I am planning to expand master bedroom and hired an architect to draw the plan. What I learnt is that he drew diagram by hand and not using CAD. He is an old guy. But I am wondering if I should be concerned now? Given this age, everything has to be exactly accurate and submit as CAD diagram for the city permit. Does it matter?

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    My jurisdiction would allow the plan to be on a napkin if it had the information the building department required. Age may have benefits if there are any special design criteria old timers may have designed things in the past that gives them experiance someone else may not have. – Ed Beal Nov 19 at 14:50
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    I think you would be amazed by the (poor) quality of so many of the drawings that planning authorities receive (and approve) – Strawberry Nov 19 at 15:04
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    If the ones to read the drawings have their heads for more than holding a cap there is no difference between hand-designed papers and Computer-aided-designed ones. In many cases good sketch works better than CAD drawing - it is a faster and you don't need a plotter/printer. – Crowley Nov 19 at 18:06
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    Would you fly in an airplane that was designed on paper? The 737 was. Yet the 737NG and MAX are fine aircraft. It's been retroactively CNCd, but inchanged except where called for. – Harper Nov 19 at 21:42
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    You should give him a bonus, the old architects drawing by hand do spectacular work, in all the cases I have ever seen. We had a 66 y.o consultant technical drawer. Holy moly, the sketches he could make - and in minutes no less. Then subtract a fee for having it CAD'ed by some young'un. It is always good to have everything stored on an electronic format, considering the future. (Fires, insurance claims, silly laws being created that hit retroactively, another expansion...) Make sure the two sums balance out. – Stian Yttervik Nov 20 at 13:42
up vote 41 down vote accepted

I have worked in construction in Indianapolis, and this is my experience:

Hand drawn drawings will not be rejected by the permit authority. I drew my own plans for the update to my home: Hand drawn, in pencil.

Hand drawn drawings will be more scrutinized by the permit authority.

When submitting the plans, I had to be ready to answer more questions than usual. I have submitted plans that were drawn by engineers for commercial construction (yes, some hand drawn!), and they were received and stamped in seconds. For my plans, the receiving person looked at the drawings and did not see an engineer stamp. At that point, they asked if I had a general contractor, to which I answered that I was overseeing the construction directly.

  • They asked about greenway requirements (amount of grass compared to building/concrete covered area) to which I pointed to the water drainage page.
  • They asked about whether there was an increase in water drainage to the city to which I pointed to the fact that the house footprint didn't change.
  • They asked about where the spoils (dirt being excavated) would go, and how that would change drainage and I explained that all spoils were moving off-site to a commercial greenhouse nearby.
  • They asked about the new footers under the house; how they stick out four inches toward a neighbors yard where the setback distance was already too close (according to current standards) and claimed that I needed to change that. I stated that current setback fulfilled what was required by regulation because the current setback was grandfathered in, and that they should look at the eave of the house to see that the building line was the eave line, not the wall line, so the four inches of footer would still be under eave.

This went on for 15 minutes.

All-in-all, I had construction know-how to answer these questions and in the end they had no grounds to reject it. I just warn that in some areas you may have to be ready to defend hand-drawn plans that are not engineer signed.

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    Good story, very informative. In the case of the OP, with an architect, the hand drawn plans may be stamped, and if the architect is someone they are familiar with they'll know if his work needs closer examination. – batsplatsterson Nov 19 at 15:45
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    @batsplatsterson I tried to address some of the same questions he may be posed should the case be that this person does not have an engineer stamp. e.g. with an addition to a house you will have additional water drainage load, and could be encroaching on a setback line. OP should be ready to answer these if they have a "difficult" planning commission. – Keeta Nov 19 at 15:48
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    Your answer is correct and also provide an interesting story. Thank you – HP. Nov 19 at 16:39
  • And, we're nearly neighbors! ;) – FreeMan Nov 20 at 16:42

No, a proper plan will include all measurements and you can be accurate enough by hand to create a to-scale plan.

People have been building houses by hand-drawn plans for centuries (and without any drawn plans for a lot longer) before CAD became common in architecture.

