Most if not all house plan companies offer their plans in the following formats: printed on bond paper or vellum or Mylar; or electronic files in either PDF or CAD format. What follows is an explanation of the advantages and disadvantages (if any) for each.
Plans printed on white bond paper – typically offered in sets of 5 or 8 – used to be quite popular, and are still offered on nearly all house plan sites. However, they have fallen out of favor now that electronic versions are available.
About the only situations where printed plans might be a better option are those where you really only need 5 copies to build in your (often remote and/or unregulated) area, or where finding someone who can printing 24” x 36” sheets is not possible.
Copies printed on white bond paper can be modified (using red ink, in a process called redlining), but this has several drawbacks – The changes need to be done on each set of plans individually; the copyright release that comes with printed plans does not allow duplication, so if you need more copies later on, you need to purchase them; and finally, redlining is not allowed in all areas. In our 15+ years of experience, everyone modifies their plans in some way, even if they don’t plan to when placing an order.
For this reason, plans printed on Mylar or vellum (both of which can be erased and redrawn upon) used to be popular as well. They come with a copyright release that allows you to make copies, before and after changes are made, but most folks still prefer PDF files, which can now be modified.
Unless you plan to make extensive changes to your plans, or intend to change the exterior wall system – each of may necessitate buying the plans in CAD format – the best choice is nearly always to purchase plans in PDF format.
There are so many advantages in doing so:
• They are sent electronically, via email, so you might receive the plans minutes after you place your order
• There is no shipping fee
• You can email the plans to your builder, or several builders, for bids
• Your builders can forward them to their sub-contractors, dramatically speeding up the bid process
• If the plans come with a copyright release allowing you to have plans printed locally (as all of our plans in PDF format do) you can have as many copies printed as you need, whenever you need them, by just emailing the electronic files to a local printer; and,
• They can also be emailed to an engineer or a truss manufacturer, if necessary
Plans in PDF format often cost a bit more than plans printed on bond paper, but it’s a very small price to pay for the savings in time you (and your builder) will realize.
Interestingly, every time we receive an order for printed plans, we call the customer before printing the plans to explain the advantages of purchasing PDF files. In the past 3 years, only once has someone not changed their order, especially after speaking with their builder
Many of our plans come in CAD format as well, but over the years I’ve talked about 75% of our customers who planned to order the files in this format out of doing so. They ask about CAD files because their builder asked them if they can get the plans in that format. But in most cases they are an unnecessary extra expense, because the changes being made are so simple. Add this to the list of questions to ask before ordering plans: what is best for me, and why?
Generally speaking, CAD files make sense only when a major change is anticipated, like changing the exterior wall system, or the house footprint. Or when potential natural disasters, like extremely high winds or flooding, may require engineering changes that would be much faster and easier with CAD files.
By the way, selling plans in CAD format normally adds between $700 and $1,200 to the cost of buying plans, so talking all these customers out of buying CAD files has cost me many thousands of dollars over the years. But I sleep well every night knowing I’ve done the right thing.