Quick guide to house plans: St Johns County, FL

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Steps to Permit

  1. Design DrawingsMcConnell Custom Design
  2. Truss Engineering – Contractor or Owner Builder
  3. Structural Engineer – Contractor or Owner Builder
  4. Permitting – Contractor or Owner Builder

When customers come to me to design a custom house plan, they’re often confused about the various stages in the design and build process. When to do what, and how. Then there’s the terminology. What’s the difference between a house plan, an engineering plan, a building plan and a blueprint, for example?

To help you navigate the house design maze, I explain below some of the confusing issues and terms that surround residential architectural plans.

House Plan First, Contractors’ Bids Second

When looking for a home builder or contractor for a new residential construction, your house plan should be complete or at least at the preliminary stage. Why? First, it’s hard if not impossible for a builder to make an accurate bid without knowing exactly what you want. Second, if you’re going to have three or more tender for your project (which is wise), you want them bidding on the same plan or you can’t compare pricing.

Be aware that beach houses are a little more difficult for contractors to bid for because the foundations of such homes must meet tougher coastal building codes and withstand hostile environments. However, until an engineer gets involved, you can at least compare bids on the living accommodation.

Architect or House Designer?

Did you know that you don’t need an architect to draft your house plan? House designers are equally qualified when it comes to designing single-family residential homes. In fact, you’ll find that most architects prefer working on larger projects like commercial or public buildings (which is why they’re usually more expensive).

When looking for a home builder or contractor for new construction, it is essential to have your house plans complete or at least to a preliminary stage. If you are going to have three or more home builders or contractors bid on your project, you want them biding from the same plans or it is impossible to compare pricing. Beach homes are a little more difficult for home builders or contractors to bid because of the foundation however until an engineer gets involved you can at least compare the part you will live in. You do not need an Architect for house plans. If there are any other questions you have, please feel free to email or call.

Building in St. Johns County from Out of Town

If you’re building in St. Johns County but live in another county, state or country, what’s your first step? It all starts with a house plan. And, yes, we can do that without actually meeting face to face.

I can communicate with you digitally anywhere in the world. If you prefer marking up a paper version of your plans, I’ll send them to you in PDF format so that you can print them at your local print shop or on your home or office printer. St. Johns County is a great place to live. Call or email to get started today!

As-built House Plans

An ‘as-built house plan’ is a record of an existing building (i.e. it shows the building as it is now, before you start adding an extension or knocking down walls).

Before designing a remodel, addition or renovation, you need to record a complete or partial as-built drawing. The reason for doing this is to identify all the changes made to the building throughout the construction project, no matter how minor. This not only helps the contractor by providing important construction information but also safeguards the homeowner/developer just in case construction doesn’t go quite according to plan.

An as-built drawing may also be required after a building is complete. This gives a detailed blueprint of the building and surrounding land, which enables a comparison to be made between the design and the finished product. It records all the changes made to your original specifications (which is why they’re also known as record drawings or red-line drawings).

As-built house plans aren’t essential for every residential construction project. Having said that, they’re very useful for the builder and they give you as the homeowner evidence of what was built.

If you need an as-built drawing for your addition or remodel in and around St. Johns County, I’d be happy to work with you. The initial meeting, which takes place at the job site, usually takes one or more hours to discuss your requirements. If feasible, I’ll also measure the structure’s existing conditions to save you time and money. If you have the existing plans of your home, please have them available for review at the initial meeting.

Coastal Construction Homes

Homes that are built east of the coastal construction line or in certain flood zones, such as V-E, require special attention. There are four sets of codes for these types homes: St. Johns County Building Department, Florida Building Code, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and National FEMA Code regulations.

Careful preliminary work must be done prior to drafting a house plan for a coastal home. A qualified Florida Licensed Engineer must be hired to determine the limits of the design, as determined by each of the four codes, on a per lot and location basis. This may sound overwhelming but, as long as the right steps are followed, wasted time is avoided.

Marine & Dock Plans

Marine and dock plans include wooden docks, concrete floating docks, bulkheads, beach walks and other marine structures that are either over wetlands, rivers, salt or fresh water. They generally require engineering, state and/or county permits. I have considerable experience in designing marine & dock plans, so please contact me with your ideas.


Many people refer to house plans as blueprints. The term ‘blueprint’ stems from the traditional method of reproducing large architectural and construction drawings, known as blueprinting.  A blueprint used to be white lines on a blue background. They were replaced by blue lines on a white background.

Today’s architectural and construction drawings (generally referred to as house plans) are generally 36 inches wide by 24 inches high, though large sets of plans are 48 x 36 inches. They’re reproduced by large-format copy machines.

House plans are may also be called engineering plans, building plans or simply plans. When reproducing plans, it is usually called ‘making copies’. Your local print shop will want to know how many copies of each sheet you want and if the copies are to be bonded (stapled with a binding strip).

It is still fine to call house plans blueprints (most people will know what you’re talking about).

CAD Drafting Service in AutoCAD

Computer-aided design (CAD) is computer software that helps a house designer or architect design, draft, modify, analyze and document an entire building, or parts thereof. Drafting refers to the technical drawing and the engineering drawing. The graphical representations produced by CAD can be either 2D or 3D.

AutoCAD is probably the most widely used Computer Aided Design (CAD) program across the world and is used in all areas of the construction and mechanical industry. This makes it more compatible for collaboration and file sharing. An example of file sharing would be the survey of your land.

At McConnell Custom Design, I can import the AutoCAD file of your survey and combine it with the building footprint from our drawing file to generate a site plan for your project. This site plan may also be used by engineers and landscape architects. The floor plans and elevations I create will be used by engineers and truss manufactures to generate their work. I draw most new homes in using a program called SoftPlan.

Quality Drafting Plan Example

If you’ve studied a few house plans, you’ve probably noticed that they all seem to use the same conventions when it comes to drawing aspects such as walls, doors and windows. Consistency and general standards are important features of a quality house design. Use the wrong symbol, and you could end up with a door instead of a window. Below, I explain three common conventions that all good house designers use:

  • Line Weight– Line thickness or weight is crucial to a legible plan. Many inexperienced draftspersons only use one or two-line weights. This makes it impossible to distinguish between walls, dimensions, cabinets and openings.
  • Hatch and Shading– Cross hatch for masonry walls and shading for stud walls are the recommended drafting style by the Architectural Graphic Standards. Many inexperienced draftspersons will consider two lines an acceptable representation of a new wall, when in fact two lines with no shading represents an existing wall.
  • Building Dimensions – Building dimensions are used by the contractors and manufactures of products such as roof trusses. The foundation and material take offs for masonry blocks and studs require building dimensions.


If you have any other questions about house plans or the design process in general, feel free to email me at email me or call me during office hours on (904) 794-4500. I’ll be happy to help.

Read more: Building Your Own Home