What's wrong with DIY architectural software or stock house plans from the web?


In this series of blog posts, we’re walking through the steps to plan and build a custom home.

You’ll need architectural plans. In the last post, we listed different ways you can get plans. In this post, we talk about the pros and cons of:

  • Using software tools to do your own architectural drawings.
  • Buying stock plans on the web.

But first, before you dash off and get ahead of yourself . . .    

In a previous post, we talked about things to consider when choosing a lot. Some of these things are important when it comes to architectural design, too, so let’s stop a moment and briefly review:

  1. Future growth. The Austin area is a boom town, and growth will continue.
  2. Traffic. Toll roads, construction, infrastructure. 
  3. City or county.  Schools, permits, taxes, police, fire.
  4. Utilities. Are the utilities already curbside, or will you have to build them in?
  5. Soil determines the type of foundation. Is the soil rocky, sandy, clay?
  6. Elevation. Sloped, flat, stair-stepped, below grade. Is there a sweet spot for your house?
  7. Orientation. Locate east, west. How would you orient your home? 
  8. Site preparation. How much effort to clear the lot, remove brush, tear down dilapidated structures?
  9. Water. Is there a public or private water system? Or will you install a rainwater collection system?
  10. Drainage. In central Texas, we end our droughts with flash floods. How will the property drain?
  11. Supply. Evaluate cost, location, terrain, availability.
  12. Payback. Will this lot increase in value?

Should you use DIY architectural software? 

Sure, you've read all the books, watched a lot of YouTube, pinned it on Pinterest, booked it on Houzz, posted it on Facebook, and uploaded it on Instagram. You are loaded with ideas. 

You’ve even found the right software and are ready to take the deep dive into designing your own home. My first suggestion would be to get off all social media, because you’re going to need the time to figure out what you’re doing.

Sure, it looks easy, once it’s done. It’s never a pretty process getting there, and the end results rarely work. Trust me on this one, as I have seen many attempts.

A design professional is trained to consider many requirements: structural, space planning and human factors, building code, permitting, lot orientation, elevation, utilities, easements, set-backs, soil conditions, site plan, and many more. Whereas you’re probably really smart and really good at your job, unless you’re a design professional, you might not be up to the task of unraveling all the requirements and applying them to your unique situation.

If you just can't get past your desire to wade into the tools, go for it. But use them to entertain yourself. Use them to gather ideas and create images that communicate your ideas to the design/build team.

One extra word of caution: We’ve seen people who get mesmerized. They fall in love and get locked into their ideas and plans, even if they aren’t architecturally sound and can’t be built as they imagined or within their budget. Keep an eye on that emotional side of yourself.

Should you buy a set of stock house plans?

Looking at stock plans is great fun. It’s a terrific way to gather ideas and think about what you want. But we’ve never known anyone who had a happy experience when they bought stock plans. 

Why? Well, the plans are generic, meant to satisfy a generic set of conditions. In central Texas, ours is a hot, humid climate, and architectural plans need to take that into consideration. Stock plans might not do that. Nor will stock plans be able to address the particulars of your lot – orientation, slope, site plan, access to utilities, driveway, local codes and permit requirements, and so forth.

You’ll still need to hire a design professional to modify the plans to fit the local requirements and satisfy the permitting authorities.

And if you want to change something – flip the layout, rearrange the kitchen, enlarge the master suite, or add a second floor – you’ll be paying for that too. What seemed like a bargain can turn into a expensive proposition, and you still might not have plans that you can build.

Our suggestion? Browse. Have fun. Take snapshots of floor plans you like. But use your money to hire a qualified, local designer.

Next time, we'll talk about architects and certified building designers.