By Joseph F. Schuler Jr. When Tom Turnage needed design help, he turned to the user group at the Web site of SoftPlan Architectural Design Software. He found 12 designers nationwide willing to do detailed permitting drawings, including structural blueprints and cross sections. Although Turnage's design/build firm, The Turnage Co., is based in Jacksonville, Fla., he contracted with two designers, one in Texas and one in Pennsylvania. Turnage e-mails floor plans, elevations, digital photos, and other information to the designers, then marks up the $50-an-hour fee 30%.

"This allows us to grow without adding a layer of overhead," Turnage says. Over the past three years, he's done 15 projects long distance.

The long-distance designers draw floor and wall systems, window flashing, roof plans -- anything permits require. If needed, Turnage obtains a structural engineer's stamp locally.

The designers are responsive, often working over a weekend. "This is a perfect example of technology doing a great job for us," Turnage says.

Turnage says he would hire locally, but there aren't many SoftPlan users in his area. He likes the program, particularly because it allows him to maintain an electronic record of the design process.

To access the user group, click on the link at