3 Easy Tips for Reading Apartment Floor Plans

in Help Me Now!, Moving on by
Landlord explains an apartment floor plan to prospective tenants.

If you’re looking for an apartment online, you might see an attached floor plan to help you understand the dimensions and layout of the space. However, reading, and better yet, actually understanding the floor plan is essential to getting to know an apartment and all it has to offer.

So, how do you go about reading them? Especially if you’ve never even seen one before?

For the purpose of this article, we’ll be talking about conventional 2D, rather than 3D, floor plans. But not to worry. Even if you are provided with a 3D floor plan, knowing the basics will still help you decipher it like a pro after reading this quick how-to guide. Win-win!

What is a Floor Plan?

Let’s start from the top. When you hear the term “floor plan,” you might imagine an architect carrying around blue-hued bundles of papers loaded with complicated numbers and symbols. This isn’t the case here, so don’t be intimidated! Though architectural floor plans are very complicated, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be presented one. Usually, when finding an apartment online, you’ll be given a conventional floor plan that contains bare bones info like room layout, measurements, and dimension: everything you need to envision how your new space will look. It’s normally presented to scale, as if you’re looking down on the apartment from above (aka a bird’s eye view). It will also likely contain important fixtures such as windows, patios/balconies (lucky!), and storage space (cabinets, closets, etc).

It’s important to note that a conventional floor plan can be an extremely important tool in finding your new apartment — especially if you’re exclusively searching online. While pandemic restrictions are easing in many areas, you still may not be able to visit your new space in person, or may not feel comfortable with an in-person tour. And that’s ok! Once you get through this handy guide, you’ll have the chops to navigate any floor plan like a pro. So let’s dive in.

Dimensions Matter

Naturally, you’ll want to know the size of the apartment and its various rooms before getting into the other details. After all, how else will you know if your enormous media center will even fit through the door? (Yes, I am speaking from experience).

Begin with the total square footage of the space, which will likely be somewhere near the bottom of the plan. If not, just hit up your landlord for the necessary info (chances are the square footage will also be in the listing). You should also consider the size of the individual rooms. Everyone has different requirements, and it’s important to know the facts before making a decision. For example, while an 8’ x 8’ room may feel too small for your bedroom, it may be the perfect size for your home office. Feel free to explore the possibilities!

Apartment floor plan clearly lists the dimensions of each room.

Even with the dimensions in front of you, it may be difficult to actually get a feel for the space, especially if you’re a floor plan novice. One way to help with this is to measure your current apartment (to the best of your ability) and compare. Even having a rough comparison can help you to get a better understanding of the new space. It’ll also help you figure out how your furnishings may (or may not) fit.

Tip: Sizes are generally given width by length in conventional floor plans. Always be sure to ask if the square footage listed indicates total space, as this includes storage areas (cabinets, closets, etc).

Lay Out the Layout

Now that you’ve nailed dimension basics, it’s time to consider the apartment’s overall layout. Whether you’re living single, coupled up, sharing with roommates, or have a family, you’ll want a space that fits your overall lifestyle, spacial requirements, and aesthetic. Let’s start by considering some basic layout tips.

When searching for a new apartment, it helps to have a general idea of what you’re looking for regarding the overall feel of the space. For example, would you prefer a more open floor plan, where the natural flow of the space is mostly unbroken by walls or doors? Or would you prefer the space to be broken up to ensure maximum privacy? Be sure to note the presence of any walls or doors on a layout, as these features will dictate whether a unit has an open or closed (i.e. traditional) floor plan.

An apartment’s layout can also help you to determine the placement of the rooms and how they fit within its overall space. Be sure to pay extra attention to the bathroom(s) and kitchen, as they’re both single-function rooms (you can’t decide to turn your bathroom into a living room, after all). Bathroom accessibility is vital, after all – especially when considering the entrances and where they are in relationship to the other rooms. For example, you may not want your guests to have to travel through your bedroom to use the facilities.

The kitchen is also important, especially if there’s no dining area in the unit. Do you like to cook? Then a smaller, walled-off kitchen with no windows might not be right for you. Love to entertain? Look for a more open floor plan where the kitchen flows into a dining area with a table and guest seating. Again, everyone is looking for something different, which is why being familiar with your prospective apartment’s floor plan is so important.

Tip: Once you have a grasp of the layout, you can begin planning how your furniture will fit into each room. Taking initial measurements of the furnishings you already have will help you to more effectively envision your new space. After all, no one wants their move to turn into a real-life game of Tetris!

The Shape of Things

Floor plans may vary in complexity, but don’t let this overwhelm you. Most floor plan symbols are self-explanatory, and even if you aren’t sure, you can always ask your landlord or real estate agent for advice. Below are some basic floor plan symbols to help get you started:

Apartments come in all shapes and sizes – which means their floor plans do, too!


Solid lines represent walls, with thick lines indicating the presence of an outer wall. If a section of the wall isn’t filled in, there’s probably a window there.


An arc indicates a doorway and is usually attached to a slanted line. The direction of the arc shows which way the door opens (outward or inward).


Various rectangle shapes can mean different things. If a rectangle has shading, it indicates flooring. A patio or balcony is usually represented by a large rectangle with open lines, and stairs by a rectangle with parallel lines.

Tip: A conventional floor plan will always indicate the room you’re in. If you aren’t sure about a symbol, chances are the room will give you a clue to help you figure it out.

In the absence of an in-person tour or visit, a floor plan can be an invaluable tool for helping you understand an apartment’s dimensions, overall layout, and most distinguishing features. And now that you’ve mastered the basics, finding your next apartment should be a breeze!

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