The Trades

Research, insights and advice from craftsmen and industry experts

5 Common Electrical Symbols All Builders Need to Know

blueprints Jul 17, 2020

Heating and air-conditioning systems, plumbing, electrical outlets and wiring (including lighting), and other mechanical systems are typically detailed in MEP (mechanical, electric, plumbing) plans, and installed by specialists in their field. While builders don’t need to understand everything in the MEP plans, builders should be aware of how these systems will operate and where the wires and pipes will be placed. 

Architects also include information about outlets and switches in their power and data plans—which are part of the blueprints package—though these are generally not as comprehensive as MEP plans. Some elements of these plans will have more direct implications for builders as recessed lighting, ceiling fans, and features that have to be blocked (surrounded by a small frame) for support. 

Of the different systems on MEP plans, you’ll want to pay special attention to the electrical elements and their placement. Jordan Smith explains in his ...

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How to Read Blueprints: Complete Guide

blueprints Jul 15, 2020

Construction blueprints are technical drawings created by architects, engineers, and designers to put all the construction specifics of a house in one package to which the builder can refer as they construct the house. Although a package of blueprints can be daunting, as many as 50 pages long, the concept of the blueprint is simple: It is a series of two-dimensional representations of a three-dimensional building.

Professional builder and craftsman Jordan Smith explains in his class on reading blueprints

“A blueprint is the fundamental plan for the construction of any structure. The print is what shows the builders, the electricians, the framers -  all of the trades people exactly what needs done on any construction project.”

The main sections of a blueprint are: 

  • Title Sheets and Site Plans
  • Floor Plans
  • Elevations and Sections
  • Details and Schedules
  • Structural Drawings
  • Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing (MEP) Drawings

Each of these sections uses...

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The Builder’s Guide to Architectural Drawings

blueprints Jul 15, 2020

An architectural drawing is the technical rendering of a house or other structure that is both an illustration of what the final home will look like and also a tool used by engineers, contractors, designers, and builders to execute the construction. 

Architects use these drawings to develop their design idea into a proposal and to communicate design concepts. The drawings will reflect the overall appearance—internal and external—of the home, how it is oriented on a building site, and the layout of its living areas. Some of the drawings are more conceptual, to communicate the look and feel of the house, and some are technical, used specifically to direct how the building is constructed.


The architecture plan is the initial set of design schematics on which engineers rely to provide the basis for their mapping of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems for the house. In a set of blueprints, you will find the architectural drawings first, including...

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Welding Symbols on Blueprints: Complete Guide

blueprints Jul 03, 2020

Alongside subcontractors who handle plumbing, HVAC (that is heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), and electricians, welders are often key members of the team involved in the construction of a building. 

Welders will work closely with plumbing engineers to assure that connections between pipes, both supply and wastewater, are solid and secure. A welder’s services may also be needed for structural elements as with, for example, a steel frame building where columns, beams, and trusses may be welded to other supports. Finally, you may find yourself calling a welder for the installation of some non-structural or architectural steel elements such as stair rails, awnings, vent hoods or shelving.

Though welding symbols are usually reserved for shop drawings from fabricators, builders should know how to recognize them on structural drawings within a set of blueprints, as builders are responsible for making sure the various aspects of a construction project are coming...

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Complete Guide to Blueprint Symbols: Floor Plan Symbols, MEP Symbols, RCP Symbols, and More

An architectural plan, or set of blueprints, is created by architects, engineers, and designers to lay out all the construction specifications of a house, such as dimensions, building materials, installation methods, techniques, and even the order in which these things must be accomplished.

The number of details that must be included in a complete set of blueprints is so large that architects reduce the information on the drawings to a set of standardized symbols and abbreviations in order to make the drawing easier to read and less cluttered.

For reference, every set of architectural drawings includes a symbol legend. If you aren’t familiar with a symbol, you will be able to find it in the legend. Floor plan notes give additional context for the building. For instance, the notes can clarify exactly to what point on a wall dimensions should be measured.

