Draw your own home construction plans...

I have always felt that this website was lacking in only one thing, and that was a training vehicle for learning to draw your own house plans. All my plans listed here were created using CorelDraw v7.0, and that was not a plesant task! Now that the eBook has been completed, I have had time to rectify this training problem for those of you that would prefer to draw your own house plans. The following low cost products will enable anyone who can use a web browser, to also draw code compliant and accurate house plans for DryStacked construction. This completes the final link in a chain to successful building with DryStacked blocks. With these custom block drawing skills, anyone can now be 100% successful at building their own DryStacked block home.

After having used a local plan drawing service, I realized that it was a compromise to get another party involved in my plans. I am not bad mouthing plan designers, because they provide a needed service for stick structures (wooden frame houses). Plan drawing services tend to be like any other service in that you must work within their schedule and their capability constraints.

With a stick plan you absolutely need their experience and design skills to make that plan structurally sound. When working with block construction, the successful mating of thousands of components to form a solid home structure is not required on the plans, although the thousands of blocks are mated into one structural unit with the surface bonding process. The empirical concrete design and roof trusses take care of all structural issues, so you simply need the actual floor plans, foundation plans, etc.

House Plan Training
You may want to consider personal training on how to design your own house plans. This at first sounds extreme and expensive, but neither is the case. There is a website which offers on-line training that may help you to build a better house. This is a training program designed by a professional architect with years of experience. This training program also provides for a real person architect to respond to your e-mail questions. This training is done on a semi-charity basis which is why it is $50 at http://houseplandrafting.us/ This is a new website. If you already have an account let him know via e-mail and he will move your account to here.

This training program will not teach you how to use a CAD program, but instead addresses many important house plan design issues such as door location and sizes, kitchen design layout considerations, code issues about room sizes, standard appliance dimensions, even issues like not placing water pipes in outside walls in cold climates, and more. The program includes having you draw plans using a CAD program. In short, just reading these lessons will keep your house plans workable, even if you don't do all the lesson plan practice CAD drawings. This information can keep you from making plan design and/or layout mistakes as you do it yourself.

Unique Plan Software
Unique commercial house plan software may be your solution. They consist of typical Computer Aided Design (CAD) functions which are limited to only functions used for house plans. There are dozens of these programs available and many of them provide 3-D views inside and outside. The rub is when you try to change the automatic dimensioning format and find that you are forced to do things their way. For example, outside wall dimensions are usually measured from the center of the wall. With DryStacked blocks, the outside wall dimensions must reference the outside side of the walls. Another issue is that you are allowed to violate code requirements while using this software. It may have pretty results, but will the plans pass the building inspector? Click here for a larger view of this home construction house plan.

In short, with unique plan software, you absolutely can not do anything that the program developers did not think of first. If you want a wall placed at a 35 degree angle, it probably can't be done. If you want a nonstandard multiple elevation home, then be prepared to deal with the program limitations. If you want to auto-dimension in half-block increments then it probably can not be done.

If you elect to use a canned design from some other source, pay particular attention to block dimensioning requirements described in other areas of this website. Failure to address block dimensioning issues can ruin your day and make your home construction project very difficult. Bottom line is that you can use these unique plan programs for most of the home interior wall design and outside views. But don't try to draw your foundation plan and structural block wall dimensions with these programs. You could however, design your home with one of these plans and then redimension the floor plan and foundation plan using a CAD program to achieve half-block dimensioning accuracy.

Why Would You
When you develop your own home construction plans, you can proceed at your own pace. You can work on them each evening or only on weekends. You can solicit advice from others by providing a copy of the work in progress for their review. You could even solicit advice from your local permit office while the plans are still in progress. You can create different versions with a little cut and paste and try out new ideas. If you are not computer savvy, then learning a program may not work for you and you need to contract this service.

CAD to the Rescue
CAD programs on the other hand will give you much more flexibility, but you will be hard pressed to get those 3-D images without significantly more effort. The good thing about CAD drawings is that there are few if any limitations.

What is desired is a CAD program that is quick to learn, yet has all the basic functions needed for home construction plan drawings. I have looked far and wide to find an easy to learn CAD program which can meet the following requirements:

* Low cost
* Dimension scaling
* Easy to learn
* Includes a tutorial
* Imports DXF files
* Exports PDF files

* Grid Units can be set to 7-7/8"
* Easily creates parallel lines

QCad for Me
After careful review, I decided that QCad at www.ribbonsoft.com was the best choice for learning to draw dry-stacked block house plans. Qcad is very powerful, has good documentation and support, and sells for $55 as of this writing (price may vary over time) . I mention it here because it has so much bang for the buck. It is so good that I learned how to use it, then I created a training course to teach others how to quickly learn QCad. The full training course description can be found at www.LearnQcad.com. If you want to learn CAD without paying an arm and a leg, then this combination is what you want, and the training-CD cost is $39 (price may vary over time) for 6-hours of training videos. We now offer a free bonus training CD which includes 1-hour and 16-minutes of QCAD training videos related directly to DryStacked block home foundation plan considerations. These video training lessons are Bonus Lessons 31, 32, and 33.

