If you ever build a house, add an addition, or do significant remodelling, you need house plans. Blueprints. (Did you know that they're no longer blue? Technology has caught up and now they're photocopied.) An architect will draw these up for you, or in some cases, the contractor themselves can do simple plans. But trust me on this, you need to check them over very carefully. Things that you think are obvious may not be. You don't want to wait until the middle of the project to realize that your plan that looked so nice and neat on paper would make a room that's completely unliveable. Here are 5 key things to check.
1. Plan your furniture layout. Architects create plans for specific lighting and ventilation requirements as well as design elements. However, sometimes they forget simple things like tvs and furniture have to fit in a room. For example, in our house, the master bedroom plan was great ... until I realized there was no wall big enough for a bed. We would have had to put the bed in the middle of the room. So, as you are reviewing plans, make sure that your furniture will fit, that there's a place for the tv, that the kitchen table that will seat your entire family. And measure your furniture to be sure. What looks big on the plan may turn out to be small in reality.
2. Create rooms of sufficient size. Look at the dimensions on the plans, layout it out, and see if the room size is really sufficient. For example, a bedroom that's 10'x9' may seem large until you actually lay it out. This would make a pretty small bedroom - ok for a small child or an office, but don't plan on two twin beds. While one small room may be ok, make sure that the others are fair size. Also check the size of kitchens and family rooms. Today, living rooms are much smaller as people spend less time there, but make sure your most common rooms are sized appropriately for your family.
3. Avoid "hotel" hallways. These are long hallways with no windows, just a series of doors. If you have a large mansion with a wing just for guests, this may be appropriate, but for the rest of us, you don't want to feel like you're at the Holiday Inn when you go to bed. Make sure the hallways aren't overly long (as in the full width or depth of your house), include a window and perhaps a loveseat, or a different layout such as an L or square.
4. Make sure window locations match inside and out. In a plan, you will see windows on the elevations (exterior views of the sides of the house) and on the floor plans (downward views that show how the floors and rooms lay out). The windows should be in the same places on both - within the room, height, size, width. This also requires skill on the part of your architect so the windows look positioned properly from the inside and the outside. Sometimes, it can be hard to center windows in a room and have the position look correct to the exterior elevation, so make you must make sure that both views are in sync. Again on our house, the exterior elevation on part of the back showed banks of windows stacked over each other on the 2nd, 1st, and basement floors. However, in the basement, to match the exterior, the windows would look quite odd inside. We had to come up with some compromises that would best work. Fortunately, we caught this before it was done poorly or in a way we would regret.
5. Plan for enough closets and storage. You can never have too much storage or too large closets. And today more than ever, closets have almost as much importance as the bedrooms. And it's not just bedroom closets, but plan for pantries in the kitchen (whether it's built or cabinetry), bathrooms, laundry rooms, basements. Don't be afraid to use space around dormers, chimneys, or roof lines to create small storage closets or areas. All provide extra space to help you organize and keep your house neat.
During the course of the houses we have built, I have read many house plans. It still amazes me how many basic things I can miss. For our own house, we made numerous drafts of our plans and still missed things - to the point that the drawings seemed more of a suggestion than an actual plan. Save yourself a few headaches and look over the plans very carefully. And - my final word of advice - make sure your architect measures EVERYTHING ... twice ... if you're remodeling or adding on. A minor mismeasurement can cause a major headache when you actually go to build.