Home Designer Suite Helps You Make House Plans--But You'll Still Need a Pro to Build

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Anyone who's ever hired an architect or had a general contractor remodel a home knows that modifications to plans can easily cause the price to skyrocket, especially if you (or the person you've hired) can't visualize what you want. Home Designer Suite ($99, buy-only) can help you plan and communicate your interior and exterior design or remodel project in 2D and 3D with a simple one-click, drag and drop process.

Home Designer Suite's dollhouse view allows you to visualize your plan from above, a great help when redecorating or remodeling.
Home Designer Suite offers templates as jumping-off points, including layouts for interior rooms, exterior landscaping, and entire home plans of various sizes and styles. In addition, you can set home styles that define the defaults for the design components, like certain cabinetry or flooring styles.

Outlining your basic room is as simple as selecting the wall tool and drawing the correct dimension-- the feet/inches or meters/millimeters display as you draw. Then, drag and drop details such as appliances, cabinetry, fireplaces, and furniture from Home Designer Suite's library. Home Designer Suite can specify the location of the tiniest and most mundane of items like bathroom fittings, electrical outlets, and individual plants.

Home Designer Suite can also help you plan and visualize your outdoor rooms--patios, decks, pools, and landscaped spaces, including terrain. The extensive database of plants comes with Plant Chooser that helps you filter the more than 1,500 items by flower color, bloom time, leaf color, size, climate needs, and other characteristics.

Home Designer Suite's library is inclusive enough that an advanced user, with the know-how to tweak the defaults (and enough knowledge of local building and construction codes) could almost create an architectural plan detailed enough to hand over to a builder. 'Almost' is the key word: You'll need to upgrade to the $495 Home Designer Professional edition to create blueprint layouts, CAD, cross-section elevation, plan views, or to print on 18"x24" paper (the architectural standard required for a permit in many locales).

For a small or medium-scale general contracting business, Home Designer Suite could help nail down details, especially with clients who aren't entirely sure what they want; or who need to visualize their options. Home Designer Suite quickly and easily creates 3D models of floor plans, renders a 3D walk-through or a doll house view, and can even print out your model for assembly. Changes are relatively easy once you get the hang of making finicky tweaks. But even for the most advanced user, the rendering is still going to look like a 3D model--no CSI magic here.

Home Designer Suite may leave home improvement fanatics feeling shortchanged. The program is great at communicating big ideas visually to a spouse, general contractor, or even over the counter at a home improvement store, but is no help in turning the idea into reality without the help of a professional. For example, Home Designer Suite does have a "Plan Check" feature that will review your layout and point out errors based on basic construction principles (like a room without a door), but unlike the $495 Home Designer Professional, Home Designer Suite does not review your design against national building codes.

Home Designer Suite is fun, easy to use, and perfect for visualizing your home improvement project or planning your landscaping, but that's really all it's going to help with. The program easily gives you the ability to design your dream home or remodel, but without adequate knowledge and construction experience, you'll need to hire the architect or structural engineer anyway, just to make sure the dream becomes a reality.

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