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How to Read Architect's Drawings

Step 1:

   •    Cover sheet.  This will contain the project name,  the architect's name, address, and contact information, the
         project location, and the date. This page is very similar to the cover of a book.
  
   •    Plan Index.  This  page (pages) will have an index of plan sheets (and sometimes their contents).  It also will
         include an abbreviation key, a scale bar with the plan scale indicated, and occasionally design notes.

   •    Location plan. This will have an area map, with an enlarged location map, usually giving enough information
        to locate the project site from nearby towns or highways. This sheet is not found in all sets of plans.

   •    Site plans.  These  pages  usually  are numbered starting with a "C", such as Sheet "C 001", "C 002". This
         will
often contain several sheets, showing:
            
                    Topographical Information. This will indicate to the builder the topography (slopes or flatness) of 
                         the site.
     
                  o    Demolition   plan.   This   sheet   (or   sheets)  will  show  the  structures  or  features  which  will  be
                        demolished
on the site prior to grading for construction. It will have trees or other items  which are to
                        remain noted
in the keynotes.

                  o    Site utility plans. This sheet (sheets) will indicate the location  of existing underground utilities, so
                        that they can be protected during excavation and construction.

   •    Architectural  sheets.  These  sheets  will  usually  be  numbered  "A",  such  as  "A 001".  These sheets will
        describe and give measurements for the basic footprint of the building.  These plan sheets should include the
        following.

                  o    Floor  plans.  These   sheets   will   show   the  location  of  the  walls  of  the  building,  and  identify
                        components like doors, windows,  bathrooms,  and other elements.  There will be dimensions noted
                        as
distances between,  or from center to center of walls,  width  of openings for windows and doors,
                        and
changes in floor elevations, if the floor is multilevel. Floor plans consist of various levels of detail
                        depending  on  the  stage  of  the  project.  At  stage D (planning) drawings may show only the major
                        features  of  the  space.  At a tender stage, drawings will be more detailed, illustrating all features of
                        the
space at a larger scale to allow a contractor to price the job.

                  o    Ceiling plans.  Here,  the  architect  will  show  the  types,  heights,  and  other  feature of ceilings in
                        different locations in the building.

                  o    Roof  framing  plan.  These  pages  will  indicate  the layout for joists, rafters, trusses, bar joists, or
                        other roof framing members, as well as decking and roofing details.

                  o    Finish  schedule.  This  is  usually  a  table  listing  the  different  finishes  in  each  individual room.
                        It  should 
list  paint  colors  for  each wall, flooring type and color, ceiling height, type, and color, wall
                        base, and
other notes and details for constructing the finish in areas listed.

                  o    Door / Window  schedule.  This  table  will  have a  list of doors, describing the opening, "hand" of
                        doors,  window information (often keyed off of the floor plan, example, window or door type "A", "B",
                        etc.).  It will also include  installation details (cuts) for flashings,  attachment methods,  and hardware
                        specifications.  There  may  also  be  a  seperate  schedule for window and door finishes. A window
                        example would be "Mill finish, aluminum", a door might be "Oak, natural finish".                                            
                  o    Details.  This  may  include  bathroom fixture layouts, casework (cabinets), closet accessories, and
                        other elements not specifically noted on other sheets.

                  o    Elevations. These are views from the exterior, indicating the material used in exterior walls,  (brick,
                        stucco,  vinyl,  etc),  the  location  of  windows and doors from a side view, the roof slopes, and other
                        elements visible from the exterior.

   •    Structural plans. The structural plans usually are numbered beginning with "S",  as in  "S 001" These plans
         include   reinforcement,   foundations,   slab   thicknesses,   framing   materials,  (lumber,  concrete  pilasters,
         structural
steel, concrete block, etc.)

                  o    Foundation plan. This sheet will show the size,  thickness,  and elevation of footings (footers), with
                        notes regarding the placement of reinforcing bars  (rebar).  It  will  note  locations  for anchor bolts or
                        weld plate imbeds for structural steel, and other elements.  A footing schedule is often shown on the
                        first  sheet  of  structural  notes,  as  well  as  notes  regarding the reinforcing requirements, concrete
                        break  strenth  requirements,  and  other   written  statements  for  structural   strengths,  and   testing
                        requirements.

                  o    Framing plan.  This will indicate the material used for framing the building.  This may include wood
                        or
metal studs, concrete masonary units, or structural steel.

                  o    Intermediate  structural  framing  plans.  These  are used for multistory construction, where each
                        level may require support columns, beams, joists, decking, and other elements.

