You’re buying a brand new house and the plan is in front of you - beautifully drawn boxes with curly and squiggly lines over them.  But what do they mean?  What will it look like in real life and how will it feel as a space to live in?  Here are some tips for turning the page into something you can understand and make decisions about:

  • Enlarge the plan.  Use a photocopier to print an A3-size copy so you can see it more clearly.

  • Understand the scale:  ‘1:100 on A4’ means that what you are seeing is 100th of the final product and one centimetre on the A4-size page represents 100 centimetres, or one metre.  But pay attention to the scale when you are enlarging.  If you double the size of the page (say A4 to A3), then 2cm measured on the page will represent one metre in the house.

  • Look at the areas and compare room sizes.  In metric countries, most plans are in millimetres of which there are 1,000 to each metre.  ‘1,500 x 2,250’ will mean a space that is 1 ½ metres down one side and 2 ¼ metres across the end.  Multiplying the two figures will give you the room area.  Divide the millimetre total by 100,000 to get square metres, eg 1,500 x 2,250 = 3,375,000 which is 3.375 square metres or just over 3 1/3 square metres.

  • Measure out the room sizes with a tape measure to see how big it feels.  A room that is ‘2,127 x 2,715’ on the plan will be small, probably a conservatory or small bathroom.  Measure it out on the floor, or outside.  Is it big enough?

  • Make little cutouts of your furniture to the same scale as your plan.  You can see how they fit in and visualise the way the room will look.

  • Dotted curve lines on the plan indicate which way doors will open, into or out of a room.  Your furniture will need to be arranged to leave the doorway clear.  Will you be able to walk across the room without bumping into things?

  • What’s the overall orientation of the building?  North is usually at the top of a map but not necessarily the top of a plan.  You may need to look at another location map to ascertain the building’s orientation.  Juggle your plan around till you have the north side at the top.  The sun will rise on the right-hand side and cross over to the left, making the rooms on the right hand side of the plan sunny in the morning and the left hand side will get the sun in the afternoon.  If you are in the northern hemisphere, the south side of the house will be the warmest and get the most light.  In the southern hemisphere, it is the north side which gets most sun.

  • Where is the prevailing wind and how strong does it tend to be?  Will one side of the house be colder?

  • Where is the road?  Will you need special glazing for noise?

  • Checking the windows marked on the plan will give you an idea of how light a room will be.  Windows in more than one wall will mean a very light room.  Skylights over internal spaces will also give more light.

  • Where are the power points?  Are there enough of them?  Where is the outlet for the television aerial?  The phone?  These will guide you in placing the television, the computer or a table for the telephone.  You will also want to decide whether you need extra points in the bedroom for a TV or in another room for a broadband or other phone connection.  Think of the things in each room that will need power, eg an electric blanket, a heater, a food mixer, a microwave oven, an extra light for a study desk.

  • How close is the bathroom to the bedroom?  This will feel more important in the middle of the night.

  • Where is the kitchen in relation to where you will eat?  You will need easy access for carrying hot food to the table.  Where is the fridge in relation to the sink?  Where is the stove and how close are the working surfaces?  How much working surface is there in the kitchen?

  • What storage space has been included in the plan?  Where will the bed linen and towels go?  Where will children’s toys be stored?  What about tools?

  • What heating is there and how much will it cost to run?

  • Where is the washing machine going to be?  Is there enough space to pile the dirty laundry?  Is there room for a drier?  Is there easy access to a washing line?  What about the ironing board storage and use?

  • Check the route from the car to the kitchen.  When you bring in the grocery shopping, how easy will it be to unload the car?  What if it’s raining?

  • Where will you accommodate awkward furniture shapes or sizes such as a piano or large cabinet?

  • Consider safety, e.g. stairs, bathroom, kitchen, emergency exits and security.

  • Where are the outside doors?  Will you have muddy shoes tracking through the kitchen?  This can be managed with a good mat, but looking at it will add to the picture building up in your mind.

  • Spend an imaginary day there, a weekend day and a week day.  See yourself in the spaces – your getting up routine, chores (such as laundry, cleaning, dishes), preparing and eating meals, recreation (e.g. floor space for yoga exercises, sound space for music, play space for children), relaxation, and the bedtime routine.  Which activities will need to adapt?

An overall assessment of your needs is a useful starting point in making decisions.  Do you need space for children to play?  Easy access for someone elderly or with mobility challenges?  Space for a home business?  Assessing your needs and reviewing your plan against them will give you a much clearer idea of the suitability of this building for your life and what changes you will need to make.