One of the better aspects of the Internet is the ability to download & test software before you buy it. Since professional level CAD software and 3D design programs can be very expensive, developers often provide free trial versions, full featured working demos, sample software applications and limited use freeware programs in order to introduce their products to potential customers. The following links will allow you to find, download, and test various types and levels of home design software.
Which software should you consider? Well, that will depend upon your goals, your budget, your computer system, your knowledge of building design, the size, complexity and number of projects, and the amount of time you are able to devote to learning a new program. Software that costs $50 simply cannot be expected to do everything that $500 software will do. And, $500 software will not have all the options and capabilities of $5,000 software.
If you think about it, a decent drawing board or drafting table, a t-square, a few triangles, an architect’s scale, a compass, some plumbing and electrical design templates, a few mechanical pencils, a lead pointer, and an electric eraser will set you back at least a few hundred dollars and take up quite a bit of space. Spending about the same amount of money on a good 3D drawing program that will allow you to “walk-thru” the finished project and make as many changes as you like before you ever put a shovel in the ground is considered by many to be a better investment.
For the average home owner or do-it-yourself hobbyist, there are relatively inexpensive programs (less than $100) that will allow one to quickly draw and visualize different design options. This level of home design software is probably best used to design a kitchen or bath remodeling project, develop deck plans or layout a finished basement, but it should also be adequate for drawing fairly basic house plans with simple gable, hipped, or shed roof designs — just don’t expect to be able to produce detailed cabinet drawings or a complex roof system or complete set of blueprints for a complicated custom home.
If you want more options, more detail, and the ability to draw more unique projects, choose a mid-level drawing program in the $300 to $800 range. And, if you are a professional contractor, architect, building designer, or an owner/builder who wants to draw your own house or project plans with the detail and accuracy needed to create complete working blueprints, then a professional level CAD or home design program, which generally cost over $1,000, would probably be a more realistic choice.
Another consideration is whether you would be more comfortable using an object oriented design package or software based upon a computer aided drafting and design (CADD or CAD) platform. Very simply, object oriented drawing programs focus on the use of pre-defined blocks or components that are positioned in space, resized and reshaped as needed. CAD software is more closely modeled after the way someone would actually draw a series of lines and arcs on a sheet of paper, except that every line is also assigned a 3rd dimension in space – above and below the paper – so that they can be “extruded” into 3D models. Today, most people new to architectural drawing with a computer would probably consider software based upon object oriented design to be the easier type to learn, while CAD software is generally considered to be more flexible for extremely complicated or detailed designs. However, the lines between these two program types are becoming increasingly blurry as most architectural design software now incorporates at least some of both types of technology.
So, define your goals, decide how much time and money you can afford to spend in order to achieve those goals, and remember to be realistic in your expectations.
Chief Architect, Inc. (formerly Advanced Relational Technology, Inc. or ART) – is the developer of Chief Architect®, which is considered by many to be the easiest to learn professional level home design software. They also developed the original Broderbund’s 3D Home Architect® series (version 4.0 and earlier), and Better Homes and Gardens™ Home Designer Suite™ and Better Homes and Gardens Landscaping and Deck Designer series (version 6.0 through 8.0). Today, they publish the Home Designer® product line, under their own name, for the DIY (home enthusiast) and Chief Architect X3 for the professional design market. Unlike “traditional” CAD software, these programs incorporate drag and drop, object oriented technology, which translates into an exceptionally short learning curve for most users.
For professional builders, architects, designers, as well as, owner/builders who wish to draw their own working drawings, an animated tour and a free trial version of Chief Architect X5 are available for download.
Homeowners, hobbyists, and owner/builders may want to start with Chief Architect Home Designer Suite, which is a scaled down, but still powerful, consumer version based upon the same user interface as the professional level software. Those wishing to see their finished project in three dimensions, should probably step up to their Architectural Home Designer version, which includes a much nicer 3D interface. If you are planning a more detailed custom project, or you want to create a more complete set of blueprints and material lists, or you just want more power in a consumer level home design program, consider Chief Architect Home Designer Pro — especially if you will be designing vaulted ceilings, curved walls, or a complicated roof system.
Chief Architect Home Designer Series – sorted by features (price) – see product comparison chart on the Chief Architect website.
Check prices on Amazon.com (affiliate links follow)
Artifice, Inc. – developer and publisher of 3D modeling software for Macintosh ” Windows including DesignWorkshop Classic and Professional, the Great Buildings Online, and the RenderCity! web-based daylight rendering system. They are offering their DesignWorkshop Lite 3D rendering software as a free download.
