Q: I own a small 1955 tract home, which is nothing special in design. I would like to add a family room and bathroom. I contacted two local architects about drawing plans for this modest addition. The first wanted a $5,000 deposit to begin the job; the second said it would cost about $8,000. Both of these amounts seem extreme to us, considering the scope of the job.

Do we have any alternatives to getting plans drawn up at a more reasonable cost? I have purchased a software program for home design, but it requires a bit more technical knowledge and patience than I have.

A: Wow, $5,000 to $8,000 seems excessive to us, too. We’d opt for pencil and paper rather than a computer, and we suggest you give it a shot yourself. The process will crystallize your ideas even if ultimately someone else draws the final plans.

If the addition is not too complicated, drawing the plans is a real option. Several sharp pencils, sheets of vellum (for converting into blueprints) and some rudimentary drafting tools are all you need.

If you’ve never done it before, the learning curve is a little steep and you’ll make some mistakes, but the building inspectors will make sure you comply with the code and zoning requirements. What they won’t do is make sure you get the floor plan and door and window placements you want. So take care and be sensitive to what you want and need from the new space.

The toughest part of the addition to draw — and, for that matter, to build — is the roof framing and how it ties into the existing roof. Even a simple gable roof can be a challenge for the novice.

To help you along we suggest you invest in a good reference book containing discussions of building techniques, span charts and schematic drawings explaining how the many parts of a house come together. One we’ve used for many years that Kevin found invaluable when he designed and we built his house in Idaho was “Principles and Practices of Residential Construction” by Joseph D. Falcone (Prentice Hall, 1987). It’s full of valuable information presented clearly. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle that is a house. It’s helpful to have a handbook for reference.

If you decide to design the addition and draw the plans yourself, the first step is a trip to the local building department. Go with a floor plan and an elevation drawing of what you want to build. Most building departments have packets explaining the types of drawings you’ll need to submit to get a building permit. Building department personnel are a great resource. They will explain the permit and inspection process and perhaps even point out some alternatives you might consider.

Typically you’ll have to provide a plot plan showing the house as it exists on the lot and the proposed addition with setbacks from the property line.

You’ll also have to submit a floor plan and one or more elevations (views of the exterior) and a framing plan showing the proposed framing of the walls and the roof, sheeting and finish siding, and roofing material.

You’ll probably also be asked to provide a plumbing schematic, a mechanical plan showing additions to the heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system, and an electrical diagram.

Once you’ve completed the drawings, a plan check will be conducted where any errors will be “redlined” by the building inspector. View the inspector as a teacher, not the enemy. Ask questions. Usually building inspectors are professionals who provide tremendous help and insight if you put forth an honest effort to do the job right.

Once you have the redlined plans, it’s back to the drawing board to make the corrections. It will seem tedious, but when you’re done you’ll have a workable plan that is zoning and code compliant, and you’ll have an extra several thousand dollars to spend on building materials or a plasma TV for the new family room.

If you’re not comfortable doing the drawings yourself, another alternative is to hire a contractor to do the addition and ask him to provide the plans. Many general contractors are adept at drawing plans and shepherding them through the local building process.

Or, if you’re considering doing the actual building yourself, locate a designer to draw the prints. They tend to be less expensive than architects and can be every bit as good for a simple project.

But our advice is to get a good book and go for it. Many architects will scoff at this, but we’ve done it this way on a number of occasions. If you have the will, so can you.

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