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When I bought a 1958 mid-century modern home in Sarasota, Florida from its second owner, it came with a bonus — the original architectural plans. That’s how I discovered the home’s historical significance. Turned out it was designed by Tim Seibert, one of the founders of the Sarasota School of Architecture.
It was fascinating to see the blueprints in Seibert’s own hand, and see the modifications — for better and worse — the previous owners made over the years. When I sold the house, I handed over the blueprints to the new owner, albeit a little ruefully.
My situation was unusual, especially for an older home. I was lucky the previous owners preserved the blueprints and handed them off with each sale. If you’re looking for the original plans of your home, for a renovation project or your own curiosity, there are ways to find them.
What Are Blueprints?
The original blueprints show the house as it was first constructed. In the past, architectural plans were detailed technical drawings, created by the architect or their assistants by hand at a drafting desk. The originals were copied via a process called cyanotype, which produced a blue-colored duplicate — hence the term blueprint.
Now, with the advent of computer aided design (CAD), architectural plans are created on a computer, then printed on oversized plotter paper. Those copies are still known as blueprints. However, they’re seldom blue anymore.
Why Do You Need Blueprints of Your Home?
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“The most common reason to obtain drawings of your home would be for use in renovations, additions or repairs,” says Aren Saltiel, an architect based in Truckee, California. “The structure of a building is often hidden inside the walls so it can be extremely helpful to know what is there before you open anything up.”
Most renovation projects require a permit, Saltiel says, so you’ll need to submit new drawings of the area. Having something to start from can save a lot of time and effort.
Saltiel says it can be beneficial to access records and existing drawings to see what work on your home was done legally and what wasn’t. You might not get a permit to convert a garage to living space if the garage was illegally constructed. That was the case with my home in Sarasota.
If you’re planning to sell your home, you’ll likely need an exact measurement of the “legal” square footage. This is another instance when those original blueprints come in handy. If you’re in a recently built home and find defects or shortcomings related to construction, the blueprints are your “receipts” — evidence of what a builder was supposed to do, versus what they actually did.
Where To Find Blueprints of Your House
So now you’re saying to yourself, “Fine, but how do I get blueprints of my house?” The answer may be as simple as a digital search, or as complicated as some Sherlock Holmes-level detective work. Here are some places to start:
Search your local building department or archives
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“Most local jurisdictions keep the records of past permits so you should start by contacting your local building department,” says Saltiel.
In some cases, you may find your department complies an online database of permits and plans. If you can’t access records online, you can often submit a records request via an online form, then wait for digital records to be sent to you. There may be a fee for this service.
If you live in a smaller community or seek blueprints from pre-CAD days, you may need to visit your city or county records office and request these records be pulled. If you want physical copies of blueprints or other records, the office will likely charge a fee.
Contact the original architect or builder
“If you know who the original architect or builder was, contact them,” says Saltiel. “If you’re lucky and the building is modern enough you might even be able to obtain digital Autocad (or similar) files.”
With builders, a lot will depend on your local market. The housing boom of the early 2000s in Florida saw a lots of new construction companies build a record number of housing developments. With the housing crash in 2008, many of these companies folded, taking their records with them. But if an established builder who’s still in business did the work, it’s worth checking with them.
Find the original owner
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If you don’t know the original owner of the home, search county or local records to find them. You can try contacting them to see if they have original blueprints, or can at least point you in the right direction.
You can also reach out to the real estate agent who helped you purchase the home. If they can’t get their hands on the original plans, they might be willing to serve as a go-between and contact the past owner on your behalf.
Ask your neighbors
In planned communities, new homeowners often choose a floor plan from a selection of available models. If you’ve bought an existing home in such a community and can’t locate blueprints, find a neighbor with a home similar to yours and ask them. Or ask around until you find a homeowner who’s been there since the community was built.
Even if they don’t have blueprints, they may provide some clues, such as the name of the original architect, builder or developer.
Pay for a new blueprint
“If you hit a dead end,” says Saltiel, “new drawings can be created by measuring the current conditions of your home.”
This is a costly undertaking. An architect or engineer will need to come to the house, take exact measurements and then create a new blueprint. Expect to pay up to thousands of dollars for this service, depending on the square footage and complexity of your home. And the new blueprints can only reflect the way your house is now, not as originally constructed.