Autodesk, Inc. – developers of AutoCAD®, AutoCAD LT®, QuickCAD®, and many other AEC related software programs and desktop modules.
Broderbund – OK, long story short… this company is probably best known for jump-starting the ‘consumer level’ home design software industry with their landmark 3D Home Design Products: 3D Home Architect®, 3D Home Architect Deluxe, 3D Home Design Suite, 3D Home Design Kit, 3D Home Landscape Designer… originally produced by the folks that create Chief Architect and later by the folks at CADSoft.
Note: Version 5.x of 3D Home Architect is NOT a direct upgrade of previous versions. It is a complete rewrite of the software based upon the Envisioneer CAD engine from CADSoft. The new program has a different interface and it is not compatible with files created in previous versions. Versions 3.x and 4.x were produced by ART using the Chief Architect engine. ART does offer a compatible upgrade to 3D Home Architect version 4 called Chief Architect Home Edition 5.0, which is available through their Web site.
Cadsoft – developers of Envisioneer Construction Suite, their Building Information Modeling (BIM) solution. It is designed to help residential and light commercial builders manage the entire construction process; from design, to permits, to collaborating with engineers and subcontractors, cost management and supplier integration. They also produce Envisioneer Express, a very basic 3D home design software and project viewer, which is available via a free download if you provide a usable e-mail address and they provide the engine for HGTV’s Home Design & Remodeling Suite and Home and Landscape Platinum Suite
Older versions of their software included Cadsoft Build and Cadsoft APDesign professional level residential design software. An older version of their Cadsoft Envisioneer engine was the technology behind the latest version of Broderbund’s 3D Home Architect home hobbyist design software, which used the Chief Architect engine prior to that.
CadStd – a general purpose 2D CAD program that can be used for mechanical design, architecture, map making, wood working and other vector oriented design projects.
DataCAD LLC – DataCAD has been around since 1984. The first version I used was on a DOS platform back in the early 90’s. DataCAD 8 was the first Windows® 95/98/NT® version. DataCAD 21 is the version shipping now. It includes automated 3D modeling, photo realistic rendering tools, animation, a framing utility, a site plan modeler, and an estimator module. A 45-day Free Trial is available for download.
Diehl Graphsoft Inc. – see Nemetschek NA listing below.
PRO Landscape – (Drafix Software, Inc.) This business was purchased back from Autodesk, Inc. by the original developers. Their professional level landscape software, PRO Landscape, allows images of a client’s property to be imported into the program in order to create a photorealistic presentation of the new design, a 2D site plan and a written proposal that includes all of the design elements. A video demo is available.
Graphisoft – is the developer of ArchiCAD®. It is an integrated architectural CAD program, which means changes made in one view are automatically updated in all views. Available in Mac and Windows formats.
TurboCAD (IMSI/Design) – offers TurboCAD Windows, TurboCAD Mac, DesignCAD, TurboProject Pro, and other office, graphic design, and consumer products. They offer free trials of various 2D and 3D CAD programs for both Windows and Macintosh operating systems.
Nemetschek North America (formerly Diehl Graphsoft) – Developers of VectorWorks, the “best-selling CAD program for the Macintosh”, and MiniCAD, a cross platform drafting and design program for Mac or IBM compatible PC’s. Their products support commercial, residential, landscape, theatrical, and mechanical design in 2D as well as 3D views. Evaluation versions of their software are available by mail.
Punch! Software – makers of several hobbyist level home and landscape design software suites, plug-ins and add-ons. They offer a 30 day money back guarantee on their products.
Check current prices on Amazon.com by using the following link:
Google SketchUp – a 3D drawing program that “was created by a small group of AEC software industry veterans who envisioned developing 3D design software that would make design exploration more accessible.” Now a part of Google, Inc., you may download their free personal version, educational plans, and/or pro and studio versions in desktop or web based software.
SmartDraw Software – SmartDraw is a Windows drawing program similar to Visio, but with a shorter learning curve and a few less bells and whistles.
Autodesk Design Review Viewer – Free software that allows the user to view, mark up, print, and track changes to Autodesk 2D and 3D design files — without the original design software. (Formerly Autodesk® DWF Viewer, and Autodesk Express Viewer before that)
Kohler Plumbing CAD Symbols – The product library page where you can download free 2D and 3D AutoCAD symbols of KOHLER products in DWG and DXF formats — everything including the kitchen sink.