Drawing and Measuring Your Home

When it comes to architectural renderings, make a few preliminary sketches yourself and leave the finished drawings to the professionals.

By Bob Vila | Updated Nov 11, 2013 9:04 PM

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Drawing and Measuring Your Home

When it comes to architectural renderings, I have two recommendations: First, make a few preliminary sketches yourself and, second, leave the finished drawings to the professionals. This isn’t as paradoxical a strategy as it sounds. For a complete novice, making simple drawings can be easy and the benefits great. After a couple of hours spent measuring your house and rendering the spaces on a few sheets of graph paper, I guarantee you’ll have a better understanding of the place.

Now, though, it’s time to sharpen your pencils….

The key drawing is the floor plan. To draw one, you’ll need two tape measures, one 50 feet long and another that’s 16 feet in length. (If you don’t own two such tapes, they’re good investments. Inexpensive tapes can be bought for less than ten dollars each and will be handy later, too, when you’re monitoring construction progress, laying out a garden, doing home repairs, whatever).

For the beginning draftsman, quarter-inch graph paper makes the drawing job immensely easier. During this measuring and preliminary sketching stage, you don’t have to worry about rulers and square comers. You can rely on the grid to keep you from getting too far off.

Start with a single room. Begin by drawing a rough approximation of its shape on your graph paper. Be sure to mark off all the fixed elements, including windows, doors, built-ins, radiators, fireplaces, and appliances.

Starting at the comers, measure the overall length and width of the room. The measurements should be from wall to wall, not molding to molding. Don’t worry about eighths and sixteenths of an inch—round off dimensions to the nearest half inch.

Record the measurements on your sketch. Having a helper will save you time. The second person can not only hold the end of the tape but can write while you call out measurements.

Next measure the distances between the elements. Note those measure­ments on your drawing, too. Now, look again at what you have: Did you miss any­thing? And check your work: Add the shorter distances along one wall to be sure their sum is equal to the overall length. If the numbers don’t add up, go back and measure again.

On a fresh piece of graph paper, start anew. This time iden­tify the longest dimension and determine the largest scale you can use to fit the room onto the sheet. Depending upon the room’s size, the scale might be four quarter- inch-squares per foot, meaning 1 inch of the drawing represents 1 foot of the actual dimension of the room. That would allow a small bathroom of about 7 feet by 10 feet to fit comfortably onto a sheet of paper. Two squares to the foot would allow for a room that’s roughly 15 by 20 feet, and so on.

Plot the outside dimensions of the room first. Next locate the openings, the doors and windows. Put the interior wall thicknesses in, too (they’re easiest to mea­sure at the doorways).

Locate the other fixed elements.

Now that you have a basic plan, you can experiment. I find making little scale models of couches, tables, chairs, and other elements helps in thinking about what you have and what you want to change. Position them in order to see what works for you. In the case of a kitchen renovation, for example, it’s a sim­ple matter to photocopy your basic plan and then vary it with different configura­tions. You can make the room bigger. You can add an L. Or blow out a wall. How about eliminating a closet? Or combining the dining room and kitchen?

One discovery you may make when you draw a room is that your dreams are bigger than the reality. Often spaces that seem large enough to accommodate mixed uses are not, and it’s suddenly apparent when you draw in that new kitchen island, breakfast nook, and pantry. They won’t all fit. That’s one of the purposes of such drawing: You are continuing to educate yourself about your spaces and what you can reasonably expect.

Once you’ve drawn one room, adding others is more of the same.

These drawings won’t make you an artist or designer. Having made them, however, will prove a tremendous advantage as you try to identify for the design pro­fessional or contractor you hire what it is you want and expect. These drawings are a first step toward describing in visual terms what you want to do.

Most architectural firms these days rely on computer-assisted-drawing (CAD) programs. Consumer versions of such software are available from a number of different publishers. Will they save you time in mak­ing basic drawings? If you’re computer literate and adept with a mouse then, yes, probably, the investment of time and money (roughly $50 for a basic program) makes sense because, in the end, you’ll be able to do additional drawings quickly and move on to other sorts of drafting tasks, too. On the other hand, if you don’t often venture into cyberland, it’ll probably take a fair amount of practice and experimentation to execute even a simple drawing. It’s your call.