How to read elevations

It's useful to know how to read elevations when you're looking at your house plan drawings.

how to read elevations

This page forms part of the how to read house plans series.

What is an elevation?

An elevation is a flat 2D image of the exterior of a home.  In our example house we're going to look at the elevations as if we're standing outside looking at each side of the home in turn.

In reality your eyes see in perspective.  This means that elements of the same width appear smaller to you the nearer that they are.

The important thing to remember about elevations is that they are not drawn with perspective.  The perspective is flattened.  So if we take the stairs outside the house as an example, the bottom of the stairs is the same width as the top of the stairs on the elevation, even though the bottom of the stairs is nearer to you (see western elevation drawing below).

how to read elevations vantage pointsTo think about how to read elevations, imagine standing outside your home and looking at each side in turn

It's also common to see elevations labelled as front, side, back, side.

If your home is an unusual shape, there would be more elevations.  For example, the Pentagon plan would have 5 elevations.

Technical definition of an elevation

The technical definition of an elevation is...

An elevation is an orthographic projection of the three dimensional home onto a two dimensional plane.  The projection plane (the elevation) is orthogonal (or perpendicular) to the projection lines (blue lines).

What can an elevation tell me?

An elevation tells you what the home will look like from the outside including details such as:

  • The size and appearance of the windows and the vertical positioning on the exterior facade.
  • The appearance and height of the doors.
  • The height of the home, perhaps broken down into the height of each floor and the height of the roof.
  • The height and vertical position of any other features visible from the exterior, eg chimney, balcony, steps up to front entrance.

The elevations are typically drawn to the same scale as the floor plan.

Sample home elevations

If you need a reminder, have a look at the floor plan of our sample home.

Northern elevation

how to read elevations northern elevationThe view of the home from the north (see diagram above for vantage point)

Here you can see the 4 windows on the northern facade.  The left most window is the bedroom, then the corridor, then the bathroom, then the master bedroom. 

You can also see the stairs coming up from the right hand side and the chimney from the stove on the left hand side.

The brown line is the profile of the earth beneath the house.

Eastern elevation

how to read elevations eastern elevationThe view of the home from the east(see diagram above for vantage point)

On the eastern facade you can see the window from the bedroom and the balcony on the left hand side.  You can see the back of the steps up to the front of the house.  In reality you'd only be able to see the steps above the soil line.

Southern elevation

how to read elevations southern elevationThe view of the home from the south(see diagram above for vantage point)

From the south you can see the large windows with the balcony railing in front.

The stairs come up from the left hand side.  There's no way of telling from this elevation how far along the western facade of the home the stairs are from the southern facade.  It's easy to think the stairs are at the southern edge especially because the handrails are the same height.

That's why all the elevations and the floor plan need to be read together to understand your home.

Western elevation

how to read elevations western elevationThe view of the home from the west(see diagram above for vantage point)

From the west, starting from the left hand side you can see the window of the master bedroom and the corridor of the master bedroom, then the steps up to the front door.  On the right is the chimney and the balcony.

All elevations together

This is a picture of all four elevations together with the floor plan.  It's a useful picture for thinking about how to read elevations but elevations are usually presented separately from the floor plan and all the same way up. 

I just wanted to show you the elevations and floor plan together in this way to help give you more of an idea of how the elevations relate to the floor plan.

how to read elevations all elevationsAll four elevations with the floor plan

How to read elevations together with the floor plan

In order to learn how to read elevations along with a floor plan, let's take the northern elevation and see how this relates to the floor plan.

First of all, I have rotated the floor plan of our sample home to have the norther side of the floor plan at the bottom.

how to read elevations norther side of floor planThe northern side of the floor plan relates to the northern elevation

I've stripped out the inside of the floor plan because the elevation is concerned only with the exterior. 

The blue guides show how each of the elements of the floor plan is projected onto the elevation.

The chimney is in fact at the southern end of the floor plan, I've moved it down on the floor plan here, just to show positioning.  The chimney appears on the northern elevation but because it's on the roof and so can be seen from all four elevations.

how to read elevations northern elevation with guidesThe blue guides show how the floor plan and the elevation relate

So that's all on how to read elevations.  Be sure to read the other pages on how to read floor plans.

More on How to Read House Plans