How to Design a House You’ll Love

Paige Bennett
Written by Paige Bennett
Updated March 1, 2023
A view of a house exterior
Photo: WavebreakMediaMicro/Adobe Stock

Your new home is only a blueprint away

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Not much beats the feeling of stepping into your brand new home—except maybe knowing that you designed that house yourself. From how many bathrooms you want to where you’ll put the garage, there are a lot of things to consider when designing a new home. Get your pen and paper ready, and follow these steps to learn how to design the perfect home for you and your family.

Why Design a House?

Designing a new home helps you create your dream space, rather than buying and living in a home designed by and for someone else. You’ll feel at home from the second you move in because you were involved in virtually every decision.

Whether you’re obsessed with an open floor plan, focused on energy efficiency, or want to stick to a certain home design style, you can keep your biggest home dreams top of mind when designing a home. You may not have to make as many concessions or compromises as you would if you bought an already-existing home.

How Much Does It Cost to Design a House?

The cost to draft a house plan is between $800 and $2,700, or an average of $1,750. Hiring an architect will cost significantly more than hiring a draftsperson. You’ll find that architects may charge up to 10% of the project’s cost, while a draftsperson may only charge as much as 3%.

Keep in mind that this is just for the design cost, not the actual implementation of your designs.

How to Prep for Designing a House

The prep work you put into designing a house sets the foundation for how smoothly your project will go. With this in mind, here are several steps you can take to prepare for designing your home.

Calculate Your Budget

Your budget will play a major role in determining what you can build. You don’t want to design a house that you can’t afford. So, before you begin designing away and adding features and custom layouts, sit down with a financial advisor to budget for your project. A good rule of thumb is that your housing expenses should be 28% or less of your total income before taxes. You can also explore home loans and see how far your savings will go.

Know Your Timeframe

From start to finish, designing your house takes around four to six months on average. It’s important to have a realistic plan for the design so that you can have it complete and ready when it comes time to build your home.

Architect, Draftsperson, and Engineer: Know the Difference

Depending on how you want to move forward with your project and what you already have in place, you may need to work with a variety of professionals to help you design your house. A draftsperson, architect, and engineer may provide similar services, but some differences can impact which services you’ll need.

  • Architect: An architect designs your home for you and oversees the creative elements of the project, as well as the early consultation, planning, and design. 

  • Draftsperson: A drafter uses design software to turn your design into a blueprint. They prepare the technical aspects of your design and then send them to an architect or engineer for approval, but they don’t usually play a role beyond planning a house.

  • Engineer: An engineer ensures the design is up to code and structurally safe, then clears the construction design.

Analyze Your Site

Knowing your lot’s layout is essential to drafting a good floor plan for your home. Consider the following questions:

  • How large is your site?

  • What kind of soil does your site have? You’ll likely need to test your soil.

  • Is your lot on a hill, slope, or valley?

  • What is the climate like?

  • Are there bodies of water, trees, boulders, or other potential obstacles?

  • What level is the water table?

  • How close are your neighbors or the street?

  • Are there any noise factors to consider?

  • Where does the sun hit the land?

  • Does your local municipality have any unique codes you should be aware of?

Choose a Style

Coming into the design process without a home style in mind is like going to the hairdresser and telling them you don’t know what you want them to do with your hair—it can result in a final product that doesn’t capture your personality. Avoid confusion or miscommunication by knowing which home style you’d like.

Here are common architectural styles for homes worth considering:

6 common architectural styles for homes, including ranch and split-level

How to Design a House

People review house blueprints
Photo: wutzkoh/Adobe Stock

Designing your house comes with many steps and can vary depending on how you go about the project. If you change your mind, for example, it can add steps, as can building a particularly large and intricate home. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to design a house.

Choose a Layout

The layout is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle of your blueprint. Before you can really go into detail about the rest of your project, it’s helpful to know exactly where each room will go on your property, among other things. Here’s how to choose a layout:

  1. Consider the physical properties of your lot.

  2. Determine how many rooms you want.

  3. Choose your entry points.

  4. Decide whether you want a single-story or multi-story home.

  5. Decide where and how you want your stairs to be (optional).

  6. Figure out an estimate of where you want your rooms to go.

  7. Choose a living area space on the north- or east-facing areas for morning sunlight and a cooler evening.

  8. Place your bathrooms, laundry rooms, closets, and storage spaces on the west side of the layout where it’s warmer.

  9. Decide on a south-facing attached or detached garage.

  10. Don’t forget your storage space.

  11. Draw out a rough layout of your design as a reference point.

Determine the Square Footage

Once you know how many rooms you want and where you want your rooms to go, you can now calculate the square footage per room. Knowing just how big your rooms should be may be difficult, so measure your existing home’s walls to use as a guideline for designing your new home. Write down all of the measurements next to each room on your rough layout blueprint.

If you’re stumped here, this step is where a local architect can help. Schedule a meeting on the early side to go over this and other important details.

Apply Stylistic Elements 

The style of your home is your chance to add character and personality to the design. While applying stylistic elements to your draft, you may find yourself scribbling over previous layouts. It’s a good idea to keep several printed copies of your drafts to go over in pencil as you brainstorm.

Follow these steps to create the right style for your home.

  1. Choose where you want your windows and doors to be.

  2. Determine the height of your rooms, windows, and doors.

  3. Choose whether you want an open- or closed-concept interior.

  4. Make a list of materials you’d like to use to match your design. 

Identify Key Systems

It’s important to plan for installing plumbing, HVAC, and electrical systems. These systems may impact your design. For example, you don’t want to install plumbing through exterior walls or attics that don’t have a heating system because this increases the likelihood that your pipes will freeze in the winter.

