Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
As a homeowner, you might wonder how easy it is to get blueprints for a newly constructed or existing home. Are they publicly available records, or do you need permission to get them?
Home blueprints are a publicly available record only if the city or county of the property under consideration has them on file as part of a public transaction. Otherwise, blueprints are copyright-protected works unavailable to the public for copying or borrowing.
The rest of this article will explain how to get blueprints for your house, why you can’t get the blueprints for someone else’s house, and what options you have for procuring sets for a design you have in mind.
How To Get the Blueprints for a House
The process of obtaining the blueprints for a house depends on the property’s ownership. As a current or prospective homeowner, you may have limited access to house-specific documents, including blueprints that you can compare to an existing structure.
Accessing Publicly Available Blueprints
Suppose a house you like is old enough not to have copyright-protected blueprints, and the structure isn’t protected, either.
In that case, you can check with the local city government offices and realtors. They may be able to tell you whether the blueprint you seek is publicly available.
If not, you may inquire about the house’s design. Many neighborhoods repeat models with minimal exterior changes, making them relatively easy to type.
Obtaining Blueprints for Your Own House
Getting blueprints of the home is essential if you’re interested in renovating or remodeling your current house. Blueprints can provide a detailed overview of the existing structure, giving you a clear understanding of the elements that make up the home.
Locate the Original House Documents
Blueprints usually come with original house documents compiled by your realtor. It’s standard practice for realtors to give you all relevant documents at closing, which may be part of a digital file on a disc or hosted online through a private login.
If blueprints were not included in your closing documents, call the realtor and ask how you can get the blueprints. They will be able to provide you with the documents or tell you how to get them in your area.
Make Blueprints From a Floor Plan
You can use floor plans to create a new blueprint. Still, it will only partially match the house’s current appearance because the original blueprints contain the original structure and exact measurements.
A floor plan may change after improvements have been made to the house, covering up the original structural elements.
Additionally, floor plans alone are insufficient to build a house because they contain far less information than blueprints. Blueprints have a floor plan on them, but they also include all the other documentation needed to construct the house, such as:
- Exact dimensions of every area
- Illustrations of each side of the house (elevations)
- Framing specifications
- Plumbing plans
- Utility placement
Builders often have variations on a model type. If you’re searching for blueprints according to your home’s model, you can start by determining which variant you have. Doing so will make it easier for you to know which home blueprints provide accurate information.
This is particularly important when it comes to how the lot is surveyed. For example, an extra room alters the survey and the house’s relationship to public easements.
Nevertheless, a floor plan is still a protected form of the blueprint on which it’s based, so you can’t use it to make a new blueprint unless you own the house and cannot track down the original blueprints.
One option you have is to draw a simplified floor plan of what you’d like and take it to a draftsperson. You can then pay them to draw up a blueprint that they can adjust to meet your standards. Some companies offer services for creating a new set of plans based on your existing house and lot.
Getting Blueprints for Someone Else’s House
If you want blueprints for a house you don’t own, the process will be more difficult, if not impossible. According to an article by Jane Haskins, Esq. of Legal Zoom, house blueprints are copyright-protected documents. Their creator owns the right to copy or modify them.
Homeowners have limited ownership of copyright-protected house documents. They can only use these documents in their original form and aren’t even allowed to make copies of the blueprints.
The blueprint is considered the intellectual property of the architect or engineer who created them and, therefore, cannot be reproduced without their permission.
Those who hire a firm to create blueprints may own the rights, but this is a specific transaction between the homeowner and the company.
Builders who use in-house draftspersons own the works created, allowing them to reuse the same design multiple times without infringement.
Even if you get the blueprints from the homeowner, you would still be using them without permission from the blueprint’s copyright owner.
Finding Blueprints Online
While you can’t use someone else’s blueprints without raising ethical concerns or risking litigation, you can find many affordable (and sometimes free) blueprints online.
Blueprints are not typically free unless the designer has made their work available to the public or they found non-copyrighted work from prior eras to make available.
Fortunately, many copyright owners make their blueprints available online for those wishing to build their own homes. You can get the blueprint of your dream home, and the content creators receive their fair pay.
For modern house designs, you can expect a paywall because it costs money to:
- Rent the site domain
- Host the large design files
- Run multiple, secure online transactions
- Pay the content creators for their work
Home design service company Brick and Batten details nearly a dozen affordable and free ways to get the house plans of your dreams.
Home blueprints aren’t generally available to the public. Architects and engineers generally protect their work from unauthorized use and homeowners who pay for custom designs don’t necessarily want their blueprints copied so easily.
Your realtor may have copies available if you need blueprints for your current house. Alternatively, you can call your city or county to know if the blueprints you need are available publicly. Another option is to get blueprints online with the help of home design service companies.
- Nolo.com: Discovering Unpermitted Construction When Selling Your Home
- Construction Business Owner: Builder Beware: How to Avoid Blueprint and Building Design Lawsuits
- Brick and Batten: 10 Ways to Get Free or Affordable Blueprints for Your New Home
- Mascord Design Services: What’s Included in a Plan Set?
- New Avenue Homes: Who owns the plans? That’s complicated. (You paid for the design service, not the plan.)
- WikiHow: How to Find Blueprints for Your Home
- DesignEverest: How to Find a Copy of the Original Blueprints for a House?
- Legal Zoom: How to Copyright Technical Drawings
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