Free Garage Plans: Are they really free?

“The opportunity cost of our decisions is the lost value
of what we might have done in the alternative.
‘Free’ is rarely free.”

Free garage plans can actually cost as much or more than those you have to buy, but they do have their place. Are they right for you? What options are available? Doing a little homework before going the “free” route will help you answer these questions and save you time and money in the long run.

Here are a few things to consider:

Some Free Garage Plans Are Better

When you download or send away for free plans, check to see if they include:

  • Foundation Plan
  • Floor Plan
  • Framing Details
  • Elevations
  • Section Drawing (basically, a cut-away drawing that shows the layers of building materials from the foundation up through the framing, siding, sheathing, etc.)
  • Materials List

In most areas where building permits are required, the items listed above (except for the materials list) are basic requirements in the application process. If they are not included, you will need to add them yourself or have them added.

In addition, your plans will have to be drawn to scale and you will likely also have to provide an electrical plan, site plan, roofing details and engineering (if using engineered trusses or using support posts), and information on door and window sizes and locations.

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Free Garage Plans Will Require Changes

Even if your plans are free, your building authority will likely require additional items that are not included with your free plans. Some people can create and provide the additional items, most cannot.

For example, if you use engineered trusses, you will need to provide engineering calculations. Thankfully, most commercial truss builders will include the calculations with your trusses.

If your garage design includes any support posts, you will very likely have to provide a professional engineer’s calculations for proper sizing. Sizing can vary based on supported beam spans, types of construction materials used, roof loads (depending on the type of roofing material used and the anticipated snow loads in your location), etc.

Depending on your location, you may also have to provide engineering calculations and design changes to account for seismic activity, wind loads, and other environmentally related issues. It all comes down to your local building codes and the requirements established by your local building authority.

What’s this going to cost?
Additional engineering can cost from one to two hundred dollars for simple beam calculations to several thousand dollars for involved and/or complex calculations. These are real costs that you need to anticipate and that may catch you by surprise.

Free Garage Plans May Not Exactly Match Your Needs

While some see their garage as a simple building to house their cars, others see their garage as a multi-purpose structure that adds tremendous value to their home and their lifestyle. In the first case, four walls and a roof may suffice. In the second case, a little extra planning on the front end can pay huge dividends when your new garage is finished.

Even if you don’t know how to build a garage, you need to know why you want or need one. “Ready, fire, aim” is not such a good idea when you are building something that will be costly to change.

Free Garage Plans Can Be A Great Place To Start

When you face the fact that a set of free plans may not meet your every need, you will save yourself a lot of grief. For some, a set of free plans offers a great starting point to help you design the proper structure to meet your needs.

Starting with a good idea of what you want your garage to look like and how big you want your garage to be will go a long way toward helping a designer or a draftsman prepare your plans for submission to your local building authority. Here are some questions to consider:

Remember, an architect, designer or draftsman will charge by the hour for everything they do. If you pay a professional to help with your plans, bringing them a nearly complete idea of what you want can save a lot of time and money.

Even if you don’t know how to build a garage, or even which end of the hammer to hold, knowing what you want is the best place to start.

If you don’t want to pay for plans up front, find a set of free garage plans that comes close, add your own comments, additions, changes, etc., then submit what you have to the paid professional.

All Free Garage Plans are NOT Created Equal

What’s The Bottom Line?

While free plans are a great idea and seem like a great value, you will likely need to spend some additional money bringing your plans in line with the requirements of your local building authority.

Free plans offer a great starting point but will undoubtedly require changes and additional input from you and likely from a paid professional. Keep that in mind and you will be much happier with your garage building project.

VERY IMPORTANT! PLEASE check with your local building authority FIRST before deciding to use free plans or even plans you have to buy. When you know the requirements up front, your job becomes a lot easier!

For more detailed instructions and information, visit our page on how to build a garage. You might be surprised at all there is to consider!

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