For only $55 (price may vary over time) you can purchase your own copy of QCad Professional version. The included QCad tutorial is static and you have to read the tutorial, and the tutorial was of little use to a CAD newbie. The QCad help files are also very weak for a CAD newbie, but I solved that problem with this low-cost training-CD.

You can get your feet wet by downloading the demo copy of QCad at www.ribbonsoft.com and then go to www.LearnQcad.com and check out the newbie topics. This will allow you to experiment with QCad to see if you want to go that route. Let me forewarn you that learning CAD on your own with no previous CAD experience, is a very daunting task. CAD programs work nothing like other windows drawing programs. The LearnQcad-CD will guide you through all the road mines involved in learning CAD from scratch and get you productive within a few days.

In summary, you can obtain the architectual training course which will show you how to draw houseplans that work and also meet code requirements. You can get QCAD Professional drawing software and the LearnQcad-CD which will teach in great detail, how to draw quickly and accurately using QCad. Sure beats the $1500 fee that most house plans will cost. And now you have total control. You can go to a local printing service to have your final plans printed on large paper, or you can use the procedures described here.

Changes in the "Draw Your Own Plans" Chapter. (7/24/07)

This Chapter has been changed at the Website to reflect our new belief that QCad is now the better CAD program to use with dry stacked block house plans. This change is because we have completed LearnQcad, video training course CD that eliminates the steep newbie learning curve of QCad. With this 6-hour video training course, the power of QCad can be easily realized by most users within a very short time frame. CadStd simply has too many limitations to be considered now that LearnQcad training is available. It took 6-months effort to develope the QCad training course; but that effort is now completed and can be found at www.LearnQcad.com. You will also find a Bonus-CD on the order page.

Changes in the "Draw Your Own Plans" Chapter. (7/31/07)

As we gain more experience using QCad, important new knowledge will be added here. This particular change has to do with paper size and Current Drawing Preferences Options for QCad. There are three variables to be considered here. Do you have Adobe Acrobat with print tiling capability, or another method of tiling your drawing across smaller paper size page boundaries? The next question, do you have a wide-carriage printer (handles 13" wide paper)? And the final question, do you have an inkjet or lazerjet printer?

Narrow-Carriage Printer
If you just have a narrow-carriage (8-1/2" wide paper) printer then you have the following options. Using legal paper and portrait printing orientation, you can tape two pages together and have a drawing size of 14x17 inches, or tape three pages together to obtain 14x25.5 inch drawing size. If you don't need the additional drawing height, then use letter paper for 11x17, or 11x25.5 inches. In all cases I would recommend a three-quarter inch printing border to ensure drawing overlap while printing these page tiles. So the actual drawing border should be 12.5x15.5, 12.5x23.5, 9.5x15.5, and 19.5x23.5 respectively for the above discussions. If you need even more drawing area, then consider using 4-tiles in landscape orientation. This would be the same as the wide-carriage example below using two 11x17 sheets. For these four tiles, use a drawing border size of 15.5x20.5 inches which equals a drawing size of 82'x109' using a scale factor of 0.015625 (3/16"=1'). We also recommend placing a scale bar on the drawing. The scale bar will have tick marks for various dimensions. The scale bar will change if the paper scale changes and is far superior to text scale statements since the scale bar retains its accuracy when the printout scale changes either on purpose or by accident.

So how do you print the seperate page tiles of the drawing? It turns out that you don't need tiling software, you just need a little ingenuity (poor man's tiling). I wasted a couple of days searching for tiling software and never found a low-cost utility solution. So then I returned to QCad and started experimenting. You will notice in QCad print-preview that you can drag the paper around underneath the drawing preview. All you have to do is draw some dotted lines as cutting lines on the drawing, then drag the paper into position and print. Now drag the paper to the next position and print again. After all the page tiles have been printed, just use the cutting lines as guides to trim and tape the drawings together. You can also place a dotted line just ouside the drawing and horizontal to the drawing border box. This line would be used for vertical paper alignment for each QCad tile print paper positioning.

Lazer printers give such high definition when in the 300 or 600 dpi mode, that you can print an 11"x17" drawing on an 8-1/2"x11" letter size page by using the "shrink-to-fit" option. The drawing text size can be as small as 4-inches in height and remain legible with the naked eye (of course a magnifying glass improves the ease of reading). You can also "shrink-to-fit" a 13x19 drawing size, but the magnifying glass will most likely be mandatory. An inkjet printer on the other hand when using shrink-to-fit as described above, will need 5-inch text hight for comfortable viewing.