Indicate in your design plan where you want to install the following so that a professional can look over the routing of each as it pertains to your design:

  • Electrical system

  • Plumbing system

  • Air conditioner system

  • Furnace or boiler system

  • Heat pump system

  • Solar panel system

  • Solar battery backup system

  • Generator system

  • Radiant heating system

  • Natural gas pipes

Again, this is also where a pro can come in handy, as they’ll have experience accounting for all of these different systems.

Create a Brief

With all of the basics established, you now have enough information to create a brief. This brief can be for your reference, or you can take it to a professional architect or drafter to turn it into a blueprint. Follow these steps to create your brief:

  1. State the sizes of each room in your design.

  2. Discuss the layout of the rooms.

  3. Indicate which style you’d like.

  4. State how energy-efficient you want your design to be.

  5. Discuss heating, plumbing, and electrical systems.

  6. Include your budget.

  7. List your timeline for the start and completion of the project.

  8. Include a sketch or model of your design if possible.

  9. If you don’t have a model or sketch, find existing samples to include.

Construct the Design Plan

There are four ways you can go about constructing your design plan. You can either draw up your floor plan by hand, use design software, buy a ready-made floor plan, or work with a designer to map out your floor plan.

Draw Your Own Floor Plan

If you want to do things the old-fashioned way, manually draft your floor plan using the tried and tested pencil and paper method.

  1. Draw a large polygon in the shape of your desired layout. Try to use the entire paper.

  2. List the areas of your home that you want to include in your plan.

  3. Draw polygons inside the main polygon to represent an aerial view of each room. These are the walls. 

  4. Write the name of each room inside each polygon.

  5. Write down the lengths of each room underneath each label. (Ex. Bedroom 10 feet by 10 feet) 

  6. Erase 1.5-inch gaps for every window you want.

  7. For doors, erase another 1.5-inch gap and draw an arc or angle bracket to represent the doors. 

  8. List your fixtures—like sinks, toilets, lights, and electrical outlets—outside of the main polygon and give them each a symbol to create a map key.

  9. Use these symbols in their respective locations inside the smaller polygon structures (or rooms). 

Use Software 

If you enjoy using technology and want to get super detailed, you’ll want to use 3D software. You can even draw a home from an existing blueprint template, depending on which software you choose. Here’s a general rundown on how to use home design software to design your house:

  1. Download a home design software.

  2. Draw an overall outline of your home.

  3. Drag and drop rooms.

  4. Add measurements and labels to your rooms.

  5. Make spaces for windows, doors, plumbing, and more.

  6. Add fixtures and furniture. 

  7. Print your floor plan.

  8. Turn it into a 3D plan.

  9. Save a copy of your plan to take to an architect or engineer.

Buy a Ready-Made Floor Plan

A ready-made floor plan is an affordable and easy way to design a house, and it doesn’t have to be set in stone. If you like a floor plan but want to adjust sections of it or write in your square footage and other specifications, you can jot down the ideas to take to an architect or draftsperson.

Follow these steps to purchase a ready-made floor plan.

  1. Browse online for a ready-made floor plan.

  2. Pay for and download the plan. 

  3. If you’d like to alter the floor plan, print copies and jot down notes in a red pen to make changes.

Work with a Designer

You can streamline the entire process by working directly with an architect to produce the floor plan for your new home. This option is best for anyone designing a complex, larger, or multi-level home. If you opt for this choice, your pro will develop a plan with you and draft it up without you lifting a finger. Just remember to bring your brief with you to the consultation.

Get Your Design Reviewed and Approved

The last step to finalizing your design is to review and approve it. To do this, follow these steps:

  • Contact your local jurisdiction for home design approvals. 

  • Reach out to a civil engineer near you or an architect to help you gather the required documents if you’re unsure. 

  • Submit your site plan review application and the associated fees. 

  • A planning commission or design review subcommittee will review the site plan and send you a report. 

  • If needed, you must revise the plan per the report and send it back for review. This process may happen multiple times.

  • Eventually, you’ll receive an official site plan approval.

Tips for Designing a House

A couple consults with an architect
Photo: Farknot Architect/Adobe Stock

Planning a house is a complicated process with many different methods for success. Here are a few general guidelines for designing a house and avoiding any mistakes along the way.

  • Survey the land thoroughly for any physical limitations or factors that could affect the build of your house. A rocky terrain, hill, slope, or water source could jeopardize the success of your layout.

  • Your climate may also play a role in how you design your home, especially if you’re building a coastal home or a home in a region prone to flooding, severe weather, or even erosion. So ask your architect or a local house-building company for advice on how to build a weather-resistant home if you live in an area prone to natural disasters.

  • Visualize yourself walking through your new home to see if your layout fits your lifestyle.

  • Plan for the future. If you know you want to expand your family, consider including additional rooms.

  • Plan for your bedrooms to be in a secluded location if noise is an issue. 

  • Consider the orientation of your home for maximum natural light.

  • Be flexible as you go—you might need to make many changes along the way.

DIY vs. Hire a Pro

Designing a home on your own is no easy feat. While you can use software to design a blueprint for a home or find downloadable, ready-made homes, you’ll want to avoid DIYing a project of this magnitude unless you have experience designing homes. If you’re inexperienced, you could design a home that doesn’t fit the property, lacks natural lighting, feels boxy or has a confusing layout, or even neglects to include key rooms in a house.

Instead, it’s wise to take on the cost of hiring an architect to help. An architect can help actualize your dream home by providing you with the technical, engineering, and design elements all in one. If you do want to try your hand at planning your house, you can always take your plans to the next level with the help of an architect.

Frequently Asked Questions

The best way to start designing a house is to know what you want before you start designing. Making a list of your biggest priorities in a home will help. Designing a house without an idea of what you need or want in a home will lead to many trials and errors that could make it harder for you to figure out what you really need in your design.

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