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Background: We have about 1500 feet of unfinished basement that I am contemplating finishing off into a "grandma suite". Before getting serious about the project, however, I would like to play around with some layouts.

My first thought was to download the 30-day trial of AutoCAD LT. But surely there must be some software that's better suited to a casual user, and doesn't cost $1200. Right?

What are some affordable alternatives to AutoCAD for people who need to use drafting software very infrequently?


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Just keep in mind that code requires that plans be drawn up by a certified architect and sealed by an engineer. So while the drafting software will give you an idea, when the plans are actually drawn up they'll need to be to code and I don't think the aforementioned software packages will do this. They are simply good for proof of concept. – Brian Aug 2 '10 at 17:42
Really? That's fair enough for building work, but not necessarily for build-out and finishing of a basement. In any case briefing an architect is much easier if you have a good outline draft to start with. – Jeremy McGee Aug 2 '10 at 20:25
Yes, even basement work needs drawing. Been there, done that - trust me. You don't want the city up your butt. – Brian Aug 2 '10 at 22:29
Local codes vary wildly in terms of requirements of documentation. In places I've lived, there's no need for engineering drawings unless it's a structural modifcation. For a basement remodel, a napkin sketch is fine. – DA01 May 22 '12 at 15:32
This is completely region dependent. In most municipalities, the building codes are provided and spelled out. Hiring someone to sketch it out for you is a convenience, not a requirement. If you do it yourself, you are responsible for ensuring that everything in that drawing meets minimum code. In Aurora, CO, for example, minimum code is spelled out down to the distance required between a water heater and the nearest wall. If your drawings meet all requirements, they are perfectly acceptable. – dolphy May 22 '12 at 18:03

17 Answers 17

up vote 41 down vote accepted

It's not 2D, but have you considered Trimble's Sketchup? It has a bit of a learning curve, but can be quite powerful. And of course it is free.

Sketchup is amazing – Michael Haren Jul 31 '10 at 3:15
You (the OP) will be surprised at how useful a 3D model is, and Sketchup makes it almost as easy to create a 3D model as it would have been to draw it in 2D. – Mike Powell Jul 31 '10 at 3:50
If you use the official tutorials you can quickly become proficient. It's super awesome. – Wayne Werner Aug 2 '10 at 2:52
You can also get 2D plan views out of SketchUp. – Ates Goral Aug 3 '10 at 16:45
Compared to AutoCAD the learning curve for SketchUp is a breeze! – tooshel Aug 3 '10 at 17:00

There is also Autodesk Homestyler (beta). I have not used it and it looks like a competitor to Google Sketchup (so not 100% 2D) but looks like it might give you want you want when laying out your basement.


For solid 2D performance I've always been a fan of Microsoft Visio. I use it for everything from electrical layouts to micro electronics signal flow to civil engineering sketches. The learning curve is minimal if you've ever used any other Microsoft productivity suite. You can also download oodles of templates and design objects, as well as import images, tables, charts, and whatever else you may need. And for about $100 you can get a copy from eBay. And if you are a student (this term is as loose as your morals) you can get a copy for much cheaper.

$0.02 deposited

I like Visio's floorplan templates as well, but I sometimes get strange rounding errors with the measurements when I use them, like one wall of a room will show as 1/2" longer than the other, even though I have the corners snapped to the gridlines. – Niall C. Oct 30 '12 at 18:02

Sweet Home 3D runs in Java on Linux, and Windows. It is very easy to use and a good tool for a quick, "90% perfect" sketch. Very good for indoor sketches.

For outdoor sketches I suggest Inkscape.

Sometimes I use Inkscape, because I can draw things there much faster then in any CAD program. Of course I do not have the CAD features like "calculate area" and so on. But if I have to calculate 2 areas I am still faster with Inkscape. If you want to use Inkscape for this task, create 3 lines with the following thickness next to your virtual page and use them as template.

  1. 0.5 mm
  2. 0.35 mm
  3. 0.25 mm

that will make a good looking sketch on A4 and letter format printout. And you can buy pens in the same thickness and draw in your printout in the same style. There are a few hints on Drawing a Floor Plan in the Wiki. You can inform yourself about the develpment status of ACAD Plugin for inkscape.