Most plans include symbols that are a combination of: 

  • Appearance (for instance, a bathtub looks like a bathtub)
  • ...
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Construction Abbreviations Commonly Used in Blueprints

  1. Blueprints can be up to 50 pages long, with a lot of intimidating symbols, abbreviated text, and lines. But in fact, each diagram in an architectural package is a simple concept, and blueprints are a set of diagrams that stack those concepts on top of one another.

Why are abbreviations used in construction?

Building architects and designers are responsible for communicating countless things about a building’s construction: where it should be located on the lot, how it should be built, what materials should be used, what it should look like, and where the MEP systems that make it function go. To save space on blueprints and simplify information sharing, designers use a set of abbreviations and acronyms. 

Most of these abbreviations are standard across the trades. But some architects might use their own abbreviations that aren’t standard or well known. So the title page of the architectural package includes an abbreviations block to help you decode these custom...

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What Is a Sectional View? 6 Types of Sectional Views

A floorplan is the building plan that is most familiar to most people: a bird’s-eye view of a building with all the elements laid out on a horizontal plane. A section, however, gives a vertical view—which is equally essential. 

What is a sectional view? 

Professional builder Jordan Smith likens sectional views to taking a laser and slicing it through a part of the construction, so that you can see how elements of a building fit together vertically. In his Introduction to Reading Blueprints class, he explains:

“On a floor plan, we take a laser and we cut the house in half horizontally. We set the roof off to the side, we look down from the top, and we see our walls and our floor without the roof getting in our way. Sections are very similar to a floor plan, but instead of looking from the top down, we're looking across at the vertical section of a house. We're looking at the exterior of a house, and then we take our laser and we cut a slice off the...

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What Is a Reflected Ceiling Plan?

A reflected ceiling plan (RCP) is a print that shows you the dimensions, materials, and other key information about the ceiling of each of the rooms represented on your blueprint. It takes its name from the idea that you are looking down at the ceiling as though there were a mirror on the floor reflecting the ceiling’s plan back to you.

 Architects and builders draw reflected ceiling plans this way so that the orientation of the floor plan and the orientation of the ceiling plan are the same—and therefore easier to read. In other words, you are looking down at a view of both the ceiling and the floor. 

In his Introduction to Reading Blueprints course, builder and craftsman Jordan Smith explains:

“Sometimes we'll do a reflected ceiling plan on the floor plan, which means that whatever's happening up on the ceiling is reflected down on the floor and then drawn for our benefit as builders.”

Think of it as an engineering document that is...

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What Is a Site Plan? 11 Things Good Site Plans Must Include

If you’re building a simple project like a shed, simply sketching the details on a piece of paper will give you most of the information you need. But when you’re building a house or commercial project, you need a far more detailed plan. 

What is a site plan?

A site plan—sometimes called a plot plan—is an architectural document that functions as a readable map of a building site, giving you all the details you need to know about how the structure will be oriented on the lot. A builder or contractor will create a diagram that shows the plot of land and its property lines, along with its landscape features, structural elements, setbacks, driveways, utility poles and power lines, fencing, and on-site structures. 

Even landscape elements that don’t sit right on your property might be recorded on a site plan, says Jordan Smith, because the site notes can contain valuable information that impact your property. For instance, a tree on a...

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What Is an Architect Scale Ruler and How Do You Use One?

Architectural plans are drawn to all different scales, ranging from the simple (1 inch = 1 foot) to the complex (3/16 inch = 1 foot). Plans are often drawn at 3/4, 3/16, 1/8, and other scales (in each case the dimension in inches here corresponds to one foot). 

When you’re faced with figuring out how to convert a two-inch line drawn at a 1/4-inch scale on one drawing to another plan that uses a scale of 1/16 of an inch, the math can quickly become confusing. Fortunately, an essential tool of architects makes the process of decoding the scale of architectural and engineering drawings simple—an architect’s scale ruler (also known as an architectural scale ruler).  

What is an architect scale ruler? 

A triangular architect scale has a total of six edges, often with two different scales—say both 1 inch to 1 foot and a ½-inch to 1 foot—represented on the same edge. Some sets with multiple rules can include up to 16 scales. These...

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