   •    Plumbing  plan.  Plumbing  drawing  pages  are  numbered  beginning  with "P". These sheets will show the
        location and type of plumbing incorporated in the building.

                  o    Plumbing  rough - in.  This  sheet  will  show  the location of pipes which are to be "stubbed up" to
                        connect the plumbing fixtures to water supply, drain/waste, and vent systems.

                  o    Plumbing  floor plan. This sheet will show the location and type of plumbing fixtures, as well as the
                        route pipes will be run (overhead or through walls) for potable water and drain, waste, and vents.

   •    Mechanical  drawings.  Mechanical  pages  are  numbered  beginning  with  "M". This sheet (or sheets) will
        show 
the  location of HVAC (heating, ventillation, and air conditioning) equipment,  ductwork, and refrigerant
        piping,
as well as control wiring.
 
   •    Electrical  plan.  The  electrical  drawings  are  numbered beginning with "E". This sheet (sheets) shows the
         location  of  the  electrical  circuits,  panel boxes, and fixtures throughout the building, as well as switchgears,
         subpanels, and transformers, if incorporated in the building. Special pages found in the electrical plan pages
         may  be  "riser"  details,  showing  the  configuration  of  power  supply  wiring,  panel schedules, identifying
         specific breaker amperages and circuits, and notes regarding types and gauges of wires and conduit sizes.

   •    BMP  (Best  Management  Practices)  drawings,  or  enviromental plans. This sheet will indicate protected
        areas   of   the   site,   erosion   control   plans,   and   methods  for  preventing  enviromental  damage  during
        construction. 
There  may  be  details  in  the  BMP  drawings  showing  tree  protection  techniques, silt fence
        installation 
requirements,  and  temporary storm water retainage measures. The requirement for a BMP plan
        originates
under the enviromental protection department of your local, state, or national governing authority.

Step 2:

   •   Locate the element of construction you are reviewing to implement a portion of your work. If you are
        laying  out  the  location  of  the  building,  you  will  first  look  at  the site plan for location of existing buildings,
        structures,  or  property  lines  so  you  have  a  reference  point  to  begin measuring to your building footprint.
        Some 
plans  simply  give  a  coordinate grid position using northings and eastings, and you will need a "total
        station" 
surveyor's  transit  to locate these points. Here are some example steps for laying out a building foot
        print from
architectural plans.

   •    Lay  out  your  building  on  the site by either the above referenced plan or the measurements given on the
        site  
plan.   Measure  to  locations,  preferrably  corners,  on  one  side   of  the  building,  and  check  for  any
        "checkpoints" 
to  verify  the  accuracy  of  your  layout.  If  you  cannot  absolutely  establish  an  exact building
        line,  you  may  have  to 
suppose  the  location  is  correct  and  continue.  This  is  widely  accepted  in cases
        where the site is very large,
allowing for tolerance, but on a crowded lot or site, the location must be exact.

   •    Establish  the  elevation  you  will  work  from.  This  may  be  a  height  relative  to a nearby roadway, or an
        elevation  determined  from  sea level.  Your site plan or architectural floor plan should have a bench mark (a
        bench  mark  refers to some item, such as a manhole lid or survey waypoint with a known elevation) elevation
        or
a "height above existing grade" as a starting point.

   •    Use  your  plan  to measure the location of each corner of the building, including offsets. Remember what
         exact element of construction you are using for your layout.  You may mark an outside wall line,  a foundation          line,  or a  column line,  depending  on  the  type  of  construction  and the most practicle element for making
         subsequent measurements.  For instance,  if  you are building a structural steel building with I-beam columns
         which  require setting anchor bolts to secure them,  you may begin  your building  layout with the centerline of
         these columns,  where if you are building a wood-framed residential structure with a monolithic slab floor, the
         edge of the slab would be your best choice for the initial layout.

Step 3:

   Reference  the  description of various sheets  to find an element of construction you  are going to use    in  the  work  you  will  perform.  Plumbers  use  the   Architect's  floor  plan  to  locate  walls so the pipes they
   stub  up  will 
be  concealed  inside  the wall cavity when the building is constructed, then use their plumbing floor
   plan to find out
what types and sizes of pipes are required to service a particular fixture.