+1 for interior design using Sweet Home 3D. I used this when we redid our kitchen, and the ability to get 3D views of the results was extremely helpful. – Daniel Griscom Jan 5 at 15:07

I used 3D Home Architect several years ago to design my basement. I bought an older version for less than 20 bucks. It worked well. I would check out their newer version.


Draftsight is a free autocad equivalent from Dassault who make the high end solid works (and the seriously high end Catia if you even need to design an A380)


I use the open source QCad software, which is available for several platforms. I use the Linux version (Ubuntu) but also tested the Mac OSX version which is time limited.

The application is a little bit disappointing if you think in terms of line/shape primitives such as in usual vector based drawing software. Initially I think this kind of software was made for mechanical part design, but many libraries exist for home furniture, electric scheme,...


  • you need 2D only
  • you really need precision (a line that is really tangent to a circle, lot of alignment tools, ... )
  • you want to add dimensions to your design (length, diameters,...)
  • you want to export DXF files (e.g. to send your design to a laser cut machine, yes, amateur can also do that !)
  • you want to produce professional quality drawing

this soft is definitely an interesting tool for serious amateur.

The leaning curve is slow at the beginning but it definitely worths the effort !

I believe LibreCad is a fork of QCad, and it's what I settled on. It's got an unbelievably awkward interface, but it mostly works. – Jeremy W. Sherman Oct 23 '12 at 20:47
I think Qcad is a great program for drawing DXF design files.. there are better for his case.. – Hightower Oct 30 '12 at 13:46
Some programs have an awkward interface that stays awkward, but there is a sense behind Qcad's that you can learn. +1 for Qcad answer! :) – Kaz Mar 5 '13 at 8:17
Your answer makes me want to whip out Qcad and design something. – Kaz Mar 5 '13 at 8:18

Graph paper. Seriously.
Here is what I did to layout my kitchen (after trying sketch up): Measure the space. Outline your walls on graph paper 1 square = 1 foot.

Make a few copies of this, and save the original.

Make your appliances as little cutouts, or, just draw out on your draft-copies of graph paper until you like what you have.

Unless you do this professionally, I felt all the CAD/design programs were either way to hand-holding and limiting, or overly complex (forces you to work in 3D).

good luck,


Actually, this was the "software" I used when laying out our basement refinish. I just showed the contractor my "sketch", we made some modfication and good to go. – Jon Raynor Oct 26 '12 at 1:52

There is a question on WebApps for web applications to do this.


-FreeCAD (Hard 3D, most precise)

-SketchUpBIM (Moderate 3D, less precise)

-Floorplanner (Easiest 3D, least precise) (allows one project for free)

I've used all three of the above and settled on SketchUpBIM; fully measuring and designing my 100 year old house in 3D. It took a while to do, most of the time spent learning the software, but I've found it the easiest with the most functionality. And it's free.

I've used Floorplanner as well and was somewhat impressed with its friendly user interface even if the "object" database is slim and it is missing some more "advanced" features. For your "pre-plan" it would work fine for playing with ideas in your head. – ShoeMaker Mar 20 '13 at 11:25

Take a look at a program called Moi3d

I find that it is really easy to work with (more than SketchUP)

You can see in 3D from all perspectives and if you have the skill you can also render the created designs.

It cant do 2d Design, but you can export the perspectives into quite a few formats which you can later use as your technical drawing.

enter image description here


If you're looking for a 2D/3D software, I've found one called HomeByMe. I think it's pretty new and in a beta version but it helped me with my apartment remodeling


Don't know the names off the top of my head, but I see all kinds of "DIY" room planning/drawing tools on the $9.99 shelf at places like OfficeMax.


Although I've not used it in years, I always like TurboCAD.In senior year of high school (1999) I drew floor plans for a house in a windows 3.1 verision of the software on a windows 95 machine. This was my senior project for Mechanical Drawing 2. Freshman yearr of college I used a 32 bit version that was free to design a house as well.

It looks like TurboCAD designer and Turbocad is only $39 and their Deluxe and LTE editions are only $129.


I am currently using Sweet Home 3D to get an idea on how to fit all of my stuff in a new house. It's quite easy to use, if your house/room has straight walls. Sloped walls (like under a roof) are ... not as easy.


There is also a plain Browser solution: tinkercad.com


If you own an iOS Device like iPhone, iPad... There is a really usefull App for creating room plans called MagicPlan! It works very well!


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