Building Plans, Elevations and Sections: What You May Need.

Depending on what sort of development you’re proposing, you’ll need various kinds of building drawings.

If all you want to do at this stage is change the use of a piece of land, or a building, or you want planning permission ‘in principle’ or ‘in outline’, you won’t need a large number of plans. It’s best to check with the local planning department, but you’ll probably require just a location plan (typically at a scale of 1:2,500 or 1:1,250 and probably a site or block plan, most likely at 1:500 or 1:200. We can supply high-quality Ordnance Survey plans for these purposes.

However, if you want to construct anything, or alter a building, you will need to submit drawings that illustrate, in detail, what you wish to do. You’ll almost certainly need both planning permission and approval under the building regulations, and it’s important to realise that these are entirely separate procedures. The drawings you’ll need for planning permission have to give the planning authority – and anyone else interested, such as neighbours – a clear picture of what the building will look like and how it will relate to its neighbours.

Let’s think first about the position of the development on the site. A block plan (often called a site plan) will need to make clear exactly where the building will sit. However, if you’re planning to (say) change the use of part of an existing factory or office block, you’ll need plans that indicate exactly which parts of the building will be involved.

In order to make clear the size and appearance of a new building, or explain the proposed alterations to an existing one, you’ll need at least two, and possibly three, kinds of building drawing for your planning application. These are called the building plan, the elevation and the section.

The building plan is a bird’s eye view of the interior of the building, showing the arrangement of rooms, windows, doors and so on. A separate building plan is needed for each floor of the building, and it may also be necessary to include a roof plan, particularly if there are, say, dormer windows or ventilation outlets.

The elevation is an accurate drawing of the side of the building. It lets everyone see what the building will look like from, say, the street, or neighbouring properties. For new buildings, you’ll need an elevation for each side, so you might have drawings marked ‘North Elevation’, ‘East Elevation’ and so on. If the project only involves change to one side of the building – such as a new shopfront – you’ll probably only need the drawing of that side. If you’re changing the use of only part of a building, it may be useful to use an elevation drawing to indicate which part of the building is affected: for instance, you might colour in the relevant part of the first floor that you want to turn into, say, an office.

The section is a view that slices right through the building and, usually, the whole of the site. It can help those studying the drawings to understand how the building fits onto a slope. It is also quite usual for the planning department to ask for an accurate section that shows buildings on either side of your site, so that they (and the neighbours) can know what impact the building will have on nearby properties. For example, will the kitchen window on the first floor of your new building directly overlook the neighbour’s living room? The section can help to make that clear. If you’re applying for approval under the building regulations, you’ll need all of these plans. However, you’ll also be required to provide a lot more detail, so there may be additional sections showing, say, the foundations or the internal structure of the walls or the roof. These are needed to enable the building standards officer to be sure that the design is satisfactory from a technical point of view. Is an external timber finish proposed and, if so, is the building so close to another building that fire might spread? Is the amount of insulation in the walls adequate to meet current energy standards? These are the sorts of questions that the drawings must answer.

Preparing all these drawings isn’t something that most people can do themselves, unless the project is very simple, such as the blocking up of a doorway. You’ll almost certainly need to employ someone to do the work for you. The choice is between draughtspeople with experience of this sort of work, or more specialist consultants such as architects or (depending on the nature of the project) perhaps an engineer or a surveyor. For a smaller, simpler job, a draughtsperson may be the right choice and they’ll usually charge a bit less than, say, an architect.

However, the more substantial the project, the greater responsibility on the person preparing the plans, and the greater the risk or expense to you if he or she gets things wrong. Larger schemes really need to involve an architect or perhaps a civil or structural engineer. In some cases, you may need all of them, with one nominated as the lead.

Architects in particular are trained to look at how the building will work for you and they will almost certainly be able to suggest ways in which you can make better use of the site and get more out of your investment. Indeed, some architects would say that they can save clients a great deal of money by designing smaller or more efficient buildings. It’s very important that whoever is designing the work discusses every aspect of the project with you, so that they can explore all the possibilities. If you are dealing with a Listed Building, or a building in a Conservation Area, it’s important to employ someone who understands the special rules that apply.

Architects will usually be prepared to offer just the drawings, but they can provide a whole range of other services. For example, they can submit the planning application for you, get quotations from builders and indeed supervise the entire build. They can also act to help sort things out if you’re let down by a builder, and they are themselves insured in case anything they do goes wrong. Architects often charge a percentage of the cost of the project; however, you may be able to negotiate another arrangement.

All of this may seem a bit daunting and, if so, you should make contact with a professional who can help you. You can do a web search for architects or architectural consultants, or find them in the phone book. You might also want to ask any friends or colleagues who’ve had building work done. They may well be able to recommend someone.