Carolyn Frith
couple reading a floor plan

If you're deciding between several apartments, it's a good idea to check out the floor plans. However, if you're not an architect or builder who reviews these drawings every day, you might need some guidance to get the most out of them.

After all, without a basic understanding of floor plan notes and symbols, it's easy to make false assumptions. You might end up having to shoehorn your home life into an uncomfortably tight space.

So, what can you learn from a floor plan? It will generally show you an aerial view (also referred to as a plan view) of the apartment's walls, windows, doors, built-in cabinets, closets, fixtures, appliances, balconies, patios and more.

While reading these drawings accurately will help you to get a feel for whether a specific apartment is tailor-made to your way of life, some interpretation is necessary. You have to take what's typically a two-dimensional static drawing and try to envision how your three-dimensional belongings and personal lifestyle fit into the floor plan.

Here's what to look for.

floor plan



Let's start with the dimensions since they're a critical part of everything on the floor plan.

Dimension strings are lines that run parallel to the walls. They tell you how long a wall is before it's interrupted by another architectural feature. Each measurement is defined by termination symbols, such as hash marks or arrows, which indicate the element being sized up. It might be a wall, door, window or something else.

As you evaluate whether your lifestyle, furniture and family will fit within the space available, these proportions are essential. For perspective, you might want to compare measurements to those of a known entity, perhaps your current residence.

Look in the lower corner for total estimated square footage or ask your landlord for the square footage. Consider size of rooms, too. A good sized bedroom is generally at least 10' x 10' and a large bedroom is generally considered 15' x 11' or larger. How big are the bedroom(s)? How big is the living area?



Before digging into the nitty-gritty of individual elements, consider the layout. Does the floor plan work well for your lifestyle?

If you have a young child, you might want two bedrooms close to each other. On the other hand, if you'll be living with a roommate, you may prefer bedrooms located on opposite sides of the living room.

Figure out where the bathrooms are and how you enter them. Do you have to go through your roommate's door to access your bathroom? Which bathroom would guests use?

Is it an open floor plan (areas flow into each other, rather than broken up in separate rooms)? Does the kitchen allow a small table, or is it a skinny narrow (galley) kitchen? If you cook a lot, you probably prefer an open kitchen with natural light.

Also, evaluate the presence or absence of walls. Some people feel more comfortable living in open floor plans that allow life to flow naturally from one room to the next. Others like more rooms that provide privacy and sound control.


Solid shaded lines on a floor plan represent walls. These are essential elements because you'll place much of your furniture against them. Beds, dressers, free-standing cabinets and entertainment units are usually most at home next to a wall. Pay attention to where windows are as you likely wouldn't want to put a dresser directly in front of one.


To indicate the opening of a door that swings into a room, there will usually be a break in the shading that represents the wall. A line at a right angle to the wall shows where the door is when it's open, and an arc depicts its path. This information is valuable since you don't want to put furniture too close to door openings as it will obstruct traffic patterns.

Some doors don't encroach as much on the room's space like a pocket door, which slides from within a wall, or a barn door, which runs parallel to the wall. These are shown without the arc. For a barn door, however, make sure you allow room for it to slide unobstructed along the wall.


Windows are usually illustrated using lines to distinguish them from the solid shading of walls. Take them into account when you plan your space because you likely won't want to obstruct your view. However, some windows may be the perfect spots for your sun-loving indoor plants.


For the kitchen, you'll see an outline to indicate the counter space, plus the placement of the sink, range and oven. Evaluate whether the room is well planned. When doing dishes, it's convenient to have the sink and the dishwasher close to each other.

The bathroom will depict the sink or vanity, toilet, bathtub and shower. Consider whether there's enough room to move around easily between the fixtures. Does the bathroom have a shower (usually denoted with an “X") or a tub?

In the living area, there may be a fireplace, which will affect where you put your furniture. You won't want to place a couch or chair too close to a fire, but you'll likely want it to be a focal point for your interior design.


Even if all your large furniture fits, you still need storage. It's easy to underestimate how much space you need for items such as clothes, towels and kitchen gadgets. Look at the closets and cabinet space and compare the room available to your current capacity.

The above gives you the basics for evaluating a floor plan. However, there are more details involved. So, if you see anything on the drawings you don't understand, make sure you ask the landlord or the staff what it means.

It's also a good idea to confirm your understanding as not all architects use the same criteria or symbols. Nowadays, many communities are leveraging 3-D tours as well as 3-D floor plans, which can make it easier for some people to visualize the space. If you're having trouble, don't be afraid to ask the landlord or management company for help.



About The Author

Carolyn Frith

Carolyn Frith, a content consultant who owns Carolyn Frith Marketing, aims to rid the world of snore-and-bore writing on the web. Topics she covers range from Philadelphia events and real estate options to a variety of other content.