Wide-Carriage Printer
If you have a wide-carriage printer, then you should special order 13"x19" paper for the optimum drawing size. This is often referred to as SuperA3/B paper. I have found the lowest price for "Inkpress INPMSB100 Proofing Matte Paper 13x19" - 100 Sheets, $26.99 with $7.55 shipping (price may vary over time) at www.bhphotovideo.com. Yes it is expensive, but it gives you that extra drawing space that comes in handy. You can always use cheaper 11"x17" paper if you don't need the additional drawing area. The 11x17 paper sells for about $13.00 per 500 sheets and can usually be found locally. As stated in the eBook, both 11x17 and 13x19 paper sizes should use a scale factor of 0.015625 for 3/16"=1'. With a wide-carriage printer you would simply print from QCad using (Tabloid) 11x17) or (Custom) 13x19 paper selection. We also recommend placing a scale bar on the drawing. The scale bar will have tick marks for various dimensions. The scale bar will change if the paper scaling changes and is far superior to text scale statements since the scale bar retains its accuracy when the printout scale changes either on purpose or by accident.

You can also go large and tile multiple pages in portrait mode to get 17x22 or 19x26 drawing sizes. In reality the drawing area should be reduced to 15.5x20.5 and 17.5x24.5 to ensure printouts that overlap enough for proper taping. In this case, you may want to consider changing the drawing scale factor to 0.020833 (1/4"=1'). I myself would leave the scale factor at 0.015625 (3/16"=1') because that is more than adequate and affords much more drawing space on the printout. So how do you print the seperate page tiles of the drawing? It turns out that you don't need tiling software, you just need a little ingenuity (poor man's tiling). I wasted a couple of days searching for tiling software and never found a low-cost utility solution. So then I returned to QCad and started experimenting. You will notice in QCad print-preview that you can drag the paper around underneath the drawing preview. All you have to do is draw some dotted lines as cutting lines on the drawing, then drag the paper into position and print. Now drag the paper to the next position and print again. After all the page tiles have been printed, just use the cutting lines as guides to trim and tape the drawings together. You can also place a dotted line just outside the drawing and horizontal to the drawing border box. This line would be used for accurate vertical paper alignment registration for each tile print paper positioning action in QCad.

Adobe Acrobat Page Tiling
Be warned that I have found that my version of QCad generates faulty PDF export files when custom paper size is selected. This limits your maximum drawing size when printing from PDF export files to the largest listed page size in QCad which is Tabloid (11x17 inches). The "poor man's tiling" procedures described above will permit larger drawing sizes. If you have Adobe Acrobat (not Adobe Reader) with tiling capability, or another method of tiling large pages on smaller page printers, then you have many more options. If any of you know of a good tiling application that is low-cost or free and tiles as well as Adobe Acrobat does, please let me know and I will add it here. Just export your drawing to a PDF file then use Adobe Acrobat to print that PDF file. During the Adobe Acrobat print dialog, under the "page scale" option, select the <tile all pages> choice. Then set "tile scale" to 100% and set "overlap" to zero. Set "cut marks" to <Western Style>, uncheck the "labels" checkbox, and select "print color as black" checkbox if you have a monochrome printer. You may have to adjust some "printer properties" until this print dialog box shows the "print preview" area the way you want it to look. Now just click "OK" and the print job will proceed. Cut the paper as required on the "cut marks" and tape the sheets together.

Recommended Drawing Changes
In closing, we offer the following changes to the Current Drawing Preferences within QCad:

Inch - Architectual - 0'-0 1/16"

Dimension - text height - 4 or 5-inches
Dimension - ext line - 4-inches
Dimension - offset - 2-inches
Dimension - line gap - 2-inches
Dimension - arrow size - 6-inches

We also recommend that you set all default layer line widths to 0.20mm, and leave your printer in its high resolution mode. This will result in pleasing line widths that are good for 8-1/2x11; 11x17; and 13x19 inch paper. This 0.20mm line width also appears to work quite well with 17x22 and 19x26 inch tiled pages. Remember, if you have a monochrome printer, the printer will dither lines to make them represent different colors. This is not good because the dithered text is very difficult to read. We recommend that you use the QCad print preview "wht/blk mode" button before printing to eliminate dithered color simulation. This way you can keep colors for differing drawing layers in QCad views, yet the printed page will not be dithered.

As mentioned earlier, we now recommend placing a scale bar on the drawing. The scale bar will have tick marks for various dimensions. The scale bar will change if the paper scale changes and is far superior to text scale statements since the scale bar retains its accuracy when the printout scale changes either on purpose or by accident.

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