Whether you are a tradesman, general contractor, subcontractor, construction project manager, or even a project owner, reading construction site plans is a crucial skill to ensure that you stay accurately informed throughout the construction process.
For professional builders that work on the construction site, construction plans are used to communicate critical information that will be used to build the project. Mistakes in reading, understanding and interpreting the plans can lead to confusion, mistakes and rework that wastes time and money. For project managers who are responsible for the build as well as managing financial aspects of the project, the skill of reading construction site plans is an invaluable tool for understanding the project requirements and efficiently deploying labor and materials to keep the project on track.
The skill of reading construction site plans is ironically most important for project owners who never work on the project itself but will ultimately purchase the finished product. Project owners that can read and understand construction site plans are empowered to play an active role in ensuring that the finished building is exactly what they wanted (and paid for).
In this article, we’ll explain how to read construction site plans to ensure accuracy and efficiency on your next construction project.
What is a Construction Site Plan?
A construction site plan, also known as a “construction blueprint” or just “blueprint” is a 2-D drawing (or a set of 2-D drawings) that illustrate all of the details of a construction project. A comprehensive construction site plan should include the following:
1. Dimensions of the construction site, the building that will be constructed and rooms inside the building.
2. Parts that will be used in the construction process, often represented by special symbols in the legend.
3. The location of the construction site, the layout of the building , how rooms will be oriented, and where parts and materials will be used on the construction site.
4. Notes indicating what materials will be used for various applications on the job site.
5. Topographical information about the construction site, identifying any hills, slopes or valleys that could impact construction
6. A demolition plan, which describes what structures or features on the construction site must be demolished before the site can be graded for construction.
7. A site utility plan that illustrates the location of existing utility services to the construction site, describes how they will be protected during construction and establishes how the new building will connect to existing utilities infrastructure.
8. An indication of where the foundation for the building will be dug and poured.
Contractors often require more information about a construction site than an architect or designer could reasonably fit into a single drawing. For this reason, the project design team typically produces a set of construction site plans and architectural drawings pertaining to a specific project and indexes them so that they can be easily referenced by the contractor, project manager, and other stakeholders.
Navigating the Plan Index
For complex construction projects, the plan index is your key to finding the right construction site plan or drawing that you need to do your job. If you’re the project owner, you’ll probably want to review all of the project documents in detail to ensure that you are satisfied with what the architects and designers have planned for your project. If you’re a plumbing, electrical, drywall, or another type of subcontractor, you’ll want to find and focus on the plans that pertain to your role on the job site.
A plan index is like a table of contents for construction plans. It includes listings of what plan sheets are available, a description of their contents, and sometimes additional information like an abbreviation key, scale bar or design notes. Most architects use standard naming/numbering conventions to help the general contractor and other readers find the information they need within the plan index.
1. A location plan is often, but not always, included in the set of construction plans. The location plan is an area map that shows the construction site in the context of the surrounding area, usually with nearby buildings or roads as reference points.
2. Construction site plans are published and codified using the letter “C” and a three-digit numbering code that corresponds to each plan sheet. The first sheet might be labelled C 001 and the second would be labelled C 002 and so forth. There may be separate construction plan documents illustrating topographical data, the demolition plan, and other information – match the plan index entry with information in the title block to find the drawings with the information that you need.
3. Architectural sheets describe and give measurements for the electrical systems, plumbing, floor and ceiling plans, building sections, wall sections and other aspects of the building design. These are the most specific and detailed drawings in the project plan – they show exactly where fixtures will be located and detail how they will be constructed. Architectural sheets may be codified with the letter “A” in the plan index, with separate sheets numbered as A 001, A 002, etc.
If your goal is to establish your understanding of a project based on the construction site plans, it makes sense to look at the location plan first. Once you understand the location of the site, the construction site plans tell you the condition of the site, how it will be prepared for construction, and how the building will be positioned on the site. Finally, the architectural sheets contain the most detailed information that specifies how the building will be constructed, including detailed floor plans with doors and windows, electrical and plumbing fixtures and more.
Start with the Title Block
Title Blocks are a standard feature on construction site plans and the first thing you should look for when you start reading. The title block should tell you who drew the plans, the date that the drawings were made, the scale of the drawings, and who approved them. It should also give the drawing a title so it can be referenced by project stakeholders, and it should be given a reference number (C 001, C 002, etc.) if it is part of a project manual with a plan index.
A title block should also contain contact information for the architect – the best person to contact if you have any questions about the plan.
Locate Indicators of Orientation and Scale
Once you’ve looked at the Title Block, the next step is to get yourself oriented. Every construction site plan should have either a compass or an arrow that points North and they are often placed in the top-right corner or near the legend. Along with a North point symbol, you should also be able to identify the scale for the drawing. Blueprints are a proportionally smaller version of the final project – the scale tells you the difference between the size of the actual project and the size of the drawings, for example, 1/4″ = 1′ (one quarter-inch equals one foot).
Find the Draft Lines
When architects draw construction site plans, they use a technique called drafting that is meant to produce accurate, to-scale drawings. Around the edges of the construction site plan, you may see a series of lines with crosses marked into them and numbers between them. These are the draft lines – they contain many of the measurements for features in the site plan. Using the draft lines and the scale, you should be able to determine the dimensions of features in the construction site plan.
Use the Plan Legend to Decode the Details
Construction site plans are full of symbols – there are symbols for windows, symbols for doors, symbols for electrical and plumbing fixtures, and even symbols that represent different types of materials. If you’re struggling to decode the symbols on your construction site plan, the first place you should look is the plan legend. A legend lists all of the symbols that are used in the drawing and states exactly what each symbol means. If your construction site plans don’t include a legend, here are two resources that can help you find the meaning of construction site plan symbols or identify an unknown architectural symbol. If you cannot determine the meaning of a symbol used in the drawing, contact the architect using the information in the Title Block.
Read Any Included Notes
Having read the title block, understood the orientation and scale of the drawing, and worked out the meaning of any symbols used, you should be on your way to making sense of the construction site plans. As an additional source of information, be sure to read any notes that are attached or written on the plans. Architects often indicate important information in notes that could not be interpreted from the drawing itself. Notes may be included with an attached document or written directly on to the plans.
Reading construction site plans is an important skill for trade workers, subcontractors, project managers, and even project owners. Construction site plans depict information about the construction site, such as topographical data, dimensions and specifications, and construction and building design details.
To get a better grasp on construction site plans, start by reading the title block, searching for the scale and the North point symbol and finding the draft lines that contain the measurements for features on the construction site. Use the legend to identify unfamiliar symbols used in the drawings and make sure that you fully read any included or attached notes with the construction site plans.