Well, it was time to roll up my sleeves and get to work. The first thing I needed to do was to make up a drawing of my existing house. On several of my previous projects, I used a set of rudimentary drafting tools and some skills I learned in my 8th grade shop class to draw up some fairly nice plans. In my most recent project (a “catio” more on that later), I used Microsoft Visio to make up a set of electronic plans. That worked OK, but it really wasn’t a full-on CAD program, which is what I figured I needed if I was going to produce a set of building plans (the ultimate goal). So, I started shopping around for an architectural CAD program. Most of these programs are several thousand dollars (Chief Architect — $2695, AutoCad — $4195), and they seemed pretty difficult to learn how to use. I eventually went for a dumbed-down version of Chief Architect called Home Designer. That cost $495, and it promised to be easy to use and had a lot of nice automated features such as detailing of walls and quick rendering of interior and exterior views. So I ponied up and got the program. The term “easy to use” was relative, and I spent a lot of time learning how to use the program. I went about measuring the house and modeling it in this program. After several months of my spare time, I came up with a decent model, but I found out a couple of things: (1) I really couldn’t produce a set of working drawings with this program — it’s for “designers” who give their concepts to real architects who have these expensive CAD programs that produce “real” drawings, and (2) all of that great detailing automation meant that you couldn’t go in and customize things. You had to accept the default materials, dimensions, etc. Plus, the program was quirky and wouldn’t accurately model some of the idiosyncrasies of my house. So I was becoming increasingly frustrated as I saw that I was approaching what seemed to be a dead end.
One day, I was lamenting my woes to a colleague at work, and he mentioned another 3D modeling program called “Sketchup”. He said that he made several remodeling plans for his home with it, and he was very happy with the program. Best of all, it was free. No kidding. It turns out that there is a free version, now called Sketchup Make, and there is a “pro” version which includes a separate program called Sketchup Layout, which is a full-on drafting program. The pro version sells for $590, which is about the same as I paid for the Home Designer loser program. So, I decided to at least try out the free version, and I discovered that it was not only intuitive, but that there was a HUGE online community that offered all kinds of help in learning how to use it. Plus, there was another group of professionals who were using the pro version to design real buildings and produce real plans. I was sold. So I swallowed my pride and bought the pro version and started afresh. That was a bitter pill because I had to start from scratch. The good news is that as I learned the program, I could customize the model and make it really accurate.
Although the program was intuitive and I picked it up pretty fast, there were a lot of nuances that I needed help with. I ended up reading a whole lot of books, which ultimately gave me a bit of mastery over the program. I have a complete list of my references under the references page in this blog. I think all of them are good, otherwise I wouldn’t recommend them, but I would suggest starting with either the “sketchup for dummies” or one of Bonnie Roske’s books. Also, follow the links on the Sketchup home page, check out the SketchuCation website, or just Google search on Sketchup and you’ll find TONS of You Tube video “how to’s” and other resources. As I mentioned before, there is a tremendous online presence to help you out.
So after a lot of time, I ended up with a pretty good model of my home and some good drawings. I can say that I really came to enjoy the process, and now that I have the skill set, I feel confident that I could approach any aspect of architectural design and drawing. The building department was favorably impressed and was asking if I had any background in design. Well, I guess after 3 years of my spare time messing around with it, I could answer in the affirmative, even though my path was somewhat random at times.
I will post some of the results of my labors when I have the chance, and when I can figure out how to do it on this blog. That’s another skill set which I’m beginning to learn about.