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Best Home Design Software
Why Use Home Design Software?
We spent 180 hours testing 15 different home design programs, evaluating how easy they are to use, their object libraries, and their tools and features. Based on our testing, we believe Virtual Architect Ultimate Home Design is the best software for designing your home. Here’s more information about the program, as well as a few of our other top picks:
Virtual Architect Ultimate Home Design is our top pick. It includes a wizard that makes adding a roof to your home plan much easier than with any other program we reviewed. It also comes with the largest library of preloaded objects and is compatible with CAD software. The trace tool is handy for combining pieces of multiple home designs into a single plan of your own.
While most home design programs cost about $100, you can pick up TurboFloorPlan Home & Landscape Deluxe for about $50. It comes with 45 sample house plans to help you get started. Also, as you put your dream home down on paper, TurboFloorPlan 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 is the most compatible program we reviewed. You can import designs and objects from third-party programs such as SketchUp and Trimble 3D Warehouse, which gives you an unlimited number of design features for your home plan. It also has so many other tools, including professional CAD features.
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. When we reviewed home design software, we tested suites that include all the tools you need to create a full house plan from the foundation up on a computer running Windows. 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 reviews of the best interior design software options 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 creating 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’ve reviewed of both types of programs elsewhere to give you a good idea of what you need for your project.
How Much Does Home Designer Software Cost?
Home design software can cost as little as $13, and low-cost programs are great for basic indoor layouts. A full-bodied program can cost you up to $100 but is well worth the price tag if you want detailed control and are designing your entire property.
What Should You Look for in Home Design Software?
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 we needed to consult tech support or other help tools, such as video tutorials, 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 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 placeholders. These programs typically include more decorative items, such as vases, that you can place on tables as well as robust window treatment options.
Most of the programs we tested allow you to subsidize their libraries with 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 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 your existing home’s plans and hope to design an addition. Using the trace tool, you can easily extend a wall and create another space that is proportional 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 an app like Total 3D Landscape & Deck Premium, you can use garden templates that make it easy to envision and create 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 picture 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 Reviewers: Renee Shipley, Danny Chadwick