Best Home Design Software of 2018

J.D. Chadwick ·
Multimedia & Home Improvement Editor
We maintain strict editorial integrity when we evaluate products and services; however, Top Ten Reviews may earn money when you click on links.

After more than 180 hours of testing, rating and ranking the best home design programs on the market our top pick is Virtual Architect Ultimate. It’s our favorite option for most people because it’s easy to use and learn and it has advanced design features for every aspect of a home. When you’re done designing your dream house, you can export it into plans that can be used by architects, contractors and construction workers to bring your creation into reality. 

Best Overall
Virtual Architect Ultimate
This program earned the top spot in our review of the best home design programs. It’s a comprehensive program that has everything you need to design a home and it is one of the easiest programs to learn.
View on Nova Development
$99@Nova Development
Best Overall
Virtual Architect Ultimate
Best Value
TurboFloor Plan Home & Landscape Deluxe
If you don’t need all the advanced features found in more expensive options, this program may fit your needs. It’s about half the price but still offers a wide array of design tools.
View on Turbocad
Best for Mac
Home Designer Suite
Only three of the products we reviewed have Mac versions. This is by far the best of them, yet it is still compatible with Windows.
View on Chief Architect
Best Overall
Of all the home design programs we reviewed, Virtual Architect Ultimate is the best you can buy. It scored an A+ on our ease-of-use tests; no other application received marks that high.
Anyone can learn to use it but expect to spend at least a few hours exploring all of its tools and features. This program contains nine highly detailed, preprogrammed floor plans to help get you started with your design. You can customize, alter and change them to fit your needs. If you’re a more advanced user, you can start from scratch. Virtual Architect strikes the perfect balance between simplicity for novice users and power for detail-oriented experts. If a preprogrammed design isn’t right for you, the program also provides a number of wizards. These walk you through all the necessary steps to design kitchens, decks, bathrooms and more. One of the best things about this program is that it automatically calculates what materials you’ll need to make your dream home a reality. It also has a cost estimator to give you an idea of how much money you’ll have to spend to turn your design into a reality. This is the most complete home design software we reviewed. With thousands of objects, wizards and tools, it has everything you need to design every aspect of a home. No other program even comes close.
  • It is easy to learn.
  • Wizards and sample plans help you make the perfect design.
  • It has every tool and feature we look for in this kind of software.
  • It isn’t compatible with objects found in Trimble 3D Warehouse.
  • You have to pay for phone support.
  • It only has nine sample home plans while other programs offer more.
$99Nova Development
Read the full review
Best for Mac
Using a Mac often means that you don’t have access to useful programs. This is not the case with Home Designer Suite.
It’s a comprehensive program that covers all aspects of home design, both inside and out. If you’re using a Mac, this is the program you want. It’s also one of the few programs that’s compatible with the third-party program Tremble 3D Warehouse. This means that if you really like a plan made with one of these programs, you won’t have to rebuild it from scratch. Additionally, once you’re done designing, you can export your plans into multiple formats that can be used by other programs and by professional builders and architects making the handoff to contractors a cinch when construction season rolls around. Another great thing about this application is its ability to customize every aspect of your digital design. It doesn’t just stop at household features such as walls, doors and stairs. It also lets you furnish your plan with a library of more than 6,500 objects ranging from couches, beds and entertainment centers to plants, lamps and dressers. Nearly anything you can think of to put in your home, you can plan for with this program. However, its plant library has less of a third of the objects offered by our top choice.
  • It’s one of the rare home design programs available for Mac.
  • You can scan and import physical plans into the program.
  • You can import designs made in SketchUp and Trimble 3D Warehouse.
  • Getting used to the workflow takes some time.
  • You can’t add ponds and other water features.
  • Its plant library is considerably smaller than several other programs we reviewed.
$99Chief Architect
Read the full review
Best Value
You don’t always have to buy the best of the best to get what you want out of a program. And spending money on a program with tools you’ll never use doesn’t do you any good.
. If this describes you, or you just don’t want to shell out the extra cash, TurboFloorPlan Home & Landscape Deluxe is a viable option. It doesn’t have everything but it has enough to get most jobs done at about half the price. This program comes loaded with 45 sample plans that you can alter, adjust and make your own. You can also import scanned floor plans into the program. This is great for beginners who lack a starting point or for those who simply want to build on other great ideas. This is an easy program to learn and use. It scored an A in our ease-of-use tests. You don’t have to blindly click around the program to figure out each tool. You can consult the program’s video tutorials to learn how to use each tool to its fullest potential. Unlike Virtual Architect Ultimate, it doesn’t have wizards to walk you through the room creation process step by step, but you should still get the hang of it quickly.
  • It costs about half the price of our top pick.
  • It doesn’t skimp on the essential features.
  • Video tutorials teach you how to use the tools.
  • There are no wizards to walk you through the design process.
  • There are no fence or water feature designers.
  • The official website lacks a FAQ section.
Read the full review
Best for Small Projects
If you have an idea for a home design but don’t want to spend a lot of money or use a complicated program, DreamPlan may be the right program for you.
It only costs about $20 and it has most of the essential features for small projects. You get a solid roof wizard, the ability to import scanned floor plans and its drag and drop interface is among the easiest to learn and use. However, we don’t advise you use it to completely remodel you home. It’s simply not as powerful or comprehensive as other programs we reviewed. For example, its electrical and plumbing planning tools are the weakest we saw, and it doesn’t include a cost estimator. Additionally, it only has one sample home plan to work with and a small object library.
  • Has all the basics and is easy to learn.
  • Small object library and substandard electrical and plumbing tools.
$19NCH Software
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Most Sample Plans
Virtually all the home design programs we reviewed have sample plans that you can use as a jumping off point for your own design. Generally, you get less than 50 plans with any particular program.
Total 3D Landscape & Deck Premium have over a thousand. This is great if you’re not sure what you want or just want a lot of options to choose from. However, when we tested this software we found it the hardest to learn and use of all the programs we compared. It’s also missing some key features we look for in this category. For example, the software lacks a framing editor and the ability to trace existing floor plans. Additionally, while its object library has a respectable 800 items to choose from, it’s a far cry from our top pick’s library of over 7,500 options.
  • It has more than a thousand sample plans to choose from.
  • This is one of the hardest to learn and use.
$29Individual Software
Read the full review

