How to Read a Floor Plan?

When you intend to build a new home, the floor plan is a treasure trove promising the result. Trying to read a floor plan with dimensions and furniture layout gets you imagining the home of your dreams, and you start to wonder how the spaces will appear.

But the language of a floor plan goes way beyond shapes and measurements. Sometimes experienced residential architects even surprise themselves by how different a finished home feels from their earlier concepts.

Let’s start from the basics – What is a floor plan?

In the earlier days, floor plans used to be called blueprints. These were A1-sized sheets that came in blue ink and comprised of whatever you needed to build a home. Today’s floor plans still comprise the same data but more compactly.

The plans have also become digitalized and can easily be viewed on a screen. They can even be printed on A2 to A4-sized sheets for review. Going into more detail, a floor plan is a part of a set of plans that also comprise the site plan, roofing plans, electrical layout, etc. Individually, a floor plan refers to the layout of each floor.

Walls and Openings

In a floor plan, walls are the most robust visual element. These walls are represented by parallel lines that may be hatched with a pattern or solid. Any breaks in walls represent the openings that are the doors and windows, or any openings between rooms.


Stairs are represented by a series of rectangles with an arrow that indicates which way the staircase is traveling. When the stair rises to a certain level above the floor, it is cut with a diagonal line. The stairs above this cut line are represented with a dashed line.

Furniture Layout

Most residential architects indicate the kitchen and bathroom fixtures as they know that the layout for these spaces is critical. Generally, floor plans exhibit the location of toilets, sinks, and other fixtures.

The placement of a refrigerator concerning the oven and sink could determine if the layout of the kitchen is convenient or awkward. The critical fixtures are relatively easy to spot.

Residential architects may also incorporate flooring material in the floor plans to help you visualize the space or just to delineate between defined areas.

Measurements and Dimensions

Floor plans include dimensions to locate walls, doors, and other elements. These dimensions are represented by dimension strings that are drawn parallel to what they are denoting with a 45-degree hash mark at each end indicating where the measure begins and where it ends.

Room dimensions are represented in width over the length. A room that has a dimension of 14’ x 20’ means that it is 14 feet wide and 20 feet long. Rooms aren’t always square, so ensure that you understand how it appears.


Volume is as critical as the room size or furniture layout in determining the success of the space. Over the years, taller ceilings have gained popularity.

With higher ceilings, smaller floor plans can become more comfortable and spacious. In contrast, a large room with a low height ceiling can feel cramped despite sufficient space.

Ceiling features are represented by a dashed line. Ceiling heights might also influence the energy demand of your home. The more height available in a room, the larger volume of air controlled by the HVAC.

Feature Details

Feature shelves, niches, and other details are a great way to display the aesthetic elements in your home. These should be convenient to notice on a floor plan as there is generally a void on the wall and will be noted.

Kitchen and Bathroom Details

Residential architects ensure to show the locations of the fridge, oven, cooktop, sink, and dishwasher. All these details are critical and are always labeled to help you visualize the space.

Many residential architects advise their clients to analyze the space in the kitchen. At this stage, it would be beneficial to look at the shape and location of the kitchen island and the designated storage space. You may even find it valuable to seek out a kitchen designer to review the design.

During the planning stage, bathrooms details require as much attention as possible. The items to review include the location and length of the vanity, the type of tub, and whether the water closet is closed off with a door or open to the rest of the space.

Some other specifications comprise the number of showerheads, steam shower, or rain head addition. These aspects have visual differences in floor plans and ideally should be indicated.

What will a floor plan tell you?

Here are some things that you might find out once you know how to read a floor plan:

  • You can visualize how it will be like to live in the spaces like watching tv, taking a shower, or making dinner (of course not all at the same time).
  • You can judge the quality of light and ventilation in each of the rooms.
  • You can understand how circulation works in your home.
  • You can understand the orientation.
  • You can see where the views are, both internal and external.
  • You can see the relationship between the spaces.

What a floor plan will not tell you?

Floor plans are the preliminary drawings. Other drawings such as the elevations and sections add to the plan and associate your mind with the structure that is to be built.

  • A floor plan can’t tell you the heights of the openings.
  • A floor plan doesn’t contain any information about what finishes are used on the interior and exterior of the house.
  • A floor plan will not tell you how high the ceiling is unless it is specifically noted.
  • Overall, floor plans don’t have sufficient information to be passed onto the builder to start with the construction.

What do the symbols and figures indicate?

Overall, a floor plan is relatively easy to understand. But some cryptic details mean so much more than they appear. The direction of the arrows, the thickness, and types of lines, the abbreviations, etc. are vital to the floor plan.

These are incorporated so that the builder understands what goes where. They make the job easier.

Orientation and scale

Floor plans feature a North arrow to indicate how the house is oriented. The direction your house faces makes an impact on lighting, heating, and cooling the house.

Floor plans also feature a written ratio scale such as 1/4″ = 1’-0” or 1/8” = 1’-0” to demonstrate scale. This helps give a visual indication of the distances and sizes.

Experiencing the floor plan

Here are some helpful tips to visualize and fully experience the floor plan:

  • Compare a space on your floor plan to a room in your current home. That means to bring out the tape measure.
  • Check out a model home. This won’t be possible for everyone, but if you can manage then pop into a model home with a floor plan like yours.
  • You can harness the power of digitalization. You may have video access to a model home that has a similar floor plan as yours. It can help make things clearer.
  • Take a mental stroll through the floor plan. It could include visualizing your day-to-day life in the new home.

Ask an Architect

All your floor plan-related doubts have one clear answer – Ask an Architect. The one source of information who has designed the floor plan and knows it inside out. Understanding a floor plan is not always easy but your architect is there to guide you!

So, if you’re in the market for a new house or redesigning your current one, reading the floor plan will be relatively easier for you.

And you should have all the information possible. After all, you’re going to be building life onto the floor plan!