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Your building plans and specifications are your primary tools for communicating to everyone on the building team what you want built, and how to build it. The visual plans and written specifications work together — with the plans focusing on what to build, and the specifications focusing on the how to build it.

People in the building trades tend to be visual people, who prefer a good drawing over a wordy description of what you have in mind to build. However, drawings rarely tell the whole story so words must be added to describe exactly what materials to use, how to install them, and other important details. The written portion or your plans are called the specifications or “specs” for short.

The design phase is the most important part of your project, so take the time necessary to develop a complete set of plans and specs that covers every aspect of the project.  Take the time needed to fine-tune the plan to exactly what you want. This is by far the cheapest and easiest time to make changes in your project. Erasing and moving a line on a drawing costs a small fraction of what it will cost to move a wall once construction is under way, or completed!

Anything omitted from the plans or specs, or left ambiguous, increases your risk of extra charges, delays, and disputes once the project is under way. Starting a project with just a rough sketch and a vague idea of what you are building is a prescription for endless cost increases, delays, and conflicts. A complete and thorough set of plans and specs will help you:

  • Get apples-to-apples estimates from different contractors.
  • Establish clear quality standards for the contractor to meet.
  • Get what you want and expect, with no unpleasant surprises.
  • Avoid change orders, cost overruns, delays, and disputes.
  • Obtain a construction loan.


The plans for your building or remodeling project can come from yourself, a professional designer, a stock plan book (for a new house), or from a building contractor, who may or may not have special training in design. In many cases, the plans are a hybrid. For example, you may bring some magazine pictures, hand-drawn sketches, or stock plans from a plan book to your designer or contractor, and collaborate on a finished plan. In most states, anyone can design a house or remodel, with or without specific training – or talent, judging by the many bad house designs that get built.   read more


The main purpose of construction drawings (also called plans, blueprints, or working drawings)  is to show what is to be built, while the specifications focus on the materials, installation techniques, and quality standards. However, the distinction is not clear cut.  Most designers put basic construction information in the drawings and use the specs to elaborate on materials, techniques, and standards to be met. Others pack their drawings with written notes that cover a many of the issues commonly contained in the specs.  In some cases, you’ll find the same information in both places. If there is a conflict between the specs and drawing, the specs generally override the plans, at least legally. read more


If construction drawings focus on a building’s shape, appearance, and dimensions, the written specifications, or specs, focus on what materials will be used and how they should be installed. At a minimum, specifications list what materials to use, and call out any special installation requirements. Specs are much more valuable if they go farther and provide detailed installation requirements and establish quality standards for the materials and the workmanship. Equally important is providing a measurable way to determine whether the work has met the standard.  read more



  1. Nathan Phelps says:

    To evaluate a set of plans, I’ve used the approach of having material estimators for rough work call out missing items and give their opinion of the plans. This provides an excellent test of the architect based on the response of outside eyes to their plans. For example: Prior to pulling permit, send the plans to a few local lumber yards for lumber and hardware estimates. Then ask the estimators for their humble opinion of the plans and whether they saw anything that’s not quite right. This approach has saved thousands down the road by preventing on-the-spot change orders. The estimators typically respond enthusiastically because, oddly enough, they say less than 5% of folks ask them their opinion of the plans.

    If your architect, designer, structural engineer, etc., respond proactively to the outside advice then you’ve just upped the trust level quite a bit – a opposed to negative, egocentric ‘I’m the best architect around’ fluff.



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