Some people can tell whether they’ll like a house just by reviewing its floor plans. Understanding how to read architectural drawings can be advantageous to home-buyers, especially when it comes to purchasing pre-construction homes. Since you won’t be able to attend an open house or appointed viewing, for a house that doesn’t yet exist, it would benefit you greatly to be able to read the floor plans.

Now, let’s say you’re planning on buying a resale home. It’s still good to know how to read floor plan measurements. Although house tours are a great way to get a feel of the layout of the place, you can make the experience even more informative for yourself by studying the floor plans prior to the house tour. It’s helpful to have a general understanding of what you’ll be walking into. That way, you’ll be able to better compare your actual visit to your expectations. Plus, we just so happen to be living through a pandemic at the moment, and several house tours have been shifted online. This makes it even more valuable for you to be able to read floor plans. So, without further ado, let’s help you learn how to read architectural drawings!

What Is a Floor Plan?

A floor plan, not to be confused with a site plan, is exactly as it sounds. It’s the architectural plan for a specific floor within a building. For example, if you were to ask to see the floor plans of a three-story house, you would receive three pages; one for each floor.

A floor plan focuses entirely on the building itself; the drawing illustrates the positions of walls, doors, windows, balconies, patios, and stairs. Permanent installations, such as sinks, appliances, cabinets, kitchen islands, and bathroom attachments, are typically shown on a floor plan as well. 

Floor Plan With Dimensions

Dimensions of a floor plan typically show the foundation of a building. This includes the walls, windows, and doorways of a house that divides the space into separate rooms. Many measurements are displayed on floor plans to provide builders with proper construction information and to give home-buyers a sense of how space is going to be laid out. Usually, the floor plans you’ll see as the home buyer will have easy to follow guidelines of the dimensions. There should be clear lines, indicating the length of measurement between two points.

Rooms are measured in feet and inches, and width and length. For instance, if you see 15’ x 12’ within the walls of a room on a floor plan, it means that the room is 15 feet wide (horizontal) and 12 feet long (vertical).


While many of the features on a floor plan are pretty self-explanatory, stairs and stairways can be a little tricky if you don’t understand how the information is presented on a floor plan. The stairs are generally drawn in resemblance of a 2D ladder lying flat on the paper, or rather, sequential rectangles. 

Depending on which level of the house you’re looking at, there will be an arrow drawn through the middle of the staircase, indicating whether it leads to the floor above or below. At the point where the stairway reaches 3 feet in height from the ground, you’ll see a diagonal line bisecting the drawing. The section of the staircase that is above the line of separation will be represented with dotted lines. Sometimes you’ll find a label or acronym next to the arrow by the stairs to provide clarity on the direction of the staircase.

Permanent Fixtures and Furniture

Appliances such as the refrigerator, stove, washer and dryer, and so on, are generally fairly easy to spot on a floor plan. The same goes for bathroom fixtures. Based on their recognizable shapes and their location in relation to other fixtures within the room, which is labeled for the reader’s convenience, it’s not hard to identify individual fixtures. Typically, each item on the floor plan drawing will be accompanied by an acronym in its centre to represent the name of the fixture. 

Sometimes general furniture will be shown on floor plans as well to give home-buyers an idea of what could be done with space. It’s a nice way to help visualize what the place can become once it has been furnished. General furniture could be dining room tables, beds, and nightstands, sofas and couches, television sets, etc.

What Does ‘Open to Below’ Mean?

An entrance hall is a great example of an area where you might see an ‘open to below’ label on the floor plan. The large space of the hall generally has a high ceiling, which reaches the height of the house at its top floor. This means you’ll likely be able to view the floor above from where you are on the first floor.

In circumstances like this, you’ll see the term ‘open to below’ on the floor plan. It makes a lot of sense once you understand what it means. The concept is to show that the space drawn on the floor plan is empty, which will allow you to see through to the floor below. Referring back to the entrance hall example; if you look at the floor plan for the second floor, it will show ‘open to below’ over the main entrance area from downstairs. While on the first floor, the entrance hall will show measurements of the high ceilings. 


Now that you know more about how to read architectural drawings, you should be able to get a better understanding of the layout of the space of a house prior to purchase. You’ll know whether the ceilings are too high or too low for your liking and whether the placement of certain fixtures seems efficient or functional to you. 

On the other hand, let’s say you’ve already purchased a house, but it’s still in the middle of construction. Instead of waiting around for its completion, you can start to pick out furniture sizes that you know will fit nicely where you decide to place it because you already know the dimensions of each room by consulting your new home floor plan.

All in all, knowing how to read floor plans is a great skill to have.