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How to Read a Floor Plan

May 24, 2022

You’re thinking about building a home. You start looking at floor plans, and all those lines and symbols seem like a foreign language. Well, it IS. Cothran Homes wants to help you understand how to read a floor plan so you can choose the one that’s right for you!

What is a floor plan?

A floor plan is a two-dimensional diagram that presents the home’s interior layout. The purpose is to show the placement of the spaces and features within a home so you can imagine walking through it.

The view is from above, as though you removed the roof and are looking down into the home. The plan provides room measurements and indicates the placement of features and fixtures like doors, windows, toilets, showers, closets, and major appliances. As you look at a floor plan, you’ll see lines of varying thicknesses and a variety of symbols.


What do the different lines mean in a floor plan?

A floor plan is made up of a variety of lines—solid, dotted, and double. Let’s look at each one so you can learn what they represent.

A solid line indicates a wall, interior or exterior. Some plans use a thick or double line for an exterior wall and a thinner one for interior walls, to provide a clearer distinction between the two.

A dotted or dashed line is not a structural element. It’s more like a marker. This line can symbolize any of a variety of details.

  • It could mark the division between rooms, like in an open concept floor plan. A dotted line indicates where the kitchen separates from the living and dining areas.


  • In a space like a formal dining room or flex room, a dotted line shows the room’s entry. There is no actual door, but you may have the option to close it off with French doors.


  • The dotted line might also show where the flooring changes; for example, from hardwood to tile.


  • A broken line around the perimeter of an area means that there is a ceiling treatment planned there, like a beam, coffered, or tray ceiling.


  • A feature that is not part of the structural footprint is indicated with a dotted line, like an opening from one level to the other (e.g., vaulted ceiling). You’ll likely see “OPEN TO BELOW” on the second level’s floor plan, which shows that this is an open area and does not have a floor.


  • A dotted line on a floor plan also marks items like the upper cabinets in the kitchen and the seating space beyond the kitchen island.


  • The broken line on a floor plan can also show where items like shelving are included, as in a pantry or closet.


How are doors shown on a floor plan?

A home is outfitted with different types of doors: exterior and interior, as well as single, double, sliding, pocket, and barn doors.

  • A conventional single or double door is always illustrated with a line and an arc that shows which way the door swings open. The line of the door is thinner than those used for the walls.


  • A sliding or barn door on a floor plan is shown with a bold line for the door and is marked on the wall in its open position. A barn door will be drawn just parallel to the wall while a pocket door will be marked with a solid line that is laid over the wall where it will be hidden in its pocket.


What does a floor plan tell me about the windows?

A window on a floor plan is shown with parallel lines that separate the solid lines of the wall where they will be installed.

When you read the floor plan, you can see where the windows are positioned but the measurements are not indicated. You can estimate the width of the windows based on the measurement of the wall where they are located. Floor plans do not show the height of windows.

The placement of windows is important for many reasons. A smart floor plan utilizes natural light by placing windows where they allow the sun to shine in. The main living area should have windows on either side so that as daylight moves, your home gets the best of it. In an open floor plan, the layout can “borrow” light from other rooms, as the absence of walls allows that light to wind through the home’s interior.



How do I read the bathroom layout on a floor plan?

Most of the floor plan symbols for a floor plan make sense. You’ll see ovals in the vanity, indicating the sink (or sinks, like a dual vanity). If the bathroom doesn’t include the dual vanity as a standard feature, you’ll see a dotted line for the second one, meaning it is optional.

The bathtub is a larger oval, sometimes encased within a rectangle (for a shower-tub combination), or just a large rectangle. A shower is filled with a large “X” to indicate it’s a shower, not a shower-tub combination.

A commode looks like a commode! If it is separated with a door, you’ll see the symbol with the arc indicating it.


How can I determine the size of each room?

Floor plans should include the dimensions of each room, under the title of that space. Some architects place furniture symbols in the rooms to gauge the fit of standard pieces, like a queen or twin bed, sofa, or dining table. Before you look at floor plans, it’s good to know the size of your current rooms so you can compare them with the ones you’re considering.


How do I know what is optional in a floor plan?

Some features are included in the price of the home while others are optional, like a fireplace or dual vanity. Look for the markings “OPT” or “Optional” to know what’s extra.


What are sight lines?

A sight line is an uninterrupted line of vision. For example, you walk into a home and can see all the way to the backyard from the entry. Architects consider sight lines when designing homes, so although it’s not something that’s marked on a floor plan, it’s factored in.

For example, the designer knows you don’t want to have a bathroom in your line of vision. It’s off to the side. As you mentally wander through a floor plan, picture what you’re seeing. Is it a pleasant view or something you’d rather have tucked away?

Ask yourself in each area, “What can I see from here?” Then decide if your answer pushes the plan to the next round of consideration. A virtual tour lets you walk virtually through a home, steering your way from place to place, even zooming in on details. It is a great way to gather more information on the home you’re considering.


How do I measure the noise level?

There is no symbol on a floor plan for noises. You have to estimate that for yourself. Here is some sound advice for evaluating a home’s acoustics:

  • If the plan has a first-floor owner’s suite, look at what is above it. Will you hear other people walking around in their rooms? Is there a second-story loft where you might locate the fitness room right over your bedroom?


  • Think about the plumbing. The sound of a toilet flushing, faucet running, or washer working can be a distraction. Imagine entertaining in the living room and hearing the toilet flush because the powder room is either right above or right next to the main living area. Always pay attention to the placement of toilets!


  • Your home office should be in a location that offers the quiet and privacy you need in order to be productive. From your home office, what might you hear during work hours? When building your home, you can install additional extra insulation or sound-dampening drywall for an extra layer of noise prevention.


Let’s plan your floor plan.

A floor plan is two-dimensional, but you do not live that way. Reading a floor plan is the first step in choosing and building the right home. Cothran Homes invites you to browse our collection of floor plans. We’re building communities of new construction homes and townhomes in Greenville, SC, and the surrounding suburbs. We focus on quality and affordability, with high style and low maintenance a standard feature in each one.

Reach out to Cothran Homes to start planning your future in a new home.

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