Remodelers, by virtue of experience, can look at a two-dimensional floor plan and envision what a given space will look like at its completion — from the color of the trim to the way sunlight will enter the room. But when most homeowners look at a floor plan, they see little more than lines on a page.
That's why CAD programs such as Soft-Plan Architectural Design Software — which allows users to create strikingly realistic 3-D renderings of projects — can be invaluable in developing and, ultimately, in selling a design to potential clients.
Using SoftPlan (www.softplan.com), designers can recreate a property's landscape and original structure, along with any additions or structural changes introduced in the design, so that clients can see exactly what the finished product will look like.
“The biggest advantage is being able to visually demonstrate the impact of the project on [a client's] home,” says Craig Durosko of Sun Design Remodeling Specialists, in Burke, Va., whose designers have been using SoftPlan for the last six years. “And if they're not sold [on a particular design], we can show them any number of different views or make minor changes to show them different versions of the design.” And best of all, those changes can be made in a matter of moments.
“SoftPlan is about 50% to 60% faster than any other software that we've used in creating a full set of plans [and doing 3-D rendering],” says Scott Robinson, of Robinson Renovation and Custom Homes, in Gainesville, Fla. “Plus, giving clients a 3-D rendering that they can take home and show their friends gets them excited and keeps the momentum of the project moving forward.”
Durosko has also noted some unexpected benefits of using the 3-D renderings with clients. “It brings up questions that would probably never come up with simple elevations,” he says. “You can see where you might have problems with roof lines, or if something doesn't look like they expected. It's much easier to make the adjustments then, rather than in the field after we've begun construction.”
Durosko has also had success using SoftPlan renderings to gain project approval from neighborhood homeowners' associations.
EASY INFORMATION EXCHANGE One of the more recent features of the software is SoftPlan ReView, which allows designs to be shared and amended via e-mail, allowing all parties to view any changes made to the plans. “My designers and I can literally shoot an e-mail to one another or to our salespeople, make a quick change to a design, and send it back [without ever leaving the computer],” Robinson says.
There is also a peer-to-peer site called SPLASH (SoftPlan Links, Advice, Support, & Help; splash.softplansplsh.org) where users can go to ask questions of other users, get customized materials, or share ideas. “I've gotten tons of help from SPLASH,” Robinson says. “I've gone there for materials takeoffs, equations, and specialty products that people have customized and are sharing.”
CUSTOMIZE MATERIALS LISTS Using the information supplied by the designer in the drawing, SoftPlan generates a complete materials list and cost estimate for a given design. The list includes all materials, user-definable costs, markups, waste factors, and labor rates.
Though the list is easily customizable, Durosko has found that the reports lend themselves better to new construction or whole-house remodels than to additions or kitchen and bath remodels. “Since we draw the entire house — even when we're just remodeling part of it — it would require us to detail all of the existing materials in the rest of the house as well,” he says. “It would be a great tool for new construction, but for [remodeling] it just doesn't make sense.”
THE LEARNING CURVE To use SoftPlan's most basic functions, the learning curve is not very steep. Users who have AutoCAD experience can be designing floor plans with the program in just a few hours.
However, according to Durosko, the curve becomes steeper when it comes to more advanced functions such as creating lifelike renderings. Playing with shadows and lighting, and importing customized pieces such as a particular kind of stone for a chimney or a textured finish for cabinets, is trickier. “Sometimes creating a full 3-D rendering can take our designers a full day,” he says.
But when it comes to the quality of the final product, Durosko is certain: “It's worth the effort.”