plan shows what the basic layout of the space will look like post-remodel. Any new components are noted in a single color, usually blue.

Framing Legend

The framing legend helps denote any changes to the framing structure of the space. It will include different color schemes and patterns to differentiate new walls from existing ones.

Floor Plan Notes

This section will describe any of the newly installed components, including flooring, cabinetry, appliances, windows, and doors.

Exterior Elevation Drawings

When learning to read construction drawings, it’s important to note that there are 2 main types of diagrams: floor plans and elevation drawings. An elevation drawing shows the 2-dimensional view of a building from one side. The exterior elevation drawings help to communicate any changes to framing, windows/door openings, and exterior siding.

The design plans will include an exterior elevation drawing for every side of the home affected by construction. If your remodel does not affect the exterior of the home in any way, your design plans may not include exterior elevations.

Finish Plans

With more detail and a plethora of labels, the finish plan can be overwhelming at first glance. It’s the page that describes all of the intricate details of your remodel. On this page, you’ll find a floor plan covered in labels and a legend on the side.

Finish Notes

The finish notes will cover every minute detail ranging from the type of texture on your walls and ceiling to the flooring and baseboard styles. Every item on the floor plan is labeled with a number that corresponds to a description in the legend.

Cabinet Labels

In addition to labeling all of the finishes, the finish plans also feature cabinet labels. Cabinet boxes will have their own unique codes depending on the type and size of each cabinet. The cabinet layout will get more attention on later pages, but having their own labels in the finish plans helps to make sense of the space.

Countertop Plan

The countertop plan is relatively straightforward — it shows the areas of the project that will get countertop coverage. It’s important to double-check the countertop plan notes to ensure that the material listed is the one you selected. Pay close attention to the material type, finish, thickness, and edge bezel.

Painting Scope

On the painting scope page, you’ll find a floor plan of the home that denotes any interior or exterior walls that need painting during the project.

Electrical & Mechanical

The electrical and mechanical page is primarily for your electrician to use during the project. However, there are a few things to take note of.

Electrical Legend

You’ll find that the electrical & mechanical page is full of strange symbols and lines that don’t make much sense at first glance. The first thing you’ll want to do is take a look at the legend to understand what each symbol means.

Outlet, Lighting, & Switch Locations

Take care to note the locations of the electrical components you’ll interact with most. If you have multiple lighting circuits, take note of which lights are controlled by which switches. You’ll also want to take note of the location of outlets throughout the space.

Cabinet Notes

Remember all those cabinet labels from the finish plans? Here’s where you can make sense of those. The cabinet notes typically take up an entire page and contain detailed descriptions of each cabinet in the design. This includes cabinet type, dimensions, and any modifications to the original cabinet design.

Interior Elevation Drawings

Like the exterior elevation drawings, the interior elevations show each affected interior wall in a 2-dimensional rendering. These elevation drawings help visualize the space as well as organize cabinetry and finishes.

Ready to Learn More About Remodel Designs?

Now that you understand how to read the design plans for your remodel, get ready for the next step in the remodeling process. To learn about how to plan for your remodel as you prepare for construction to begin, read our article, “Remodel Design Guide: Preconstruction Meeting.”

Considering a remodel, but not yet working with a professional remodeler? If you’re looking for a remodeling company to help you navigate the challenges of home improvement from start to finish, click the button below to schedule a free consultation with a member of our design team. We’ll help you explore what’s possible and bring you one step closer to turning your current home into your dream home.