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Community and Q&A

Looking for design software recommendations

nick_vk | Posted in General Questions on

Hi –

I’m a new member and I’m looking for recommendations for relatively easy-to-use design software (I did try searching the site but didn’t find anything discussing that). My first task will be a simple floor plan so I can ask the good folks here for advice on placing mini-splits. Further down the road, I’d like to be able to draw out details for roof and wall assemblies for the retrofits I hope to do. Any then maybe a tiny house (or at least a tiny shed) in the future.

I’m also curious whether how much use people make of the 3D capabilities a lot of programs have. Sketchup seem like a pretty good package, and I’m wondering if it’s worth the time to learn to draw in 3D.

I also want to say how much I appreciate both the quality of the advice here and, even more, the welcoming tone of the conversations. I’ve gained a healthy respect for how much I don’t know right along with the encouragement to dig in and learn.


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  1. nick_vk | | #1

    Since I don't see how to edit a post -

    ... how much I don't know right along with the encouragement to dig in and learn!

  2. Reid Baldwin | | #2

    I used Home Designer and that worked well for me. I started with the Architectural version and eventually upgraded to the Pro version. My builder uses the same software, which helped when the time came for me to give up the master copy and let him add things that I wasn't knowledgeable about. There is a learning curve, but that is probably true of any software package that will do what you are looking for. I used the 3D rendering capability quite often to get a better idea what an idea would actually look like.

    I haven't used other software so I cannot offer a comparison.

  3. JTyler | | #3

    I would go ahead and start playing with sketchup. The free version will do everything you are looking for, and it is very intuitive. You will find that it is not difficult to build detailed 3D models that allow you to quickly view different siding, roofing, paint colors, etc. One advantage of using a free program offered by a monster company is that there are TONS of users, and so there is endless advice and tutorials available to walk you through anything you may get stuck on. Good luck and enjoy your design process!

  4. user-2310254 | | #4

    Nick. It sounds like you want to be very hands on with the design, but keep in mind that becoming proficient with any program will be pretty time consuming. (By all means give SketchUp a try.) Working with a local home designer may be a better option if you have only a limited number of "extra" hours to devote to this project.

  5. RMaglad | | #5

    Sketchup is extremely user friendly. Watch a few youtube videos, and it can be pretty simple. I have made about 50 different floor plans using sketchup, adjusting various rooms to suit our needs/wants.. The rectangle tool, offset tool really help to create a space. I would typically start by drawing the interior dimensions of different rooms, then adding on the wall thicknesses, and building off of that. In 2D plan view, draw in your windows and doors as rectangles within the wall. Once happy with the floor plan, use the push/pull tool to lift the walls up to your ceiling height, say 9'. You'll notice that any openings (windows, doors) did not lift. For windows, pull the bottom up to the sill, then draw a rectangle down from the top to the top of window, pull this rectangle across to the adjacent wall. For roof, use the rectangle tool to establish your roof pitch, then use the line tool to extend projections. fill in as needed. I have the program down to where it will take me approximately 2hrs to draw in a floor plan (that i have already penciled on paper), create 3D, and do a crude roof line.

    I have since downloaded Chief Architect. The program is expensive, and has a higher learning curve and requires a lot more finness, and it hates double stud walls. It requires some basic set up on defaults, and styles before drawing your walls. Once the defaults are set though, the entire wall is build with trim and cladding to match the appropriate style. They offer a free 30 day version, and i would watch some youtube videos of it first. The raytrace rendering options is really cool, and really helped my wife "see" the plan.

  6. nick_vk | | #6

    Thanks everybody. I did play with Sketchup a bit but I wasn't able to figure out a quick way to make dimensions visible, so I ended up doing the floor plan with an online app called HomeStyler that Autocad makes. It's not bad but it turns out you can't actually export your files in any useful format, at least in the older version, so I will definitely be going back to Sketchup and investing the time to really learn it.

  7. user-4310370 | | #7

    Sweet Home 3D -

    It is not perfect but free, imports many formats and has a good furniture library and very intuitive to use

    1. shedworkshop | | #13

      This is what I used to mock up my design. It's simple, easy to use, and great for planning layouts, floorplans, interior design, and site plans. It's not detailed enough to show framing layout, wall/roof details, etc., but for basic stuff it's really useful.

  8. Pat_Kiernan | | #8

    I've been using Chief Architect Premier. It's expensive and very powerful. (They also offer the less expensive, reduced feature Home Designer packages, which are still quite capable.) Many processes are intuitive, others have a steeper learning curve. Some operations can be a bit inconsistent. There are many on-line resources for learning the program. I have found it very helpful for visualizing a project because it can generate various 3D perspectives and camera views. My current project has a multi-layer wall -- interior service cavity, 2x6 sheathed wall, exterior insulation and vented rain screen. The program has had some difficulty with proper treatment of windows and with building the perspective framing views for this wall type. Technical support says this behavior is "expected" given the construction of the wall. I'll have to come up with some work-arounds. I hope the software companies can catch up with all the progressive designs discussed on Green Building Advisor.

  9. user-3133848 | | #9

    I am another happy user of Chief Architect's product, in this case the top level of Home Designer. Floor plans, door and window placements, roof structures and more were reasonably straightforward and the 3-D renderings certainly helped communicate to peers and family. Ultimately we had our architect convert my drawings to Autocad but my $ 900 + was well spent.

  10. wisjim | | #10

    We bought Home Designer Suite a couple of years ago and used it a lot while planning a house that we ended up not building. It was fairly easy to use, although a few things like some of the roof details confused me a bit at first. We thought it was a good product for the price. If I recall correctly, we found a coupon for a discount on the purchase on their Facebook page-I'm not sure how often that might happen.

  11. Jon_Lawrence | | #11

    I like Sketchup and the free version provides a lot of capabilities. I did end up buying the license because I needed to convert my files to AutoCad for my architect. If you watch the tutorials provided by Sketchup, you will get up to speed even quicker. I ended modeling my entire project in 3D and it highlighted a lot of issues with the plans.

  12. JaysonThompson | | #12

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  13. DanaStouns | | #14

    Can you also recommend any companies that provide custom system integration services on the market? Just recommend an IT company with a good reputation.

  14. DerekBroun | | #15

    Of course, I can recommend you the company Inoxoft, which provides custom system integration services in the market. They specialize in software development, creation of IT systems and offer professional solutions in the field of system integration. I recommend visiting their website at for more information about their services and projects, as well as to read their reputation and customer reviews.

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