Designing Your Own House

From: April

"I just purchased your Be Your Own Contractor book/DVD and I am now a big ball of energy ready to get started in building my dream home. I hope to break ground on the project this time next year but I want to use the time before then to organize and research what’s available.

We want to make this a "green home" so I have a lot of reading and planning to make it cost effective, and of course, exactly the way I want it. I have already purchased the land and have a copy of the house plans.

So--I'm at the very beginning of the getting started stage and a little confused about all the different types of home designing software. I was edging towards the Punch software programs but have read lot of negative reviews. Many have said that they recommend Chief Architect because it is worth the money and wonderful customer support.

Their high-end product runs about $2,700. Have you used this program and/or do you recommend it?

What does this do that Better Homes and Garden/Punch doesn't?


Hi April,

I have not used either Punch or Chief. I have always used an architect or home designer as I enjoy, and need, the “back and forth” thought process of home design. “Two heads are better than one” for some things, and for me, this is one of those things. That’s where my $2,700 would go.

Other than the land (location and price), the design is the most important part of a house.

Many a budget has been destroyed by not carefully analyzing “potential pitfalls”, thus my need for two heads for designing a house, one being a "Professional".

That being said, I called my friend and expert on home design David Moore of Original House Plans, LLC for his opinion.

David has spent the past 25 years designing houses around the country. He is a graduate of Williams College and Harvard's Graduate School of Design.

In addition to being a licensed architect, David has experienced home construction from many points of view, as a carpenter, a general contractor, a speculative builder, and a homeowner.

He is a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the American Institute of Building Design (AIBD), and the International Codes Council (ICC).

His work has appeared in local and national publications. David has designed office buildings, condominium complexes, and dozens of high-end, custom houses.

Here is what David has to say concerning your question:


Carl has suggested I might want to respond to your email. As a practicing architect and the author of a collection of on-line home plans, I use CAD software everyday and have a pretty good sense of what’s available.

In general terms, CAD software falls into two categories: either inexpensive, entry level programs that are easy to learn or expert systems for use by trained professionals requiring a major investment of time and money.

Chief Architect is definitely an expert system, and I doubt it would be worth the time and expense for you to learn the software unless you intend to go into the home design business.

The Better Homes and Gardens Home Designer Series (I own version 6.0) was actually developed as an entry level product by the same people who wrote Chief Architect, so the two programs shares a common interface and many features. I think the BH&G Designer Series is a great program, and I use it to make interior sketches and get a quick feel for interior spaces.

However, this product is missing many of the advanced features of Chief Architect that are needed to create a fully detailed, professional quality set of house plans.

I haven’t used Punch, but I’m pretty sure it’s also an entry level program. The major advantage of these products is that you can quickly create incredible drawings of certain parts of your house such as a 3D rendering of the kitchen with fully detailed cabinets and appliances. This is possible because there are tons of pre-drawn architectural elements for you to use.

However, as a design professional, I often find that I need some element such as an unusual cabinet, that’s not included, and entry level programs don’t have good tools for making these custom elements.

There’s nothing more frustrating than getting 95% of a project done and then finding out that you don’t have the tools do finish the last 5%. This is why professionals invest considerable time and expense to learn more powerful professional systems like Chief Architect or Vectorworks, which is the software I use.

To make a long story short, of the products you mentioned, I would stick to B,H, &G Designer Series, but I wouldn’t expect too much out of it.”

David Moore