Home Design Software Review
Why Use Home Design Software?
When designing a home, architects and contractors use Computer Aided Design (CAD) software. Professional CAD software is very complicated, with components that consider material vendors, national cost lists and subcontractors as well as the various blueprints needed for each. It also requires some pretty deep knowledge of complex math.
Home design software is simplified for DIYers who want to be a part of the design process, whether for creating a new home or envisioning an addition an existing house. These are suite programs that include tools for designing landscapes and interior decorating, in addition to those for basic construction ideas. Once you’ve created your plan, you can share it with professional contractors, who can then convert your dream design into the needed blueprints, material lists and cost estimates.
Here are our top picks and a few features that make them stand out above the rest:
Virtual Architect Ultimate Home Design includes a wizard that makes adding a roof to your home plan much easier than with any other program on our review. It also comes with the most preloaded objects in its library and is compatible with CAD software. The trace tool is handy for combining aspects of multiple home designs into a single plan of your own. Virtual Architect is our top pick and Gold Award winner
TurboFloorPlan Home & Landscape Pro is our Silver Award winner, and it comes with over 45 sample plans to help you get started. As you work to put your dream home down on paper, TurboFloorPlan Pro automatically keeps track of the materials you use and provides you with a cost estimate and shopping list to give you a general idea of what the final cost of building your home will be.
Home Designer Suite has so many tools, including professional CAD features, it can become overwhelming. It has a healthy object library and can import additional items from both SketchUp and Trimble 3D Warehouse, giving you an unlimited number of design features for your home plan. Home Designer Suite receives our Bronze Award for its wealth of available tools.
What Kind of Design Software Do You Need for Your Project?
There are several types of design software available, and the best one depends on the type of project you are envisioning. For this home design software review, we tested suites that include all the tools you need to create a full house plan from the foundation up on a computer with a Windows operating system. We looked at home and interior design software for Mac computers in a separate review.
Most of these programs include advanced tools for designing your lawn and garden so the outside of your home is as spectacular as the inside. These floor plan creators are also great for designing additions to an existing home or sketching your ideas for a major renovation. Still, you can find each of these sets of specialized tools in niche design programs.
For example, if you have an existing home and just hope to recreate an idea you saw on a popular home renovation show, you probably don’t need a full software suite. Check out our review of the best interior design software to see how it can help you renovate and remodel your existing home, whether you want to knock out a wall or simply rearrange your furniture.
Deck design programs are good for designing exterior additions to your home. These types of tools are included with home design suites but are also typically included as part of landscaping design software. We have reviews of both types of programs to give you a good idea of what you will need for your project.
Our articles about home design software are another great resource and include great tips about decorating small spaces, such as dorm rooms, as well as the biggest mistakes people make when designing their dream homes.
What Should You Look for in Home Design Software?
In your search for the best home design software, it is important to choose one that is easy to use. While testing floor plan design software, we took into consideration how much of a learning curve there is for someone who doesn’t have any experience with design programs. We awarded an ease of use score to highlight our experience learning to navigate the program, including whether consulting tech support or other help tools, such as video tutorials, was necessary to complete our review. Here are some other points to consider when choosing a house plan program and some of our experiences while reviewing them.
2D & 3D Views
All the programs we reviewed are 3D design software. This means you can see your finished dream home in both 2D, which is flat and looks like a blueprint, and 3D, which has textures and colors to give you an idea of what the final product will look like.
We were especially impressed with DreamPlan because it lets you design in 3D using drag-and-drop features. It then automatically converts your plan into a 2D blueprint with dimensions included. This is opposite from most programs, which require the structural building aspects to be completed in the 2D view.
Home Designer Suite is also very easy to use. As you create the outside walls, the program automatically includes lines and dimensions for your roof and foundation, eliminating some pretty tricky steps from the floor plan design process. You can also designate whether you want measurements to display in U.S. standard or metric measurements.
Sweet Home 3D has a neat feature that lets you view the 2D and 3D plans simultaneously. As you place features and objects into your 2D design, you can see them automatically render in the 3D view. This cuts down on floating objects, a result of building in 2D that places objects high in your design rather than flush to the ground, which you can only see in a 3D view. This feature also lets you quickly check that everything is balanced.
While testing floor design software, we count every preloaded 3D object in each program’s library. Some apps, such as Punch Home & Landscape Design Premium, have thousands of items and include several styles of tables and windows of various lengths. Others, such as Sweet Home 3D, have basic objects, such as windows and doors, that can be added and then modified to your desired dimensions, though you can’t customize how they look. We found that programs with more objects in their libraries make it easier to set up and envision your finished design since the items serve as more than just basic place holders. These programs typically include more decorative items such as vases than can be placed on tables and windows treatments.
Most of the programs we tested allow you to increase the object library to include thousands more objects by importing items from popular third-party websites. SketchUp and Trimble 3D Warehouse are the most commonly used, and they have thousands of objects you can import into programs, such as TurboFloorPlan Home & Landscape Deluxe, for free. Most of the software are only compatible with one third-party library, but one of our top picks, Home Designer Suite, can import objects from both databases.
As part of the object library, 3D design software includes landscape objects. As with the total object library, we counted each plant in every program’s plant library. We also took note of when these plants were legitimate outdoor plants and when programs tended to only have indoor, potted plants. Typically, the more objects in the plant library, the more options you have to make your gardens look exactly how you envision.
Import Plans & Tracing Features
Another fun feature is a floor plan tracer. With this tool, you can open a picture of a home, a sample floor plan or a blueprint and trace the aspects you like and want to keep in your own home. This is a great way to mesh a lot of ideas into one house plan. It is also valuable if you have the plans of your existing home and hope to design a roof addition. Using the trace tool, you can easily extend a wall and create another space that is comparable with the measurements and layout of your current home.
We discovered that some programs include this feature, but we had difficulty getting the tool to work on our test machines. While we gave some credit to the software we had problems with, those that worked received a higher score for this feature.
Designing your yard is just as important as creating your home. In addition to a healthy plant library, look for other outdoor objects, such as barbecue grills and outdoor furniture, to help create a beautiful oasis. If you choose a plan like Total 3D Landscape & Deck Premium, you can use garden templates that make it easy to start envisioning and creating your landscapes.
While testing landscape tools, we found that DreamPlan has the best and easiest topography tools. Topography tools are used to recreate hills and dips that are natural to your lot, and they can help you envision what your lawn will look like if you bring in more dirt to build it up. Typically, though, you probably won’t want to use these tools too much and leave topography planning to the professionals.
You can also use deck and fence designer tools, which work much like home design programs’ room-building features – you can connect a deck to your home and set an exterior door as an easy access point. The same texture and material custom design tools used to update your home can create a deck that is aesthetically pleasing and complements the house’s exterior.
Our Final Say on Home Creation Software
Home design programs are fun tools for creating your dream home. While you may still need a professional to create the final blueprints, floor design software is a great tool to help you get your vision down and share it. It is especially easy if you choose a program, such as Virtual Architect Ultimate Home Design, that saves your final plans as a DXF or DWG file that is compatible with professional CAD software.
Contributing Reviewer: Renee Shipley, Linda Thomson, Noel Case