DIY architecture
April 17, 2012 1:03 PM   Subscribe

What are good resources for seeing sample house plans and construction drawings?

Books would be great, especially less expensive books, but if there are online resources, that would be even better.

Just as one example, I need to give the city a drawing of how our exterior staircase will be built. The builder is giving me details like "4x4 post," but the city wants to see a typical attachment. I need to see how that's usually shown (e.g., is it drawn in perspective, or would something simpler suffice?).

That's just this week's example. Last month it was framing. Next week, who knows, lighting? (We're not changing lighting, so maybe they won't need us to draw that. But if one of the inspectors thinks we moved the lights, they may well ask me to give them something.)

Where could I look at examples to see how best to convey what we're planning to do? I'm always googling whatever it is I'm trying to draw, but are there better options that I'm unaware of? Thank you very much for any suggestions!

Also, I apologize if this is a bit repetitive with my earlier questions. I'm coming to realize I have many questions about plans, and i'm asking the question the way I am now to obviate any further questions here. Thanks again!
posted by slidell to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
D.K. Ching's books are the gold standard of accessible illustrated construction techniques. Be aware that this is kind of what architects do, and I know they cost money, but you're paying for their experience and expertise.
posted by Chris4d at 1:33 PM on April 17, 2012

Usually building details are drawn in section, sometimes in plan view. (Not usually perspective.) Generally an architect would do this, but if your city or town doesn't require you to be an architect or engineer to submit drawings, it is going to take a bit more research. I'm not sure what phase of construction or renovation you are at, usually drawings are done and approved by the city before building starts and a contractor is chosen. There are lots of books with construction details (check chapters, etc.) but you can sometimes find specific details from google.
Some contractors provide design / build services so they will do all necessary drawings to get your permit. Sounds like you are trying to do the drawings yourself, so there will be some stuff that you might need extra help from a contractor or someone experienced in building. Good luck!
posted by photoexplorer at 1:34 PM on April 17, 2012

Best answer: Tip for searching google for details:
-use image search, and set it for black and white only, (will get architectural drawings to come up rather than photos)
- search for something like "deck post detail" or similar. I found a few that might be helpful by searching this way
posted by photoexplorer at 1:37 PM on April 17, 2012

Best answer: Ching is a good resource (check your local library if you don't want to invest in the books) but the Graphic Guide to Frame Construction by Thallon is an excellent guidebook to common residential construction. In flipping through mine, there's even a chapter on Exterior Stairs. Keep in mind, that there aren't many sizes noted -- that's up to you (or your contractor/ structural engineer) to determine. A plan view would show the alignment of the stair, the run of the stair and where the landings are located. A section view (cut through) would show more clearly how the stair is actually constructed. You would draw these to scale (your planning department may have a requirement as to which scale to use) and then call out (make notations) as to which parts are which. Example: 4x4 PT Post, 2x8 Doug Fir Riser, etc.
posted by amanda at 1:45 PM on April 17, 2012

I agree that a plan view and cross section will be what the city wants to see. Knowing my city, they might even ask for an "engineered" drawing.

Please don't take this wrong, I'm trying to be helpful:

If you don't know enough about what type of drawing, how will you know WHAT to draw? The city will want you to build what you submit and the inspector will check to see (or not) that it was done according to the plan. Particularly with stairs there are proportions and construction methods that will be second nature an experienced builder or designer/architect. Even with the best of intentions, you're likely to make some errors. The city may not catch your mistakes. It's important to build stairs correctly. Your builder also won't be happy if you design something he doesn't agree with.

I like to do things myself as well and I have done my own drawings. I'm not trying to take you down a peg; just trying to point out some concerns that may arise.

Good luck on your project,
posted by humboldt32 at 4:03 PM on April 17, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks all. I wish I could hire an architect, but I can't.

If you don't know enough about what type of drawing, how will you know WHAT to draw?

I have a contract with a builder. He tells me things like "4x4 posts, a fascia like this, 2x6 supports, joist hangers like this, these Simpson clips." I can picture it, and i'm pretty handy with a ruler (unlike all other home construction tools), so I try to draw it up. Yeah, sometimes the city says, "you need to use 2x8s," so I cross off the 6 and write 8. But in my first attempt at the stairs, the city said "these plans... I just don't know what they're showing me." So. Back to the drawing board. Earlier efforts went fine, since the city gives out sample site plans and floor plans, but they don't have sample deck construction drawings. Hence this question.

Does Ching or Tallon show what a typical sheet / board look like? I'm imagining that those books show drawings of everything, and part of what I'm trying to figure out is what to include and what to leave out. (Likewise, the comments above about just providing a plan and section view were helpful here.) Thanks again!
posted by slidell at 11:13 PM on April 17, 2012

Response by poster: Oh, and reading your comment again, Chuck, I'll show the plans to the builder before submitting. Good point.
posted by slidell at 11:14 PM on April 17, 2012

Best answer: Both Ching and Thallon will show typical details. It is really hard to know that you've shown enough or too much but start with plan and section. (For stairs, don't forget the "nosing.") Think about gravity loads -- they want to know how the stair will be attached to the structure that it is accessing. (A very important detail - how will the landing at the top connect to the structure?) Perhaps your builder can give you a "napkin sketch" with bolt and board sizes, then you can draw it up pretty.

Your examiner also wants to know that it is properly constructed (the right kind of wood and fasteners - your builder seems to be giving you that) and they want to know that whatever it sits on at the bottom is adequate to support the load - concrete footings for the posts and/or a concrete slab properly reinforced at point loads.

I think when you start drawing, you will start to figure it out. But, yeah, it really helps to have a reference. When you're at the library, check out any Taunton books for construction. I've checked out of the library really excellent books like "how to build decks" which cover run-of-the-mill construction scenarios.
posted by amanda at 12:13 PM on April 18, 2012

Oh! They will also want to know how your railing connects to your stair -- a very important detail which when constructed properly means that someone won't lean on the rail and then go tumbling over as the whole thing comes down. Draw your plan and then "walk through it" in your mind to figure out what to show.
posted by amanda at 12:15 PM on April 18, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks again!
posted by slidell at 8:53 PM on April 18, 2012

Best answer: You need to push back on the builder for more information. At some point, they will have to go to the store and buy materials - a sonotube for the post footing, a Simpson Strong-Tie post anchor, some through-bolts. That is the level of information that the building official wants -- what diameter sonotube, and what length? How much reinforcing in the footing? What model/type of post anchor? What diameter through-bolts? The building official barely even needs to see it drawn - everybody knows how these pieces go together - they just want to make sure that you have all the right pieces.

And honestly, if your builder were the one trying to go get the permit for this stair, the building official probably wouldn't be hassling them so much - they assume a minimum level of knowledge and standard practice (and the field inspections will catch the bad builders). The official is probably hassling you because you are a homeowner, and they don;t trust that you know how to do it correctly.

But your builder should know how to do the legwork to get you your permit.
posted by misterbrandt at 8:53 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

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