Why Trust Us

All the programs we reviewed were used extensively by our team. We spent more than 180 hours learning, using and evaluating each program. We created dozens of homes, thousands of rooms and other features. During this process, we kept notes about what we liked and disliked about each product. Our experience combined with the testing data provide an accurate picture of what to expect from each application.

We also reached out to Trevor Broughton, lead designer at Mountain West Architecture to get some further insight on home design software. He told us that you should pick a program that gives you a clear understanding of how much real-world space an architectural element will take up. “From a bathroom to a stairwell, people struggle to understand the square footage required to make these elements function properly in any given plan,” said Broughton.

He also expressed some reservations about homemade plans that are brought to a professional architect. “My biggest concern with anything brought to me is that it is scalable and accurate.” Further, he is concerned about the feasibility of bringing homemade plans to fruition. Broughton continued, “With regards to scale and spatial flow, most people do not speak that language.”

Several of the programs we reviewed also include landscaping features for your yard. We reached out to Greg Tarsa of Io Design Collaborative, and he told us that most amateur designers lack the nuanced knowledge of their local environment to effectively plan out a workable landscape.

Additionally, he didn’t have any particular recommendations as to which software would be best for specific users. “If you’re looking for design itself, you can get any of the software and get good results,” said Tarsa. 

How We Tested

All the programs we reviewed were subjected to a battery of tests. We used each program, tracking how long it took to learn each tool. We then designed a sample house from scratch. We noted how long it took to complete this task with each program. We also kept track of bugs, crashes and other problems that might interfere with the designing experience. When all the programs were evaluated, we compared notes, discussed which applications were best for which purposes and deliberated on their ranking order.

We also evaluated each tool individually and compared each against comparable tools in other programs. Tools such as roofing wizards, electrical, plumbing planning and object libraries were compared against each other and given a letter grade based on our experiences. 

What Should You Look for in Home Design Software?

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.

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 quickly checks that everything is balanced.

Object Libraries
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 add to 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.

Landscape Tools
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.