Do you have a bunch of home improvement dreams, but don’t know where to start? Let a free or inexpensive three-dimensional floor plan program guide you.
While creating a 3D model isn’t a substitute for professionally drawn plans and blueprints, it will give you a way to experiment with ideas before hiring a contractor or architect. And some programs are simple to use: If you know how to use a tape measure and drag objects across a computer screen, you’ve got the skills. Here’s how to start.
Step 1: Take a measured approach
You will need all measurements of the room or project area in order to recreate it. A 25 foot lockable retractable tape measure is the proven tool, but you can also get rough estimates with augmented reality tools like Google’s free Measure app for Android or Apple’s iOS 12 Measure app of the same name. Some apps, like Magicplan for Android and iOS (prices start at $3), can do both measurements and create a floor plan.
Measure everything: the length, width, and depth of the space’s walls, doors, and windows, and don’t forget appliances like radiators. You also need to enter the dimensions of furniture, appliances, and other items in the renovation area. If you plan to buy furniture, appliances, or shelving, collect measurements from the product specifications online (or on the box).
Step 2: Find friendly software
You can find many home design apps in a price range in your app store. And some retailer apps, like those from Build.com and Wayfair, use augmented reality to show virtual objects like furniture in a room.
But if this is all new to you – or if you’re adding a piece – the free edition of Sweet Home 3D for Windows, Mac and Linux computers may be your best bet, as you get an intuitive interface and plenty of design options. The app has many attractive features for beginners, including an illustrated user guide and video tutorials. (A full version of Sweet Home 3D with more design options is also available for less than $15 from the Microsoft and Mac App stores.)
Sweet Home 3D has a free online edition that works in a web browser. SketchUp Free is another browser-based drawing program and has paid versions.
Planner 5D has free versions for Android and iOS that give you plenty of room to play before you start making in-app purchases. The program also works on Windows 10, macOS, and the web.
Step 3: Establish a Floor Plan
Next, create a scale model in the program’s workspace, which usually looks like a grid of squares representing feet or meters. Refer to your measurement list and use the program’s tools and grid to create walls, rooms, doors and other central elements.
If drawing a part from scratch intimidates you at first, check your program to see if it includes templates or sample files. With a little click and drag, you can usually modify these examples to match the outline and measurements of your own part.
Step 4: Add interior furniture
After drawing the outer dimensions of the room, start filling the interior with furniture and household appliances. Most design apps have an object browser window that you can use to drag 3D models of common items (like tables, sofas, and bar carts) into your floor plan wherever you want they go. More elegant furniture may require an in-app purchase.
Depending on your software, you’ll also be able to select different window and door designs, as well as wallpaper, flooring, curtains, and other styled furniture to make your design look as close to your renovation dream as possible.
Step 5: Visualize it in 3D and share it
Some apps offer a split-screen view between the 2D floor plan and a 3D model that you can spin and rotate. Other programs display the project in the flat 2D view and you add the extra dimension by tapping or clicking. Seeing your part in 3D can give you a better idea of how everything works in space, and can highlight issues you may not have seen on the flat floor plan, such as fire sprinklers preventing cabinet doors from fully opening.
When you are satisfied with your creation, move on to the next phase. Print it out to use as a guide as you work, or send a copy to your contractor so you’re both on the same page when it comes time to start the job.