Picture this: You’re looking to buy a home, and want to know what the interior looks like. But after spending hours browsing through online property listings, you’re not convinced if the photos and descriptions actually match the actual property. However, there’s one thing that will help you — a property floor plan.
HDB, condo or landed, all properties have a floor plan. Floor plans are great because not only do they give you a better indication of what the interior looks like, but they also provide you with an insane amount of information that even good quality photos and well-written descriptions cannot give.
But while floor plans are handy, making sense of a floor plan isn’t exactly easy. You may chance upon unfamiliar floor plan abbreviations, or see strange symbols you don't understand.
For those who don’t know where to begin, don't fret - this beginner-friendly guide will teach you how to read your floor plan the right way. We will cover:
Why are floor plans useful for home buyers?
What is a floor plan?
Floor plan legend:
How to read floor plan symbols
How to read floor plan abbreviations
What to look out for in a floor plan
More tips for reading a floor plan
What is a property floor plan?
First things first, a floor plan is basically a scaled diagram of a floor or a house. It usually depicts the measurements, furniture, interior fixtures, room layout, window locations, walls or any other relevant details to the purpose of the floor plan.
The easiest way to understand a floor plan is to imagine that you’re viewing a house/room without a roof or ceiling from above (i.e. an aerial view). Most floor plans will label each room accordingly.
Why floor plans are useful for home buyers
But why do you even need a floor plan? Can't you just rely on photos?
Floor plans help you visualise what a unit really looks like
While eye-catching photos and descriptions are great, they don’t provide you with relevant details such as the number of rooms, bathrooms, unit sizes, layouts, windows, and even finer details such as furniture, electrical points and unit measurements. These information are vital to help a buyer decide if the property is right for them, or if it’s worth viewing at all.
Compared to photos and descriptions, floor plans are more accurate. With the right photo lenses, composition, and equipment, anyone can make a space larger and bigger than it actually is. While this might be great for sellers and agents, it can be extremely misleading for buyers. With floor plans, you’ll spare yourself from the disappointment of finding out that the house isn’t what you thought from the photos, saving you from wasting time on house viewings.
Floor plan legend
Now that we got some of the basics out of the way, here’s what the symbols and various abbreviations in a floor plan mean.
1. How to read floor plan symbols
Let's start with floor plan symbols.
Floor plan symbol
Straight, thin line
Gable-end wall (corner units only)
Line with a middle line
Transparent line, or three lines
The lines you see in a floor plan represent the walls. However, there are three different types of walls that you should know: Structural walls, normal walls and gable-end walls.
If you see bolded lines, that means the wall is a structural wall. These walls hold the building together and cannot be hacked. As a simple rule of thumb, remember that structural walls usually surround the entire unit. If you're planning on renovating your home but you're not quite sure whether the walls are structural walls, ask your developer.
‘Normal” walls are represented by straight, thin lines. These walls are the dividers that separate your rooms from the other spaces in the house.
These walls are unique to corner units, and are also known as gable-end walls. Their sole purpose is to shade your home from the sun’s heat.
Like walls, windows appear differently in a floor plan. Windows are usually represented by transparent lines, or three lines.
Depending on the type, doors are either represented by a protractor-like symbol (swing doors), or V-shaped (folding doors).
Do note that the arc indicates the direction and swing radius of the door, so it’s good to remember this when visualising the flow of your home, or when space-planning.
If you’re planning to buy an HDB executive maisonette (EM), then you’ll find the stairway symbol indicated in the floor plan. It looks like a ladder.
2. Floor plan abbreviations used in Singapore
Other than understanding the illustrations, you should also learn how to read the various abbreviations used in local floor plans.
Floor plan abbreviation
What it means
Household / bomb shelter
Washer/dryer designated area
Water closet (bathroom)
HS - Household/bomb shelter
As the name suggests, a household/bomb shelter is basically a room with reinforced walls and blast-proof doors to protect inhabitants from bombing and shrapnel, in case Singapore suffers from a bombardment. All HDB flats constructed from 1996 onwards come with this feature.
BW - Bay window
A bay window is basically a type of window that “juts out” and provides an extra space for homeowners. Before 2009, they were quite common in private properties as they were exempted from the total gross floor area (GFA), but a new guideline by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has reduced their appearance.
DB - Electrical switchboard
The electrical switchboard functions as the main point to distribute power at home, while providing protection from overloading and short circuits.
W/D - Washer/dryer designated location
Most condominium developments come with a washer-dryer combo, and these are usually stacked on top of one another.
W/C - water closet
Otherwise known as the bathroom or washroom.
What to look out for in a floor plan
Here are some other elements to pay attention to when studying a property floor plan.
1. Strata void areas
Known among buyers as “air space”, void areas are the void spaces in-between the floor and ceiling. They are commonly found in properties with high ceilings (i.e. penthouses, strata bungalows, and strata terraces).
These void spaces usually have a floor-to-floor height between 4-4.5m, which is almost twice from the standard 2.8m ceiling height found in most condominiums.
Despite being vertical spaces, be warned that they are considered as saleable space, so it’s not uncommon to see developers charge you for this “extra space”.
