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VIDEO: A Beginner’s Guide to Reading Building Plans

Are you thinking about building your dream home but worried that you won’t understand your designer’s plans and your new home won’t be exactly as you want it to be? How to read and understand building plans is not always obvious but it’s absolutely vital that anyone embarking on a building project knows how to do it. In this video, Jeremy Gates shares his tips on reading building plans so you will be able to “see” your new home.

Also, he has a bonus tip that will save you thousands of dollars on your build – so stayed tuned for that!


Hi, I’m Jeremy Gates, the Managing Director of Gaia Construction.  I’m a registered builder and have been renovating and extending homes for nearly 30 years now.

Today, I’m going to give you some tips on the different building plans that will be prepared for your works and how to read them.

How to read and understand building plans is not always obvious but it’s absolutely vital that anyone embarking on a renovation or a new build knows how to do it – your designer will ask you to review and comment on their plans to make sure your new home is exactly as you want it to be – if you have no experience with reading plans this can be confusing and intimidating.  So I am going to share with you the tips that I give our clients to ensure there is absolute transparency from the get go and they can “see” their new home on the plans.

Also, I have a bonus tip that will save you thousands of dollars on your build – so stay tuned for that.  You really can’t afford to miss it.

Firstly, your designer/architect will prepare architectural plans or drawings and these are made up of plans, elevations, sections and details.

The first drawing to look at is the architectural plan.  These are a birds eye view looking from above. It can be a floor plan of a whole house or a floor plan of any room in the house.  The plan shows the shape of a building and the position of different rooms.

This is an example of an architectural plan for one of our projects here.  Things to look for are – room sizes, their position in the home and which way the windows & doors open. On the plan, north is usually shown as a compass arrow in one corner like this.

On plans for specific rooms – for example this kitchen plan – you should make sure the cabinets, sink and appliances are set out in the way that will work best for you.

The second drawing to look at are the elevations.  Elevations are a side view of the floor plans.  So you are looking at the walls.  The wall elevations will show the position of windows & doors, and for the kitchen, elevations will show tile layouts and the position of drawers, oven and appliances, the thickness of the worktop etc.  In this example – the North, South, East, West elevations.  The north elevation is standing north and looking south.

In this kitchen example, you have 1,2,3,4 elevations and on elevation 1 you can see the layout of the window wall and elevation 2 the layout of the oven wall.

When you are going through the plans and elevations, your designer or builder may refer to sections.  These are a cut through the middle of the building and allow you to see different floor and ceiling heights.

Your designer or builder may also refer to details.  These are close up drawings of a specific part of a build – for example it may be a construction detail or, for a kitchen, it may be a detail of the finger pull on the drawers.  If the finger pull detail was not included, there is a risk that the builder may not build what you’re after – so it is important that you check the details particularly when they relate to how you will use your new home and how it will look.

Your designer may offer to prepare 3D drawings.  These are computer generated drawings to give you a better perspective of the plans & elevations.  If you have trouble visualising what your new home will look like – it can be very useful to get 3D drawings prepared.  It’s important to note though that if there is any discrepancy between the 3D drawings and the plans & elevations, the plans & elevations will prevail.  So it is important that you understand them and check them properly.

When looking at plans don’t try to look and understand them all in one go. I recommend that you look at the floor plan first – just to get the layout of the home – then choose your favourite room – maybe the kitchen – and understand that, you will quickly get more confident in reading the plans then you will enjoy reading them and be more involved in the design process which will give you a more rewarding experience and a better home.

In basic terms:

  • A plan is looking from above – a birds eye view just like google earth
  • An elevation is a view from a standing position – just like google street view
  • A section is an elevation through the middle of a building – like cutting a cake in half and looking at the filling
  • A detail is a large scale drawing of part of a plan, elevation or section

Your builder will also need your Specifications or Schedule of Fixtures and Fittings.  These are a list of all of the items you would like included in your new home – from appliances, to tiles, to bathroom fittings, to the type of heating and cooling.  If you engage an interior designer, they may assist you with preparing these documents.

Finally, it is likely that you will need engineering drawings to be prepared.  An engineer will prepare drawings that instruct the builder how to put the building together to ensure that it is structurally sound – so for example what minimum sized studs to use. The engineering is the bones of the building.  If you are not interested in this, there is no need to look at these drawings. In a renovation or extension this is the most likely place to have a variation as the existing conditions may be different to what the engineer has drawn. This is not the engineer’s fault, they have to draw existing conditions that they cannot see so they have to assume the house is built a certain way but in real life it may be different.

If you don’t understand your building plans, ask your builder/architect/designer to explain them to you, don’t be embarrassed – remember we do this every day you may not have done it before, this is your home if you understand the drawings you will know what you are engaging (and paying) the builder to build for you.

Thank you for joining me on this quick lesson on how to read and understand building plans.  I hope it was useful.

At the beginning, I promised you a bonus tip that will save you thousands on your building project.

You may have seen some of my other videos where I explain all of the benefits of involving a builder in your building project from the outset.  Today I’m going to share with you one of the ways I save our clients thousands of dollars when I am part of the team working on the design of their new home.

It’s simple.  Use standard sized materials and build according to standard sized openings – so that you can direct your budget to custom big ticket items like the kitchen.

For example, plaster board comes in widths of 1200mm or 1350mm wide.  Typically – floor to ceiling will be 2400mm or 2700mm high (which means 2 sheets of 1200mm plasterboard or 2 sheets of  1350mm plasterboard).  If you were to go up to 2800mm high, the cost is twice as much labour and quarter as much materials – just for an extra 100mm – which will add up to dollars quickly

Doors are another great example.  Standard door sizes are 720, 770, 820, 870 and 920mm wide and 2040mm high or 2340mm high, these standard sized doors generally cost between $100 and $300.

If you were to go to a door 950mm wide and 2400mm high – this could easily cost between $500 to $1000 each.  So if you have 10 doors in your home, this could easily be an extra $6,000 or $7,000.  Also, if your doors are bigger than standard sizes, your architraves will be more expensive.  Architraves generally come in lengths of 5.4 m – enough for a standard 820 x 2340 door.  If you increase the door size to 850 x 2400 you would need an extra length of architrave – most of which will be waste.

It is always best to ask the builder about standard sizes as they work with them everyday.  We are always happy to work with you and recommend standard sizes if they are not specified.


If you are considering renovating or extending in the Bayside area of Melbourne, give us a call.  I would be delighted to have a chat with you about your options for transforming your home.  At Gaia Construction, we are passionate about building high quality, healthy & energy efficient homes that our clients will love living in for years to come.

If you are thinking about doing some building work, download our free guide on the 7 Things You Must Know Before Designing a New Home. It includes lots of useful tips to help you save time and money when designing a new home and renovation.

Download it now to learn how to save time & money and ensure that you are on track to your perfect home.

The Key Things to Know before Designing Your New Home


7 things you must know book




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Sue Davidson

The highlight of Sue's job at Gaia Construction is handing over beautifully crafted homes to excited clients. In her spare time, Sue is passionate about the environment & the outdoors, enjoying time hiking, sailing, walking her dog Lulu and travelling around Australia with her husband Jeremy & Lulu in their small campervan.
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