Stock home plans offer an economical alternative to hiring an architect to design a custom home. With so many plans out there, it's a safe bet that the design selected won't mirror what's being built in the new development down the block. Plans can be customized to meet personal desires, but before tweaking buyers must understand the limitations. Each home plan is the fruit of someone else's labor. As such, it becomes copyrighted material. Plan duplication or alteration is illegal without authorization from the stock-plan company, an option that can be purchased for a fee. All plans are for one-time use only, unless purchased by a developer with mass production authorization from the designer.
Changing a Plan Home plans typically come in sets of five—one for each principle player in the building process—but it may be wise to start with just one set. This allows the buyer to proceed with plans and input, without being locked in. "For a minimum cost, the client could have an overview of their construction drawings, obtain bids, and make sure that the plan will suit local building codes," explains Ben Larochelle, Director of Custom Service at Drummond Design. Should the client decide to move forward, the cost of the single plan is credited against the purchase of a set of five.
Modifications to stock plans can be made by an architect of the client's choosing or by an in-house modification department. Drummond offers its clients a list of standard changes—everything from the addition of a bonus room in the attic for a fee of $400 to $700, to additions or changes to an interior wall for as little as $40.
Changes Require Vellums If any changes are required, be it to meet a more stringent building code or to add another bedroom, the client must purchase a reproducible master. This master, or vellum, is also necessary if the client needs to make more than the five standard copies of the plan. No matter how minor the change, and regardless of whether that change is performed by an outside design team or in-house modification department, the client is required by law to purchase this limited copyright. Reproducible vellums provide the client with limited ownership of the plan and cost a couple of hundred dollars more than a five-set plan. Typically, the cost of upgrading to reproducible vellum is credited against what the client has already paid for a single plan or five-set package.
Reproducible vellums are a hard-copy means of altering plans. These "blueprints" are actually drafted on a different kind of paper than the original drawings. Clients may opt to purchase limited rights to the CAD disk, as well. It's always best to check with the architect or builder before deciding on a format. It's usually easier and less costly for an architect to make modifications electronically than to redraw paper plans.
Mirror Image vs. Full Reverse Sometimes the design is ideal, but the layout of the home needs to be reversed. Lot location or configuration often dictates this reversal. Mountain views or morning sun may be desirable on the side of the home that features picture windows or sliding glass doors. Maybe privacy is compromised if the plan is built as drawn. Stock-plan companies will provide a mirror image of the plan free of charge, but it's best to spend a bit more money and purchase a full reverse.
A mirror image is just that: The blueprint reads upside down and backwards. For it to make sense to the building inspectors and contractors, they need to reference the original plan in conjunction with its mirror image. This is tedious and could alienate the builder or inspectors. Some municipalities won't even allow an applicant to submit mirror image prints because they complicate the process.
By contrast, a full reverse provides an accurate drawing of the home with readable text. It can cost as little as $60, and some designers even offer a free-of-charge, full reverse option in the original purchase agreement. Larochelle stresses that an amicable relationship between homeowner and contractor is critical to the project's success. To that end, all parties will be happier in the long run with a full reverse plan and a limited copyright for any changes.