Step 4:

   Use  the  dimension  scale  where  measurements  are not  provided.  As  a  rule,  architectural  plans  are
   drawn to
a "scale". An example would be, 1 inch equals 10 feet (1"=10'),  so  measuring between to walls on the
   plan  sheet 
means  for  each  inch,   the  distance  is  10  feet.   A  scale  rule [[1]]   will  make  this  much  easier,
   but be careful to match
the rule scale to the plan's scale. Architects often use a scale of fractions, such as a 1/32
   scale,  engineers  usually 
use  an  inch  per  foot  scale.  Some  plans  or details are not to scale, and should be
   marked "(NTS)".

Step 5:

   Read  all  notes  on  a  page.  Often  a  particular  element  has  special  considerations which are more easily
   described  verbally than drawn,  and notes are a tool the architect will use to illustrate them. You may see a table
   of 
notes  on  the  side  of  a sheet, with numbers identifying the note location on the plan (a number with a circle,
   square,  or  triangle  around  it) and a corresponding numbered statement describing the situation on the side of
   the
sheet.

Step 6:

   Learn to recognise the different types of lines the architects and engineers may use. You should have a
   specific  keynote  table  for section of plans, and this will provide information on the abbreviations, symbols, and
   specific  lines used in each section of the plans. An example would be in the electrical plans,  a circuit may have
   the  "home  run"  "leg"  (the wire going from the first junction box in a circuit to the panel box (the power source)
   highlighted  or  in  darker  ink  than  other  circuits,  and  exposed  conduits  may be indicated by a solid line, and
   concealed conduits by a dotted or broken line. Because there are many different line usages indicating different
   type walls, piping, wiring, and other features, you will have to see individual plan page "key notes" to understand
   them.

Step 7:

   Use a "Builder's" calculator to add dimensions when determining distances on your plans.  These are
   calculators  which  add  feet  and  inches,  fractions,  or  metric  measurements. Often, an architect will not give a
   measurement  to  a  specific  plan  item,  from  a  baseline  such as the "'OBL" (outside building line), so you will
   need
to be able to add the distances each feature which has a measurement provided, to get the total distance.
   An 
example  would  be  finding  the  center  line  of  a  bathroom  wall  to  locate  the potable water pipe stub up.
   You may
have to add the distance given from the OBL to the living room wall, then the distance to a hallway wall,
   then 
across  a  bedroom,  to  the  bathroom wall in question. This might look like (11' 5) + (5' 2") + (12' 4")= 28'
   11".

Step 8:

   Use  CAD  (Computer  Assisted  Design)  building  plans.  If  you  have  a  set  of  architectural  plans  in  an
   electronic
  form,  as  on  a  CD,  you  will  need  a  version  of the original "cad" program which created it to open
   the  files. 
"AutoCAD"  is  a  popular,  but  very  expensive,  professional  design  program,  and the designer will
   usually  include  a 
"Viewer"  on  the  disc  which  you  can  install  on  your  computer  to  view files, so that actual
   plan  pages  appear  on 
your  screen,  but  without  the  full program, you cannot manipulate design components
   or change the drawings.

Step 9:

   Learn  how  to  handle  architect's plans.  These sets of documents are often very large sheets, about 24" X
   36", 
and  full  construction  sets may include dozens, or hundreds of pages. They are either bound or stapled on
   the  left 
edge,  and allowing them to be torn from the bindings, ripped apart by mishandling, laid out in the sun to
   fade  the 
ink,  or  left  in  the  rain  can make them difficult to use. These documents can cost hundreds of dollars
   (US) to
replace, so try to protect them, and have a flat, wide, protected work surface to unroll and read them on.

Step 10:

   Remember  that  the  building  plans  for  a  project  often  include  contract  documents other than the
   Architect's Drawings.

Step 11:

   Specifications  are  usually  printed  and  kept  in  a  binder,  and they list descriptions of methods and
   materials  used  in  the  project,  as  well  as testing methods, quality control information, geotechnical
   data, and other information useful in building the project.

Step 12:

   Look  for  notes  and  symbol  referring  to  "alternate bid items" and "addendums". These may indicate
   portions of work which are incorporated in the Architect's drawings,  but not in the builder's contract to construct,
   supply, or install.  "NIC" is an abbreviation for Not In Contract,  which means a certain item will be put in a certain
   place by the owner after the project is finished.  "OFCI"  or  "GFCI"  (Owner  Furnished,  Contractor  Installed,  or
   Government  Furnished,  Contractor  Installed)  indicate the item is supplied by the customer, but installed by the
   contractor. Read and understand all abbreviations used in your plans.

Source: wikiHow

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