Construction Drawings: This All-important Map for Building Projects Starts With Sketches

Most people wouldn’t dream of traveling somewhere they’ve never been before without a map. Why? Because not having directions is the best way to get lost. The same is true in building. Construction drawings are the “map” homeowners and builders need to show the best route to where they’re going with a project. And anyone with a pencil, paper, and a dot of imagination can get a building idea rolling.

Construction drawings have two main purposes. First, they help those involved envision what a project will look like when complete. This sounds obvious, and it is. Curiously though, I am often amazed at how few people take a few minutes to produce a simple sketch of what they have in mind. Most would agree that the best way to gather their thoughts is to put them on paper, even if only in list form. The same is true in building. A simple sketch gives ideas a concrete form that will not only, like a list, consolidate thoughts, but also make them easy to transmit to others. One of the most common statements heard when a drawing has not been made is, “I’m not a mind reader,” but when a simple clear drawing is present, nobody needs to be one.

The second chief aim of a drawing is that the process will force at least some consideration of the materials needed. For example, though the drawer may not know specific technical details, once he or she has determined rough dimensions of a deck or other building, any good builder can readily stipulate an adequate joist depth or minimum window size among other things. This kind of forethought leads to consideration of one of the most important elements of a building project: What will it cost?

A Brief Outline of Kinds of Drawings Anyone Can Do …

My personal favourite drawing is the “bird’s eye” or “plan view.” As a designer and builder, this for me is the best place to start. A plan view provides an instantaneous idea of the scope of a project. I am delighted to show up for an initial meeting with a client to discover that they’ve already determined a “footprint” of a new deck or other building.

Being that project dimensions are an immediate building concern, this plan view drawing provides an instantaneous outline of where, relative to some other feature, a building sits, as well as how much space it will take up. Think of this in terms of a fence. Few homeowners, waving an arm in the air, say to fencing contractors, “Put it over there somewhere.” Instead, this imagined homeowner will ask that the fence be placed along the property line, and will always have a good idea where this important delineation is. Such designations are helpful and a real time saver in furthering a building idea, allowing parties to move on to other important building details.

After the plan view, the “elevation” is the next place I go in determining a building’s shape. The elevation drawing represents what one will see standing on the ground and looking directly at an imagined project. This drawing is aptly named. It will inform parties how high a building is relative to the ground. It will also show a building’s width or length relative to its height, and serves as a great way to get an idea of proportion. Once this sketch is made, it will be clear whether your project is shaping up more like a Frank Lloyd Wright than a Dr Seuss.

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A Note on Drawing Quality …

Most homeowners are no more designers than they are auto mechanics. Sure, at one time almost everyone knew how to build a house, but things have changed over the years, and a specialised society has developed throughout much of the world. This means that homeowners and builders are not expected to be artists, draught persons or architects able to concoct excellent representational drawings on the spot. This is the terrain of designers and architects. For the purposes of simply conveying a building idea, mastery of the pencil is not required.

What is useful, however, is a little feature of drawings called “scale.” Let’s say, for example, you want a deck that is twelve feet wide, or a building that is 24 feet high. As most buildings other than bird houses are simply too large to fit on one piece of paper, the drawer needs to “scale down” the plan, putting the project on a scale that will fit a pocket or can be carried. Obviously, a life-size drawing of your new home plan will not fit in the back seat of a car.

A common “scale” is 1/4 inch equals one foot. This means that every foot of your building will be represented on paper by the ruler’s measurement of 1/4 of an inch. After “down scaling,” that sketch of a four by six by four foot high doghouse will now fit in your glove compartment.

Many use graph paper, either metric or imperial for their drawings. Using imperial graph paper, simply count twelve squares to show twelve feet. With graph paper, one doesn’t really even need a ruler for a simple sketch to show exact dimensions. If using a ruler, simply count the 1/4 inch markers; twelve of these will equal that twelve feet of your sundeck exactly. If your deck is to be 24 feet long, count out 24 of these 1/4 inch markers, or even easier, as there are four in one inch (four feet), count out six inches for 24 feet.

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One need not always use this scale. Some larger buildings will only fit on a portable sheet of paper at a scale of 1/16 inch equals one foot, or even less. As well, some building details are so small they are difficult to draw using this scale. Many will draw such miniscule details of a building at a ratio of one inch equals one foot or more to make them visible to the naked eye.

Using scale will give your building vision exact proportions, helping accomplish both main purposes of a passable drawing: to give a good idea of how a building will look while helping determine suitable material choices. Unless you really enjoy drawing, don’t get caught up in the details. No one expects a Da Vinci-esque portrayal; a simple line drawing to scale will get an idea across. As a designer, I’m often surprised when offered any quality of drawing, and as design is a large part of the job, I expect to begin with the vaguest of outlines. As a builder, sure it’s nice when a client has a clear idea of what they want, but if not, that’s where the design/draughting skills kick in. On the whole, even a scribble from a client saves a thousand words. Da Vinci’s papers are riddled with these signals of shapes and materials taking form.

A last note on creating simple drawings is something I must have said a hundred times: Not only does a simple sketch map the direction a building will take, but it is cheaper and less stressful to make mistakes with a pencil than it is with a construction crew. No one, neither builder nor homeowner, wants to discover on site that a partition wall intersects a window, or that a supporting post lands directly on the septic hatch. That’s what erasers are for.

Article © K. Hunter/Hunter Construction – Reprint/Copy by Written Consent

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