Every new home starts with a plan, whether it is a plan you find online, a plan you have that you modify, or a 100% custom plan that embodies your vision. It is the roadmap that you and your builder follow to make your dream a reality. So what does it take to make the plan, and how in depth does the plan need to be?
We often hear people say "We don't need anything more than a sketch for my builder," and though that may sometimes be the case, we often find that to be a massive oversimplification. Are you sure you and your builder share the same vision? What about the details? Is the structure adequate and accurate for your type of home? What about adherence to local and regional building codes? Can you pull all of your permits from a sketch? There are many questions and the answers are not always the same.
A sketch, pictures of things you like or even a list of wants is a great place to start. These are good ways to begin the design. From there developing a plan is a process that, if done well, is pretty simple. Creating floor plans, elevations and even 3D modeling takes these ideas and turns them into something more tangible: a workable concept! We call this the preliminary design. This is where you typically go back and forth developing the look and the flow of the structure.
So is this enough to build a new home?
Again, for some builders and building departments, sure, but for most, not really. Developing the construction documents defines everything from the structural methods used to build the home (foundation through roof) as well as compliance with building codes. We will save discussing building codes for another time, but we will at least say this: every home built in the United States has building codes that govern it. Whether or not there is code enforcement in your area is something else entirely, but absolutely, there are building codes where you are looking to build. No exception.
As far as how in depth the construction plans should be, that again depends on your specific situation. Some places require structural engineering, while others do not. Some areas require detailed site, irrigation and drainage plans, while other areas require none of that. Understanding what is required in your area helps you understand what the plans need to encompass.
At the end of the day (or the start of the build) it is good to have a plan that let's everyone know what to expect. A good plan eliminates bad surprises. So, plan accordingly.