The Ultimate Guide to Drawings, Plans, and Elevations on Residential Construction

16 December 2021

Construction plans differ from maps, which cover much larger areas and have much larger scale ratios. Rather, a typical construction plan depicts only one structure and its parts or sections. By changing perspectives and details, it can do so in several ways.

Construction drawings also fill an important role in the overall construction planning process. Building departments and local governments must review plans before they issue construction or renovation permits. Planners estimate building material and labour costs based on designs. In the pre-construction planning and scheduling phase, contractors use plans to create work breakdowns and schedule construction tasks. Once construction gets underway, drawings guide the work.

This process was called contact printing, and the result was a blueprint: a white-lined, blue sheet of paper that formed a drawing. Blueprints cost a fraction of the money and time that other contemporary reproduction techniques did. So they quickly gained popularity among not only architects. But also scientists and artists who wanted to quickly reproduce complex diagrams.

Though modern construction plans vary in scale and complexity, they represent everything from small residential to large commercial projects. All construction plans comprise the same essential elements. All buildings, no matter how complex, consist of structural components, mechanical systems, and finishes.

A construction plan will provide the same kind of information regardless of the size or complexity of a project. For example, a floor plan will provide a bird’s eye view of room dimensions and installations regardless of whether it’s drawn for an apartment or a convenience store. And a mechanical plan might detail mechanical systems for either a kitchen or a laboratory. If you can read one, you can read the other; only the level of complexity will vary.

Construction plans are different from a construction company’s business plans, which tell little about specific construction projects and more about how a company wants to develop its business. Construction plans also differ from specifications: A construction plan tells you what you will build, while specifications tell you how you build it.

Specifications will include information on materials you use, installation techniques, and quality standards. While most designers and architects will follow these methods for presenting information, others will annotate specs on construction plans, so the difference isn’t always clear cut. If the information in the specifications conflicts with that of the plans, the usual practice is to follow the specs over the plan.

General contractors, subcontractors, and tradesmen must have a deep knowledge of plan reading, and owners of large commercial projects will want to understand at least the broad strokes of a plan. Small project owners have an advantage if they are familiar with construction plans because they can understand what the builders will be building. If you’re a homeowner and you don’t understand the architect or designer depicts the project, ask them so you’re on the same page before construction gets underway.

Blueprints can seem arcane when you’re starting, but with practice, reading them will get easier. So, if you’re a project owner, don’t shy away from construction plans: Make sure you understand what’s going on with your project.

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