A blueprint is a map of a building. It ties the concept of design to the details required to erect a structure. Blueprints, otherwise known as architectural drawing sets, have been used since the 19th century and are a guide through the construction process. They are most commonly used by contractors to apply for building permits from the municipality within which the construction is taking place. Once the blueprints have been filed by the contractor with the municipality building department, these building plans are public records and technically attainable by anyone wanting to view them.
However, finding blueprints of a building is not always as easy as one might think. Not all documents are digitally saved and some documents may not still exist, particularly for older structures. In some cases, the original may be in a box, in the depths of a storage unit or in the basement of a county clerk's office. Fortunately, in the 21st century, physical blueprints are not the norm and drawings using CAD and 3D models and more likely.
Many architects will be called upon for additions to existing buildings or renovations to commercial spaces. In situations like those, the blueprints of the original structure are necessary. But the question of how to find building blueprints is always coming up and the answer is not always straightforward. Whether you're a building owner embarking on a build out or an architect looking to copy the design of a commercial construction, here are four ways to get those blueprints in your hands as fast as possible.
- Find the Contractor who constructed the property
Start your search with the contractor who originally constructed the property. If you don't know who that person is, the county clerk should have his/her information on file. It's possible that the county zoning board would also hold the original building permit, which would have the contractor's details on it. If you find the contractor but he/she doesn't have the blueprints, he might be able to direct you to someone who would.
- The County Clerk holds the key (or document)
The other option is to start at the county clerk's office. County clerks are the official record keepers of documents pertaining to building construction and permits. Each office operates differently, which means that the process to secure the permit or record you need will be different. Some will charge a small fee to request access to original files, so be prepared when you request building blueprints.
- Locate the original owners of the property
If the building was purchased from the same individuals who built it, they may have a copy of the blueprints. If not and they secured a construction loan to finance the building, the original lender may have the blueprints on file or be able to direct you to the construction company or contractor.
- Consider An Architectural Expert
Another option to find blueprints of a building is to obtain a reproduction of the blueprints. This would be done through an architect and is probably the most cost prohibitive as well as time consuming. Ideally, use an architect with previous experience and familiarity either in the development of the property or type of structure being replicated.
- Check the National GIS of Building Plans
And lastly, check the National GIS of Building Plans and Construction Documents. With a growing database of construction drawings, you may find the blueprints you're looking for here. It is a free service. You can create a free account and search for the specific address you're interested in. If building plans or blueprints are available, you can request them from the uploader with one click. If building plans are not currently available, you can fill out this inquiry and America's Building Records staff will reach out to construction companies to help you find the documents you're looking for.
The floor plan and 'map' of a building are crucial in the design and construction process, but not always straightforward to find. There are multiple ways to go about finding the blueprints, but it's somewhat of a guessing game on who has what. Fortunately, more and more professionals in the industry are adopting technological applications to support online document retrieval. Soon enough, everyone will be able to geo-locate and request access to any and all blueprints through innovative cloud based tools.