As they are often 30% to 50% cheaper than the price of the actual per square feet (psf) of the area, properties with void areas may seem to have a lower psf price compared to properties without.
Therefore, some buyers might get the impression that units with a void area appear to have a more overall attractive psf price compared to a unit with regular ceiling height.
In order to avoid this confusion, looking at a floor plan will help. On a floor plan, the void area is represented by straight dotted lines.
2. Private enclosed spaces (PES) and air-con ledges
According to URA, a private enclosed space, or PES, is the semi-outdoor space adjacent to a strata unit that’s commonly used for gardening and outdoor living.
Whether or not a PES is considered part of the GFA – which is the amount of livable space a developer can build on a given plot of land – is determined by URA.
Examples of PES that are not part of the GFA include air-con ledges, covered walkways, and tennis courts. These are the areas that developers can build without worrying about eating up strata space, which is the space that buyers pay for (see what doesn’t count as GFA here).
However, while air-con ledges are not part of GFA, they are considered part of strata spaces as they serve individual units.
In other words, developers can charge you for it because it’s technically part of your unit, despite being nothing more than holding space for aircons and birds poop.
This is the same reason why residents in La Fiesta condo in Sengkang were livid when they found out that the developer was exploiting them by charging them for air-con ledges, according to a Straits Times report. These ledges measured almost five metres long, and took up nine square meters. For a better visualisation, that’s almost the size of a bedroom!
More shockingly, the report also stated that private property buyers in Singapore pay an estimated $780 million a year for air-con ledges alone.
While you can’t avoid paying for these ledges, you can check the show flat’s layout to ensure that it reflects the floor plans accurately. It’s good to determine how big your aircon ledge is so that you’re not overpaying for space that cannot be utilised.
Notice the AC ledge in the floor plan for Verticus condo below:
In 2001, URA introduced the Balcony Incentive Scheme (BIS) to encourage developers to build more private outdoor spaces (PES, private roof terraces, balconies) for private non-landed homes. Under this scheme, developers have an additional 10% GFA to build private outdoor spaces.
This was because URA wanted to improve the living conditions for homeowners, while also providing them an extra greenery space.
However, some developers have abused this scheme by building large balcony spaces in relation to the indoor space. Even worse, buyers had no choice but to pay for these excessively large balconies because they are part of the GFA, whether or not they required big balconies.
Knowing this, URA revised the BIS guidelines to prevent developers from exploiting buyers, while providing buyers with more options too.
Some of the notable changes to the BIS guidelines were:
The bonus GFA cap for residential developments has been reduced from 10% to 7%
However, developers can still have the 10% bonus GFA only if they are part of certain schemes, including the Green Mark Bonus GFA Scheme and the new Indoor Recreation Space Bonus GFA Scheme
Balcony area for each unit has been restricted to 15% of the total internal area to prevent oversized balconies
4. Bay windows
As mentioned previously, a bay window is a type of window space that extends out. This also creates a bay area near the window so a homeowner can have a good view of the outside.
Before 2009, bay windows were exempted from GFA calculations. Similar to balconies, bay windows were not considered part of the GFA as they were intended to provide practical benefits to homeowners.
Unfortunately, some developers saw this as a loophole to build more bay windows and charge buyers for it. This not only helped them to increase their profit margins, but they were also able to reduce the average psf cost.
In some extreme cases, houses had bay windows all around the house, meaning that buyers were paying for a house with lesser usable space.
Since then, URA removed bay windows from the GFA exempted list, which explains why they aren’t as present in newer developments.
However, if you’re looking to buy a house with bay windows, it's still good to know and identify how much of your strata area will be taken up by bay windows.
More tips for reading a property floor plan
The key to determining what is “good” depends on your lifestyle. Look at how each area is laid out, or how they are connected.
Depending on how your unit is designed, the space allocation for each area in your home varies.
If you enjoy open spaces, then perhaps projects that dedicate more area to shared spaces like the living room and kitchen would be more preferable for you.
Conversely, if you want more privacy, then look at projects that prioritise private spaces like the bedrooms or bathrooms.
If you work from home, you probably want a flexible floor plan that provides maximum space utilisation and one with a study corner with a little more privacy, especially when you have clients over.
Parents who want to keep an eye on their kids may also prefer a floor plan where the rooms are closer to each other.
Finally, also pay attention to the PES, balconies, void areas, and air-con ledges as they help to determine how much space they are eating up. Determining this helps to prevent you from paying excessively for unusable space.
More FAQs on reading floor plans
How to read a HDB floor plan?
The HDB floor plan is read the same way as above, following the same symbols and abbreviations listed above.
What is the HDB floor plan unit of measurement?
HDB uses square metres (sqm) instead of square feet (sq ft), and the floor plans are drawn to 1:100 scale.
Where can you get a HDB or condo floor plan?
When you buy a home you will get the floor plan, so you can request it from the seller or owner of the unit. If not, you can purchase the floor plan of existing properties on HDB (for flats) and BCA (for private property).
Looking for a home? Whether you’re looking for an HDB resale flat, condominium or landed house, find your dream home on PropertyGuru.