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    "People have been building houses by hand-drawn plans for centuries". Depending on what you mean by "plans", I'm not sure that's true - or if it is true, it is a rather small number of centuries. The medieval cathedrals were built rather more by eye than by detailed plans that would be acceptable to a modern builder. – Martin Bonner Nov 19 at 11:50
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    @MartinBonner - The oldest "construction drawing" is in the Temple of Apollo at Didyma. An unfinished stone wall was etched with the profiles of columns and moldings, and the wall was never finished so the drawing was not erased: a rare glimpse into the history of working construction drawings." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_construction – batsplatsterson Nov 19 at 12:07
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    In real life, most modern small-scale buildings (like the OP's house extension) are still "built rather more by eye than by detailed plans". When you discover that the existing structure isn't the same as what the plan assumed, you don't stop to update the plan - you use common sense and improvise! – alephzero Nov 19 at 12:08
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    @alephzero Seems like half the trades on large commercial construction do the exact same thing. – JMac Nov 19 at 15:46
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    @MartinBonner - medieval cathedrals (and other such buildings) also had physical models of some or all of the construction, so the builders/workmen could see what they needed to do; did they not (in some cases at least)? – davidbak Nov 19 at 21:28

If your city required a CAD drawing to issue a permit, you'd have an issue - but that's not likely; they probably just want a drawing. Many places require that you submit the drawing in an electronic format rather than on paper, but you can scan the hand drawn drawing into a PDF and submit that.

If you were doing a much bigger job, and you wanted others to collaborate on the drawings - not just read and work from the drawings, but make changes, add in mechanical / electrical / plumbing etc. - you would want an electronic format, it would be far more efficient. But that's not a concern with a small addition.

I don't see any down side to letting this person work in the medium that they prefer. If they do good work at a reasonable price, I'd rather have a hand drawn plan from them, than not so great work or an high price in state of the art CAD.

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    My locale, a very small town, was quite happy with my hand-drawn plans for an add-on deck. It was basically drafted on a copy of a 25 yo hand-drawn lot plan that we received from a surveyor when we built our garage then. I did the original garage drawings in AutoCad because I could. Nothing was reviewed by an engineer, but it has (so far) all stood the test of time. – FreeMan Nov 20 at 16:47

I did an internship at an architect when I was in high school, many years back when computers were far less common and while they had one it was used only for calculating structural analysis, CAD didn't yet exist.

So everything was hand-drawn. I learnt the technique and talked to those architects. Their measurements and plans were exceptionally precise. And if you need more precision, you just draw to a different scale.

Computers might give you the illusion of higher precision, but you can actually measure and draw well within the limits of the physically possible by hand. In the end, those walls will be made from bricks and wood or some other physical material, and they are less precise than the computer calculations anyway.

There is no logical reason why a well-done architectural hand-drawing would not be acceptable.

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    +1 for the reality about regular every day construction. Lots of things are built to exceptionally tight tolerances - your average house is not one of them! – Dan Nov 20 at 19:57
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    I would offer that the hand-drawn drawing would in some ways be more accurate than some sloppy CAD drawings, at least in respect to design intent. As you can be pretty sure that if the designer dimensioned a wall at 10', he meant 10', whereas I have seen far too many sloppy CAD drawings where it looked like the dimension was 10' but if you changed the number of displayed digits you see that it is actually 10.0023' (for example). This makes me lose all faith in that particular CAD designer/drafter. – Glen Yates Nov 20 at 23:03

People have focused on the permit process, but there is another issue, which is consistency between the various parts of the plan. If you model the house in 3D CAD and print plans from the model they will all be consistent. If you draw plans by hand or in a 2D CAD program it is a manual check to make sure the various pages of drawings are consistent and changes get incorporated in all the places they should. Your architect is used to this problem and will do a review, but it would be good for you to do so as well. You haven't been seeing the plans every day and may find some issues the architect overlooks.

  • Depends on the intricacy of the design. A simple extension could be a sheet per story, not hard to keep in check. – Notts90 Nov 20 at 8:49
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    Working in construction, I have had CAD created drawings for a building where the elevator car would hit the metal purlin of the exterior wall if the elevator car needed to go to the second floor. Competence of the person drawing is a much higher factor than the technology used in making the drawing. – Keeta Nov 20 at 15:12

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