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The Evolution of House Plans

By Judy Penz Sheluk

There was a time, not so very long ago, when looking for house plans involved flipping through catalogues, studying magazines and, eventually, hiring a designer or residential architect to make that dream home a reality. The emergence of house plan Web sites — most filled with hundreds, if not thousands of plans — has changed all that.
Or has it?
“I’ve never run into someone who can take a stock plan and be completely satisfied,” says Jane Cameron, owner of Life Home Design. “In my experience, people go to these plans to get ideas, but in all my years in this business, no one has ever said [about a stock plan], ‘It’s perfect, draw it up.’ And that’s before taking into account the various building codes and regulations.”
That could be because most stock plans are created as inventory to be sold to builders, developers and private parties via stock plan retailers. In most cases, no house has been built from the plans prior to them being offered for sale, and one basic plan might provide the basis for countless elevations with minute variations. Nonetheless, online stock plans are a booming business.
“Stock plans are effectively created prior to them being sold, but you will not sell stock plans if they do not suit specific needs,” says Marie-France Roger, executive vice-president and senior partner at Drummond House Plans. “As an example, we have a very popular stock plan without a garage. When everybody began asking if we could make this house a bit bigger or with an attached garage, we made some modifications. This is how new stock plans are created.”
Some Web sites are even allowing their customers to design their own house plans online using elements from existing plans. Roger also notes that, to be successful, house plan Web sites must know and understand an ever-changing market.
“A trend today is the blended family. These clients have the need for extra bedrooms and family areas; those with a smaller budget will finish their basement to incorporate extra bedrooms, a family room and storage. Additionally, the stock plan market is attracting first-time home buyers and builders who are looking for affordable housing and multi-family design options. The average cost for an 8-copy stock plan kit is $650.”
What about meeting clients on a one-on-one basis? Isn’t that important?
“We have sold more than 110,000 plans since 1973, and we’ve done more than 5,000 house plan modifications without ever meeting the customer face-to-face,” Rogers notes. “The industry continues to change; you just have to adapt.”

Custom Designed House Plans?
Not Quite
Whereas until recently the choice was between hiring a licenced architect to create a plan from scratch, and choosing one from stock plans, home buyers can now look to a solution which marries the two.
“We thought there should be another alternative, so we began contacting award-winning architects and designers from all over the US and Canada, asking them to let us sell copies of their client-inspired, one-of-a-kind designs,” says Thomas Roedoc, president of Architectural House Plans. “An architect will typically charge 15 per cent of the total cost to build; our cost is about five per cent of the architect's total fees.”
Even having bought one of these design plans, however, further modifications may be necessary to tailor it to the proper lot size, ordinances, zoning laws, building codes and regulations.
“Our home plans and specifications meet or exceeded local, regional and national code requirements in force when and where the house was originally built. However, each municipality and province has its own building codes and regulations, and its own zoning laws and other ordinances,” Roedoc explains. “But let’s quantify that; what we are talking about is modification, not mixing and matching, and that holds true for every type of plan, including stock plans. That’s because every house plan is subject to copyright law, and because every element of a house plan blends together.”
From a wider selection of traditional plans, to on-line mixing-and-matching, to one-of-a-kind designs, any way you look at it, house plan Web sites are expanding the industry in new directions.

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