Best software for one-off construction plans
January 5, 2019 1:10 PM   Subscribe

What is the right software for drawing house plans? AutoCAD is pricey, Visio stinks ... other suggestions?

We want to make plans for a house addition (floor plans, elevations, sections, framing plans). Any opinions on our best software option? We currently have access to TurboCAD LTE and Microsoft Visio Pro. TurboCAD is buggy AF, and Visio has not been super intuitive so far. We have one AutoCAD user in the house, but at $1,500+ it's more than we want to spend for one project. Is there a better option? A cheaper way to get AutoCAD for a limited amount of time? We're both handy and have some time to throw at this, but I'm not digging either of our current options. Thank you!!

Bonus question: is anyone out there even using Visio for this? If so, are there any resources we should be looking at?
posted by zibra to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you need construction plans out of it, it's probably going to cost. If you really only need "Broderbund Home Architect"-type layout and dimensions there appear to be a bunch of online ones that seem reasonably priced.
posted by rhizome at 1:17 PM on January 5

SketchUp is easy to use and free unless you want pro stuff like proper drawing layout for printing (which it sounds like you might?)

DraftSight is also free, and has the usual CAD approach (unlike SketchUp, which is more idiosyncratic). If you understand AutoCAD already, try DraftSight.
posted by aramaic at 1:56 PM on January 5 [4 favorites]

AutoCAD LT should be plenty for any of your 2D drawing needs and you can do a subscription for $50 per month. If you already have someone that knows the software I think that’s the best option.
posted by doctord at 2:03 PM on January 5 [5 favorites]

Look at BIM Workbench a free plugin to FreeCad. I just became aware of it either here or another forum and it looks extensive. The 3D tools in general have grown to be very sophisticated but that means a learning curve that will initially feel overwhelming, but allocate some time and a bit of persistence they are very usable.
posted by sammyo at 2:16 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]

Student versions of AutoCAD are free for like, 3 years I want to say? Find someone you know with an .edu account (or sign up at a local community college for a class).
posted by curious nu at 2:20 PM on January 5

2nding sketchup. I've had good results drawing up woodworking plans and drawings for my last 2 remodels
posted by Dr. Twist at 2:37 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

AutoCAD LT is available as a $50/mo subscription. Still not cheap, and missing a LOT of nice AutoCAD features, but for simple drafting it might get you through.
posted by Alterscape at 3:04 PM on January 5

The Home Designer line of software is good for this sort of thing. Home Designer is the consumer-targeted counterpart of the Chief Architect software used by home-building professionals. The highest-tier product in the Home Designer line, Home Designer Professional, is $495 to buy or $49/month to rent. The product comparison page is helpful for figuring out what you need.
posted by Syllepsis at 3:32 PM on January 5

We use Solid Edge quite a bit at work, both for our technicians making sketches for various purposes and for the real engineers making real drawings. Large organization, though, I don't know what it actually costs. It has a 45-day free trial though, soooo if your project was less than that...
posted by ctmf at 3:51 PM on January 5

I use sketchup all the time, it's simple and easy. The pro version is required if you want to make real drawings, it's not terribly expensive though.

Your AutoCAD user will probably find it terribly gauche but tell them to get over it. If they're so great they should do it by hand the old fashioned way :) I like the wysiwygness of it's interface, and you will, too. It's not the most powerful software on the planet but plenty for a simple home addition.
posted by Admiral Viceroy at 5:19 PM on January 5

I've used SketchUp for this kind of thing, working with a general contractor on a new bedroom, or whatever. I never produced like, official building blueprints or anything, but it was certainly enough to like, do a feasibility thing about a room size and which way doors swing and like, work with a GC on paper later.
posted by odinsdream at 5:31 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

Seconding Draftsight, everything is pretty damn close to AutoCAD, just a liiiitttle different. I learned 2D CAD on ACAD and the most frustrating part of DS was constantly typing in ACAD commands instead of the DS analogue. There were stability issues in the past for whatever reason, but I haven't crashed it in a while on the latest version.

I haven't given SketchUp much of a chance TBH, but when I did try using it I was constantly thinking to myself, "why the fuck is it done this way?" Then again I have a Solidworks license so I never had a reason to power through it.
posted by dudemanlives at 5:31 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

And FYI the Draftsight stability issues only cropped up when opening massive layouts with shitloads of layers and blocks. It will handle a home addition without issue.
posted by dudemanlives at 5:36 PM on January 5

Ignore the stupid name, but Sweet Home 3D is surprisingly powerful, easy to use, and free. There was recently a new major revision and it's even better. It helps if you have a graphics accelerator, but it's fine on a laptop especially if you aren't rendering in 3D in realtime all the time and aren't trying to drive a 4k display(s).

I've been designing (many, different) tissue culture laboratory/ office floorplans with it and the architects haven't complained about using those as a template yet.
posted by porpoise at 7:13 PM on January 5

If you are (or someone you know is) a student, Revit is free for up to three years. It's not worth undertaking if you're an unserious learner, but it's so much more sophisticated than CAD.
posted by tapir-whorf at 5:11 AM on January 6

Adding my own voice to the chorus that has already said if you have an AutoCad user, then the free AutoCad clone Draftsight, by Dassault will be the easiest solution. I remain convinced Dassault makes this product available for free just to spite AutoCad. (If it asks you to buy it, just say no. It will still work forever and still be free with no limited features, in case you were wondering.)
posted by seasparrow at 11:51 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]

Nthing Draftsight, but along those same lines is also Siemens SolidEdge 2D Drafting, another free, professional-level drafting tool. It has parametric and constraint-driven functionality that Draftsight lacks, which can be handy.
posted by lordcorvid at 12:38 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]

Also, it's not exactly designed for it, but in a pinch I've done some architectural modeling / drafting in Autodesk's Fusion 360, which is free for the common folk, and useful to have lying around anyway.
posted by lordcorvid at 12:41 PM on January 6

I am/used to work as a designer and draftsperson. AutoCAD LT is fine for 2d work, I have worked in an office that used that rather than the full version and it is largely unnoticeably different if you don't need advanced scripting and advanced block creation abilities. I like to have those things around, but TBH most people driving CAD for architectural docs can't use them.

Given you have someone that can drive it I'd head that direction.

Sketchup is surprisingly commonly used in design and documentation but without learning (and paying for) the bit that outputs worked up plans your output will not be as useful.

Revit, holy hell, I do not suggest that for a one off job if you have no experience.

I have no experience with the others suggested above.
posted by deadwax at 1:21 PM on January 6

Wow, thank you so much, everyone, great suggestions!
posted by zibra at 5:03 AM on January 7

BricsCAD is an AutoCAD clone, shares the same commands and is fully compatible. Much cheaper and has a no-obligation 30 day free trial period.

Autodesk (AutoCAD) also do trial versions, if you can find earlier versions you may be able to jump from version to version as the trials run out....
posted by Kiwi at 5:24 AM on January 7

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