How to read floor plans and architectural drawings

how to read floor plans

Whether you’re buying a property, designing a self build or simply planning to redesign your kitchen, being able to read floor plans is a worthwhile skill and one that isn’t hard to master.


As the most common architectural drawing known to mankind, you probably see floor plans every week.


Luckily, you don’t need to be an architect to understand or even draw one. Here’s how to read floor plans and other architectural drawings.



So what does a floor plan show?

At it’s most basic level, a floor plan describes how a property looks and feels. Although, the actual finished space might feel completely different from what they imagined.


Each plan describes the size and scale of spaces. As well as the relationships between these spaces, something we often call the flow.


At a more technical level, some floor plans include wiring or heating layouts, especially if you’re planning to automate the home.


Typically, a floor plan is a diagram of a horizontal plane cut through a building, showing a single floor. As these are usually drawn from around 1 metre above the floor, you can see all the doors and windows.


Plans and other two-dimensional architectural drawings are orthographic projections. This is a fancy way to say that all elements are to the same scale. Therefore, no distortion occurs, as it does in perspective drawings, where objects receding in the distance are drawn smaller.


By understanding how to read floor plans, you can better communicate with your architecture, builders and or interior design. This often means you can make quicker decisions.



Three main floor plan types

In terms of floor plans, there are three main types.


Site Plans, which usually show how a building is set within it’s landscape.


Our second type is 2D floor plans. As the most common type, you’ve probably seen thousands of these. Whether that is as apart of an agent’s particulars or on a website like Rightmove.


Lastly, 3D floor plans attempt to give form to the standard 2D plan and therefore allow the viewer to experience what it’s like to live in that property.



Site Plans

site plan


A site plan shows the building or house with its exterior walls, windows and doors. However, interior elements are often not included. The focus is on the landscape and how the grounds relate to the building, particularly the means of access.


Site plans are usually found in the brochure of new developments or as part of planning documents. That said, if you plan to redesign your garden, then your landscaper might use a site plan to illustrate the final design.



2D Floor Plan

2d floor plan


A two-dimensional drawing is like the one below. It show the room lay out, the sizes of each room and the function of each room along with the interior doors and windows. These are often included in house particulars by estate agents.


Walls, Doors and Windows

Starting with the basics. Walls are shown as parallel lines which are usually filled in. Although having a pattern, as we do above is also fairly common.


Doors are shown open to illustrate that the move and are not an opening in the wall. As well as internals door, french doors and front doors are always shown open.


If you’re drawing windows then you draw an open rectangle for each. It’s not uncommon for them to slightly protrude on the exterior wall.


Here’s how these look as symbols:



Stairs are drawn as a series of rectangles usually with a direction arrow indicating whether the stairs travel up to the next higher floor or down.


Furniture, Fixtures, Fittings, and Finishes

Typically in 2D plans, items like furniture and fixtures generally aren’t shown, unless you’re working with an interior designer. Even if estate agents do include fixtures on their floor plans, it’s only as a guide and can not be relied on to make a decision about future interior designs.



Measurements – Size and Width, Furniture and Use

elements in floorplan


More detailed floor plans include “dimension strings” to locate windows, doors, walls and other architectural elements. These dimension strings are drawn parallel to the element and show their actual length, albeit drawn to scale.



3D Floor Plan

3d floor plan


Another means of aiding legibility is to make the floor plan a three-dimensional drawing. This example does it so well that it’s very easy to see the horizontal plane that cuts through the house. The only problem with this type of drawings is that the software distorts the drawings. So, walls and other elements are not to scale.


Nevertheless, they are helpful in envisioning a design and how furniture fits into particular rooms. Some estate agents are abandoning the traditional 2d floor plan in favour of the 3d version, as they believe this offers a better guide through the property.



Your turn to atempt to read floor plans!

So there are the three major types of floor plans and how to read them. So next time you see one, you’ll have a better understanding of how to read floor plans!


If you want to learn how to draw a floor plan, then have a look at our step by step guide!